Of course, it’s a good thing that we’re all living longer (UK life expectancy is now 79.3 years for males and 82.9 for females, vs. 1900 when it was just 47 for a man and 50 for a woman) – but the downside is the effects of ageing (e.g. physically, mentally, and emotionally).
Many factors affect our appearance as we age, including our lifestyles, hormones and even the weather. No one can expect to look the same as they did in their 20s, but ageing can be unsettling, with many of us wondering if we have a normal number of wrinkles for our age, or if our hair is turning grey too soon.
When we age, our cells die to make room for new ones — a normal part of the body’s functioning. When we get older however, old cells die because they can only divide a limited number of times or die from harm for example sunlight, radiation, and free radicals.
In simple terms, free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage our cells. These atoms essentially have missing electrons which causes them to search for other atoms that have these electrons to bind with to become stable. Because of their reactive nature, they can damage our skin by causing oxidative stress, weakening living cells and tissues, causing us to age quicker.
Here, we take a look into the effects ageing has on our skin and hair, with recommendations to mitigate these effects by looking after ourselves correctly.
The effects on skin
Skin is the ultimate proof of changes in ageing. After all, our skin has faced gravity, daily facial movement, sleep, stress, diet, alcohol, and sunlight exposure for our whole lives. And if you smoke, your skin will have significantly more wrinkles than your non-smoking counterparts of the same age. Hormone changes occur too, in particular, estrogen during menopause. Estrogen reduction causes a loss of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production, which are the three pillars of youthful skin, with reduction beginning in our 30s which reduces dramatically in our 40s and 50s.
As we grow older, the skin becomes:
- Rougher due to being unable to retain water
- Slacker due to the loss of elastin
- Thinner, which makes it more transparent
- Bruises easier from thinner blood vessel walls
- Uneven, exhibiting melasma and hyperpigmentation
- Dry and flaky
So, what can we do to prevent these effects? It sounds like pretty much everything we do has a negative effect on our ageing skin — but this doesn’t mean you should remain indoors for the rest of your life and only drink water if you want to remain youthful, you should still enjoy yourself but take precautions.
Sun is the biggest culprit of ageing skin. Over time, everyday gradual exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the elastin in our skin, causing it to eventually sag and stretch. Sun damage doesn’t show until we’re older, and there’s nothing to do to reverse it.
Firstly, and most importantly, apply sun cream on your face, neck, and hands every day when you’re outside. And not just in summer, but in winter too and on cloudy days. The winter sun and clouds can still allow damage to be caused without you noticing, that will be revealed when you’re older. Ignore the SPF in your foundation — it isn’t as effective as a facial sun cream with SPF 30 or 50.
Retinoid, a topical vitamin A derivative, is renowned among dermatologists and in research for its anti-ageing properties by promoting skill renewal, exfoliating the outermost layer of skin, and encouraging collagen production. For example The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid is an affordable option to keep skin remaining young and healthy.
It’s never too late to invest in a retinol product — dermatologists recommend the products are suitable for anyone over the age of 18, however the younger you start, the better the reward. If you decide to apply retinol, you must wear sun cream as the nature of this product makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Always read the instructions to make sure you’re using it to its full potential.
- Cutting out smoking to reduce premature aging
- Reduce alcohol intake due to its dehydrating effects
- Regular moisturisation after bathing
- Drink plenty of water — around two litres a day
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
The effects on hair
When we age, our hair turns grey — unfortunately this is genetic and not something we can totally avoid. But have you ever considered other ways hair ages? Like skin, hair faces numerous changes as we get older, including thinning, growing slower, and becoming dry. Every strand is comprised of the strengthening keratin protein, and when we age, levels decrease which makes our hair weaker and less elastic. Just like our faces, our scalps are affected by time, with cell renewal slowing down and hormone changes.
Sun damage and pollution are also key accelerators of ageing hair which dry out the scalp and make it dull and dry. It’s recommended that to slow down signs of ageing hair, hair and nail vitamins like Pharma Nord’s Evelle tablets help protect hair from free radical oxidative stress, sun damage, and pollution. With our bodies not getting the nutrients we need when we’re older, taking vitamins with a clean diet helps keeps our strands strong, Try to minimise using heat on your hair, wear a hat on hot days to protect your hair and scalp, as well as staying hydrated at all times. When buying shampoo, check for zinc pyrithione shampoos, which is hydrating and soothing for the scalp.
Although ageing is inevitable, there are steps we can take to age well by looking after ourselves and understanding what the damages are caused by. Don’t underestimate the impact that water, good food, and exercise can have on your body and appearance!
Shao, Y., He, T., Fisher, G.J., Voorhees, J.J. and Quan, T., 2017. Molecular basis of retinol anti‐ageing properties in naturally aged human skin in vivo. International journal of cosmetic science, 39(1), pp.56-65.