Why does the skin lose its elasticity?

In partnership with SA’s top medical aesthetic companies

Sooner or later, we all experience some loss of elasticity in our skins. Let’s look at the causes and start investigating what can be done.

What do you understand by skin elasticity? 

It’s not just what most people think it is – the ability of our skin to stretch without becoming damaged. Equally, if not more important, is its ability to snap back to its original shape, and how long this takes. How it ages is largely due to our genes. Look at your parents’ skin as an indicator.

When our skin is young and healthy, it snaps back practically immediately, but with natural intrinsic ageing, the skin produces less supportive fibres – collagen (which gives our skin firmness and strength) and elastin (which, as its name suggests, gives our skin its elasticity) – and the collagen fibres loosen and become less organised. The result: skin starts to sag, stretch and become thinner, so when we pull up the skin on the back of our hand, it returns to shape in a slow, graceful bow rather than snapping to attention. This is aggravated by loss of fat layers between your skin and muscle, thinning of the epidermis and dermis and even loss of bone density at a later stage. This usually becomes visible from our mid to late forties onwards, and is progressive.

Then, of course, there are the external factors that can accelerate this process. Gravity, having children and menopause are contributors, but there are also the ‘lifestyle’ causes, which are more avoidable: No. 1 among these is UV damage from sun exposure, lack of quality sleep (which means our bodies can’t do efficient repair while we snooze), and then there’s stress, unhealthy diet and smoking.

The common denominator in these is that they can produce free radicals, rogue oxygen molecules that are now overactive and unstable and cause damage to our skin structures, including our collagen and elastin fibres.

They also cause inflammation in the tissues, which can destroy and damage collagen and elastin and cause the body to repair itself poorly.

Be careful about what you eat

Diet-wise, one of the worst things you can do is eat carbs with a high glycaemic index, because the sugar that floods your system can attach itself to your collagen and elastin, causing glycation, which makes the fibres hard and brittle, causing premature wrinkling and sagging.

A regular daily intake of quality protein, a low GL (glycaemic load) diet, antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables and omega-3 fish oil supplements can help boost your body generally, as well as enhancing your supportive fibre production.

Dealing with the meno

The changes that arise during perimenopause and after menopause are related to a decrease in oestrogen, and causes fewer supportive fibres to be manufactured, as well as a redistribution of fat deposits in our body – which we see as loss of fat on our face, neck, arms, hands and breasts, and a change in our general body shape. You can discuss options to address these deficits with your doctor, depending on your health profile.

Weight loss 

And then if we go on a drastic weight loss regimen, it can take our skin a bit longer to catch up and retract. You can help this by exercising and building muscle. In some cases, however, the weight loss is so drastic that the skin can’t retract itself completely, and you will need either surgical or non-surgical intervention.

An examination by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon can help you decide what you need. First line of intervention is non-surgical with, for example, radio frequency skin firming treatments as well as a host of other options. Visit the Beyond beauty Portal over the next month as we discuss non surgical options to shape, firm and tone the body.

Take the quick Beyond Beauty Survey and you could win a R2000 Skin Renewal voucher to spend in our online store, with free delivery within South Africa. T&Cs apply.

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