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Know your enemies!

Your skin has many enemies – some of them (almost) beatable.

The ageing of the skin can be divided into two types. There’s ageing based on factors that are more or less inevitable and unavoidable, such as genetic and hormonal ageing. And there’s ageing based on external factors that we can partly control such as lifestyle and environmental and sun related ageing (photo-ageing).

In an ideal world…

Science estimates that if the biological clock was the only influence, age would not show on the skin until our late 50’s. And as such these so-called intrinsic and unavoidable factors perhaps only account for a minor percentage of all visible signs of skin ageing.

Know your enemy: the external factors contributing to skin ageing
It is much more interesting to look at the external skin ageing factors. Science estimates that external factors, all together, are responsible for approximately 90% of all visible signs of skin ageing. Environmental and lifestyle related factors, such as variations in indoor/outdoor climate, airborne pollutants, chemical irritants, alcohol and tobacco, all influence the appearance of the skin. However, ultraviolet light alone accounts for approximately 80% of all the damaging effects and is therefore the single most dominant factor of skin aging. This UV induced ageing is known as photo-ageing.

  • The sun is the main culprit. Exposing the skin to UV in sunlight damages the dermal structure, causing visible fine lines and wrinkles, coarseness and pigmentation changes. Make sure you always use a day cream or make-up with a suitable SPF.
  • A dry environment leads to dehydration of the skin. Probably the most extreme example is the atmosphere on board an aeroplane - which is drier than the Sahara desert – but ordinary air conditioning and central heating cause dehydration and continuous exposure will influence the skin condition. Invest in a humidifier if you spend a lot of time in artificially heated or cooled environments.
  • Airborne pollutants, dust and dirt are abundant in many environments, especially in densely populated or industrialized areas. Both the skin and the moist (mucous) linings of the nose, lungs, eyes, lips, etc. can be affected.
  • Alcohol has a diuretic effect and thus hinders the ability to maintain the correct fluid balance. As a result, the body becomes dehydrated, which of course affects the skin. Excessive alcohol intake causes blood vessels to expand, which often gives the skin a reddish colour. Wine has been shown in health studies to have beneficial antioxidant properties when consumed in moderation - an occasional glass with a meal is fine!
  • Nicotine has been found to negatively influence the very fine blood vessels in the skin. Smokers have a reduced blood flow in the skin compared with non-smokers. The insufficient blood flow over time affects the supply of nutrients and impedes removal of toxic waste products from the upper layers of the skin, and can thereby contribute to a greyish colour of skin and to the development of wrinkles. Cigarette smoke is one of the most concentrated sources of free radicals - if you can’t give up then you need to increase your anti-oxidant intake.
  • Unvaried and unbalanced diets which are low in fruits and vegetables, as well as foods with a high calorific content, have all been shown to contribute to general skin ageing. Proper nutrition is vital for healthy skin in order to ensure that essential needs are met.