Lifestyle

4 pillars for optimal skin health as we get older

Go beyond superficial beauty standards with skin expert Julie Lardner's guide to holistically nurturing your skin from the inside out. She explains her blueprint for healthy skin ageing.

By Julie Lardner

Embracing optimal skin health

Like other aspects of our health, our skin is often taken for granted until it shows signs of wear and tear.

The accumulation of lines, wrinkles, pigment patches, and uneven skin texture—reflections of a life well-lived—can sneak up on us seemingly out of the blue.

We often view these changes in our skin through the prism of standards thrust upon us by the beauty industry, which can be unrealistic and soul-destroying.

Having worked in the skincare industry for my entire career, recognising this has led to a shift in my perspective where fostering healthy skin becomes a priority while navigating the emotional aspect of ageing and accepting it as a natural part of life.

However, acknowledging this brave new world of acceptance doesn't mean I'm not interested in keeping the visible signs of ageing at bay.

Instead of worrying about the appearance of every new line or wrinkle, it's become something far more holistic for me: the health of my skin, which encompasses internal and external factors, with advanced skincare, a balanced diet, environmental protection, and healthy lifestyle habits.

So, with this in mind, let's look closer at our skin, a living organ tirelessly serving us and often overlooked for its remarkable ability to contribute to our wellbeing as we age.

The epidermis: The heroic defender

If we were to take a fantastic voyage into the skin, the first stop would be the outermost layer, our epidermis, where skin cells are constantly on the move through the epidermis layers, transforming themselves from plump and round to flattened cells that form the top layer known as the stratum corneum. This layer of dead skin cells is then infiltrated with lipids to form the protective lipid barrier.

The lipid barrier acts as a protective shield, safeguarding us against external threats such as bacteria, viruses, and pollutants. It plays a crucial role in preventing the loss of nutrients and water and maintaining skin health and hydration.

The Dermis: The quiet supporter

Once we venture past the epidermis, we are immersed in the dermis, which provides physical and nutritional support to the epidermis above. It is often called the living layer as there's so much activity within it, with a direct link to our blood supply, ensuring vital nutrients find their way to the skin for optimal functioning.

Specialised cells, known as fibroblasts, reside within the dermis and produce the protein collagen, which gives the skin its structural support and ensures its strength, integrity and elasticity.

Understanding healthy skin as we age

As our skin ages, cellular renewal begins to wane, the lipid barrier becomes less robust, and collagen production declines.

This slowing down results in dehydration, poor skin texture, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and sometimes facial redness as the skin struggles to cope with environmental stress. Caring for our skin can be influenced by what we choose to do or not do. In this article, we'll look at 4 key pillars for supporting healthy skin:

1. Advanced skincare

A consistent and effective skincare routine lays the groundwork for healthy ageing skin.

2. Skin nutrition

The importance of a balanced diet in preserving skin functionality and whether supplementation helps.

3. Environmental protection

Sun protection is just one component in safeguarding our skin from free radicals generated by daily living.

4. Lifestyle choices

The lifestyle choices that significantly impact skin health and either elevate or hinder our pursuit of healthy skin.

By adopting these 4 principles, we can anticipate improved skin health while minimising lines, wrinkles and other signs of ageing like sun damage, blotchy pigment and poor skin texture.

Skin health pillar 1: Advanced skincare

Unlike other organs, it's possible to influence skin health by applying skincare ingredients through its surface.

While the outer layer prevents things from getting through, lipid-soluble substances, like facial oils and serums containing skin-friendly nutrients, can cleverly navigate this barrier to nourish the skin.

An advanced skincare system incorporating good skin practices with active skincare ingredients keeps the skin healthy while minimising the appearance of ageing.

Cleansing

Proper cleansing with a mild lotion or oil-based cleanser will remove makeup, dirt, and pollutants, balance the skin's lipid barrier and microbiome and prepare the skin for subsequent nourishment.

Exfoliation

Avoid harsh scrubs in favour of a gentle alpha hydroxy acid cream or serum to gently nudge dead skin cells to refresh the skin and encourage efficient cellular turnover.

Serums

Skincare ingredients that contribute to skin health, minimise visible signs of ageing, and are absorbed more efficiently into the skin when incorporated into a serum formulation.
• Retinol (vitamin A) for cell repair and renewal. A skincare powerhouse, it assists in the reversal of ageing by boosting collagen and skin cell production.
• Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) provides essential environmental protection, aids in repairing sun damage, supports collagen synthesis for skin firmness, and is recognised for its antioxidant properties.
• Niacinamide (vitamin B3) helps to balance the skin's microbiome, soothe inflammation, provide antioxidant protection, and promote an even skin tone, resulting in healthier skin.
• Peptides come in various formulations. Amongst the many benefits, these mini proteins assist in boosting collagen production to minimise wrinkles and aid the skin in maintaining optimal moisture levels.

Read more on secrets of skin serums for over 50s skin.

Moisturisation

When the skin lacks moisture, skin ageing is accelerated. Emollient moisturisers fortified with ceramides and glycerin help mimic the skin's natural barrier, protect against moisture loss, and provide comfort throughout the day.

Sunscreen

An essential step in your routine, find one you like and apply it regularly. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from daily UV exposure, significantly contributing to skin ageing and the risk of skin cancer.

