‘Wrinkles will only go where smiles have been’: An in-depth look at skin aging

Getting older can be scary: We might not be as healthy as we once were, and our skin begins to show our age. A healthy lifestyle can help reduce our risk for many major diseases, but what can we do about our skin? Is it possible to prevent or even reverse aging?

What is skin aging?

The largest organ in our body, our skin is vulnerable to internal and external causes of aging. The skin is divided into three layers: the epidermis (top), dermis (middle), and hypodermis (deep). As we age, the epidermis becomes thinner and loses its connection with the underlying dermis, resulting in fragility. The dermis loses collagen and elastin, proteins that keep our skin supple and firm.

There are two types of aging: chronological aging and photoaging. Chronological aging is the natural aging of our skin. It results in fine wrinkles and dry, thin skin with loss of underlying fat. Photoaging is caused by excessive ultraviolet, or UV, radiation.

UV radiation can be divided into UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-A rays penetrate the deeper layers of the skin to break down collagen and elastin fibers. UV-B rays penetrate only the superficial layers of the skin and cause sunburns and skin cancer. Photoaging results in coarse wrinkles, roughness, laxity, and irregular pigmentation.  

What causes aging?

Sun exposure without SPF )sun protection factor) protection is an important cause of aging. Additionally, tobacco smoking accelerates aging by remodeling elastic fibers in our skin, thereby causing stiffening and wrinkling.

Even the way you sleep affects the way your skin ages. Sleeping on your back avoids tension and compression to your facial skin. Sleeping with your face against a pillow can occlude the skin on the face, making it prone to clogged pores, acne, and lines.

Finally, “yo-yo dieting” or weight cycling, a pattern of weight loss followed by weight gain followed by loss can accelerate aging. Over time, the collagen and elastin in our skin begins to stretch and break down, leading to saggy, dull-appearing skin and exaggerated wrinkles.

Is there a magical fountain of youth?

There are certainly steps you can take in your daily life that can significantly slow the rate of aging. Daily broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen can protect against photoaging. Smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent the stretching and breakdown of skin proteins.

Drinking adequate water and moisturizing your skin can often improve the appearance of dry, wrinkled skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and reports that consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging.

The academy also recommends minimizing alcohol as it can dehydrate your skin. Avoid repetitive facial expressions, like squinting. Wear sunglasses whenever needed to avoid wrinkles around your eyes. Finally, make sure your skin is not irritated: Wash your face after sweating and avoid skin-care products that burn or sting.

Jimmy Buffett, who said, “Wrinkles will only go where smiles have been,” is right: Our skin is truly a reflection of our life — the sunny days, the laughs and smiles, the food, and everything in between. We might not be able to stop aging, but perhaps we don’t need to.

Getting older is beautiful: We are wiser, more confident, and more experienced. Enjoy the process while incorporating these small lifestyle changes to keep your skin healthy and radiant.


Community Caregivers is a not-for--profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Kanthi Bomareddy, M.D. is a former Community Caregivers student volunteer and a recent graduate of Albany Medical College.