Beauty and the older Woman. Aging is a privilege denied to many. 2. Skin

Beauty and the older Woman.

Aging is a privilege denied to many.


The aging of our skin was not a topic of discussion by Dr Steven Shiel, whose talk at Cheltenham Science Festival was the starting point for these blogs. Most of his audience would have liked to know more, me amongst, so with some research, some personal experience and some observations I’ve put together the following.

Caring for our skin starts as soon as we are born. Within the first hour our skin will be washed to cleanse away its waxy coating called vernix casoea, which is mainly composed of sebum that is secreted from the baby’s gland from 20th week of pregnancy. It protects the baby’s skin from the fluid in the womb. Pre-mature babies tend to be less covered, whereas post-due-date babies tend to start losing this covering and their skin may become dry and flaky. It is also claimed to ease the baby’s descent through the birth canal, but that begs the question of why late birth would lose this lubrication. It has been suggested that this natural moisturizer should be massaged into the baby’s skin but that is not a common practise. The skin needs to breathe as much as the lungs and it removal ensures it can, it also allows doctors to check all is well.

Skin is comprised of several layers (up to 16). The top, visible, level is known as the stratum corneus or horny level. It’s actually a layers of dead skin cells which protects the young, live cells beneath them, and it’s waterproof. Cells originate at the basal level and ‘float’ upwards as they lose moisture and flatten. DNA stored here will ensure that the cells replicate as perfect replacements to the dead cells. This process of regeneration normally takes 28 days, but slows as we age. Other factors can also effect the length of this process. Damage to the basal level can result in permanent scarring. Below this is the dermis which contains the sweat and sebaceous glands. It is also where the follicles grow hair. It is composed of tough connective tissue, elastin and collagen, which is nourished by blood capillaries. Beneath this is a layer of subcutaneous fat that gives skin it’s springy, youthful texture. Lips are thin skin, only 5 or 6 layers, which lack the sweat and hair glands. Our lips tend to dry more easily. Our skin is remarkably good at repairing itself, but damage to the basal level can mean damaged DNA which will then produce damaged cells.

Our skin is constantly renewing itself and it is subject to change throughout our daily life. It protects us, it regulates our temperature, it even signposts our emotional state. We all know that when we get hot we sweat. In an hour’s workout we can actually sweat as much as 2 litres (nearly 5 pints). In cold weather we get goose pimples as our skin activates its primeval response to keep us warm by forcing our hair upward. This is not to be relied on as effective these days, most of us will need to don a coat. In some illnesses we sweat because the skin is acting to release toxins from our body as efficiently as possible, some treatments for illnesses used to encourage this by overheating the sufferer. Skin also protects toxics entering our system. I recall going to London and that night, on cleansing my face being appalled at the blackness of the cotton pad. Air pollution is damaging. So is the sun. Tanning is the skin trying to protect us from the sun, when it fails our skin literally burns which can cause long-term damage to the basal layer. Our skin works hard for us, even signposting when problems occur. Rashes, hormonal problems, liver problems, anaemia, diabetes can all be detected by looking at our skin, and help medical practitioners in their diagnosis of illness.

Generics determine how our skin looks and how it will age. I was tested in Boots a while ago to determine how my skin was aging, particularly whether there was signs of sun-damage, my results were good, except for my eyes. I have always used eye cream as I noticed my grandmother’s eyes were heavily lined. The creams have slowed the process, as I have fewer deep lines at a similar age, but they are still there. Apart from selecting good parents I don’t believe we can alter our DNA but we can care for our skin and delay the effects of aging.

Skin care is essential to help protect our skin and prevent pre-mature aging. I do not agree that young girls need the, more expensive, anti-aging creams before they are 30, but by 35 they should be considered as this is when the natural decline will start. Besides face and body moisturizing the giveaway areas traditionally are; hands, neck, eyes, elbows and knees, I would also add feet to this list. Tanning is one of the biggest causes of skin damage and can lead to skin cancer. Ever since Coco Chanel made tanned skin fashionable, in the 1920s, the belief that the acquisition of a suntan enhances our beauty is embedded in most of us. In my teens I tried to acquire a tan but I always used sun products to prevent burning. My one lapse was the back of my hands, when I was camping in England, which burnt without me noticing. Nowadays, my hands still tan quickly but I hope that’s the only long-term effect. Holidays aboard mean we subject our skin to stronger rays, and burning occurs quicker and without us realising till much later in the day. Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor, has recently had surgery for the removal of skin cancer from his nose. Many people have probably suffered sunburnt noses in the past after a day in the sun. Nowadays, hopefully, our awareness of the dangers mean we are more cautious for ourselves and our children.

Personally I am not a fan of sun beds I worry about long-term damage as well as looking orange, only time will tell their effect on your skin. In the 80s there was a travel programme called ‘Wickers World’ he often used to feature cruises with a lot of mature, wealthy American women whose skin seemed to have the look and texture of their expensive, tan leather handbags. Tanned skin thickens.

