Skin and Aging

Skin, your largest and most visible organ, tells the story of your life.

All the organs in your body change over time. But because skin is in plain view, so we see it age right in front of our eyes. Skin that was once smooth and flawless begins to wrinkle. Healing may take longer. Age spots appear - or moles. What to do? Begin by sorting out the issues.

Natural vs. Environmental Changes Medical vs. Cosmetic Concerns Cosmetic Skin Care Cosmetic Procedures

Natural vs. Environmental Changes

Many changes can be chalked up to the natural aging process. Starting as early as the mid-20s, your skin begins to produce less collagen, lose elasticity and become less efficient at repairing itself. Eventual results include wrinkles, thinning of the skin and dryness. But nature can't be blamed for all the changes. Environmental conditions are often major factors.

Sun exposure is the most significant external factor. Women who pursue perfect tans in their youth often pay dearly later in life with wrinkled, blotchy skin or even skin cancer. Prevent further damage by covering up when you go outside, using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps.

Smoking is another enemy of your skin, contributing to wrinkles. The longer you smoke and the greater the number of cigarettes, the more severe the affect on your skin - another good reason to kick the habit!

Medical vs. Cosmetic Concerns

Some changes that show up in aging skin may endanger your health, not just to your appearance. It's important to be on the alert for skin conditions that require medical attention.

Skin cancers are very common, with more than a million new cases diagnosed each year. Fortunately, the majority falls into the least lethal categories: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The third category, melanoma, is more dangerous, because it's more likely to spread to other parts of the body, causing serious illness or death. Early detection is your best defense. If you discover new or unusual spots on your skin, changes in existing spots or sores that never quite heal, have them checked by your doctor.

Chronic wounds can also pose serious health threats. Diabetes, especially if it's uncontrolled, may result in skin sores or ulcers, often on the feet, that won't heal. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) may also cause chronic sores on the skin of the legs or feet. In both cases, the wounds as well as the underlying conditions should be treated by a doctor.

Cosmetic Skin Care

There's nothing frivolous about wanting to look your best. It's a significant aspect of emotional wellbeing - significant enough to generate billions of dollars in skin care product sales each year. Do they work? The answer depends on your expectations and on the what's actually inside those pretty bottles.

Most products designed to repair skin damage and fight wrinkles base their claims on ingredients called antioxidants. Antioxidants absorbed into the skin help protect it from free radicals that can damage DNA and increase susceptibility to wrinkles and other signs of aging. When you shop for skin care products, check for antioxidant ingredients such as:

· Acai oil

· Alpha-lipoic acid

· Caffeine

· Retinol

· Vitamin C

· CoEnzyme Q-10

Products formulated to exfoliate skin, removing dead cells to minimize imperfections and improve appearance, often include:

· Alpha-hydroxy acids

· Salicylic acid

· Hyaluronic acid

In recent years, green tea has found its way into skin care products, because it contains polyphenols that ward off free radicals much the way antioxidants do.

Many women would rather not rely on over-the-counter skin care products and choose instead to see a dermatologist who can evaluate skin conditions and prescribe medications to treat them.

Cosmetic Procedures

The term "cosmetic procedure" covers a lot of ground - from collagen injections done in the dermatologist's office to multi-hour surgical procedures performed in hospital operating rooms.

Some of the most common and least invasive procedures include:

· Chemical peels, dermabrasion or laser resurfacing to remove the top layers of skin, reducing wrinkles, minor scars and discoloration

· Injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) to minimize wrinkles for three to four months

· Collagen and other filler injections to reduce the appearance of pitting or wrinkles

· Sclerotherapy or chemical injections to remove small varicose veins

· Electrolysis and laser treatments remove unwanted hair at the root

More invasive cosmetic surgeries include:

· Facelifts to minimize sagging around the jaw and neck

· Eyelid surgery to reduce bags, excess skin and drooping

· Nose surgery to reshape the nose by adjusting bones and cartilage

· Breast enlargement or reduction

· Liposuction to reshape body contours and remove stubborn fat bulges unaffected by dieting and exercise

· Abdominoplasty (tummy tucks) to remove excess tissue, tighten muscles and flatten the abdominal area

· Varicose vein surgery to remove large varicose veins

Although millions of women undergo cosmetic surgery each year, it's a decision that requires careful consideration. There are risks involved, and even if all goes well, no one can guarantee that you'll be happy with the results. Here are a few simple precautions to take before you decide:

· Ask yourself why you want cosmetic surgery. It's easy to confuse wanting to change your appearance with wanting to change your life. One doesn't necessarily affect the other.

· Make sure your expectations of the results and the recovery process are realistic.

· Know your surgeon's credentials and track record.

· Talk to others who've had the same procedure.

Last but not least, keep this in mind: Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. If you're dissatisfied with the reflection you see in the mirror, try the reflection in your family's eyes.

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