While skincare is always an excellent place to start, it's only one piece of the puzzle, and it's wise to address skin nutrition, ensure environmental protection and make better lifestyle choices to maintain healthy, robust skin.

Skin health pillar 2: Skin nutrition

The skin is a dynamic organ that undergoes continuous renewal and repair, and the impact of nutrition on skin health becomes more evident with consistent, healthy habits over the long term.

Focusing on a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids supports skin functionality and sustains efficient cellular activities.

Antioxidants

Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, like berries and leafy greens, contribute to a youthful complexion by neutralising the free radicals that wreak havoc and oxidise the skin.

In particular, the vitamins C and E, abundant in citrus fruits and nuts, respectively, boost collagen production and protect against oxidative stress.

Essential fatty acids

Our lipid barrier keeps our skin hydrated. Ensuring your body stays adequately hydrated throughout the day is crucial for overall skin health. However, the true linchpin of skin hydration lies in maintaining well-nourished skin enriched with essential fatty acids.

When this barrier is formed correctly, with the assistance of essential fatty acids (EFAs), it acts as a highly effective shield against moisture loss.

Adequate intake of the EFAs, Omega-3 found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seed, and Omega-6 in plant-based oils like sunflower, contribute to forming and maintaining a high-functioning lipid barrier.

Collagen synthesis

As time passes, existing collagen degrades, and new collagen formation declines due to ageing fibroblast cells; the little dynamos found in the dermis, responsible for collagen production, become less active, leaving your skin with a collagen deficit.
Declining collagen shows up as lines and wrinkles, a loss of skin elasticity, and slow wound healing, vital to our well-being as we age.

Collagen supplements have gained popularity in skincare, and you may wonder if they live up to the hype in boosting collagen.

Collagen supplements from bovine and marine protein support the supply of protein-derived amino acids. So, while seeking healthy protein from the foods you eat is a simple way to improve the uptake of the amino acids needed for collagen production, if you have a shortfall in dietary protein, collagen supplements may provide the necessary amino acids for collagen synthesis.

For a vegan or vegetarian alternative, skip collagen supplements and opt for plant-based protein supplements rich in vitamin C, zinc, and plant-based amino acids. These nutrients support fibroblast cells, promoting a holistic approach to healthy and radiant skin.

Skin health pillar 3: Environmental protection

Our relationship with the external environment means our skin is constantly exposed to stressors such as UV radiation, pollution, and free radicals. Shielding the skin against these external factors is integral for long-term skin health.

Sun protection

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun significantly contributes to premature ageing. With adequate UVA and UVB protection, sunscreen forms a crucial defence against photoaging, prevents collagen breakdown, minimises the risk of skin cancer, and preserves the skin's overall health. Read more on how dermatologists use lasers to fight sun damage and pigmentation.

Antioxidant defence

Free radicals generated by environmental stressors can damage skin cells and accelerate ageing. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, neutralise free radicals, protecting the skin from oxidative stress and supporting optimal skin health.

Environmental adaptogens

Antioxidant-rich skincare adds an extra layer of protection. Green tea extract and resveratrol from grape skins and niacinamide (vitamin B3) offer additional protection to build immunity against environmental stressors and enhance the skin's resilience.

Skin checks for cancer

Maintaining skin health involves vigilance in monitoring your skin changes, like new moles or alterations in existing ones, to detect potential skin cancers early. If you notice any concerning changes, consult a dermatologist for a thorough examination.

Skin health pillar 4: Lifestyle choices

Naturally, our lifestyle choices are integral to any conversation about preserving the health of our skin. While you don't need a sermon, it's worth considering making some adjustments here and there for radiant skin health.

Smoking and alcohol

Widely recognised as harmful to our health. Smoking reduces blood flow and depletes vitamin C, leading to lines, wrinkles and an oxygen-deprived complexion, while excessive alcohol dehydrates the skin, contributing to premature ageing and inflammation.
*Australia's health guidelines updated in 2020 recommend limiting alcohol intake to 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 on any day for both men and women.
Limiting or quitting these habits is essential for overall skin health and vitality.

Stress management

Chronic stress can manifest in accelerated ageing and skin inflammation. Calm your senses through meditation, deep breathing exercises or spending time in nature whenever possible to reduce stress and improve skin health.

Adequate sleep

Although sleep can be elusive for some, not getting enough affects your skin's appearance, leading to dark circles and a lacklustre, dull complexion. During sleep, the body repairs and regenerates, contributing to your skin's healthy radiance.
While we all want to enjoy life to the fullest, adjusting our lifestyle habits where needed takes us one step closer to supporting healthy and resilient skin and slows down the visible signs of skin ageing.

Read more on make your sleep habits as clean as your sheets and natural therapies for better sleep.

A final thought

Remember, skin health is a holistic process that involves a combination of internal and external care.

Immediate results may not always be evident, but long-term habits can contribute to healthier and more vibrant skin over time.

From daily sunscreen and a wholesome diet to mindful lifestyle choices, you can navigate towards skin health, celebrating the wisdom acquired with every wrinkle and the radiance and vitality gained from nurturing your skin beyond aesthetics to age gracefully, where optimal skin health becomes the ultimate reward.

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional health care provider.

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