Time and tide waits for no man – and unfortunately the face is the first to reveal the passing of time, even when mutton dresses as lamb!

The medical term “intrinsic aging” describes the natural aging process and our genes will dictate when the visible lines start to appear and we start losing the natural fullness of youth on our faces.  We cannot change this natural process of aging.

On the other hand, we may be able to have some control over the “extrinsic aging” that affects our faces.  Environmental factors and the lifestyle choices we make can cause premature aging of our faces, but these effects can be slowed down by taking preventive measures.


How the face ages:

The first signs of aging already appears in your 20’s with movement-related lines and creases in the brow area. A history of spending too much time in the sun or squinting at electronic screens may also lead to tiny lines around the eyes, called “crow’s feet”.

During the 30’s the skin starts to look less radiant and crow’s feet may become more prominent. Those dreaded twin lines that appear between the brows will become more visible and thin lines may appear around the mouth.

If you are a smoker and in your 40’s, the thin lines that appear on your upper lip will appear sooner and be deeper. More wrinkles will appear on the forehead and the smile lines will become more prominent.  Expect to see more of the “crow’s feet” around the eyes.

From your 50’s and beyond the cumulative effect of too much exposure to the sun and the resulting damage to your skin will hasten the prominent indicators of ageing, such as the deepening of lines and wrinkles, as well as higher levels of damage to the support structures that hold up the skin.

From the 60’s onwards a number of structural changes take place in the face. Hairlines retreat and results in expanding foreheads. The cartilage in the ears keep on growing and the ears get longer, in some case out of proportion to the size of the face.  Most men experience the growth of course, long and unsightly hair in and on the ears.  (A hint – shaving makes them harder and stimulates growth, best to have them waxed regularly.)  A reduction in the number of wax glands in the ears can result in ear wax becoming drier due to less oil being produced, which can block the ear canal. The first port of call when becoming hard of hearing may well be to have the ears checked for such blockages.

With age the fat under the skin loses the volume that used to plumb up the skin and hardens, before moving downwards. This results in the skin becoming loose and sagging.  The lower half of the face tends to gain fat that results in a baggy chin and neck area.

This is also the era where wrinkles are getting more and deeper, partly due to fat under the skin moving downwards but also due to intrinsic aging, which may be worse due to failure to take preventive measures against extrinsic aging. At the same time small blood vessels below the surface of the skin can become more prominent.  Brown spots and other blotches can increase in number and size.  The loss of muscle tone adds to the drooping appearance of the face.

Eyes can start looking sunken due to fat in the eyelids moving downwards and settling in the eye sockets. The muscles that supports the eyelids can weaken and result in drooping eyelids.  At the same time lower eyelids can also slacken and bags can start to develop under the eyes.  To make matters worse around the eyes, apart from more prominent and deeper “crow’s feet”, the eyebrows and lashes starts to turn grey.


Preventive measures to reduce premature skin aging:

As seen in the introduction, the medical term “extrinsic aging” refers to the environment and lifestyle choices that can result in the skin to age prematurely. Dermatologists associated with the American Academy of Dermatology has identified a number of preventive actions for premature aging:

  • The skin needs daily protection from the sun, in the form of applying sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 or more to exposed skin, as well as trying to stay in the shade as much as possible, especially between 10:00 and 14:00. Covering up with a wide brimmed hat and protective clothing would also assist in this regard. Wearing sunglasses would help to reduce fine lines forming around the eyes.
  • Applying a self-tan lotion is preferable to getting a tan in the harmful UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. UV rays accelerate skin aging.
  • Stop smoking, as smoking speeds up the speed at which the skin ages, also causing wrinkles and a sallow complexion.
  • Try to avoid repetitive facial expressions, as the repeated contraction of the same facial muscles cause permanent lines on the face, for example frowning or squinting.
  • A daily application of moisturizer helps to trap water in the skin and gives it a more youthful appearance, as the skin becomes drier as we age.
  • Lotions such as exfoliant creams can get rid of dead skin cells and improve the appearance of the skin. Anti-aging creams containing retinoids, a class of vitamin A derivatives, have been used for many years, as it claims to boost the many skin cell functions that we lose as we age. The most common forms of retinoids will be indicated on the labels of skin care products as retinol and retinyl palmitate.
  • A healthy and well balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables may help to prevent premature skin damage, while diets high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, or both, can accelerate aging.
  • A high intake of alcohol dehydrates the skin and can accelerate aging.
  • Moderate daily exercise improves circulation and boosts the immune system.
  • The face should be cleansed gently twice a day, especially after perspiring with exercise.
  • Avoid skin care products that sting or burn, as irritation of the skin and can contribute to skin aging. (Unless prescribed by a dermatologist for a specific condition of the skin.)
  • It is important to get enough sleep, as the body refreshes and rejuvenates itself during sleep. Lots of truth in the saying “I need my beauty sleep”.




Why your face ages and what you can do.  Published online on 2 August 2018 in Healthbeat, one of the newsletters by Harvard Medical School.  (www.health.harvard.edu)

What causes our skin to age?  Published online.  American Academy of Dermatology / Association.  (www.aad.org)

How your face ages.  Published online and information reviewed 2 December 2012.  WebMD.  (www.webmd.com)

Aging changes in the face.  Published online and information reviewed 7 December 2018.  Medline Plus.  US National Library of Medicine.  National Institutes of Health.  (USA).  (www.medlineplus.gov)

Retinoids for anti-aging skin.  Published online and last reviewed 14 November 2012.  WebMD.  (www.webmd.com)




February 2019


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