How does my skin anatomy change as I get older?

As we age, our skin becomes more delicate, dry and wrinkled. See more healthy aging pictures.
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Aging skin is a fact of life. At some point in each of our lives, our smooth and supple exteriors become dry, wrinkled and saggy. That is, assuming we live long enough for that to happen. And although much of aging is biologically inevitable, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from the ravages of time. The key is to avoid things that can hasten the aging process, which we will discuss in a moment. First, let's review a few basics of how skin works.

Understanding how skin works requires an understanding of its structure. Human skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and a subcutaneous layer. The epidermis is what you see in the mirror. It actually has many layers itself, including a rather tough outermost portion that is constantly shaking off dead skin cells. The epidermis also has melanin, a dark pigment formed by cells called melanocytes. The more you have, the darker your skin. Your skin also responds to sunlight by producing more melanin, which gives you a tan. Melanin can also form freckles, which are simply clusters of melanin. The next layer down is the dermis, which is thicker than the epidermis and has a lot of important components, including sweat glands, blood vessels, nerves and fat. The dermis also has a certain amount of elastin and collagen fibers, which give skin its elasticity. The third and deepest layer is called the subcutaneous layer, which is mostly comprised of fat. The primary responsibility of the subcutaneous layer is keeping you warm and holding all your internal stuff in place.

Skin is an impressive organ on a number of levels, but perhaps the most remarkable is its ability to regenerate. New skin cells are constantly forming and working their way to the top layer of the epidermis, a process that takes about two to three weeks. When new skin cells arrive on the surface, they push out the older skin cells. In children and younger adults, that amounts to a loss of about 40,000 skin cells per minute [source: KidsHealth]. So while it may look like your skin isn't doing anything, it is actually quite busy.

Now that you have an understanding of how skin works, let's talk about how skin changes as we age.