Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scientists Look for Ways to Measure the Age of Your Skin

Every day we look in the mirror and see that wrinkle or fine line that we wish would just disappear. We stare back at our reflection and wonder why we hadn’t done things differently in our youth. We long to go back in time and apply sunscreen with SPF 30 instead of tanning oil. While that might have helped, we know that aging is a natural process.

There are two distinct types of aging — intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic aging is caused by genetics. This is typically known as the natural aging process, or chronological aging. It is continuous and usually begins in our mid-20s. Around this age, collagen production slows down, elastin because less elastic and dead skin cells prevent quick turnover of new skin cells because they don’t shed as quickly as they once did.. The good news, though, is that while aging begins early in life, the signs may not be visible for several years. These indicators include fine lines and wrinkles, thin or translucent skin, loss of underlying fat, and hollow cheeks and dry skin. How quickly these signs appear merely depends on genetics.

Extrinsic aging is caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to sun, smoking, air pollution and other external factors affecting our skin. The most detrimental of these factors is exposure to radiation from sunlight and, because of this, extrinsic aging is sometimes called photoaging.

While we know the causes of aging, scientists are now beginning to find standardized ways to measure the damage that aging causes to the skin.

A study published in Optical Society of America’s open-access journal, Biomedical Optics Express, described how a group of Taiwanese scientists used a special microscope to peer under the skin’s surface to measure age-related changes in the size of skin cells. Researchers believe this process will help measure the effectiveness of ‘anti-aging’ skin products.

The researchers studied 52 subjects from ages 19 to 79 years old using a technique known as harmonic generation microscopy (HGM). This technique has previously been used to study developing embryos. It works by sending a concentrated beam of photons into a material and studying the “harmonics” or vibrations of the protons. These harmonics can show different structures at very high resolution. As a result, the researchers were able to produce a high-resolution map of the tissue that revealed the structures within the skin cells.  

In an article in Medical News Today, distinguished professor at National Taiwan University and chief director of the university's Molecular Imaging Center Chi-Kuang Sun stated, “No one has ever seen through a person's skin to determine his or her age from their skin. Our finding serves as a potential index for skin age." 

Using HGM to create an index will help doctors determine the true age of the skin and serve as a tool to evaluate and monitor the overall health of the skin.

With researchers peering into the past through our skin, it makes us wonder if our younger selves would have taken advantage if they had a crystal ball to see the future. What if your 20-year-old self could have seen the damage and aging as it was happening?

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