I Discovered the Secrets of Aging Skin. Here's How to Protect Yours
I’ll admit it: in my twenties, I didn’t think much about anti-aging skincare.
Sure, I wore sunscreen and moisturized, but I also spent hours in the sun as a lifeguard and went to bed one too many times without washing my face.
Once I hit 30, it felt like my skin changed overnight. It was dry, blotchy, and my under-eye bags became a permanent feature.
So I turned to the wonders of the world wide web to overhaul my skincare routine. And now, I’d like to share my learnings with you.
Here’s everything you need to know about anti-aging skincare.
Our skin makeup
Before we can figure out how to treat aging skin, it is first important to understand our skin. As we age, our skin goes through changes, including epidermal thinning, slower cell turnover, and the structure starts to break down.
The top layer of or skin, the epidermis, contains various skin cells and substances including:
- Keratin: a protein that makes cells bind to each other to form a protective layer on the skin
- Lipids: a mixture of ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol that play an important role in building a protective barrier to aid in the natural repair process
- Melanocytes: cells that are responsible for the creation of melanin, which is what determines skin color
- Desmosome: an anchoring junction that helps to link cells together
The deeper layer of the skin is called the dermis and consists of:
- Fibroblasts: a type of cell that forms collagen and the structural framework in the tissue of the skin. Fibroblasts are crucial in wound healing.
- Collagen: a protein that brings strength and structure to the skin
- Lymph Vessels: vessels that carry white blood cells in the skin
- Capillaries: vessels that carry blood in the skin
- Sweat glands: small glands that secrete sweat
- Sebum glands: glands that secrete oil
- Hair follicles: sheaths that surround the root of the hair
- Nerve endings: touch receptors enabling us to feel sensations
As we can see, there is a lot more to our skin than meets the eye. All of these components are crucial to our skin’s appearance and factor into signs of aging, such as discoloration, wrinkles, uneven tone, and uneven texture.
How aging changes our skin
First things first, it is impossible to stop the aging process (unfortunate, I know!). Our skin will naturally change over time, and that’s okay.
However, there are things we can do to take better care of our skin throughout the aging process so that these changes are less noticeable.
Wrinkles are one of the main concerns when it comes to aging skin. These lines appear when collagen begins to break down within the dermis. As time passes, collagen production slows down pretty drastically, with a near 70% decrease by the time we hit 80 years old.
Hyaluronic acid decreases
As we age, levels of hyaluronic acid decrease—a compound that helps the skin draw in moisture from the environment. When the skin has less hyaluronic acid is becomes harder for it to retain water, causing dehydration and leading to a breakdown of the skin’s barrier. This can lead to unusual sensitivity, dry patches, premature fine lines, slow cell turnover, and uneven texture.
The total number of active melanocytes in our skin decreases at a rate of 8%-20% every single decade. The result? Uneven pigmentation in our skin.
Another factor affecting discoloration is cell turnover. When we are younger, our epidermis entirely turns over every 26 days, with new cells replacing old (pretty amazing, right?). But as we age, this turnover process slows down, leading to discoloration where dead skin and other impurities remain on the surface for longer.
Aside from naturally occurring changes in our bodies, our environment can contribute to the appearance of aging skin as well.
Fortunately, unlike natural causes, we do have some control over the environmental factors: especially our skincare routine, our diet, and even our mental health. Foods like sugar can have negative long-term effects on our skin. And of course, we all know the havoc that UV rays can have. Avoiding these negative factors will help you keep your skin healthy.
How does anti-aging skincare work?
As we’ve seen, a lot starts to change with our skin as we age. The production of collagen and elastin decreases, the dermal structure collapses, and wrinkles start to appear. But there are things we can do to control some of this process.
The role of anti-aging skincare isn’t to stop this process, since that would be impossible. Instead, skincare uses active ingredients to help reduce the impact of natural wear and tear on our skin.
Anti-aging skincare ingredients
Various ingredients have been proven to help with the common stressors on aging skin. Below are some of the most common anti-aging skincare ingredients to look for.
Hopefully this doesn’t need to be reiterated, but: wear sunscreen.
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be how important sunscreen is. When we use sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection, it protects against UVA and UVB rays. Make sure it is at least 30 SPF to reap the benefits.
Damage from the sun can cause many serious issues you’ll want to avoid, like skin cancer. It can also cause cosmetic damage, like the breakdown of collagen and elastin, which keeps our skin firm and plump. This type of sun damage can lead to sagging skin and wrinkles. Sun exposure can also lead to dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Sunscreen alone will not reduce your current wrinkles and dark spots, but it will certainly protect you from further damage.
While anti-aging skincare research is still relatively new, research on the benefits of sunscreen is abundant and solid. So lather up!
For help picking out the perfect sunscreen, check out our list of vegan and cruelty-free sunscreens.
Besides our trusty sunscreen, retinoids have the best evidence of helping with aging skin. All retinoids are a form of naturally occurring vitamin A. While it is possible to get this vitamin from different foods, such as carrots and broccoli, our body needs to work hard to convert food to ingredients that our skin can actually use.
