What Happens to Our Skin as We Age

Getting older is a privilege. But whether we like to admit it or not, it does come with some ahem… side-effects.

Well, there’s that. Also, it becomes impossible to enjoy a hearty meal at night. Hangovers become so unbearable; it is more straightforward to abstain from alcohol. It becomes more challenging to shift any excess weight we might have accumulated during the holidays. But what happens to our skin as we age?


The number one cause of visible signs of aging is sun exposure. Our skin gets exposed to UV radiation which is divided into UVA and UVB waves.
UVB waves penetrate and affect the epidermal (the outer) layer of the skin and what will give you sunburn.

UVA waves are longer. They affect and penetrate both the epidermal layer of the skin and the dermis. UVA is the chief culprit behind signs of photoaging. It damages collagen and elastin. Our body produces abnormal elastin which, in turn, results in the production of enzymes called metalloproteinases. Metalloproteinases degrade collagen and over time (and with repeated sun exposure) will result in wrinkles.

As with everything your genetics and lifestyle play a part. Darker skin types exhibit fewer signs of photoaging, while fairer skin types are at a more significant risk of sunburn. There are more significant chances you will show signs of photoaging too if you work outdoors or spend prolonged periods in the sun without sun protection. While we can’t do much about the genetics, regular sun protection will go a long way to keep the signs of photoaging off our faces.

Skin loses tone and elasticity

The dermis gets thinner as we age and the reason for it is the changes in the fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are responsible for the synthesis of collagen and elastin. As we get older, the organisation of the protein changes and collagen and elastin are produced slower.

Collagenase and elastase are enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of collagen and elastin. Sun exposure will elevate these enzymes. Over time, this will result in changes to the structure of collagen and elastin. This condition is known as elastosis and it is more prominent in the areas that were exposed to the sun.

All of this has an impact on the structure of the skin. It starts to sag, wrinkles become more prominent and fine lines appear around the eyes and the mouth. Furthermore, the fat layer also gets thinner as we age.

Skin gets dry and dehydrated

It is not only collagen and elastin that gets lower as we get older. Our Hyaluronic acid levels deplete, and the moisture content in our Stratum Corneum gets lower too. In turn, our skin has difficulties binding water. Our sebaceous glands produce less oil which means our skin gets drier.

The cell turnover slows down

Between the ages of thirty and eighty, our cell turnover can slow down anywhere between 30 and 50% which results in the dry and rough skin. Moreover, it also has an impact on wound healing time and it takes longer for any wounds to heal.

It’s a bit grim, no? That said – it’s not all doom and gloom. Sun protection is the key. For everything else, there is retinol, acids and vitamin C.

Roberta Striga