We have all been there. We look in the mirror and feel as though we aged 10 years in a matter of a few months. We wonder whether we are doing something wrong or if this is just a natural part of getting older. The truth is, it’s probably a combination of both.

However, newer research suggests we play a much larger role in our skin’s health than previously believed. The emerging scientific field of epigenetics suggests that premature skin aging can be delayed and even reversed by exposing cells to healthful environmental factors (e.g., nutrients that we may be deficient in, those that thwart free radical damage, certain essential oils, etc.). In addition, research suggests we should avoid environmental factors that cause accelerated aging like toxic chemicals in cosmetic products such as parabens and phthalates, overexposure to sunlight, mental and physical stress, environmental pollution, alcohol consumption, smoking and poor diet/nutrition (1). Help customers maintain the skin they’re in by learning about the latest and greatest in natural anti-aging skincare.

The BreakdownThe layer of the skin visible to you, the epidermis, is composed of cells that protect the skin from the environment. It’s made of up keratin for strength as well as melanin, which gives skin its color. Under this layer resides the dermis, which supports the epidermis and acts as a middle man, housing nerves and delivering necessary nutrients to the skin. The dermis is where new cells are produced, making its role in maintaining skin health crucial. After all, the skin is the body’s largest organ and like other organs, it must renew its cell composition to stay healthy. Under the dermis is the hypodermis, which is where fat cells are located to help regulate the skin’s insulation (1).

Within the dermis lies the extracellular matrix, which is made up of three main players: collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) (2). These components are involved in some causes of skin aging.

For example, collagen, an essential protein for skin elasticity found in the dermis layer, breaks down over time and less is produced with age, which causes skin to wrinkle and become saggy (2). Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, making it extremely important for skin health—not to mention the bones and joints (2). Fortunately, there are several inside-outside supplements that deliver collagen to the body in an effort to replenish low stores and reduce breakdown. Meanwhile, elastin is a protein that makes up about 1–2% of skin and provides elasticity (2). When elastin breaks down, unwanted wrinkles and sagginess of skin ensues. Last, GAGs are amino sugars (i.e., proteins linked to sugar) that when paired with water, fill the space between collagen and elastin with fluid called ground substance. Again, GAGs break down over time. While these are all natural parts of the aging process, what is within our control?

What We Can DoOne way to support healthy youthful skin cells is to provide them with specific nutrients that fight off free radicals and support the components of healthy skin (collagen, elastin and GAGs).

Vitamin C.When you think of vitamin C, you most likely think of it as a vitamin that helps keep the immune system strong during cold season. While it’s true that vitamin C has immune-support properties, the benefits of vitamin C go far beyond the sniffles. Vitamin C is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to avoiding accelerated aging of the skin. One way that vitamin C promotes skin health is by protecting the body against ROS (reactive oxygen species) (3). ROS basically refers to free radicals that have lost their chemical bonds and bounce throughout the body, looking for a new “mate” to bond with, all the while wreaking havoc and causing accelerated aging. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights against excess ROS, preventing the accelerated breakdown of collagen and elastin. Research shows that topical vitamin C can also leave your skin “glowing” by reducing inflammation and preventing some characteristics of overexposure to the sun (sun damage) (3).

Astaxanthin.Often overlooked when discussing skin aging, astaxanthin has been shown in several studies to be beneficial in the prevention of several hallmark signs associated with accelerated aging (4). Astaxanthin belongs to the carotenoid family and functions as an antioxidant-like compound. The standard American diet seems to be deficient in astaxanthin as some the best sources of this powerful antioxidant are krill, microalgae and other crustaceans that are not abundant in our diets (4). Luckily, there are several products on the market, both topical and oral, that deliver astaxanthin.

One clinical study involving 30 female subjects supplementing with astaxanthin showed significant improvements including reduced wrinkles, age spot size, skin elasticity, skin texture, and moisture content of the skin (4). The study was eight weeks long and the subjects supplemented with 6 mg of oral astaxanthin and used 2 mL of a topical astaxanthin solution.

A different study investigated the effect of astaxanthin on the skin health of men. The six-week double-blind placebo-controlled study involving 36 men (4). The men in this study supplemented with 6 mg of oral astaxanthin and showed significant improvements. Much like the aforementioned study involving women, the men showed reduced wrinkles and increased elasticity and skin moisture after the completion of the study (4).

French maritime pine bark.Another overlooked antioxidant in the skin health equation is French maritime pine bark extract, often sold in the branded form Pycnogenol (manufactured by Horphag Research). A 2012 study published in the Skin Pharmacology and Physiology journal found that Pycnogenol works on a cellular level to improve several factors of skin health (5). The study involved 20 women who took Pycnogenol over the course of 12 weeks.

Upon assessment after week 12, the subjects benefited from increased skin elasticity and hydration. The study concluded that Pycnogenol worked on a molecular level to alter gene expression by increasing hyaluronic acid synthase-1 (HAS-1), an enzyme that plays a critical role in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (5). Pycnogenol was also shown to play a beneficial role in the gene expression of collagen synthesis, allowing the proper creation and utilization of the ever important skin nutrient that is collagen (5). In conclusion, the study states that Pycnogenol may be “useful to counteract the clinical signs of skin aging” (5).

While this study was conducted with the supplement form, numerous natural personal care products incorporate the ingredient into topical skin formulas.

Vitamin A.Like vitamin C, vitamin A has the ability to leave the skin “glowing.” While this antioxidant has long been understood to be a powerful nutrient that promotes overall skin health, newer research is beginning to pull back the curtain on how it works.

Vitamin A has cellular renewing properties, which helps smooth aging skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and irregularities (6). Vitamin A also supports healthy collagen and hyaluronic acid levels, which helps maintain healthy skin tone, texture and appearance (6). Look for the retinyl palmitate form, which is gentle on the skin.

Peptides.Considered a breakthrough in anti-aging ingredients, some peptides supply skin’s EDM with six essential elements that work with skin tissue to fill in wrinkles (7). Recent studies done over a two-month period show Matrixyl synthe’6 has a filling, leveling effect on skin areas such as the forehead and eye area (crow’s feet) (7).

In short, controlling stress, employing a nutritious diet and lifestyle, while naturally giving your body nutrients that promote skin health will support youthful skin over the long term. The maze of good skin health might seem intimidating, but pointing consumers in the direction of topical products, natural supplements and healthy habits can make all the difference.WF

References1. Life Extension, “Skin Aging,” www.lifeextension.com/protocols/skin-nails-hair/skin-aging/Page-01, accessed June 12, 2016. 2. Just About Skin, “Collagen, Elastin, and Glycosaminoglycans,”www.justaboutskin.com/collagen-elastin-glycosasminoglycans, accessed June 12, 2016. 3. P.S. Telang, “Vitamin C in Dermatology,” Indian Dermatol. Online J. 4(2), 143–146 (2013). 4. K. Tominaga, et al., “Cosmetic Benefits Of Astaxanthin On Humans Subjects,” Acta Biochim Pol. 59 (1), 43–47 (2012). 5. A. Marini, et al., “Pycnogenol Effects On Skin Elasticity And Hydration Coincide With Increased Gene Expressions Of Collagen Type I And Hyaluronic Acid Synthase In Women,” Skin Pharmacol. Physiol. 25 (2), 86–92 (2012). 6. derma e, “Anti-Wrinkle,” http://dermae.com/category/148/Anti-Wrinkle.html, accessed June 21, 2016. 7. Sederma, “Matrixyl synthe'6,”www.sederma.com/home.aspx?s=111&r=127&p=1414, accessed June 12, 2016.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine August 2016