The skin is the largest organ of the body, with a total area of about 1.8 square metres (20 square feet). Our skin safeguards us from bacteria and other microorganisms, protects us from the elements, helps regulate body temperature, and allows the sensations of touch, heat, and cold.
The skin’s three layers:
The outermost layer of skin, the epidermis furnishes a waterproof barrier and is responsible for our skin tone. It also houses cells called melanocytes, which produce the pigment ‘melanin’. Melanin determines the color of our skin.
This layer lies beneath the epidermis. It comprises tough connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands. The dermis is a fibrous network of tissue that gives structure and resilience to the skin. On average it is about 0.08 inches (2 mm) thick.
The mesh-like web of the dermis is made of the structural proteins collagen and elastin, in addition to blood and lymph vessels, mast cells and fibroblasts. These components are enclosed within a gel-like substance called the ‘ground substance’, composed mostly of molecules called ‘glycosaminoglycans’. The ground substance is essential to the skin’s hydration and moisture levels. Both collagen and elastin are manufactured in cells called fibroblasts, most of which exist in the upper surface of the dermis where it joins the epidermis.
This deeper tissue beneath the dermis is composed of fat and connective tissue.
Collagen and Elastin
Collagen and elastin are two biological substances that occur naturally in our skin. Together they are responsible for the skin’s strength, firmness, and shape. The process of aging depletes the skin of these two important proteins.
‘Collagen’ is the term for a group of proteins that mostly occur in the connective or ‘fibrous’ tissues of the dermis. They are the most common proteins in the human body, comprising around 30 percent of total protein content. Collagen is abundant in our skin, but is also part of our ligaments, blood vessels, bones, and eyes.
Connective tissues support and/or connect various forms of tissues or body organs. Their role is to strengthen other tissues and support their shape. Some examples of connective tissues include cartilage, fat and tendons.
Like collagen, elastin is also a protein located in connective tissues. It is, however, a different type of protein. Elastin is elastic; that is, it enables the body’s tissues to ‘snap back’ to their original shape after they have been contracted or stretched. Elastin can be compared to a rubber band.
Our artery walls, lungs, intestines and skin all contain elastin. All these tissues need to be able to expand and contract to keep us healthy. When young skin containing abundant elastin is pinched or pulled, it resumes its normal shape when released. Elastin is responsible for this. An example of skin stretching occurs when we smile, or make any other facial expression.
It could be said that collagen is for skin structure while elastin is for skin ‘bounce’.
These two proteins are important in skin care because their actions combine to give skin its shape and firmness. Collagen provides density, compactness and volume. It is the basic supporting structure, while elastin permits stretched skin to return to the shape collagen gives it.
Collagen is composed of very strong fibers with exceptional tensile strength. These fibers provide the foundation to anchor the skin’s outer layer. Elastin is not as abundant in the skin as collagen, but is essential for skin function. It forms an elastic network between the collagen fibers.
When skin is deficient in collagen and elastin it sags and wrinkles. In young skin, collagen and elastin are abundant. Skin looks smooth and taut. During the aging process, the body’s production of collagen and elastin decreases. Sun damage, pollution and other factors also contribute to the breaking down of the skin’s connective fibers. The skin becomes thinner and even more vulnerable to sun-damage and other environmental aggravations.
The elastin in aging skin begins to lose its ability to snap back, just as a rubber band that is continually stretched will, over time, lose its resilience. When this happens, our skin sags. Usually we notice this most around the eyes, jaw line, and neck.
Protecting your skin’s collagen and elastin
The good news is that you can slow down the skin’s aging process. Here’s how:
- Protect your skin’s structure and elasticity by using a high strength sunscreen daily.
- Regularly apply proven skin care products that nourish it and provide antioxidant protection—such as vitamin A and vitamin C serum—to minimize the damage caused by free radicals. See our recipes for home-made, effective skin serums in ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.
- Sloughing off dead skin cells can encourage skin to regenerate. Gently exfoliate your skin 2 – 3 times per week.
- Protect your skin with moisturizers.
Signs of aging skin
Below is a list of the common signs of skin aging. Please refer to our therapies sections to find appropriate treatments—“Face Therapy” on page 105 and “Skin Therapy” on page 183 of ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.
Deep grooves and wrinkles can be treated with laser, dermal fillers, plasma laser or injections of platelets. Learn more about these techniques in our books.
As we age, our skin generally becomes drier. See our section “Skin Issues: dry skin” on page 66 of ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.
Fine lines and wrinkles
A decrease in collagen and elastin reduces skin volume and elasticity, causing fine lines and wrinkles. Repeated muscle motions such as laughing, squinting, eating and drinking etch crow’s-feet around the eyes and marionette lines near the mouth. Prevention is the best treatment. Always wear a sunscreen when outdoors. Practice a regular skin care routine, incorporating antioxidants and retinoids. See our section on Basic Skin Care, page 186 of ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.
The decrease in skin volume caused by a loss of collagen affects many parts of the body. On the backs of the hands, the veins stand out more. On the face, hollows appear beneath the cheek bones. Dermal fillers can plump up hands and faces that have lost collagen. Laser therapy can stimulate collagen regeneration.
Uneven skin tone
The treatment of skin discoloration, pigmentation and vitiligo issues requires initial assessment and diagnosis by a doctor. Therapies include treatment with laser and/or topical skin products (such as creams and ointments). See our section on skin pigmentation on page 59 of ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’.
Treatments for skin issues
Cosmetic skin therapy offers hope for treating skin issues such as wrinkles, acne and acne scars, skin lesions, blackheads, eczema, enlarged pores, scars, stretch marks and pock marks, sagging skin, varicose veins, spider veins, unsightly tattoos, skin pigmentation, aging skin, psoriasis, vitiligo and more.
Learn more in ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 1: Face and Skin’. in the section on “Skin Therapy”, page 183.
Page Hierarchy: Skin Issues
- Acne and acne scarring
- Blackheads and whiteheads
- Cosmetic tattooing (permanent makeup)
- Dry skin
- Eczema and psoriasis
- Enlarged pores
- Scars, stretch marks and pock marks
- Signs of aging (face)
- Skin discoloration & pigmentation
- Skin laxity
- Skin lesions
- Unwanted tattoos
- Varicose and spider veins
- Wound healing