What Gives Us The Aged Look
Traditionally, we are taught that our skin is what causes the look of aging. Our skin thins, sags, dries, wrinkles. Sun exposure and gravity do its work and that’s the extent of it. The multibillion-dollar skincare industry thrives due to this misconception. We are taught to believe that our anti-aging options are as follows:
- Picking the right topical solution for the skin
- Undergoing cosmetic procedures that target skin
- Cosmetic surgery
Our skin does change as we age, collagen and elastin production decreases, moisture transfer slows, skin cells turnover decreases. But our skin is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look under the covers and discuss the expanded picture of aging and the causes of the aesthetic decline.
One of the reasons I got interested in holistic beauty and health, was my constant surprise at how we, humans, tend to oversimplify infinitely complex and fascinating processes of the human body, often to our detriment. The way we treat our skin is a great example.
From what we know about this incredible organ, it has a myriad of functions. It protects us from the outside environment; it helps regulate temperature; it aids detoxification and secretes lubrication. The skin produces hormones critical to the proper functioning of our body. It has a metabolic function. For instance, it aids in carbohydrate metabolism. The skin is an organ of sensation. On top of all this, our skin breathes; it is a respiratory organ, as well! The skin respiration does not contribute much to the oxygen supply of the entire body, but the upper skin layers almost entirely rely on it.
When our skin is not in tiptop shape, we are looking for ways to improve it. We take this multifaceted hardworking organ and slather petroleum or mineral oil-based creams on it with a 700-word ingredient list, neither of which are proven to be of any benefit. The petroleum blocks cutaneous respiration leaving the top layers of the skin without an oxygen supply. Not unlike an oil spill in the ocean that leaves all aquatic life dead underneath. You can imagine that lack of oxygen doesn’t help the appearance. Or we heat the layers of skin with lasers that cause damage, which produces a temporary collagen boost, risking long-term damage.
So, what can truly support the health of the skin? Well, the way our body operates, what feeds the skin, the supply of its nutrients, and the removal of wastes is done by capillaries. The skin is supposed to receive its food from the inside of the body, not as much from any external source. The best set of ingredients is the one the body carefully creates for the needs of its organs. The problem arises when the body doesn’t have the raw materials to prepare the food and when the channels of food delivery, the capillaries, start to reduce in number, diminish in size, and even atrophy. This happens as we age for various reasons. If the cells are not getting proper nutrition, their health, and the ability to regenerate reduces, as well. So, healthy skin depends primarily on the quality of nutrients it receives and the proper functioning of the channels that deliver them.
Healthy skin alone does not equal beauty. Our muscles, other soft tissues, and bones are even more important contributors to the look of aging. The facial muscles are divided into muscles of facial expression and muscles of mastication. The muscles of facial expression can reflexively contract in reaction to our emotional state. Think of how our non-verbal messaging, our expression often can convey our meaning better than our words.
The muscles of the face differ from other muscles in our body. For example, they lack receptors called spindles that detect whether a muscle is in a contracted state. The nerves can then send a signal to the muscle telling it to relax. In facial muscles that don’t work and they can get stuck in a hyper-tone condition longer.
As we age, we find ourselves more prone to hypertonicity and muscle spasm. Just remember, good muscle tone and hypertonicity are very different things. You can have a weak muscle in the state of spasm or a strong toned muscle in a state of relaxation.
That’s why facial gymnastics or facial yoga often works wonders for younger faces and is not as rewarding for a more mature audience. Working out or building a spasmed muscle is not a good idea. It is much more productive after the tone is stabilized.
Another important contributor to the look of aging is fascia. Fascia is the sheets of connective tissue that cover almost everything in our body, muscles, arteries, bones, organs, etc.. It's a wrap that protects and separates things. Fascia can transmit tension either from muscles or from external forces. It also gets affected by trauma and inflammation within the body. This can lead to tightening, decreased blood flow, and movement restriction. Rigid fascia affects the appearance by changing the shape of our muscles and creates trigger points and knots in the face. Fascia rigidity can pull the face downward, create folds, wrinkles, and skin sagging.
Another important factor to mention is bones. Facial bones undergo resorption as we age, meaning they break down and change shape. It happens predictably and creates that specific look of aging that we recognize. This is why when we see a person who underwent a soft tissue cosmetic procedure, a facelift, we can still tell their age. They don’t look like their twenty-year-old self, they just look like a more ‘lifted” older person. The tighter skin is covering an aging skeletal frame, shifted muscles, and rigid fascia.
So, I hope this paints a picture that the look of aging is a reflection of much more happening in our body than just skin sagging. The skin reflects the changes, as an outer layer, like the clothes do a figure. The most amazing topical cream will not be able to tackle the signs of aging. What needs to be addressed is muscle spasm, fascia rigidity, blood circulation, and lymph flow, proper nutrition for the cells, and maintaining a healthy net of capillaries.