Retinoid products are a more direct way to use this powerful vitamin. They work by helping our skin speed up its natural cell turnover, so we shed dead skin cells more frequently. This increased cell turnover helps address fine lines, dark spots, and even acne. Some research has also shown that retinoids increase collagen production.
Because of its potent anti-aging qualities, retinoid products are found everywhere nowadays. We love this Natural Anti-Aging Cream from Nature’s Cure: it has 2.5% vegan retinol and is gentle enough for sensitive areas such as under the eyes.
Retinol is eventually converted into retinoic acid in the body. Retinoic acid is often found in strong acne medications such as Accutane. Retinoic acid helps with acne by increasing cell turnover, and this magic can also carry mega benefits for anti-aging.
The bad news is that retinoic acid products are almost exclusively available through a prescription—so, not necessarily the easiest to obtain. On the plus side, prescription products tend to be higher-quality and closely regulated, so you can trust you are getting a good dose should you opt for the prescription retinoic acid route.
The reason for requiring prescriptions is a good one: these products are quite strong, and some users experience side effects including dryness, flaking, itching, and sensitivity. If you start on a retinoic acid medication, be sure to also pick up a powerful moisturizer and load up on the sunscreen.
Vitamin C does wonders for the skin and is one of the most common ingredients in skincare products on the market today. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to counteract and protect against free radicals—molecules that can cause serious damage to healthy cells. It can also help to brighten our dark spots over time.
Of course, nothing in life is perfect. Vitamin C is unstable and is prone to breaking down and becoming less effective, so it is important to buy products that come in airless, opaque packaging to ensure longer shelf-life.
Vitamin C can also be tricky for those who have very sensitive skin. Most vitamin C products on the market today have a concentration between 5% and 20%, so if you’re just starting out with the vitamin, try out lower concentrations first.
One powerful vitamin C serum is Biossance’s Squalane + Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum, a powerful and lightweight formula containing 10% vitamin C.
Niacinamide is enjoying the spotlight in the skincare world lately. A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide has been shown to fight free radical damage, brighten dark spots, and even help with acne.
Niacinamide is also naturally kinder to the skin than some other anti-aging ingredients, so is a good option for those with sensitive skin. If you are looking to give it a try, Glossier’s Super Pure is a great cruelty-free option. It contains 5% niacinamide plus zinc to reduce the appearance of congested pores.
If you were like me and endured years of acne, you are no stranger to salicylic acid. Turns out, it is extremely helpful for aging skin, too.
Salicylic acid has some serious exfoliating properties which aid in managing signs of aging, including promoting cell turnover. Some research has also shown that it can boost collagen production. And unlike other chemical exfoliants, salicylic acid is oil-soluble, allowing it to get deeper into our greasy pores and give them a good cleansing.
Using salicylic acid in a cleanser is a solid way to properly exfoliate the skin. SLMD’s Salicylic Acid Cleanser is amazing: gentle enough to not disrupt the skin barrier but effective enough to remove dirt, dead skin, and oil from our pores. It also helps to prevent pores from clogging up again.
Hyaluronic acid is very popular these days, and for good reason: it hydrates skin, making it look plumper and younger. We naturally produce the humectant (meaning it draws water molecules into the skin), making it very unlikely to cause irritation or allergic reactions when applied in skincare products.
Unfortunately, the effects of hyaluronic acid are not permanent—so applying it every day is necessary to keep up the hydration it provides. If you’re searching for a more permanent solution, ask your dermatologist about hyaluronic acid fillers, which last between six months and two years.
The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid serum is a fan favorite, with rave reviews and coming in at only $6.80. In addition to the impressive benefits of hyaluronic acid, this daily serum helps protect the skin’s barrier and restore a healthy pH balance.
Lactic acid, another AHA, also works as a chemical exfoliant, removing dirt and dead skin cells. It also tends to be a bit gentler than other options, so is ideal for those with sensitive skin. Lactic acid is often formulated along with other acids, including salicylic acid and glycolic acid, so users can reap the benefits of multiple ingredients within one product.
The Tata Harper Resurfacing Serum is an excellent source of lactic acid drawn from bilberry, plus glycolic acid from sugarcane. The serum helps to resurface dull skin, leaving it brighter and smoother.
Our skin does its best to protect itself, but sometimes it could use a little help. The skin’s barrier begins to break down over time, leaving our skin susceptible to dehydration, fine lines, and damage caused by the environment.
Ceramides are helpful in restoring this barrier and sealing in hydration. Because of their powerful moisturizing effects, ceramides are also excellent for eczema.
The Cocokind Ceramide Barrier Serum is crafted with five different types of ceramides and lipids that mimic and support the skin’s natural barrier. This gorgeous serum nourishes and hydrates the skin naturally to achieve a healthier appearance.
Please note: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
Jackie Lutze has been writing about cruelty-free beauty for years and loves finding the best vegan products to help readers build their ultimate beauty routine.
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