“Don’t complain about growing old, it is a privilege denied to many” and so goes the famous quote. Recently there has rightly been a bit of a backlash against the concept of “anti-ageing” skincare.
Ageing is a natural process, a normal and healthy part of life, and not something that we can stop. Working with the body and its natural systems to slow down the outward signs of ageing or to enhance our natural beauty as we age seems like a much more positive approach.
Anti-Ageing On The Rise
Regardless of our feelings on the ageing process, the value of the “anti-ageing” cosmetics market is on the rise! It was valued at $60.42 billion in 2021 and is set to reach $119.6 billion by 2030. Surprisingly women are purchasing anti-ageing products at a much younger age as part of “age prevention” skin care routines.
How Skin Ageing Works
Firstly let’s look at what happens in the skin during the ageing process so we can understand which skincare ingredients can actually have an impact. Skin ageing looks different in the various layers of the skin.
In the epidermal layer – the top layer – there is a loss of hyaluronic acid content, slower cell turnover and a reduction in the production of sebum. The impact of all this is that the skin becomes rougher and drier. This layer also becomes more sensitive to the sun and less efficient at healing itself.
The middle layer – the dermal layer – is where your collagen is stored and from your mid twenties your store of collagen starts to decline along with elastin. Collagen is an important protein that provides structural support to the skin. Elastin is a protein that allows your skin to stretch. A decline in both leads to a compromised structure and loss of elasticity and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. The production of hyaluronic acid also slows down so the skin becomes drier. There is also reduced microcirculation meaning less nutritions and oxygen being delivered to this area of the skin and so the skin doesn’t look as youthful or radiant.
In the base layer or subcutaneous layer there is a reduction in the size and amount of fat storing cells. This results in saggy skin and less volume, again leading to deep wrinkles and hollow looking areas on the face e.g. the cheeks.
Can I Reverse Skin Ageing?
What can we do to slow down this process, do we have any control over it? Well we can and we can’t! Yes there are some external factors that affect the rate at which our skin ages and we will discuss these soon but there are also internal factors that we can’t control, they are just a fact of life!
Examples are hormonal changes – e.g. decrease in oestrogen that we see in women going through the menopause. A decreased blood supply to the skin equals less oxygen and nutrients and so duller less radiant skin and this is just a natural part of the ageing process.
Finally genetics play an important role, certain skin types are more prone to wrinkles at an earlier age.
The #1 Tool Against Ageing
There is good news though, there are external factors that we can control to lessen the impact on skin ageing. Photoaging, or ageing caused by sun damage is the number one cause of all outward signs of skin ageing and can simply be prevented by protecting our skin from exposure to the sun. This is why we should wear sunscreen all year round.
Other external factors we can control to various extents are pollution, diet and smoking.
There are a number of active ingredients within skin care products that are lauded for their ability to slow down the ageing process. Let’s look at them and see if they are worth including in our routines.
Retinoids are the superstars of the skin care world! Retinoid is an umbrella term for the compounds derived from Vitamin A. They range from OTC strength right up to prescription only.
- Retinols – OTC strength, not as strong as prescription strength as retinol needs to be converted to retinoic acid on the skin to work – the more conversions needed the weaker it is and the longer it will take to see results – but you should see results. Retinols can be quite strong so don’t underestimate them!
- Retinoid Esters – OTC strength – can be retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, propionic acid etc. Again, these are weaker because they need to be converted to retinoic acid on the skin but they are a good starting point or a great option for sensitive skin.
- Adapalene – OTC strength and used to treat acne. Also known as Differin.
- Retinoic Acid – prescription strength – Retin-A, Tretinoin. Much stronger and works quicker because no conversion is required. Tretinoin is OTC in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy but prescription only everywhere else.
- Isotretinoin – prescription strength, known as Accutane and used to treat severe acne.
So now that we know what the different types are, what can they do for us?
Does Retinol Actually Work?
Retinoids are powerful antioxidants; they neutralise free radicals and they block the production of an enzyme that breaks down collagen. They also help boost collagen and stimulate elastin synthesis.
