It is sad that natural changes in the skin as we grow older are often considered unacceptable and embarrassing. In the USA alone, more than $12 billion is spent each year on cosmetics to disguise or prevent the signs of ageing. We might think this is due to our youth-fixated western society, but throughout history anti-ageing potions (many of them very bizarre) have been applied to the skin.
How skin ages
- sun damage, which is probably responsible for 80% of skin ageing
- normal ageing – but without sun damage we would probably not develop wrinkles until we were in our 80s.
The sun is very bad for skin. It makes it thinner and damages its important proteins, such as collagen, which acts as scaffolding to give skin its strength, and elastin, which gives skin its bounce. Even young complexions develop fine wrinkles after sunbathing, giving the skin a coarse, grainy appearance. Collagen also supports the tiny blood vessels in the skin. Weakening of the collagen means the blood vessels show up as broken thread veins (‘farmer’s face’) and bleed more easily; these tiny bruises end up as mottled discoloration. Brownish patches, known as liver spots, gradually develop on sun-exposed areas such as the hands and sides of the forehead.
Looking after your skin as you get older
- Use a sunscreen every day. This will prevent further ageing of your skin.
- Give up smoking.
- Avoid overwashing. As your skin does not sweat as much when you are older and does not produce as much grease, body odour is not such a problem as in younger people. Obviously, you want to be hygienic, but consider bathing or showering on alternate days instead of daily.
- Use a ‘cream bar’ or ‘cream body wash’, rather than a soap.
- Avoid foam baths (bubble baths).
- After bathing or showering, apply a body cream. This is better than using a bath oil, which can make the bath or shower dangerously slippery.
For more information, look at the section on itching.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 1st 2013
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Fewer British women use anti-wrinkle cream than French, Spanish or German women (Mintel 2004)
In the UK, £545 million is spent on skin care each year (Mintel 2004)
The French call brown age spots 'les médaillons de cimetière' (cemetery medals)
Cleopatra used red wine, now known to contain alpha hydroxy acids, on her face
The Ebers papyrus, an ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1550 BC, has a recipe to cure wrinkles, made from pistachio nuts, wax, poppy seed oil and grass