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Successful Aging: Some wrinkles and fine lines we can control, and some we can’t

Q. I recently walked into a store to get some eye makeup remover. Before I could make my request, a male associate asked If wanted a cream to get rid the fine lines and dark circles under my eyes. I was so surprised by the way he asked the question, not waiting for me to make my request. Was he just being honest to help me or was I too sensitive? Don’t we all have fine lines? And by the way, any suggestions to diminish them? I am 53 years old. D.L.

Dear D.L.

What an unusual way to make a sale.

Our face does get a lot of attention. It is the first thing a person sees that leads to a conclusion about a person’s age. The fine lines, wrinkles and coloration are considered indicators of chronological age and even general health.

The cosmetic and cosmeceutical industry is considered an antidote to signs of normal aging. I assume your sales associate who waited on you held an image of face perfection, meaning no dark circles, lines or wrinkles. That also may represent the image of a vacuous face of a person who has not emotionally engaged in a full and active life and therefore has no character lines.

The effects of aging on the skin is an area of study. Leonard Hayflick, highly regarded Professor of Anatomy at University of California, San Francisco has been quoted as saying that aside from skin-related diseases, it is not clear why one should even study aging of the skin. “No one dies of old skin. It never really wears out or falls off. There is heart failure but not skin failure.”

Let’s talk about reasons for wrinkles and lines. According to the Mayo Clinic, some we can control; others we cannot.

Age: As we age, our skin becomes less elastic and more fragile. Because of the decrease in the production of natural oils, the skin becomes drier and may appear more wrinkled. As we lose fatty tissue, which is part of aging, the skin can easily sag causing more pronounced lines and wrinkles. Note wrinkles and fine lines are part of natural aging, although Dr. Nicholas Perricone in his book “The Wrinkle Cure” refers to wrinkles as a disease on page one of his book. Facial lines are part of normal aging.

Genes: Genetics play a role. Researchers led by Procter & Gamble referred to the human genome project that made it possible to analyze aging by examining hundreds of genetic changes that occur in our skin due to aging. Although the genetic influence cannot be controlled, it can be ameliorated by lifestyle choices.

Exposure to ultraviolet light: Sun is the main source and the primary cause of early wrinkling, accelerating the natural aging process. The light breaks down connective tissues of collagen and elastin fibers, which are in the deeper layers of the skin. This decreases the supportive tissue causing the skin to lose strength and flexibility that leads to sagging and wrinkles. We have some influence here.

Smoking: This accelerates the normal aging process, which may occur after 10 years of smoking, according to the Mayo Clinic. Aside from age, smoking is the strongest predictor of facial wrinkling in men and women writes Dr. J. Taylor Hays of the Mayo Clinic. “The nicotine causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of the skin, impairing blood flow to the skin. As a result, the skin does not get as much oxygen and important nutrients such as vitamin A.” He adds that the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke damage collagen and elastin, important for skin elasticity. Yes, we can control this: Don’t smoke.

Repeated facial expressions: Our facial movements and expressions lead to fine lines and wrinkles. That would include frowns, pouts and smiles. For example, each time we smile, we use a facial muscle that causes a groove from beneath the surface of the skin. As we age, the skin loses the capacity to spring back. Smile lines are joyous, frown lines are not. Lines from expressing our emotions are part of living.

D.L. Thank you for your question. As to whether you were too sensitive, I think not. Your sales associate made some assumptions and was a bit too eager to make the sale, pre-empting your agenda.

Next week we’ll discuss lifestyle choices that affect those facial character lines.

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