By age 30, Newburger says, inherited patterns for aging generally begin to show. Because cellular regeneration is slowing down, fine lines and wrinkles may begin to appear. Skin blemishes and some loss of hair are not uncommon. By age 40, fat loss may begin, resulting in excess skin that arranges itself in folds and sags.
Initial signs are the horizontal lines seen crossing the forehead and some droopiness of the eyelids. Loss of fat in the cheeks causes the formation of puffy little jowls on either side of the chin, a pattern commonly referred to as "fleur-de-lys." Lips may thin. By age 50, the force of gravity may produce down-turned corners at the edge of the mouth, long ear lobes and a hooked nose, plus a change in the neck from firm to wattled.
In addition, after menopause the outer layer of skin takes longer to renew itself. At the same time, the collagen and elastin in the dermis layer start to break down, resulting in a thinner dermis that allows easy bruising, as well as wrinkles and furrows. The skin becomes more transparent and blood vessels become more prominent.
And there's worse news. Age, also called liver spots may appear because of malfunctioning melanocytes, causing irregular circles of pigmented skin or white spots where pigmentation is lacking. Changes continue to accelerate into the 60s with thinning skin and the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the dermis.
Several years may pass between a woman's penetrating assessments of her facial skin. But a recent photograph or comments on how tired she looks when she feels quite vital may trigger a new assessment. She realizes that her public and private images are out of synch. "I saw them and I just wanted the wrinkles to go away," says Debbie, originally from Canada. "At the same time, I want the steps I take to be not too hard, too painful or too expensive. I would like to enhance what I have for as long as I have it. I would like to grow old gracefully."
But aging continues, and many women turn to facelifts, dermabrasion, chemical peels, or Retin-A to restore the skin's surface and tone. Women also take a variety of supplements and spend billions of dollars annually on products to protect their skin. But most health experts agree that the first line of defense is to use sunscreen SPF15, or higher, every day and avoid sunbathing.
Ultraviolet light wrinkles, dries, and burns the skin, as well as increasing the odds you'll develop skin cancer. But the sun is not your only enemy. Cigarette smoke and alcohol greatly accelerate the skin aging process.
A 1997 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that more than 80 percent of facial aging may be caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Experts also maintain that cigarette usage damages the skin, saying that if you smoke, stop.
A report in the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemistry states that cigarette smoke, whether you are a smoker yourself or someone who is regularly exposed to "side-stream" smoke, is bad for your skin. Other factors over which women have some control are diet, exercise, sleep, stress, and drug use. Simple things, such as drinking eight glasses of water each day and eating sufficient servings of fruits and vegetables throughout your life can help to keep your skin healthy.