Did you know your skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ? When we’re young, we rarely think about our skin unless we get a scrape, cut or a sunburn. When adolescence and its unwanted partner acne hits, we begin to pay more attention to our skin. Then most of us slip into our skin’s “sweet spot,” our 20s and 30s when our acne has cleared up, but wrinkles and discolorations haven’t set in. By the time we reach our 40s, we’re starting to see evidence of aging: wrinkles, dark spots, dryness and sagging skin. How does our skin go from being plump, clear and luminescent to papery thin, drab, wrinkled and discolored? In this post, we’re going to explore how skin grows and how it ages.
Fun Facts about Skin
- Our skin holds our muscles and organs in place and protects our bodies from temperature extremes, bacteria and damaging ultraviolet radiation.
- Our skin also produces vitamin D and helps regulate our body’s temperature.
- As adults, we have about six to eight pounds of skin and it covers 22 square feet.
- New skin cells continuously replace old ones — as many as 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per day. In fact, our skin regenerates itself about every 27 days (when we’re young adults)!
- Three layers make up our skin: epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous. Our skin grows from the bottom layer up, with the top mini layers made up of dead cells.
The Epidermis Layer
The epidermis is the outer, thinnest layer of our skin, although it is thicker in some areas such as the bottom of our feet. Layers of cells called keratinocytes make up most of this layer, which consistently grow outward as the outermost cells die and flake off.
If you’ve ever noticed how children seem to recover from minor cuts and scrapes much faster than you, you’d be right. When we’re children, it only takes three to 10 days for the bottom layer of keratinocytes to reach the top. By the time we’re in our 30s, it takes about 28 to 45 days. By the time we reach our 50s, it can take 60 to 90 days.
You can accelerate skin cell turnover by using an exfoliating scrub like Eden Beauty’s The Brightness Coffee Scrub. Products containing acids such as glycolic, tartaric and citric acid also speed cell turnover. If you’ve ever had a chemical peel or microdermabrasion, you’ve had the outermost layers of your epidermis removed — revealing the younger skin cells below.
The epidermis also contains melanocytes, the cells that store and produce melanin. Melanin gives our skin its color and overproduction of it is what causes freckles and dark spots. If you want to learn more about how those dark patches (hyperpigmentation) form, check out our post, "Why Do I Have Dark Spots On My Skin."
The Dermis Layer
The dermis is our skin’s middle layer where a whole host of functions happen. You’ll find a network of blood vessels, hair follicles, and glands here. You’ve probably heard of sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum (oil) to lubricate our skin and hair. When our sebaceous glands are overactive, our skin looks and feels oily and shiny. We’re also more prone to breakouts since dead skin cells mix with the sebum and block pores. If you have oily skin, skincare can be tricky because over-washing or using harsh cleansers can exacerbate the problem — causing the glands to produce even more oil. As we age, our sebaceous glands tend to become less active, leading to the opposite problem of dry skin.
You can thank your dermis layer for the necessary — but not always welcome — a function of perspiration. Our skin’s sweat glands rid our body of waste fluids and release fluids when we’re overheated to lower our internal temperature.
Our skin’s blood vessels play a role in internal body temperature regulation too. When we’re overheated, our blood vessels in the dermis layer dilate, which allows more blood to circulate near the surface and release heat. When we’re exposed to cold temperatures, the opposite occurs and vessels contract to retain heat.
The dermis is also where those unwanted wrinkles begin to form. The dermis layer houses cells called fibroblasts, which synthesize the proteins elastin and collagen. Elastin and collagen give our skin elasticity and support. As we age, our skin produces less of both, so it begins to sag. Smoking and exposure to ultraviolet radiation break down the elastin and collagen faster than normal, accelerating aging and wrinkling.
And last but certainly not least, the dermis layer stores the nerves that allow us to feel touch, pain, and temperature.
The Subcutaneous Layer
The subcutaneous layer is where you’ll find subcutaneous fat, which differs from the visceral fat that forms around our organs. We need this layer of fat because it protects our muscles, organs, and bones from impact, it keeps us warm and it stores energy. As you’ve likely noticed, men and women’s bodies store subcutaneous fat in different areas. Men tend to store more around the abdomen and shoulders and women in the hips, thighs, and buttocks.
As we age, our subcutaneous layer thins out, making us more sensitive to cold — almost like gradually swapping your warm winter coat with a lightweight sweater. On the flip side, the thinner layer also means we sweat less. Since perspiring is our body’s way to cool down, we have a harder time staying cool in warm weather as we get older.
Unfortunately, our face and neck show the most significant impact when the subcutaneous layer thins out. In addition to less fat, we also have less supportive tissue — and our facial bones and muscles lose volume. The skin on our face and neck begins to sag, increasing the depth of our wrinkles.
You’ll find a wide variety of treatments to tighten drooping skin, from creams and serums to non-surgical cosmetic procedures such as ultrasound, radio-frequency and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments. The most drastic treatment is a facelift, a costly surgical procedure that removes excess skin. Creams and serums are the least expensive and pain-free options for tightening skin. Treatments that need to be performed by trained practitioners in medical settings are costly, often painful and require long recovery periods.
If painful, expensive treatments don’t appeal to you, check out our next post where we’ll list simple steps you can take to improve your skin’s appearance without medical treatments or expensive products. Eden Beauty’s line of skin care products is a great place to start if you are serious about improving your skin’s appearance!