Why Does Skin Age and What To Do About It

how does skin age?

Aging is a normal part of life, but how we age is a process that we have a greater influence over than we think. Genetics play a role in ageing, but studies show that only 3% of all aging factors have a genetic background and that the rest is influenced by external factors such as pollution and lifestyle.

There is endless choice around many effective skincare products, treatments, and tools, but the fact remains that none of those thing can cover up bad lifestyle and dietary choices (at least not for long). Despite all the information available, there is a real lack of focus on the education of skin aging and the impact that lifestyle choices have on our skin. 

What Happens to Skin As We Age? 

As skin ages, there is a loss of function and structure, both of which are the results of internal and external processes. Changes in the structure of the skin are seen throughout the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis:

  • The outer layer of skin (epidermis) thins and leads to a reduced supply of nutrients and oxygen.
  • Cushioning fat (gives our faces a plump, youthful look) is lost.
  • Rate of cellular turnover is dramatically reduced.
  • Natural levels of water in the skin decline, making it dryer.
  • A reduction in the amount of hyaluronic acid produced decreases the skin’s ability to hold water.
  • Collagen production declines, existing collagen fibers become thicker and clumpier, resulting brittle skin. 
  • Functional integrity changes, including absorption, injury repair, and production of vitamin D.

Aging is also accelerated by external factors such as UV light, pollution, and smoking. These all generate free radicals which speed up the breakdown of collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans.

The results are often premature aging, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and precancerous changes. UV light is the biggest culprit and daily sunscreen use is non-negotiable. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E, the carotenoid pigments, and phytochemicals such as flavonoids in skincare and in the diet are so important to stop free radical formation. 

How Does Skin Age in Your 20s?

From around the age of 20, the dermis makes about 1% less collagen per year, so the structure of the skin is already changing even if we don’t see the visible signs yet. This is the decade to establish good habits around skincare. The importance of regular use of sunscreen in this decade cannot be overstated. Get this right early in life and you will have fewer problems later. 

The majority of skincare marketing is still aimed at women in their 20s. The truth is, most women at this age don’t need all those products. A simple skincare routine that preserves the health of the skin barrier and protects from UV light is usually enough. 

Unless you have a persistent skin condition with particular needs (please see a professional if you do), cleansing your skin properly, using a gentle chemical exfoliator, and moisturizer or face oil, and a spf are enough. In the late 20s, a retinol product at night can be added. 

How Does Skin Age in Your 30s?

In this decade, skin becomes less resilient to lifestyle habits such as late nights, stress, alcohol, and a bad diet. The first signs of aging can start to appear in the early 30s. 

The skin starts to lose its elasticity due to the breakdown and decreased production of collagen and elastin, leading to the first fine lines and wrinkles. Brown and age spots can start to appear or become more visible due to sun exposure. 

Throughout the 30s, skin starts to lose its radiance as cell turnover continues to slow down. It becomes drier and has a more difficult time retaining water due to a decline in hyaluronic acid and other hydrating factors. At this age, hormone levels are also changing (pregnancy, fertility concerns, stress) which can lead to cystic acne, hyperpigmentation, and inflammation.

The importance of diet, exercise, sleep, and management of stress levels also becomes more important. Your skincare routine should be tailored to your needs with active serums or professional intervention if needed. At the bare minimum, cleansing, exfoliating, hydrating/moisturizing, retinol and daily sunscreen use should be part of it. 

How Does Skin Age in Your 40s?

Skincare in your 40s is about treatment and prevention. The skin changes seen in your 30s are now accelerating in your 40s. In women, estrogen levels greatly affect the integrity of skin function and structure, causing the skin to age faster than men’s.  Perimenopause and fluctuating hormone levels can increase dryness and make hormonal, cystic acne worse. The decline in estrogen levels makes the skin drier.

Collagen production is very low and existing collagen and elastin fibers break and result in wrinkles. The loss of collagen starts to make the skin at the jawline and eye area sag. We lose fat in our face and the distribution of it changes as it starts to shift downward. 

In this decade, women should invest in quality products and stay consistent in their skincare routines. The skin is thinner and drier and has a harder time holding water, so maintaining a healthy skin barrier should be a top priority in order to prevent further transepidermal water loss. The best way to do that is to use the right products consistently and to avoid over exfoliation. The right cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers, face oils, serums and treatments, retinol, and spf can all go a long way at this at this stage. 

