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As you age, your skin undergoes progressive changes:
Wrinkles can have a profound impact on self-esteem. The stigma attached to looking old is evidenced by the more than $12 billion Americans spend each year on cosmetic procedures to hide the signs of aging. Our society places a premium on youthfulness, and age discrimination in the workplace, although illegal, has stalled many people's careers. The emotional consequences of aging explain in large part why the cosmetics industry and plastic surgeons thrive.
The sun is the most important cause of prematurely aging skin (a process called photoaging) and skin cancers. Overall, exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight (radiation referred to as UVA or UVB) accounts for about 90% of the symptoms of premature skin aging. Most of these effects occur by age 20:
Initial Damaging Effects of Sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation penetrates the layers of the skin. Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage that leads to wrinkles, lower immunity against infection, aging skin disorders, and cancer. Each of these rays appears to damage cells in different ways.
Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage to the body, including genetic injury, wrinkles, aging skin disorders, and skin cancers. Exactly how they cause this damage is not yet fully understood.
Processes Leading to Wrinkles. Even small amounts of UV radiation trigger the processes that can cause wrinkles:
In addition to sunlight, other factors may hasten the formation of wrinkles:
Cigarette Smoke. Smoking produces oxygen-free radicals, which accelerate wrinkles and aging skin disorders, and increase the risk for non-melanoma skin cancers. Studies also suggest that smoking and subsequent oxidation produce higher levels of metalloproteinases, the enzymes associated with wrinkles.
Air Pollution. Ozone, a common air pollutant, may be a particular problem for the skin. One study reported that it might deplete the amount of vitamin E in the skin. This vitamin is an important antioxidant.
Rapid Weight Loss. If weight loss occurs too rapidly, the volume of fat cells that cushion the face also decrease before chemicals in the skin can react. This not only makes a person look gaunt, but it can cause the skin to sag.
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