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Factors of Skin Aging

By: Katerina Steventon, PhD
Posted: July 10, 2013, from the July 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the May 2013 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine. All rights reserved.

For the increasingly aging population, the quest to look younger has become more important than ever. The anti-aging market is booming and represents the “key growth engine” for the entire skin care industry. Consumers have high expectations for the efficacy of skin care and want to see visible results. Thus, creating effective anti-aging products requires a thorough understanding of consumers’ cognitive and emotional needs, formulation and development chemistry, and perhaps most of all, the biology of skin aging.1

Perceived age is the marker for facial aging.2 And aging affects the texture and color of skin as well as the shape of the face.

The Biology of Skin Aging

The process of skin aging is complex and multifactorial, as structural, functional and aesthetic changes happen at a variable rate. It is misleading to consider skin aging as a uniform biological event; several distinct biological processes may occur concurrently.3

There are multiple factors of skin aging, including intrinsic, extrinsic, hormonal and catabolic, which will be discussed in further detail here. Intrinsic, chronological aging reflects the passage of time from gravity and genetics. Extrinsic aging is usually attributed to photoaging and smoking. Hormonal aging involves dysfunction or aging of hormonal systems. And catabolic aging is related to chronic diseases.

Intrinsic aging: Intrinsic skin aging is a slow process with clinical features such as smooth, pale, dry and less elastic skin having fine wrinkles that are not apparent until old age. Intrinsically aged skin shows epidermal and dermal atrophy, reduced fibroblasts, less collagen and more matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Its structurally altered dermal-epidermal junction (DEJ) may contribute to increased skin fragility and reduced nutrient transfer between the dermal and epidermal layers.4

Extrinsic aging: Extrinsic aging, due to chronic exposure to solar ultraviolet irradiation (photoaging) and smoking, leads to deep and coarse wrinkles, mottled hyperpigmentation and reduced skin elasticity. Facial skin bears the accumulation of lifelong sun exposure, which is responsible for 80% of the effects of facial skin aging. Smoking also accelerates aging, causing the degradation of elastic fibers and a significant increase in facial wrinkles. The wrinkles of smokers are deep and narrow, compared to nonsmokers. This pattern of wrinkling is referred to as “smoker’s face” and often is accompanied by gaunt features and atrophic, gray, uneven skin color.5 Further, pursing the lips and squinting while inhaling smoke may lead to the formation of sharply contoured crow’s feet and prominent peri-oral lines.

Hormonal and catabolic aging: The skin is a hormone-dependent organ, and the decline of hormonal secretions during menopause accelerates skin aging. Menopause appears as a turning point in life, with a decline in skin qualities.6 Estrogen in particular has a profound effect on skin, encouraging extracellular matrix production and preventing decreases in collagen, skin thickness, skin hydration and epidermal barrier function.7 Increased sagging, as opposed to coarse wrinkles, is the main symptom of postmenopausal aging.8