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What is the Biggest Cause of Skin Aging?

Okay, I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. Having great skin is more than just applying moisturizer and staying out of the sun. Really good skin involves adopting a lifestyle that supports healthy skin tissues that endure the test of time. We all struggle with this but I am here to encourage you. The following lifestyle habits don't just benefit your skin, they also bring about better health and well being for your whole body as well as increasing mental clarity and resilience.

For over forty years I have been doing facials and observing how skin ages. You may think these adverse changes are just related to sun, but "What is sun doing to your skin that triggers these negative changes?" Some clients who haven't spent an exorbitant amount of time in the sun still show the evidence of skin aging like thinning skin and loss of tone. Those under considerable amounts of stress develop deeper lines on their face and those whose diet consists of high amounts of sugar develop cross linking of collagen which leads to line formation, mottled pigmentation and loss of tone. Another ager of skin you should be aware of is being exposed to toxins from living in a polluted environment or ingesting "non-food" junk foods. These toxins can eventually show up on your skin as mottled pigmentation or age spots. So, what do these skin agers have in common?

The common denominator here is inflammation. Combating inflammation in the skin should be your top priority. This is why using varied and large amounts of antioxidants both in your diet and in your skincare regime is so important. Antioxidants, especially polyphenols, have significant anti-inflammatory properties. This is because they readily donate electrons to unstable molecules (free radicals) to stop an inflammation cascade. This means that one molecule that loses an electron from damage (say from the ultraviolet rays of the sun) is looking to fill that outer ring with a lost electron. It goes to the next molecule and then steals their electron to fill their electron ring requirements. This becomes a domino effect which leads your immune response to take action, resulting in inflammation or sometimes referred to as "inflammaging". This is the root cause of skin dysfunction including hyperpigmentation, suppression of collagen production, premature loss of tone, redness, itching, psoriasis, eczema, acne, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis; all connected to the inflammation cascade.

Why do we have inflammation? Inflammation is actually designed to protect us. It's how the body signals the immune system to stimulate healing and repair damage. The inflammatory cascade starts when the body detects an irritant and releases a signaling chemical that activates white blood cells to move from your general circulation to the site where there is damage. They then produce pro-inflammatory cytokines that signal your body's immune cells to fight the problem. As the body heals, inflammation is supposed to subside.

There are two types of inflammation:

Acute inflammation is triggered by internal or external exposure to irritants, including UV radiation (think sunburn), extreme pollution, allergens, radiation, perfumes or aggressive skin care products or treatments (think medical grade acid peels). This type of inflammation comes on strong and then is supposed to go away after the problem has been addressed. It is also the result of treatments such as microneedling that trigger short term inflammation that ultimately stimulate your skin to go into repair mode. The inflammatory response should go away relatively quickly. When the repair mode kicks into action your skin reconstructs damaged tissues like faulty collagen fibers and reorganizes surface layers for a smoother skin. Initially pro-inflammatory cytokines start the healing process by dilating capillaries, allowing white blood cells, stem cells and other repair factors to travel to the injured area and stimulate repair. Later anti-inflammatory cytokines come in to calm everything down and complete the healing cycle. When we did microneedling in the spa we helped things along by introducing mesenchymal stem cell extracts during the treatment to provide the molecules needed to swiftly build back healthy skin. The important thing here was to give enough time in between treatments to allow an uninterrupted and complete repair cycle. This is the premise of including retinol and other exfoliants into your skincare regime. Retinol in particular, incites inflammation that then can be calmed with the use of anti-inflammatory serums that aid in the healing and rebuilding response. This is also why we don't recommend retinols every night. The pro-inflammatory response may be undetectable, but it's there. When used properly retinol will stimulate a repair response that creates a thicker, firmer, plumper dermis and a smoother more organized epidermis (outer layer) over time.

