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Skin health – get skin smart

Retaining our youthful glow is something we all hope to achieve as we head into our middle years and beyond. Learning to embrace fine lines and wrinkles is a vital part of a well-balanced approach to the aging process, but healthy choices at any life stage can help to minimise premature skin ageing.

Understanding skin science

Comprising of a thinner outer layer called the epidermis and a thicker inner layer called the dermis, our skin protects us from our external environment. The dermis, rich in collagen and elastin fibres, provides the skin’s strength and elasticity, whilst the epidermis contains keratin producing cells which act to toughen and seal the skin.

Nutrients are supplied to the dermis via a complex network of blood vessels, whilst cellular waste is drained by tissue fluid into the lymphatic system and back to the blood for removal. The epidermis, with no direct blood supply, relies entirely on tissue fluids and the lymphatic system to keep it nourished and healthy.

Melanin is produced to protect the cells’ DNA from damaging UV rays - the more exposure to the sun, the more melanin is produced. However, the amount of melanin producing cells present is genetic - those of us with fair, freckly skin having significantly fewer.

Sorting out the scavengers

Smoking, alcohol and temperature extremes all take their toll on skin but the biggest single scavenger is sun exposure. Thought to be responsible for up to 90% of skin ageing, sun exposure generates DNA damaging free-radicals as well as making the skin thinner and accelerating the degeneration of collagen and elastin, affecting the skin’s ability to repair. The powerful carotenoid astaxanthin, found in pink seafood, is not only good at mopping up free-radicals, helping to protect collagen from age-accelerating damage, but has also been shown to minimise the effects of sun exposure including skin sagging and wrinkling. Staying out of strong sun is key to protecting skin but don’t forget it does need some exposure to be able to make vitamin D, so don’t spend all the time covered up.

Suffering from sugar sag?

Coined by skin experts to describe the deleterious effect of sugar on the skin, sugar sag refers to the end result of a process called glycation, whereby sugar bonds to amino acids in collagen and elastin disrupting the fibres and making it hard for them to self-repair. Curbing a sweet tooth is the best course of action to limit damage to collagen and elastin fibres, but research also suggests some foods, including oregano, ginger, garlic and green tea, might help inhibit this process.

Supporting from within

Skin needs a constant supply of nutrients for maintenance and repair.

Vitamin A is vital for ensuring the skin is neither too oily nor too dry, and is thought to protect collagen fibres from UV damage, as well as supporting new collagen production deep in the dermis.

Vitamin C is crucial for collagen production, whilst both vitamin A and vitamin C alongside vitamin E, selenium, and zinc perform critical defence by mopping up free-radicals. Other important nutrients include vitamins B2, B3 and B5, copper and calcium in roles ranging from repair and healing to keratin formation.

Collagen itself might also be beneficial, as your body’s ability to produce it declines with age. Similarly, providing the body with sulphur, the building block for keratin, is always a great way to support skin, hair and nails. Another hero is hyaluronic acid because of its ability to hold 1000 times its weight in water. Being well hydrated in the first place is also vital so make sure you are getting your two litres a day.

Essential fatty acids are also key to supporting healthy, supple skin so top up on oily fish, flax seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds to ensure you are not deficient.

Get skin savvy

Exercise helps maintain skin tone but is also vital for lymphatic drainage to ensure skin cells can access nutrients and don’t get clogged up with waste products. Skin brushing is a great way to slough off dead skin cells, helping your skin to look its best and can also support healthy lymphatic drainage - just remember to always brush towards the heart.

And finally, nothing lights up the face more than a smile - scientific research suggests those people who smile more look younger and more radiant. So don’t forget to do what makes you smile to keep that youthful glow!