There are two types of factors that contribute to the aging of skin. The intrinsic factors like genetic predisposition and chronological age we can't do much about; but the extrinsic factors like prolonged sun exposure, smoking, poor diet, and even free-radical damage we can do something about. On this page I'm going to discuss some of the positive measures we can take to keep our skin looking healthy. On the next page I'm going to discuss in detail why we should avoid prolonged sun exposure.
Many women will consider the most important measure for skin care to be cosmetics. And if you believe the brilliant advertising for the various miracle cosmetics, this will almost be self-evident. Please read Paula Begoun's Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me for the first and the last word on this subject. The Beauty Bible by Paula is also excellent. They are both at public libraries even though I'm sure Paula would prefer that you buy them.
Foods That Are Good for the Skin
I consider the most important measure for skin health to be nutrition. Since the skin is in a constant state of renewal it needs powerful nutrients to speed up the regeneration process, that is, cell renewal. It also needs the phytochemicals in certain foods to slow down free radical damage, to help protect from sun damage, and to ward off inflammation. No one food is a magic bullet, but all the foods on my list will contribute something to the maintenance of good skin.
Yogurt – Well, maybe this food is a magic bullet. Get the plain low fat yogurt with the National Yogurt Association (NYA) seal on it. This means that this yogurt has “live and active cultures.” Avoid the yogurts whose labels say “made with Active Cultures.” These yogurts are probably heat-treated after fermentation. If this is the case, all the good bacteria are dead. Get Gary B. Huffnagle’s The Probiotics Revolution at the library to find out why this real food is good for the skin, hair, and general health.
Olive Oil - Extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat. It's also a source of vitamin E and beta-carotene, nutrients essential for healthy skin. Dr. Andrew Weil says, "The monounsaturated fat in olive oil appears to be protective against heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases while saturated fats such as butter and other animal fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils are associated with increased health risks." These are added benefits. Dr. Weil also says that not all extra virgin olive oils are created equal. The cheap ones, even though "virgin olive oil" is on the label, might not be the real thing. By the way, real butter is not as horrible as once thought. Some saturated fats and animal fats are OK too.
Green Tea - The phytochemicals in tea, called polyphenols, are good for hair as well as for skin. They offer some protection against the inflammation one gets from prolonged exposure to the sun. The rays of the sun can activate a type of enzyme that degrades collagen and elastin, molecules that give a youthful appearance to the skin. These polyphenols with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties protect the skin from many environmental abuses.
Walnuts - I put them in oatmeal in the morning. I sometimes add blueberries to the mix also. Walnuts have high concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic acid and linolenic acid (ALA). These two nutrients keep the skin soft and smooth. Walnuts are also rich in trace minerals that are beneficial to the skin. Try Brazil nuts too, only a few though. Brazil nuts are loaded with selenium, an important trace mineral, but too much of this mineral can be toxic.
Sweet Potatoes - The canned potatoes are probably just as nutritious as the fresh ones, but the baked fresh ones taste great with some olive oil on them. Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and E, but they are a powerful source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A when it is digested. Only the amount of vitamin A that the body needs will be made, though, so you cannot get an overdose. (You have to be careful about getting an overdose of vitamin A in supplements. This can cause hair loss.) An adequate amount of vitamin A is important for healthy skin because it fights against the free radicals that cause wrinkles. Without adequate vitamin A in the diet the skin often looks dry.
Tomatoes - Lycopene is another phytochemical that may help reduce the damage from sun exposure. Perhaps it does this by neutralizing free radicals. Stewed tomatoes and many tomato products are rich in this nutrient. (It's hard to absorb lycopene from fresh tomatoes.) Other fruits and vegetables like watermelon and grapefruit also contain lycopene but not as much as tomatoes.
Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil Capsules - Other omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA. These inflammation fighters found in tuna, salmon, and mackerel are good for the complexion, but one hears so many warnings about mercury in fish that it's probably a good idea to get these nutrients from fish oil or fish oil capsules. And it's best to buy these supplements from a reputable company who has been in business for more than a few years. And, by the way, cod liver oil is an excellent source of vitamin D, a nutrient that works with calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth.
Broccoli - This vegetable is a nutrition powerhouse, full of beta-carotene and an excellent source of fiber. It is also full of vitamins B1 and C, and has substantial amounts of calcium, sulfur, and potassium. Almost half the calories in broccoli are protein, molecules necessary for building all cells of the body including skin cells. Aside from its skin-enhancing properties, there is a substance in broccoli called indole-3-carbinol that emulsifies estrogen, reducing the risk of breast cancer in women. Some nutritionists say that Brussels sprouts are even more powerful in their health benefits than broccoli.
Cucumber - A fruit of the vine of the gourd family, this cool vegetable contains 40% potassium, 10% sodium, 7% calcium, 20% phosphorus and 7% choline. It is an excellent source of silicon. These vitamins and minerals contribute to skin and well as hair health.
Vitamin E - This vitamin with strong antioxidant properties does many positive things for the skin - lessens sun damage, helps maintain the skin's barrier function - but it's hard to get enough of this nutrient from the foods we eat. I take Natural E-200 IU Mixed tocopherols from Puritan's Pride. It's best to take the natural form of this vitamin - the natural form is more bioactive. Even though many cosmetics now have this nutrient in their ingredient lists, this in no way reduces the body's need for vitamin E.