Changes to our skin occur throughout our lives. Hormonal changes not only effect teenagers but menopausal women. In my teens I discovered I had sensitive skin. I brought a light foundation and within half-an-hour I was washing it off due to a burning sensation. Originally I used French cleansing products. Parisian women do not wash their faces due to the harshness of Parisian water. Over the years I gradually moved to a well-known American brand whose ‘special offers’ required purchase of a skincare product. I didn’t have any problems until menopause when I developed rosacea. This condition consists of redness, flaky skin and white spots. Medical cream did ease condition but did not clear it. Although cause is medically not known I felt it to be linked originally to the hot flushes I experienced. I was also aware that cell damage, due to flushes, could result in permanent broken veins. HRT relieved hot flushes but rosacea remained. At my usual make-up counter I was offered, and brought, creams and concealers, but they did little to ease the condition. Three years passed and I was reading an article about beauty products that French women swear by, recalling French women’s skincare concerns and their devotion to good skincare I wondered if they had any solutions to my problem. I duly researched on-line, the products they named were available here, mainly through chemists, the French seem to trust their pharmacies for skincare purchases and many of their companies will only sell through chemists here. I nearly purchased online then discovered my local Boots stocked them. Within a week I noticed a difference and now it is nearly gone and I have yet to finish my first bottle. I brought their make-up gel remover, a light moisturizer and eye-cream. I have tried to avoid naming brands and products here, but I am so pleased with the results I want others to be aware of their existence. The range is La Roche-Posay, Rosaliac (*see below), I use the make-up gel remover (£12.50), morning and night. I also brought a beauty mask, from another French range, to calm my skin; Avene Antirougeurs Calm – Soothing Repair Mask (£15).

Another problem friends have experienced is sudden sensitivity. Skins which has been normal, or even oily, changes. Eye area can become particularly sensitive. Given my experience I would now suggest they look at La-Roche-Posey’s range and maybe chat with a skincare specialist in their local store. Be careful though as not all assistants are trained and probably know less than you do about the products.

Face skin ages before body skin. This is because our face tends to be more active than our body and lines form. By all accounts George Melly once commented on Mick Jaggar’s wrinkles. The rock star replied, ‘They’re not wrinkles, they’re laughter lines’. Melly retorted ‘Nothing’s that funny, Mick.’I couldn’t find date of quote but Melly died in 2007!Besides laughing, stress, smoking, squirting all contribute to aging our face. Squirting normally occurs due to failing eye sight so if you’ve never worn glasses you should get your eyes checked now. Smokers tend to crease eyes, against smoke entering them, and the action of drawing on cigarette causes lines at side of mouth.

Menopause means that skin, without the production of oestrogen, become drier and loses its elasticity. HRT does help improve the condition of your skin in texture and tone. Lips also become less plump at this time. Personally I have used lip moisturiser for a while now, but recently I have taken to ensuring I wear lipstick before leaving the house. It helps define my lips and protects them. I have worn lipstick through my life but it has rarely stayed on. The new ones recently produced by my usual make-up counter are much better. I know other brands have already developed longer-lasting ones. I did once try a well-known brand in hope sensitivity did not extend to my lips only to feel a burning sensation within seconds.

I found this test in a magazine to check the elasticity in your skin.

Pinch Test. * see below

Pinch the skin on back of your hand and hold for 5 seconds.

Let go and time how long it takes to return to normal.

Time ‘Functional’ Age
1 to 2 seconds Under 30
3 to 4 30 – 44
5 to 9 45 – 50
10 to 15 51 – 60
As you approach 70 (and beyond) the time is likely to be around 35 plus seconds.

It seems a big jump from 15 to 35 and I wonder if it’s due to the change in attitude towards skincare by women. Whilst my one grandmother used products to moisturize her skin though most of her life, lack of money meant my other grandmother didn’t, hence I thought the one was older than the other when, in fact, and there was little difference in their ages. My mother looked better than others of her generation as she used skincare products throughout her life. Hopefully, the availability of affordable skincare products will benefit us. Each year more products appear which promise to prevent further aging. At one stage products claimed to actually reverse aging but I see less of these nowadays, advertising regulations are stricter. The glamourous actress, Joanna Lumley, has recently revealed she has used ‘a £4 moisturizer made by Astral for 40 years’. No doubt Ms Lumley owes a lot to good generics, but she has also regularly moisturized.


La Roche-Posey website for further information.

The pinch test was one of the tests printed in The Sunday Times Magazine on 23rd July 2016, in an article entitled ‘Are you good for your age?’ It consisted of an interview with New York Dr Joesph Raffaele who devised test.

Quote by Joanna Lumley taken from Daily Mail site.

Image above is from Dove ad campaign of 2007.



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