Retinoids interact with retinoic and retinoid X receptors in the nucleus of the cell – these receptors increase the production of procollagen. As previously stated collagen and elastin are proteins in our skin that give our skin firmness, elasticity and strength and their levels decrease as we get older. Retinoids trick our skin into thinking and acting like it’s younger!
A study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that a 0.1% retinol product reduced the appearance of wrinkles on the cheeks by 63.74% and eye area by 38.74% after 12 weeks of use.
Are Retinols Safe?
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But there are some side effects and interactions you need to be aware of. The use of retinoids, especially higher strengths can cause dry irritated skin, redness, itchiness, and peeling skin. The side effects are usually temporary though and improve as you get used to using the product.
Sunburn is a big risk and some of the irritating effects can be made much worse by sun exposure as well as your skin is much more prone to burning. We recommend you use retinoid-based products at night and use sunscreen every day while using them.
Retinoid products are also not recommended for use while pregnant, there are links between Vitamin A and birth defects. People on prescription retinoids should seek guidance from their GP if they become pregnant.
Get Your Vit (C) Hit!
Vitamin C is the primary water soluble antioxidant in our skin and plays a very important role in the collagen production within our skin. In fact it is one of the few ingredients that has been shown in studies to help the skin make collagen.
In a study from 1999 a 10% Vit C serum was shown to decrease wrinkles when applied for a 3 month period. A few years later another study using a 5% Vit C cream for a 6 month period showed statistically significant improvement in skin hydration, wrinkles, glare, brown spots and skin density.
What Do I Look Out For?
- Ascorbic Acid or pure Vitamin C– works best at high concentrations, can boost the skin’s collagen production, can fade pigmentation marks, and used with sunscreen it can boost its UV protection. Extremely unstable, can be irritating in high doses.
- Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate – oil soluble version, stable, better skin penetration ability because its oil soluble, antioxidant, increases collagen synthesis but only in vitro results for now – meaning that there are no studies to date of the effects on actual humans!
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate – stable up to pH 7 but poorly absorbed compared to Ascorbic Acid, in vitro studies shows it does convert to ascorbic acid on the skin, can boost collagen synthesis, skin brightening seems to be its strongest benefit
- Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate – stable up to pH 7, but poorly absorbed, but has great antioxidant properties, in vitro collagen boosting, and strong antimicrobial effect against P. acnes
The Hyaluronic Hero
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a naturally occuring humectant in our skin. A humectant means that it has water-binding abilities. 1 gram of HA can bind up to 6 litres of water. It behaves like a sponge in our skin, helping our skin to attract and retain its water content.
It not only plays a part in hydration it also is involved in maintaining the skin’s elasticity, reducing the skin’s inflammatory response, regenerating the damaged skin barrier and plumping up water-loss related wrinkles. As we age HA becomes less available in the top layers of our skin.
What Do I Look Out For?
- Hyaluronic Acid
If you see hyaluronic acid on an ingredients list, the product will contain the larger molecular sized – hyaluronic acid. This ingredient won’t be able to reach deeper levels of your skin, but it will sit at the very top layer of your epidermis, increasing moisture levels at the skin surface.
- Sodium Hyaluronate
Sodium hyaluronate on a label means the hyaluronic hit is from a lower molecular weight salt of hyaluronic acid. The effects of this ingredient reach further as it has been chopped into smaller fragments that can penetrate to a deeper layer of the skin. This means this form of hyaluronic acid is able to provide deeper hydration.
- Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer
Sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer is a crosslinked hyaluronic acid – hyaluronic acid pieces are chemically bound together to create a big mesh. It has an even better water binding ability, a long-lasting effect and is more resistant to enzymes that break down hyaluronic acid.
These are just some of the most popular versions of hyaluronic acid found in skincare products. There are even more types available and they can come in various combinations within products for example 4D hyaluronic acid! Some brands are getting wonderfully innovative in their use of various hyaluronic acid together so check those ingredients lists, to understand exactly what kind of hyaluronic acid you are getting in your skincare.
That’s all we have this week for positive ageing, but stay tuned for part 2 where we chat more positive ageing warriors such as peptides and ceramides.