Topical products can help with pigmentation and collagen production (to a certain extent); but they can only do so much, so injectables and lasers are useful for treating skin conditions and keeping the skin looking fresh and youthful. 

How Does Skin Age in Your 50s and Beyond?

Menopause and the loss of estrogen intensifies both internal and external aging, and accelerated changes to both the structure and function of the skin. Studies show that estrogen receptors are found directly on the skin, so cellular metabolism at the dermis is affected by low concentrations of estrogen, which impacts collagen production and water content.

As we age, the pH levels of our skin get higher and this causes changes to the microbiome and immune response at the top layer of the skin. Maintaining a robust skin barrier becomes even more important in preventing sensitivity, redness, and accelerated water loss. After menopause, oil glands decrease in size, leaving the skin drier, thinner, more sensitive and lacking in tone. Hormone fluctuations and the resulting hot flashes can lead to increased skin sensitivity and rosacea. Finally, the bone structure of our face changes, giving our face a smaller more deflated look. 

Topical skincare products at this stage can only do so much. A diet high in vegetables, fruits, the right kind of protein and healthy fats, as well as daily exercise and adequate sleep are basic foundations to overall health at this stage. The right injectables, lasers, and other treatments through a qualified esthetician or dermatologist can also go a long way in helping to keep the skin looking fresh and youthful. 

Simple Steps to Aging Well

At every age there are simple things we can do that will go a long way to help slow aging. Of course we will all age (it really is a privilege if we do). What we are concerned with here, is aging well. These steps are not prescriptive and nor are they all or none. Life changes may find us dropping some (like sleep with a new baby) for a while and prioritizing them at a later date. 

In general, these lifestyle skincare tips focus on prevention and are best approached with long term and consistent commitment (as best you can).

Gut Health 

The gut is a really important place to start when it comes to skin health. Our gut microbiome is the main regulator of the skin-gut axis and plays an important role in modulating inflammation and immune system response in a way that counteracts UV damage.

Research shows that oral use of Lactobacillus plantarum prevented UV-induced photodamage in people, with results after the 12 week study showing increased skin elasticity and increased skin hydration. Probiotic has also been shown to be a use adjunct to treating inflammatory conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis. 

High quality probiotic supplements can help support the gut in general, as can a diet full of pre-and probiotic, fermented foods. A treatment protocol with probiotics and a gut-centred approach to specific clinical  skin conditions must involve accredited medical professionals. 

Diet: Micro and Phytonutrients

Healthy skin that ages well comes from inside. What you eat matters and has an impact on how you age, and there are many, many studies that support this. One study on women ranging from 40-74 years old, showed that a diet high in vitamin C and linoleic acid (found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and eggs) had more youthful looking skin. In contrast, a diet high in refined carbohydrates increased the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance. Well-researched antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins A, C, D and E, essential fatty acids and some amino acids have all shown to be supportive in slowing the ageing process. 



Daily sugar intake must be eliminated from the diet. Glucose forms age-related glycation end-products (AGEs) by crosslinking with proteins and making them brittle and less elastic. Studies have suggested that AGEs are responsible for shortened, thinned and disorganized collagen fibers. 


It has long been known that stress can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions. Studies on mice have shown that stress can accelerate UV-induced abnormal tissue growth and stressed groups develop tumors much fast and have a lower survival rate. Further studies show that chronic stress compromises important immune activity in the skin. These studies are compelling, but human trials and further research is needed in the case of this particular one. 


Studies have shown the negative effects of sleep deprivation on skin aging. It was found that poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin aging including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced elasticity. They also recover much slower after skin barrier disruption.


Science has shown again and again that If there is a fountain of youth, it is exercise. In one study, researchers took sedentary adults aged 65 or older and put them as a moderate exercise regime for a period of three months After that period, researchers looked at their skin under a microscope and their skin looked like that of a “much younger person.”  Although there is no evidence that exercise reverses wrinkling and other signs of sun damage, researchers did find that the structure and function of the skin was younger with exercise. 

Sun Exposure

Staying safe in the sun is crucial for slowing aging. Our body is able to repair skin damage, to a certain extent, but prevention is really the key. A spf of at least 50 is necessary for UV protection. Yes, it needs to be worn every day and yes, even on cloudy days (UV light still penetrates clouds).