Chronic inflammation is when the inflammatory response persists within the skin. It is often undetected, but damaging nonetheless. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are triggered by the immune system but sometime they do not dissipate over time as they should. Chronic inflammation destroys healthy tissues, causing a thinning of the skin and making it more fragile. When chronic inflammation is under the radar you may be unexplainably sensitive and even think you are becoming allergy prone. Things like using a soapy cleanser (containing sodium lauryl sulfate) or ua Vitamin C formula that containing L-Ascorbic Acid (a stingy version of the vitamin) or products containing essential oils might cause a reaction to your skin. Often a result of using a stronger exfoliant than recommended for your skin type can result in inflamed, sensitive skin. Chronic inflammation is often the underlying cause for your sensitivities. Chronic inflammation can compromise the protective barrier layer of your skin. Your skin's surface becomes more permeable to products that would not normally pass the barrier and cause irritation. Sensitive, inflamed skin ages quicker than strong, balanced skin. Be aware if your skin is sensitive that you might have chronic inflammation and take action to correct it.

The good news... Diet and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference for inflamed skin and help slowing aging. This is the perfect time of year to make the following changes. I think right now is much better than waiting for New Year's Day; a time when it's cold and snowy and you're facing a day that might require unhealthy foods and sitting on the couch watching football.

Let's see what changes you can make for the health of your skin:

  • Change your sleep habits. Set a goal sleep schedule. I have mine on my Apple Watch which reminds me when it's time to go to bed and when it's time to wake up. Plus, I'm a big fan of Ben Franklin quotes, including, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise." Sleep is a time when several of the body's hormones are released into the bloodstream. These include growth hormone, which is essential for growth and tissue repair. Sleep helps to balance our appetite by maintaining optimal levels of the hormones: ghrelin and leptin so we are less likely to eat pro-inflammatory foods. A bad night's sleep raises cortisol levels which can thin your skin and break down collagen. Growth factors and other good hormones bump up your skin's ability to repair itself. This is why applying repair serums at night are so important.

  • Incorporate stress reduction techniques to become daily habits. As I said, stress increases cortisol levels which break down collagen and leaves skin thinner and more susceptible to inflammation from the outside sources. Be careful about over using cortisone creams. This may temporarily help reduce reactions from irritants and allergens but over time it will thin your skin. To lower stress levels try 10 minutes before bed to do some simple meditation, deep breathing or relaxing yoga poses.

  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen every day, not just when you're at the beach. SPF 30 sunscreens need to be used daily to effectively protect you from damage and the inflammation it causes. Ozone in our environment is a particularly effective absorber of UV radiation. But, as the ozone layer gets thinner, the protective filter activity is progressively reduced. Consequently people exposed to the sun are exposed to higher levels of UV radiation. Sun exposure creates the worst type of inflammation from solar radiation which causes cells to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), an inflammatory free radical and a primary factor in skin aging. Note: If you are using a sunscreen every day you should consider supplementing with Vitamin D3.

  • Moderate drinking and eliminate smoking. One glass of red wine provides anti-inflammatory antioxidants (resveratrol) that help protect healthy skin from inflammation. Studies show resveratrol activates sirtuins—a class of enzymes involved in longevity, cell energy and aging. However, if you are prone to inflammation this may not be your best choice. People who flush when they drink might have a faulty version of an enzyme in their body that helps break down a substance in alcohol called acetaldehyde. Too much acetaldehyde can cause an inflamed red face. In addition, one glass of wine is not going to supply you with enough of the antioxidant, resveratrol to make a difference. You may decide to supplement with resveratrol. Recent studies show that good quality virgin olive oil also provides anti-inflammatory antioxidants.. I recently read a stunning paper which finds mono-unsaturated fats, such as the ones made in our bodies and found in olive oil, actually activate the longevity enzyme SIRT1 - and does so exactly the same way as resveratrol. Smoking kills antioxidants like Vitamin C at an amazing rate, giving free radicals a pass to wreak havoc with your skin. It is said that one puff of cigarette smoke can potentially kill off most of the Vitamin C and Vitamin E in your body. Vitamin C and vitamin E are part of our body's defense system, acting to neutralize free radicals before they can do their damage. Vitamin C is also an essential component of collagen. This means collagen cannot repair or replace itself eventually leading to pronounced wrinkles. A topical Vitamin C Serum can provide up to 60% of your daily Vitamin C needs for your skin.

