Skin Care: An Essential part of Optimal Health

Part 1: The Aging Skin

Dr. J. Warren Willey, DO

One of the first tell tale signs of health is the condition of your skin.  Skin is the external expression of the condition of the internal environment.   It tells you, and everyone else, how your body is really doing  (not considering the fact you can hide that with makeup…).  Statistics show that last year alone, over $4 trillion dollars was spent by men and women ages 35 – 50 in plastic surgery and non-surgery skin treatments.  The majority of that was due to treatment of the aging skin.

In a series of articles over the next few months I will present some basic skin information including the cause of wrinkles and age spots, health tips, and mechanisms available for betterment and repair of your skin.

But first, (I spent a lot of money in Medical School so I have to use this information somewhere…) some basic facts about skin:  It is the largest organ in your body involved in thermoregulation (temperature control), protection from the environment, metabolic functions, and sensation.  If it were removed from your body it would weigh between seven and nine pounds and stretch out to about twenty square feet.  One square inch of skin has 100 oil glands, 15 feet of blood vessels, and two kinds of sweat glands.  Very resilient and tough, it is actually only 1/25 to 1/8 of an inch deep.  Healthy epidermis (the top layer) is renewed every 15-30 days.

There are a number of important cells in the skin that function in the appearance and in particular, health. Two very important ones are: Fibroblasts (produce collagen, elastin, and ground substance – all essential in the integrity and outward show of the skin), and Melanocytes (produce pigment or melanin – important in absorbing harmful UV rays and giving color to the skin).  These cells and their function (though long term retention of this information may only be relevant in a game of Genius Edition of Trivial Pursuit®) are important in our discussion in the understanding of the aging skin – wrinkles and age spots.

Factors Contributed to Aging Skin

We have all seen the difference a face-lift makes.  An ‘old’ looking person suddenly appears young (er).  But what caused that change in their appearance that necessitated surgical intervention?  What happens to us, as we get older that gives our skin that ‘old’ look?

First and foremost, my personal arch nemesis in medicine and life: STRESS!! From problems in a relationship to an up and coming presentation, stress is your (and your skin’s) enemy! The toll on the body and skin is immense. People with less stress, or the capacity / ability to handle said stress, age better!

I have discussed free radicals in previous articles and will therefore limit my discussion to say the more environmental or internal free radical exposure (lack of exercise, bad eating habits, etc.) the more your skin looks aged.

Another inevitable fact of aging is the reduction of oil production causing dry and damaged skin.

As we age our fibroblasts ability to produce collagen, the vital connective tissue in our skin that gives it a full taut look, is diminished. At the same time we have increased collagen degradation or breakdown. Collagen is also affected by other factors such as medications (Cortico-steroids such as Prednisone) that suppress synthesis of collagen. Changes in hormones associated with Menopause and Andropause causes the dermal layer of the skin to thin. Smoking causes a large amount of free radical damage thereby producing havoc on the skins health and appearance. (Smoking also causes deep furrows to develop around the mouth from puffing).

Our love of the sun and tanning booths causes photo-aging that has a three-fold effect on our skin: Loss of Melanocytes causes uneven coloration, sun exposure thins glycoaminoglycans and the extracellular basement, broken down collagen inhibits fibroblast activities

Healthy Skin and modifying the Aging Process

Intervention in the aging process and the appearance of the skin takes both an internal and external approach.  Obviously, if you smoke – quit.  Drink plenty of water to keep the skin hydrated and help in overall health.  Nutrient intake (i.e. your diet!) is essential in the health of your skin!  If you have a sense your hormones may be off and / or you have symptoms of Menopause or Andropause, discuss it with your doctor or an anti-aging physician.  I have seen incredible improvements in the skin with hormone modification and replacement!  Be sure to get adequate Essential Fatty Acids such as fish oils every day.  Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and take extra anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and E and Alpha-Lipoic Acid.  Be sure to get your zinc in your diet or supplements as well.  Other potentially beneficial supplements include Oral Collagen, Glucosamine, and Mucopolysaccharides.

Skin care is a fundamental part of the optimum aging and health process.  Understanding what causes skin to change allows you some ability to intervene and make a difference in your appearance.  In future articles I will discuss various techniques that help repair damaged skin such as Micro-dermabrasion, Chemical dermabrasion / peels, Injectable Collagen, Non-ablative laser treatments, Retinoids, Botox therapy, and complete resurfacing techniques.

-Dr. Willey

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