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Fighting the visible signs of aging is a lifelong pursuit for many. Others have given up, assuming that it’s a pointless effort because it’s based on genetics. But only 10–15% of cutaneous aging is actually driven by genetics or the passage of time. This intrinsic, inevitable aging is not where beauty brands' focus should rest. The true culprit is extrinsic aging, caused by external influences, as 85–90% of all cutaneous aging is a direct result of these avoidable factors.1
The majority of a healthy dermis is the extracellular matrix (ECM), a complex framework of biomolecules designed to support and protect the dermal cells. The structural proteins (collagen and elastin), adhesive proteins (laminins and fibronectin), glycosaminoglycans (GAG) and proteoglycans that comprise the ECM do degrade naturally due to intrinsic aging, but this breakdown is dramatically accelerated by external offenders—primarily UV exposure and the resultant oxidative stress, and the increase in matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity.2 Study after study confirms the fact that unnecessary sun exposure is the No. 1 culprit in extrinsic aging.
Sun exposure is the worst of the exogenous causes of skin aging. As little as 0.1 minimal erythema dose—the minimum dose of radiation that produces skin redness—will increase the expression of MMP.3 These MMP accelerate matrix breakdown, leading to varying degrees of visible sagging and laxity, wrinkles, epidermal and dermal atrophy, and enlargement of pores.
Because sunscreens can limit UV-induced skin damage and MMP production, they are often accepted as the most beneficial anti-aging products available today.4 It is important to understand the variety of ingredients available to make informed decisions regarding the effective development and use of sunscreen.
Sunscreen can have either chemical or physical ingredients, or a combination of both. It is critical for skin health and anti-aging benefits that the sunscreen product protects against both UVB and UVA wavelengths. UVA rays have a longer wavelength, giving them the ability to penetrate into the dermis and break down the ECM. Currently, only four of the ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide true broad UVA spectrum protection: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone and ecamsule. For this reason, a true broad-spectrum sunscreen should include one of those four components, in addition to UVB-protecting ingredients. Typically, a blend of multiple ingredients is necessary to provide truly efficacious sunscreen protection.
To provide protection against the UV-induced oxidative stress put on the skin, topical antioxidants should also be used regularly in all regimens. Look for sunscreens that also include antioxidants or other topical agents that can deliver several multifunctional antioxidants. Some important antioxidants to include are epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and other green tea components, resveratrol, ergothioneine, caffeine, silymarin and genestein. Also consider adding an antioxidant serum to clients’ morning regimen with ingredients such as vitamins C and E.
Another important lifestyle consideration that dramatically affects the skin is smoking. In a study compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids during the fourth quarter of 2010, 46.6 million U.S. adults and 3.4 million high school students regularly smoke cigarettes. Despite efforts to educate children about the health hazards linked to smoking, 1,000 children become regular smokers each and every day. The negative effects on the cardiovascular system and the lungs are widely recognized, but many who choose to smoke have little or no awareness of what smoking does to healthy skin. Smoking is a major contributor to many skin conditions and complications, such as skin discoloration, ECM breakdown, deep wrinkling, premature skin aging, poor wound-healing and the formation of abnormal skin growths.
Aging Skin: Current and Therapeutic Strategies, a reference book by Linda D. Rhein, PhD and Joachim W. Fluhr, MD is aimed at providing the latest information and directions of future strategies to treat and prevent skin aging.
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