Notes - The vitamins and phytochemicals in this group of foods and supplements work synergistically with each other - that is, the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual nutrients. This is one of the reasons why you should include many of the foods listed above in your skin-healthy diet. There is no one "marvelous" food that gives you all the nutrients you need for healthy skin.
Those people who have studied nutrition will notice that none of the foods I listed are good sources of iron. Women, especially premenopausal women, need about 18 milligrams of iron each day. Men need about 10 milligrams. Lean meat is the best source of absorbable iron. Women who do not get sufficient iron often experience a form of diffuse hair loss called telogen effluvium. A woman can have the most radiant skin on the planet but if her hair is getting thin, she won't like her image in the mirror.
One last important note about nutrition and skin: women who are continually on low-calorie diets or who are into rigorous exercise schedules (marathon runners, etc.) have to monitor their body fat percentage. If a premenopausal woman drops below 18 percent body fat, there might be a change in her hormone balance. For one thing, she could stop menstruating and experience some bone thinning. Intelligent, well-informed eating habits can bring many health benefits like smooth skin and luxuriant hair; foolish, eccentric eating habits and over-exercise can do serious long-term damage to one's health and looks. But please read the arguments against "over exercise" in my article - Runner's Face.
One last, last important note about skin care: Visit Dr. Todorov's website, Smart Care.com. I think I've read all the articles on his pages and they are all full of helpful, well-written, and honest content. This is one site that I'm enthusiastic about and visit often.
And check out this too - Cell Renewal in Older People.
Continue to - Sun Damage
Facial Bone Loss
It isn't only the loss of elastin and collagen in the skin that makes us look older as the years go by - it's also the loss of volume in the facial bones. When people get beyond 45 years of age, the bones start to lose mass: they actually begin to dissolve and shrink.
Since the skin of older people is not as elastic as it once was, it cannot tighten around the spaces left behind. Studies done with CAT scans have shown that women lose facial bone mass earlier than men do. This is why some women appear older than men of the same age.
Bone loss can be delayed, though, by eating nutritious foods, especially foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Exercise also keeps the bones from losing mass. Hormone replacement therapy used to be thought of as beneficial for bones, too, but this has fallen out of favor because of new research findings.
The contours of the face change radically when teeth are lost. The appearance of the lower half of the face depends on the teeth. If they are missing the cheeks and lips sink in. The winning smile is a thing of the past.
Also, studies have shown that after loss of multiple teeth there is a high probability of cognitive decline or cognitive impairment.
I wash my teeth after each meal and usually floss too (unwaxed floss). And I stay away from sweets, dried fruit (raisins are the worst), and white flour. I haven't had a cavity in 60 years. These simple rituals - plus getting the teeth cleaned professionally twice a year - are all one needs in most cases to keep the teeth in good shape.
Dry skin is a problem for most people as they get older. When the skin feels and looks dry these people apply the various moisturizing creams that take care of the problem temporarily. But sometimes these creams just add to the problem causing breakouts and making the skin look dull.
Physiologically, dry skin is caused by a lack of moisture in the thin outer layer of the epidermis. This layer, just a few cells deep, is called the stratum corneum. If the dead cells in this layer become too dry because of lack of moisture and oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands, your skin starts to feel rough and flaky. Sometimes dry skin also becomes inflamed and starts to crack.
By the way, you shed about two pounds of dry dead skin cells each year. The beasties in the bed clothes love these dead skin cells and get fat on them.
What to do
If your skin really is chronically dry, a good moisturizer lightly applied will help. But to get at the problem of what causes dry skin, some other measures may be needed:
- If you live in an area where you need heat all winter, get a humidifier. This can be a huge help.
- Keep yourself protected with sunscreen when you go in the sun. Better yet, stay out of the sun.
- Drink enough water during the day.
- Eat many of the good foods that I recommend on this page. These are all skin-friendly foods that will keep your skin healthy looking.
- Avoid smoking or smoke-filled rooms, long stays in the bathtub or swimming pool, and soap (use a gentle cleanser).
Exercise and Skin
Facial exercises not only benefit the muscles of the face; they also benefit the skin that rests on the cushion the muscles provide. As the facial muscles contract during a workout, there is an increased blood flow to the skin. This increased blood flow brings nutrients to the skin, including oxygen, and removes toxins that may cause inflammation and blemishes.
As the muscles of the face increase in strength and tone, the skin that covers these muscles eventually becomes smoother and younger looking. Use a lubricant on your skin, though, before doing any form of facial exercise. I hope my repetition of this slogan is not becoming boring.
Researchers at Yale found that the more wrinkles a woman had, the lower her bone density was likely to be. The greater the number of horizontal and vertical wrinkles between the eyes, the lower bone density was likely to be in the hip.
More optimistically, the fewer wrinkles women had on the face and forehead, the stronger their bones in the hip and spine. These findings may turn out to be meaningful if future studies find the same associations between wrinkles and bone strength.