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What Happens When We Age


Aging is a natural process that occurs with time and has many factors which affect its onset and severity. This is especially true regarding the appearance and quality of our skin.

With aging the outer skin layer thins, even though the number of skin layers remains the same, the skin just has thinner cells and less collagen. Another big factor seen in aging skin, is a decrease in the number of pigment containing cells called melanocytes. This leads to a loss of protection from the sun. We will discuss more about the sun’s ability to damage the skin, in the next chapter. The remaining few pigment cells increase in size to compensate. This eventually leads to dark pigmented age spots in the skin, especially in sun exposed areas. Aged skin looks thinner, paler and becomes more translucent. This allows the pigmentation and blood vessels to become more clearly visible within and underneath the skin. Not only is the appearance changed, but the decrease of connective tissue in the skin leads to a reduction in the skin’s strength and elasticity. It is much more noticeable in sun exposed areas of the skin as you would expect. This process of decreasing connective tissue, is a dirty word in the aging world known as elastosis. This produces an extreme leathery, weather beaten appearance that we commonly see in people who spend too much time in the sun.

Collagen is the big player in the skin when it comes to the various structures affected by aging. In older skin the collagenous fibrous tissue has a decreased number of cell nuclei, the fibers are more broad and course, and the fibers also lose their hydration ability known as osmotic swelling, all creating dysfunction. This leads to a major loss in the quality of collagen in the skin. It also eventually leads to a major decrease in the skin’s elasticity and formation of that taboo word we all hate to say, deep skin wrinkles. Sometimes we call early wrinkles fine lines if we are trying to be nice, especially when we reference the ever growing, beloved aging crowd.

By Jeffrey Gibson, MD.

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