Ageing is a natural process, and it’s unrealistic to expect your skin to look the same at 50 as it did when you were 20. But while different life stages will have different effects on your skin’s appearance, lifestyle and diet can also play a big part in how your skin ages.
Consultant Dermatologist Dr Shreya Andric explains what to expect at different life stages, and offers expert tips for looking after your skin at each stage. Following her recommendations will help you to look and feel your best, regardless of your age.
Internal versus external skin ageing processes
Dr Shreya explains that there are two main types of ageing processes: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic processes affect skin across your entire body as you age, including sun-protected sites. These age-related skin changes are a natural, inevitable part of growing older, but you can take some steps to help maintain healthy skin over time.
Extrinsic processes are caused by chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, smoking, and other pollutants. Taking precautions to protect your skin from these environmental factors can help you to largely avoid these ageing processes.
Skin characteristics through the life stages
Dr Shreya steps us through the typical skin characteristics at various life stages:
Baby to pre-teens
Baby skin has the same number of layers as adult skin, but each layer is 20-30% thinner. This makes it more delicate and sensitive to external factors, including chemicals and UV light. It’s also more prone to drying out.
However, by the age of 12, a child’s skin is structurally and functionally the same as an adult’s.
The terrifying teens
The hormonal changes of puberty can affect teenagers in different ways. Many teens experience a few pimples. For some, however, the changes can result in more severe acne.
The roaring 20s
Genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors all determine when your skin starts to thin again. For most people, this happens somewhere around age 25, and is noticeable in the form of fine lines.
This thinning also reduces the skin’s ability to function as a barrier or protect against UV rays.
Dr Shreya adds that, during this time, “collagen, the protein that’s responsible for keeping your skin firm and supple, begins to deplete at around 1% per year.”
The dirty 30s
Dr Shreya classifies skin as ‘mature’ at around age 35. At this time, your skin begins to lose more moisture as your body starts to produce less hyaluronic acid (HA) and existing HA starts breaking down.
Your skin’s barrier function weakens even further as the metabolic processes of your skin cells begin slowing down.
The fabulous 40s and 50s
The contours of your facial skin start looking noticeably different, and the volume of your skin starts to decrease as more collagen breaks down. Your skin may also look drier, which can exaggerate any wrinkles.
Additionally, your skin colour may also change with age as levels of melanin, the brown pigment that determines your skin tone, also change. Dr Shreya warns that some pigmentary changes can indicate serious issues, so if you notice significant changes, she recommends contacting your GP to discuss them.
The 60s and beyond
From age 60, your sun sensitivity will increase even further, and your skin may feel drier and more dehydrated. Deeper wrinkles can also form as your skin’s elasticity decreases. This can reduce your skin’s immune function, making you more susceptible to infection.
Top tip for each life stage
Dr Shreya’s top tips for maintaining healthy skin at each life stage include:
0-12: Keep babies out of the sun as much as possible and follow SunSmart guidelines. If they need sun protection, look for products that are approved for delicate, sensitive skin.
13-19: Help your teens to lock in healthy habits they can stick to with better foods and a cleansing routine that looks after their skin properly.
20-30: Build on those healthy habits with a good routine of applying sunscreen every morning and removing makeup at night.
30-40: Check out a serum for mature skin. A vitamin C serum can work synergistically with your sunscreen to reduce sun damage and any pigmentation that may be forming.
40-50: If you have dry skin, keep showers short and cool, and apply a moisturiser over your whole body as soon as you get out.
Over 60: By now, you should have all the above tips down as second nature. Keep them up and keep chugging water to stay hydrated too.
Nourish your skin from the inside out
Regardless of age, says Dr Shreya, everyone will benefit from a balanced diet that includes foods with the right nutrients to maintain healthy skin. These include:
- omega-3 fatty acids (some of the most important fats for skin health)
- vitamins A and C, plus biotin (aka vitamin B7) and zinc
- protein-rich foods to support collagen production
Understanding what’s normal for your skin at each life stage allows you to take the right measures to protect it and keep it healthy. But of course, if you have any concerns, or need a bit of extra help, speak to your GP or dermatologist for personalised advice.
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Dr Shreya Andric is a Fellow of the Australian College of Dermatologists with a wide breadth of general dermatology knowledge as well as specialist interest in areas of cosmetic dermatology, paediatric dermatology and genital dermatology, among others.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021