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Your Skin ~ [Issue 0899-5]  Wellness Weekly
 Aug 31, 1999 11:04 PDT 

The skin is an open book to your state of health. Pale, yellow skin
denotes illness. Very red skin suggests high blood pressure. Flaky,
mottled skin and rough skin suggests skin which is neglected or
abused. Thin skin is related to alcoholism and gray, dull, sagging
skin is the hallmark of the long-term smoker. Sun-damaged skin is
wrinkled, dark and rough, with many red and raised marks called
keratoses. Physical stress from the sun, heat and cold will slowly
damage the structure of the skin, causing it to wrinkle and sag. Even
mental stress can effect it.

The Three Basic Layers of the Skin

The epidermis or outer layer is the active growing layer of the skin,
which provides a tough outer layer of cells that protect us from the
sun and cold and keep water out. It is designed to shed or slough off
at times, so we often see scales which we call "dry skin." This outer
layer of cells is constantly being renewed by other cells at the
bottom of the epidermis. The epidermis does not contain blood vessels
and is nourished by a process called diffusion, in which fluid coming
from the blood vessels in the next lower layer, the dermis.

The dermis is the skin's support structure. It contains capillaries
which are small blood vessels, and thousands of nerve endings, which
sense heat, cold, pressure, pain, pleasure and itching. Its
supporting structure contains three proteins known as collagen,
elastin and ground substance. Collagen is tough and prevents your
skin from tearing except under the most extreme conditions. Elastin
is a more delicate protein which provides elasticity to the skin so
that when it is stretched, it goes back into shape. Ground substance
is a gel-like material somewhat like gelatin, which acts as a medium
in which the elastin and collagen can react.

The hypodermis is the fatty layer under the dermis, which contains
fatty tissue that keeps us warm, stores energy and provides a
cushion. The hypodermis contains large blood vessels and has some
large nerve trunks. Picture it much like an urban underground,
containing the pipes and cables needed to run the city.

Skin Physiology

Your skin is a dynamic, ever growing organ that is vital. It keeps
the good things in and the bad things out. It helps control body
heat. When the inner body temperature gets above 98.6 F, we begin to
sweat and as the sweat evaporates, it pulls heat from the skin and
the blood, which cools down the body. Almost everything the body
wants to get rid of is dumped into the skin in one form or another.
It alters them chemically to a less toxic form and then either
excretes them in sweat, sloughs them off in devitalized cells, or
returns them to the body to be excreted by the kidney.

Perhaps the most important function of the skin is to provide the
protective barrier on the outer surface of the body. This barrier,
the stratum corneum, is composed of proteins and lipids, which are
fatty or waxy type substances. This barrier controls the rate of
water loss from inside the body and prevents water from getting into
the skin from outside. The cells and components of the stratum
corneum are made up of cells that are produced in the lower layers of
the epidermis. Formation of these components requires good nutrition
and protection from harmful environmental stress.

Aging and Your Skin

There is no absolute "old age" for anything. For instance, a star
which is two billion years "old" is . . . young; a dog at 16 years of
age is old; and a human at age 16 is still a youth. Scientists like
to define aging as a decline in functionality. That is, we simply do
not function as well as we did in previous years. Aging is not
inevitable! Aging is a continuous process of gradual loss in maximal
functionality, associated with chronic inflammation that alters
normal genetic control. The body has an enormous capacity to repair
itself and its repair processes are under genetic control from the
DNA in the nucleus of the cell. Over time, this control can be
altered or changed so that not all of the information is copied
correctly during cell reproduction.

Aging is Chronic Inflammation Due to Free Radical Damage to DNA

About one percent of the oxygen we breathe is converted into
dangerous free radicals. Even though our DNA can repair itself
remarkably well, some damage remains. Over the years, DNA damage
accumulates and results in decreased functionality. Damage caused by
free radicals to DNA does not have to happen, at least at the rate we
see it happening everyday.


The first change we see in aging skin is sagging of the face. This is
followed by fine lines and later, by coarse lines, which become
deeper as the skin undergoes greater structural changes. These
changes are followed by changes in color and texture. The skin
becomes mottled and gray to yellow in color, with areas of red spots
and dilated veins. Brown spots appear on the hands and face and the
skin becomes thin.

Structural and Functional Changes

Structural changes are due to changes in the collagen and elastin
under the skin's surface layer and later, by changes in the surface
itself. Collagen decreases in the dermis, which causes sagging. This
is followed by a loss of elasticity, which causes further sagging and
lack of resilience. Blood circulation becomes decreased and tissue
mass in the skin is reduced. This thinner skin is more transparent,
showing large veins through the surface. The number of fibroblasts,
which are responsible for new skin growth, also decreases. Then, the
skin loses its ability to respond to stress. The immune response
decreases and the ability to dissipate heat is lost. Sensitivity to
heat and cold decreases. The ability to repair chronic damage is
decreased as turnover of cells is slower and wound healing is decreased.


The greatest environmental danger to the skin is the sun. Without sun
exposure, the skin does not wrinkle or change color or become marred
with red ugly spots. Excessive sun exposure damages the immune system
in the skin, destroys both collagen and elastin production and kills
some normal cells. At the same time, it damages the DNA repair system
for other cells that are not killed. Heat and cold also damage skin
and reduce functionality. The environment contains many chemical
agents that react with the skin and create free radicals which in
turn react with the compounds in the skin.

Good Nutrition Helps Retard the Appearance of Aging

As most people "prosper," they eat more. At the same time, the rate
of chronic diseases occurring increases. Obesity, arthritis, heart
disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are all related in some
manner to either overeating or improper eating. The number one
problem is too many calories. Reduce the number of calories you eat
by at least 25 percent. Next, add fresh fruits and vegetables, green
leafy and yellow types, those rich in vitamin A and carotenoids. Eat
whole grains such as oats, wheat, whole rice and rye rather than
white processed flour-containing products. Above all, avoid the
synthetic trans-fats like margarine and hydrogenated shortening
products. And don't forget-take your supplements!
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