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fatty fish, avocados, cherries, broccoli, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, almonds, Curcumin (Turmeric) and green tea. Think Mediterranean diet. This is really important and will make a huge difference in how well your skin ages. You should get your antioxidants both internally from foods as well as externally from your skincare serums. In the afternoon, when I start to feel fatigued I religiously drink a cup of green tea, loaded with anti-inflammatory polyphenols, perfect after a brisk afternoon walk. I used to walk in the morning, but I'm freshest in the morning so I save that time for doing research and writing my blog.

  • Avoid soda, refined carbohydrates, trans-fat, fried food and sugars. These are non-foods, your body doesn't know how to digest. The result is increased gut inflammation that you may not even notice in your skin until it becomes hyper reactive, develops age spots, eczema, psoriasis or inflamed acne.

  • Cook with anti-inflammatory spices (here are a few):

Turmeric is a brilliant yellow spice common in Indian cuisine that you can find in any grocery store. Turmeric has been used as a medicine for centuries to treat wounds, infections, colds, and liver disease. Studies have shown that curcumin, a compound in turmeric, is a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Ginger is a zesty spice used in many cuisines. You can buy it powdered or as a fresh root in most supermarkets. Ginger has been used as a traditional medicine to treat stomach upset, headaches, and infections. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger have been praised for centuries, and scientific studies have confirmed it.

Cinnamon is a popular spice often used to flavor baked treats. But cinnamon is more than just a delicious additive in our cakes. Studies have shown that the spice has anti-inflammatory properties, which can ease swelling. Keep a good supply of cinnamon on hand. I sprinkle some in my coffee in the morning.

Garlic. The anti-inflammatory properties of garlic have been proven to ease arthritis symptoms as well as calm inflammation. Use fresh garlic in almost any savory dish for added flavor and health benefits. If the taste is too strong for you, try roasting a head of garlic for a sweeter, milder flavor.

  • Use potent antioxidant skincare which includes a Vitamin C & E Antioxidant Serum, superfruits, green tea, licorice root, seawhip, azulene, chamomile, aloe and niacinamide. All contain the anti-inflammatory benefits of polyphenols. Vitamins C & E are your go to antioxidants that everyone should use. If you are sensitive to Vitamin C try superfruits, which contain a milder version of Vitamin C combined with higher levels of natural polyphenols. If you spend a lot of time outside you can layer these serums together. Niacinamide is one of my favorite anti-inflammatory ingredients because it also has an energizing factor to not only calm but increase skin's natural healing abilities. With it's powerful anti-inflammatory properties niacinamide has become a key ingredient in serums to combat acne and rosacea; while also minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores and improving discoloration. Niacinamide is also very effective in slowing down the amount of excess sebum that the skin produces. In the winter, we are impacted by the harsh environmental factors from every direction that can damage our skin’s natural barrier. Niacinamide plays an important role in maintaining a healthy skin barrier as it can increase the production of ceramides and keratin that our skin produces. Be sure you are using the correct niacinamide formula for your skin type. More is not necessarily better. Formulations with over 10% can cause flushing of the skin. 5% niacinamide is great for barrier rebuilding in mature or drier skin types. 10% works best for problem or oilier skin types.

Finally, if you have dry skin that gets drier during the winter you can support your protective skin barrier function with anti-inflammatory botanical oils that contain calming ingredients like Evening Primrose Oil or Borage Seed Oil. These reinforce a compromised barrier to be be able to better able withstand environmental assaults and bypass inflammation.

Please comment below if you have questions or feedback you'd like to share.

Elizabeth believes in "Longevity Skincare", the idea that beautiful skin can endure throughout one's lifetime when utilizing the best that science and nature has to offer. LONGEVITY is a science-based skincare line that appreciates skin of all ages. LONGEVITY by Elizabeth Renee provides hydration, nutrition and protection from environmental aging. Your skin will receive high performance ingredients to help energize and repair its cells, resulting in a healthy skin with an enduring, vital glow.

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