In young people, skin cells are replaced every month or so; in the ageing person, this cell production is reduced by about half.
With menopause, reduction of the female hormone oestrogen causes a drop in levels of collagen, the skin's scaffolding. Elasticity and firmness is lessened and the skin begins to droop and wrinkle.
The body's natural production of lubrication (sebum) is also reduced, and skin dryness results. Sun and wind, along with home heating and air conditioning, make older skin drier still. In people over 40, dry skin equates to wrinkled skin.
You can't replace your skin, but you can recognise the two kinds of ageing, one of which is preventable. There's the inevitable kind of ageing and there's photo-ageing, or damage to skin caused by exposure to sunlight. The face of a 60-year-old will show fine wrinkles, perhaps some deeper lines, a few broken blood vessels and some colour variation. The skin on the same 60-year-old's bottom where the sun doesn't shine will tend by contrast to be smooth, soft and of consistent colour.
If you had oily skin as a teenager, your skin will tend to look younger for longer because of its high oil output. Normal skin as a teenager develops into drier skin later on and requires a change in facial skincare routines: with middle age you should swap soap-and-water for a non-drying cleansing lotion, following up with a moisturiser. A moisturising shower or bath gel will help keep the rest of your body well oiled, too. (In cold weather, always replace humidity lost by your home-heating system by use of a humidifier or by placing small bowls of water near heat sources.)
Other minor skin changes linked to ageing include the appearance of tiny red spots and small, brownish, scaly wart-like spots. These are unlikely to be skin cancer. A third skin change is the appearance of tiny broken blood vessels across cheeks and nose.
So, what to do to keep your skin looking younger longer?
- Change from soap to non-soap skin cleansers.
- Protect your skin and your scalp from sun damage.
- Humidify the air in your home to avoid dehydration.