Your skin is a six-pound organ that acts as a protective barrier for your body. Among its numerous functions, it helps maintain body temperature, transmits sensory information from the environment, and protects you from disease. The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin that sheds approximately every two weeks when healthy. The dermis is the middle layer and is made up of collagen and elastic fibers as well as extrafibrillar matrix (ground substance), blood vessels, sweat and oil glands, hair follicles, and nerve fibers. The deepest layer is the subcutaneous layer composed of fat and connective tissue (such as collagen and elastic fibers) with large blood vessels.
As one ages, there is a normal decline in collagen and elastic fiber production. Oil gland activity lowers due to a decrease in certain hormones resulting in dry skin, and fewer fat cells deposit in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. Moreover, there is an increased susceptibility to the damaging effects of the sun. The overall thickness of the skin decreases causing the skin to sag.
Certain factors can increase or decrease the number and intensity of wrinkles. Premature wrinkling can be cause by any of the following:
- Sun exposure and sun damage
- Environmental toxins
- Acne and some skin diseases
- Hormone disruption
Many skin care products boast great claims about the effectiveness of their products in wrinkle reduction and prevention. Only a handful of compounds, however, have stood the test of time and have been found beneficial by numerous patients. Look for the following ingredients when choosing skin care products to prevent or reduce the appearance of wrinkles:
Alpha hydroxyl acids work by breaking the bond between epidermal skin cells causing the cells to slough off. This encourages new cells to form in the epidermal layer. Epidermal cells sometimes contain excess pigment so repeated peeling will tend to lighten the skin and reduce sun spots.
Hydroquinone is a skin bleach that stops the production of the skin pigment, melanin, by blocking an enzyme in the cells that produce it. When used by itself, hydroquinone lightens the skin only very slowly because the melanin that has already been produced must be cleared through normal cell cycles. The cell cycles in sun-damaged skin take longer to complete, so dark spots may not be cleared for several months.
Glycolic acid is an acid used in the exfoliation process. The glycolic acid forces quicker turnover of the cells, causing the irregular pigmentation to clear quicker.
Retinoic acid (Retin-A) is a preparation that stimulates the cells at the stratum basale layer (innermost cell layer of the epidermis that is responsible for cell production through division) to begin dividing. This process causes peeling of the superficial (outermost) layer of the skin as the damaged cells are pushed or sloughed off. In addition, it causes an increase in blood flow to the skin. In fact, in damaged skin it actually reprograms the epidermal cells to divide at normal six-week intervals and resets the melanocytes to produce normal amounts of pigment.
Vitamin C products containing at least 10% will block the chemical reactions that cause sun damage. It neutralizes the free radicals that have been caused by sunlight. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen production and restores some of the normal immune function to skin that has been damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.