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Your body produces one per cent less collagen, a protein responsible for skin firmness, every year after the age of 20, so your skin becomes thinner as you age. Sweat and oil gland function also drops as you get older so fewer elastin fibres are produced and the skin loses elasticity.1
The female sex hormone oestrogen also plays an important role in keeping your skin firm and elastic. After a woman's menopause, levels of oestrogen drop rapidly and this is when many women notice ageing signs such as wrinkles, dryness and less elasticity. Loss of oestrogen causes skin thinning - it reduces by 1.13 per cent each menopausal year.2 It also causes a fall in the supportive tissue collagen, by 30 per cent2 in the first five years after the menopause.
Oestrogen loss also makes skin dehydrated. The combination of these changes results in less elastic skin as well as lines and wrinkles. Studies have shown that your skin's elasticity drops by 1.5 per cent a year2 after the menopause.
Other factors which affect your skin's elasticity include sun damage, smoking, poor diet and stress.
Skin is our largest organ, accounting for 16 per cent of our body's weight,3 and needs to be properly nourished and cared for so it can function well and look its best. The blood supply for your skin is in the dermis, the deepest layer of skin, and this nourishes your skin's cells and tissues. This layer is where the support structure of your skin is found - the collagen and elastin fibres which make it strong and elastic.
To work effectively, your skin needs a constant supply of blood, oxygen and water.
Studies have shown exercising regularly can improve the health of your skin, making it younger-looking and more resilient, whatever your age.
One study4 found moderate to vigorous exercise resulted in visibly younger-looking skin. It seems exercise may be able to reverse some of the skin cell changes that lead to ageing signs, including loss of elasticity. It does this by improving the metabolism of your skin cells so they function better, in the same way that exercise boosts your body's metabolic rate to burn calories.4
Any exercise that increases your heart rate and stimulates circulation of blood, including walking, cycling, running and swimming, is good for your skin. The study4 which looked at the anti-ageing effect of exercise found that an endurance exercise (cycling in this case) produced anti-ageing results on the skin.
Healthy skin needs a good supply of foods rich in antioxidants to protect and repair it. These include vitamins A, C and E, found in fruit and vegetables, eggs, cheese and vegetable and seed oils.5Vitamin B2 and B3 are also vital for healthy skin, found in milk, eggs, breakfast cereals, meat and wholegrains.
Vitamins B6 and B12, found in meat, fish, eggs and cheese, are important for making red blood cells which carry oxygen to our skin cells.6
Omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, could help to strengthen your skin's barrier layer.7 This helps prevent water loss and stops the skin from dehydrating, making it supple.
Keep to the recommended alcohol levels as drinking too much causes dehydration,5 which means your skin is likely to be less elastic and more prone to lines and wrinkles.
Smoking ages your skin, causing premature wrinkles. Tobacco smoke dehydrates the skin and restricts the blood flow to skin cells by constricting your blood vessels, starving your skin of oxygen and nutrients.8
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Why does skin wrinkle with age? What is the best way to slow or prevent this process? Scientific American
2Stevenson S, Thornton J (2007). Effect of estrogens on skin aging and the potential role of SERMs, Clinical interventions in aging
3Remy Melina (2011). LiveScience
4Crane J, MacNeil L, Lally J, Ford R, Bujak A, Brar I, Kemp B, Raha S, Steinberg G, Tarnopolsky M (2015). Exercise-stimulated interleukin-15 is controlled by AMPK and regulates skin metabolism and aging, Aging Cell
5BDA (2016). Skin Health, The Association of British Dietitians
6British Nutrition Foundation, Exploring nutrients
7Kendall AC, Kiezel-Tsugunova M, Brownbridge LC, Harwood JL, Nicolaou A (2017). Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model, Biochimica et biophysica acta. Biomembranes.
8How Smoking Affects the Way You Look, Ash