Is your computer aging you?

Forty may be the new 30, and 50 the new 40 – but let’s be honest, as much as we are focused on eating better, exercising more and looking after ourselves, there are some things we simply cannot avoid. There is nothing we can do about chronological aging – after all, no scientist has found a way to stop Father Time in his tracks completely.

The good news is that genetics account for only 10% of the aging process. When it environmental aging, you can delay the aging process (but if you don’t take proper care, you can unwittingly speed it up).

According to Dermalogica’s Sonette Donker and The International Dermal Institute, it is estimated that 80% to 99% of what we see on our skin as adults is the result of exposure to sunlight – referred to as photo-aging. This can result in wrinkle formation, a loss of tension and elasticity in the skin, degeneration of the vascular supply and skin thickness, a reduction in the water-binding properties of the skin, dilated capillaries (telangiectasis), hyperpigmentation and other skin discoloration.

While scientists attribute the majority of these structural changes to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it has been only in recent years that they have come to understand the actual biochemical triggers that instigate these changes. These are chemical reactions that occur within the skin and include:

• Generation of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), also known as free radicals;

• Activation of metalloproteinase enzymes (matrix metalloproteinases or MMPs), with a subsequent decline in collagen biosynthesis; and

• Glycation, leading to Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs).

Donker explains that treatment of skin aging used to rely on addressing the structural manifestations of photo-aged skin, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity. “Today, we can more effectively treat this skin condition by addressing the actual biochemical reactions that trigger these structural changes. Obviously, understanding these specific biochemical reactions is key to treating the structural changes associated with skin aging.”

Skin aging is considered a degenerative process caused by intrinsic, chronological aging, and extrinsic, environmental aging. Speaking at a SkinCeuticals function regarding the science behind skin aging, Dr Chetlan Patel, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based at Mediclinic Sandton in Johannesburg, explained that environmental aging includes factors such as UV exposure (UVB, and especially UVA), pollution (ozone is the most damaging), and the new buzzword: infrared (IR) damage.

Professor Jean Krutmann, scientific director for the Leibniz-Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, has studied this extensively. He says infrared radiation is non-ionising, electromagnetic radiation which is further divided into IRA, IRB and IRC.

“IR accounts for more than half of the solar energy that reaches the human skin. While IRB and IRC do not penetrate deeply into the skin, more than 65% of IRA reaches the dermis.”

Generally, adds Patel, sun filters protect our skin from the UVA-UVB range of solar radiation; however, our skin is left unprotected from 54% of solar exposure that is infrared radiation.

Krutmann comments that the most relevant sources are natural solar radiation (the sun), which consists of over 30% IRA; artificial IRA sources used for therapeutic or wellness purposes; and artificial UV sources contaminated with IRA. “As part of natural sunlight, IRA significantly contributes to extrinsic skin aging.”

However, research conducted by Krutmann and his team of scientists, and shared at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, has found that a topical 70th combination of vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid appears to provide protection against skin damage induced by IRA. His research has found that IRA radiation decreases antioxidants in the skin, and that topically applying antioxidants can help to prevent this. What this means (although further research is still needed) is that applying your sun protection along with an antioxidant-rich cream should, theoretically, help to protect you against premature aging caused by the sun.

According to research out of The Dermal Institute, antioxidants can help to fight against this free radical damage. Antioxidants include vitamins (such as ascorbic acid and tocopherol), enzymes (such as superoxide dismutase, catalase and peroxidase) and even proteins that can be found naturally in the body or ingested as part of our diet.

“If, however, antioxidants are in short supply, or if the free radical damage is excessive, damage to the cells and tissue will occur,” adds Donker. “In skin, this free radical damage manifests itself in the form of superficial lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, rashes and inflammation. On a subcellular level, this may cause cross-linking of collagen and elastin,damage to DNA and tissue degradation. Unfortunately, as we age, free radical damage accumulates.”

She explains that while ingesting antioxidants can effectively scavenge these free radicals, skin is often the last to get its ration of antioxidants.

“This is when topically applied cosmetic products come into play. Scientists have been studying an entire arsenal of plant antioxidants that, when applied topically, can help us to fight free radicals and protect our skin.”

Donker adds that recent studies from the University of Illinois have demonstrated how ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and tocopherol (Vitamin E) are critical for use with sunscreens, to protect skin from free radical damage. “Because oxidative stress plays a key role in the biological events leading to skin aging, the use of topically applied antioxidants helps to prevent future damage by trapping free radicals and quenching them before they damage our cells.”

While scientists may need to research IRA and IRB further, what they do agree on is that while Father Time might be marching on, you can defend yourself against looking older than you feel by using an antioxidant-rich moisturiser or cream and daily sun protection. It’s never too early, or too late…

Is your computer aging you?

Erin Hopkins, business unit manager for SkinCeuticals South Africa, says IRB radiation is from heat sources such as TV, laptops, etc. “The action is limited to the superfi cial epidermal layers and does not reach the dermis; however, it does cause superfi cial damage in the epidermis,” she says. Patel explains that infrared waves cause heat by increasing the movement of molecules in the substances they strike. “You are vulnerable to infrared radiation during peak months of solar radiation, or when exposed to any heat source,” he says. So yes, in theory and to a degree, extended periods of exposure to household objects such as your laptop computer, cellphone or hairdryer could, potentially, be aiding in the aging process. Just a thought …