Skin ageing is a natural process that we cannot stop. However, measures can be taken to slow down the process and reduce the effects of ageing on our skin.

The first signs of skin ageing begin to appear around the age of 25. The skin becomes thinner, more sensitive, drier and loses its elasticity. There are several reasons for skin ageing. It often involves a combination of intrinsic influences (genetically determined) which are accelerated by extrinsic influences (environmental factors).

Symptoms and causes

Intrinsic (internal) skin ageing

Heredity plays an important role in the way the skin ages. Our origins and the type of skin we were born with determine how quickly the signs of ageing appear on the skin's surface. Slightly sensitive skin, for example, develops wrinkles at a younger age, while Asian skin develops wrinkles later in life. Hormonal factors also influence the natural ageing process. The skin produces less collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, which causes the skin structure to lose its firmness; it is less resilient and forms wrinkles more quickly.

It is important to know that the face ages on several levels. The skin itself ages, but also the muscles, fat compartments and even bone structures decline with age.

Extrinsic (external) skin ageing

In addition to these biological factors, several external factors also play an important role in the skin ageing process.

UV rays - sun

Sun exposure is one of the main factors responsible for skin ageing (‘photo-ageing'). Excessive exposure to UVA and UVB rays causes wrinkle formation as well as uneven pigmentation. Sunscreen (SPF) therefore is the best anti-ageing cream.

Lifestyles: smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption and an unbalanced diet

Smoking is also a major cause of skin ageing. A person who smokes ten or more cigarettes a day for a minimum of ten years will more easily develop a deeply wrinkled, leathery skin than a non-smoker. The skin becomes greyish and thin with pronounced grooves, especially around the mouth (the so called 'smoker's lines'). The chemicals and nicotine in cigarettes are responsible for an increase in the amount of free radicals in the skin. Just like pollution, they reinforce the effects of exposure to the sun, leading to oxidative stress.

Stress and hectic lifestyles, unhealthy diets or lack of exercise are not good for our skin condition and lead to faster signs of ageing.

Benign skin defects that may occur with ageing skin

  • Sunspots or liver spots: lentigo solaris: pigment spots that look like a flat brown discoloration of the skin,
  • Seborroic warts or verrucae seborrhoicae: brown, yellowish-brown and sometimes black, soft cauliflower-like spots or bumps.
  • Vascular lesions: dilated blood vessels or senile angiomas (benign dot-shaped red to purple bumps).
  • Stalk-shaped appendages 'filiform warts' or fibroids: mainly occur in the folds (neck, armpits, under the breasts).

Diagnosis and treatment

Dr Lien De Smet applies a treatment with muscle-relaxing injections to treat the frown wrinkle.
What you can do by yourself
  • Limit sun exposure and use adequate sunscreen (at least SPF30).
  • Do not smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep and choose a healthy lifestyle.
  • Drink plenty of water (at least 1.5 litres per day for adults).
  • Have your skin checked for pigmentation spots and skin tumours.
What can the dermatologist do to tackle skin ageing?
  • Advice on the right skin care.
  • Treatment of pigment spots or seborroic warts.
  • Peelings (fruit acid peelings, chemical peelings).
  • Laser treatments: vascular laser, CO2 laser.
  • Muscle-relaxing injections (botulinum toxin) for dynamic wrinkles.
  • Hyaluronic acid fillers for static wrinkles.
  • Skin booster with fine injections of moisturising hyaluronic acid against drier, duller and less elastic skin.

See also: Aesthetic dermatology.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Dermatology

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021
Supervising author: Dr Van Autryve Els