I don't consider it conceited to take pride in one's appearance, when we feel comfortable in our own skin we feel confident, outgoing and able to enjoy life to the full.
It could be said we have two ages, the first being our Chronological Age, how old our bodies are in actual yearly terms, but a second or Biological Age that depends on the wear and tear we put our bodies through. And the rate at which our skin ages differs for us all, with 10% of ageing intrinsic, dependent on our genes, and to a large degree out of our control. Taking a look at your parents can give you a clue as to how you might look in later life! Other ageing factors are extrinsic and controllable, such as a bad diet, smoking, excessive drinking, stress, or over exposure to weather or sun. This premature skin ageing can be avoided, so what really counts is how we live our lives.
The human face is the only part of the body where the muscles are attached directly to the skin instead of bones and each time we react to people or situations we tighten our lips, flicker our eyelids, smile, or frown in response. A smile uses seven muscles but it can take 32 muscles to frown, so repeated over many years these movements get etched on our faces and give each of us our unique look. A positive attitude helps delay the ageing process because positive emotions use less facial muscles than negative emotions, resulting in fewer lines!
We women spend a lot of time and money worrying about our looks and the state of our skin, but what we see in the mirror is only the surface layer called the epidermis. But beauty is skin deep and has 3 layers - including the middle layer called the dermis and lower layer, the hypodermis. It's what goes on below the surface layer - in both the dermis and hypodermis - that really matters and is where the skin process begins. These lower layers contain hair follicles, nerve endings, connective tissue, blood vessels, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and collagen fibres. New cells are constantly being formed and renewed and it takes approximately 30 days for them to find their way up to the skin's surface. So what we see in the mirror are by then old cells, and these shed naturally in a continuous process. As we get age the process takes longer - so what's new!
Activity helps keep our body young, along with relaxation and a good night's sleep. Excess smoking, alcohol and coffee are bad for skin, and be aware - over exposure to sun really does takes its toll - becoming evident 30 or so years later. So always apply sun protection cream, a minimum of 15 on your body and SPF 50 on your face.
Skin is our body's only external organ, protecting what is inside, and keeping harmful things on the outside, effectively retaining essential fluids, protecting internal organs, resisting infections and acting as a physical barrier to damage. Your environment and lifestyle influence how your body ages, and pollutants found in the atmosphere in products and foods can create destructive free radicals which damage cell membranes, DNA and proteins causing premature skin ageing. So do your research, read the labels on toiletry and perfumery products in particular, and avoid many of the synthetic chemicals they contain which could be skin irritants, skin penetrators, and endocrine disrupters or be carcinogenic.
Naturally changes will occur with age and in our 30's damage from the sun, pollutants, poor diet and misuse of alcohol start to make skin changes noticeable, wrinkles begin to appear and we get interested in anti-ageing products! After the age of 35 skin, along with the rest of our body starts to age naturally, with cell production taking longer during our 40's. Cells lose their ability to hold water, resulting in drier more sensitive skin and with thread veins beginning to appear it's time to start using anti-ageing products regularly.
In our 50's the menopause, and the associated drop in oestrogen levels results in thinner, drier, flaky skin with less elasticity. Sun damage from previous years will now appear as dark patches, and with less collagen and elastin excess fat is able to form into deep furrows and droopy jowls. As the years roll by ageing, like everything in life is subject to gravity, and many parts of our bodies including skin, begins to droop!
Throughout the 60's and 70's we start to shrink as we naturally lose bone mass. Skin around our bones sags and muscles get increasingly thin, especially if they are not used. Weight loss causes our face to look longer, particularly around the jowls, eyelids and nose and skin becomes increasingly dry, often paper thin. As the years roll on age spots, blemishes and unevenly distributed pigmentation become more obvious.
If you want a preview of how you'll look in older age try my Upside Down test! Stand with your legs apart, bend forward and hold a hand mirror between your knees and take a look at your reflection. Observe the Forces of Gravity!
For one of my books ("Fresh Face") I made a study of ways to avoid premature ageing and was amused by Erwin Tschachler, a Professor of Dermatology who said "Ideally we should do a study of natural ageing in a Nunnery, with subjects who have stayed out of the sun, and subjects who have lived their lives without vices" I decided that was unreal and a bit boring and concluded that beauty can be ageless; it just depends on knowing what your skin needs and how to care for it.
In 2015 I think Age is just a number - it's Attitude combined with Knowledge that can make us comfortable in our own skin."
This article originally appeared in Vintage Life Magazine 2015