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Epigenetics, Telomere Length, & What We Know About Aging Skin

As we age, the dermis begins to thin, the cellular regeneration process slows, and visible signs of aging become more, well, visible. The biggest concern regarding the skin as it ages is the erosion of its structural integrity over time, i.e. skin’s laxity, smoothness, firmness, etc. Aging, from the inside, happens without our control, and over time, a “buildup” of potentially damaging products inevitably affects and tends to slow down cellular metabolism or functioning (Farage et al., 2013).

It makes sense; even the most beautiful race car’s parts become run down over time if they’re not maintained properly and are run too hard on the race track. Also, there’s no shifting into reverse, or is there?

Looking forward, we can evaluate how we’re driving the car, what fuel we’re using, which race track we choose to drive on, and more. Following me?

The skin is part of a larger system.

A Typical Tale

The dermis’ thickness decreases, blood flow decreases, fat content decreases, collagen turnover slows, and elastin strength and production slows; all of these reasons contribute to a “loss” of structure, leading to the appearance of more thin, wrinkled, dry skin. The erosion of these “building blocks” of the skin also leads to a risk of tear-type injuries and slower repair.

That being said, there are a few notable ways to maintain the look of healthy, youthful skin, as we age gracefully.

The Skin As Part of A System

As we mentioned in the “Thinking About Beauty Standards” blog, we can overcome society’s obsession with appearance by caring for the skin with a focus on function and overall quality of life. After all, the skin does a whole lot for us.

The skin helps protect us from external bacteria and pollutants, helps maintain body temperature, helps regulate internal hydration, serves as a major source of sensory functions, and also as a way to survey immune response (Farage et al., 2013). Let’s cut the skin some slack, or at least buy it a soothing body wash once and a while. (See Environ’s 100 ml Vitamin A, C, & E Body Oilf or a luxurious treat)

Hormones and Genetics

Estrogen levels have been shown to strongly influence the skin’s structural integrity over the lifespan, thus symptoms like dryness, thinning skin, or irritation are often noted in midlife when estrogen levels significantly drop for women. Men are not exempted from hormonal changes that affect the skin as well.  In the blog, “Menopause and Skincare,” we examine this deeper. Regarding genes, we know family-inherited genes contribute to the risk for certain skin conditions. For example, a family with a history of parents developing melanoma can make a guess that their risk is higher. While genes play an important role in getting to know what risk factors and precautions we want to take, that’s not the whole equation.

Hormones and genes are important to be aware of, but there are steps you can take beyond these factors.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics is where the real world interacts with our genes. Those who study epigenetics recognize that our environment plays a significant role in how certain genes are “activated” (or not). Factors like pollution, sun exposure, daily skin care management and protection, diet, water, exercise, work demands, overall stress levels, sleep, and more fall under epigenetic factors that have an effect on our bodies, minds, and skin. We know other toxic environmental factors like smoke accelerate natural aging processing (Farage et al., 2013). UV light results in many alterations to our DNA each day, contributing to the “buildup,” irritating our cell’s ability to do its job well– maintaining a strong external barrier.

a close up of a flower

Can You Measure How Fast You’re Aging?

How do we know how “fast” we’re aging anyway? Scientists have known for a while now there is an association between telomere length and aging cells. A Telomere is essentially the endcap part of a strand of DNA. Telomeres protect the DNA from wear and tear, help repair it, and help preserve the critical information within the DNA. Telemores are critical for the lifespan of a given cell. They shorten with age. Those with shorter telomeres are more at risk for cell death, sickness, and a shorter lifespan. And telomere length can be affected by various lifestyle factors, including the rate at which an individual is aging. (Babizhayev et al., 2011). While this all seems straightforward, is the shortening process on its own timeline, or is there anything we can do about the speed at which our DNA telomeres shorten? There is.

Protecting the Skin from the Inside And Outside Elements

Factors affecting cell function and DNA integrity include eating a rich diet in antioxidants, exercising, sleeping, reducing stress, protecting ourselves against environmental toxins and pollutants, sun protection, and more. It is by protecting and nourishing our skin from the outside and protecting it externally that we can take control over part of this natural aging process (Shammas, 2011).

In essence, our environment and the choices we make greatly impact the length of time our cell spends either flourishing or rapidly degrading.

Protecting the skin’s external barrier is a great way to combat environmental factors like sun and pollution. Using a daily moisturizer and sunscreen in addition to reapplying something like the Environ anti-pollution spritz can greatly help your skin’s cells’ ability to maintain happy functioning, hydration, and blockage of harmful UV rays. (Ask about Environ’s Comfort+ enriched antioxidant gel, colostrum gel, anti-pollution masque, or anti-pollution spritz.)

The Risk of Not Protecting the Skin

Someone with aged skin, who has not taken any preventative care strategies, is far more prone to more serious and even fatal skin conditions. It’s the dilemma of someone who is a longtime smoker versus someone who has never smoked. Their cells will look and function differently. The signs of aging will be visible on the skin, but they will also be felt.

diagram

Oxidative stress (from environmental factors) leads to DNA damage, telomere shortening, and hormonal changes, all eventually resulting in faster-aging skin (Lee, 2021).

a man standing in a dark room

What We Know About Skin Science Today | Vitamin A

Skincare routines and management matters. A daily skincare routine is critical, as much as we would prioritize daily exercise. Our cells are nourished by everything in our environment, so it’s important to take a look at how we’re caring for the skin from the inside out, over a lifespan. By working with your local dermatologist to address the look of prior skin damage with the use of vitamin, antioxidant, and peptide-rich daily topical products as well as professional skin care treatments, you can formulate a plan to have glowing, fearlessly aging skin for a lifetime.

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References:

Farage, M. A., Miller, K. W., Elsner, P., & Maibach, H. I. (2013). Characteristics of the aging skin. Advances in Wound Care, 2(1), 5–10. https://doi.org/10.1089/wound.2011.0356

Babizhayev, M. A., Savel’yeva, E. L., Москвина, С., & Yegorov, Y. E. (2011). Telomere Length is a Biomarker of Cumulative Oxidative Stress, Biologic Age, and an Independent Predictor of Survival and Therapeutic Treatment Requirement Associated With Smoking Behavior. American Journal of Therapeutics, 18(6), e209–e226. https://doi.org/10.1097/mjt.0b013e3181cf8ebb

Lee, A. (2021). Skin Pigmentation Abnormalities and Their Possible Relationship with Skin Aging. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(7), 3727. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22073727

Shammas, M. A. (2011). Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 14(1), 28–34. https://doi.org/10.1097/mco.0b013e32834121b1

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