What is Photoaging?
Aging is a complex process that leads to esthetic changes as well as deterioration of certain functions within the skin’s repair system. For example, the skin’s production of collagen, elastin, melanin, and natural oils changes as we age. Our skin produces less collagen and elastin leading to sagging skin and wrinkles. The melanin producing cells in the skin tend to have irregular production of melanin leading to dark spots, and we tend to produce less natural oil, leading to drier skin. The way we age is dependent on many factors including our genetics, the environmental stresses we encounter, diet and lifestyle. Photoaging refers specifically to changes that occur as a result of exposure to UVA and UVB rays. Sun exposure is one of the most profound factors in the aging process as it dramatically increases the appearance of what we consider to be the signs of aging: wrinkles, age spots, hyperpigmentation, and loss of elasticity. In fact, exposure to the sun is responsible for up to 90% of skin aging.
Photoaging occurs because UVA and UVB rays penetrate the skin’s dermal and epidermal layers where they cause damage. UVB rays penetrate the epidermal layer of the skin, the skin’s outermost layer. The melanocytes (melanin producing cells) and basal cells are embedded in this outermost layer of skin and when they are consistently exposed to the sun’s rays, damage is done to these cells leading to age spots, freckles, and even skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate the dermal layer of the skin, below the epidermal layer. This second layer of skin is comprised of collagen and elastin, and the extrafibrilar matrix, which gives the skin its structural support. When the dermis is exposed to UVA rays over a long period of time, the dermis thins out and starts to droop and sag, leading to the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin.
The best way to prevent photoaging is to avoid sun exposure or, if exposure cannot be avoided, wear sunscreen and protective clothing to protect the skin from UV radiation. In terms of healing UV generated sun damage, antioxidants are the body’s natural defense against UV radiation and they function by scavenging free radicals. Studies have shown that one of the best ingredients for healing sun damage is Vitamin C. Vitamin C, especially when combined with Vitamin E and Ferulic acid, have been shown to reduce UV generated sun damage by 8 fold. Additionally, Vitamin C is a natural skin lightener so it can lighten dark spots and freckles significantly, especially when used with alpha hydroxy acids which slough off the dead, discolored surface skin cells.