20th Jan 2012

Putting on a good face


Certain unambiguous signs flag our advancing years. Glasses for failing eyesight and grey hair are two, but they easily succumb to contact lenses and regular application of whatever hair colour takes your fancy. If they were all we had to consider, we would sail into our dotage resembling gorgeous 20 year-olds. Unfortunately, when that telegram from the Queen arrives, our faces, necks and hands may betray us. How can you maintain a youthful complexion?

Wrinkles, broken capillaries, sagging skin and uneven colouration are the major dermatological expressions of age. We can temporarily mask the capillaries with makeup. Wrinkles and sags are sterner foes. Yet they map our lives. Laughter lines and brow furrows are evidence of our life and humanity – dermatologists call them ‘dynamic lines’.

Many wear them with pride; others plot unceasingly against them, through personal choice or even workplace pressure. ‘Peter’, 50, encountered ageism at his stockbroking firm, and now has monthly oxygen facials. “They give me a healthier, glow,” he says. “I also use a moisturiser with sunscreen every day and feel completely comfortable about it.” Beauty therapists report that a decade ago, male clients were few. Now they treat numerous ‘Peters’, many looking to wind back the clock.

And what a relentless, merciless clock. At birth, our genes had already encoded our skin’s likely passage. Then came the years of innocent baking on the beach, ladling on the coconut oil in pursuit of Bronzed and Beautiful. But now the piper must be paid – up to 90 per cent of age-related skin problems in Australians stem from some degree of sun exposure. It causes direct skin cell damage in the epidermis (outer layer) and to cells, collagen and elastic tissue in the dermis (middle layer). This photo-ageing generates free radicals that damage cell components and inhibit repair mechanisms. Gravity and repeated facial movements also etch permanent lines, while environment and smoking history each play a part. Given all these variables, it is unsurprising that a one-size-fits-all lotion remains a gleam in the eye of cosmeceutical companies.

Does water offer a fountain of youth? The Australasian College of Dermatologists reports that “the skin's ability to hold the water is more important than the amount of water you drink, for maintaining more youthful skin.” The College recommends regular use of moisturisers because they provide ‘humectants’ to draw and hold moisture, and other factors that seal it in. It strongly recommends creams containing a broad-spectrum sunscreen,  and masking pigment can affectively conceal photo-ageing blemishes.

Many moisturisers specifically target older skin, and those such as the L’Oreal Paris, Nivea and Olay ranges are reasonably priced. Overseas studies reported in Choice magazine (June 2007) demonstrate that while all skincare products tested had slight benefit, no product was universally effective. Experiment for yourself, and be advised that Choice’s report showed no correlation between price and efficacy. It recommended: tretinoin (retinoic acid) found in prescription-only creams; alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) in concentrations of 10 per cent or more; and sunscreens.

We could opt for the plastic surgery route, paying handsomely to have the saggy bits hauled northwards. Results vary wildly between excellent and catastrophic, but provided you choose your practitioner wisely, you might emerge approximating a more youthful you, and not a waxworks facsimile.

If we eschew the knife, is it all a bleak downhill skate into spotted, a wrinkly future? No, says a recent University of Michigan report, which indicates that the dermal layer can be stimulated to recommence collagen production. This layer is like a thick mattress lying under the thin sheet of epidermis. With age, its collagen-producing cells fail and skin begins to dissolve – the mattress sags and lumps. Collagen forced into this layer stimulates cellular recovery and collagen production. The report concludes that three treatments help achieve this: intradermal injections of cross-linked hyaluronic acid (Restylane injections), lotions containing retinoic acid (Retinol) and Carbon Dioxide laser resurfacing. All this hints at a future of superficial youth for those who reject the notion of character lines and the stories they tell.

Treatment examples

Creams containing trenition (a retinoid) can improve fine lines and discolouration when used regularly but increase sun sensitivity and can cause skin redness and irritation in some people. Regular application is necessary.
Creams containing alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) can reduce discolouration, fine lines and roughness but can make skins more susceptible to irritation and sunburn. Over the counter products containing AHAs are available. Start with a lower concentration and increase gradually.

Dermal fillers
• Restylane uses substances naturally occurring in skin. Best suited to deeper creases.
• Botox paralyses muscles in small areas. Good for crow’s feet, forehead furrows.

Vascular lasers: selectively target broken capillaries, rosacea.

Facial peels are superficial peels performed beauty therapists and have temporary benefit. Deeper peels are performed by specialists.

CO2 laser therapy has a similar effect to the deeper peels; four to six treatments are needed for optimal effect.

Skin tightening procedures use radio frequency and infra-red light to stimulate collagen bulking. Can take three months to see results.


The Australasian College of Dermatologists’ website offers information on all skin problems and cosmetic procedures.
Web www.dermcoll.asn.au

To read the University off Michigan journal article abstract visit http://tinyurl.com/6ogghu

Choice is the magazine of the Australian Consumers Assocation. For its views, visit www.choice.com.au and type ‘anti-ageing creams’ into the Search box.


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Actual Cat
17th Feb 2012
Have you noticed that an increasing number of men are having their hair dyed - and mostly it looks obvious? I guess they are just catching up with we women in trying to appear youthful for the ageist workplace. It is such a relief to have left the workforce, allowed the hair to be pleasantly natural and do away with the hairdressing regimen. I wish I had done it years ago!

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