The Primary Signs of Ageing Skin and What to do About Them

As we age, the visible signs of ageing skin are inevitable. Learn about ageing skin conditions and how you can remedy them using different treatments.

Middle-aged Asian woman touches her face while standing outside in nature

Of all the signs of getting older, ageing skin is perhaps the one that we fear the most. Spotting a small wrinkle or fine line can send most of us rushing to the pharmacy searching for the next anti-wrinkle cream. It is no wonder that the skincare industry in Malaysia is estimated to reach USD 1.3 billion by 2027. 

But ageing doesn’t have to be a constant struggle against time. Let us take you through how the ageing process works and ways to maintain healthy skin even as age catches up.

The Ageing Process and Your Skin

As the primary barrier that protects our body from the external environment, our skin is exposed to various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that bring on the process of skin ageing.

Intrinsic factors of ageing are considered inevitable in modern medicine and part of our biological life cycle. Signs of intrinsic ageing skin include thin, dry skin, fine wrinkles, and gradual dermal atrophy. 

Meanwhile, extrinsic factors are things that we can control to a certain degree. For example, air pollution, smoking, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and sun exposure will lead to thinning, laxity, fragility, and wrinkles. Exposure to UV rays – one of the most damaging elements for the skin – often causes hyperpigmentation. It can also cause premature wrinkling, spider veins, and solar elastosis (skin that appears rough, thick, and yellow due to sun damage). 

Another way to view ageing skin, however, is to think of it as a reflection of the body’s internal system. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) considers the heart, lungs, and spleen the key organs in maintaining youthful and healthy radiant skin.

The spleen cleanses the blood, the heart circulates it, while our lungs are responsible for disseminating fluids throughout the body, ensuring moisture in our skin. Deficiencies in the qi (vital life force) specific to these organs will manifest as signs of ageing skin.

3 Primary Signs of Ageing Skin

Woman pointing to crease lines on her face using index fingers
Dry skin, melasma, and wrinkles are the primary signs of ageing skin.

As we age, the skin shows visible changes in many ways. The most notable signs are dry skin, melasma, and wrinkles. Fortunately, there are various remedies and tips available to address the primary signs of ageing skin.

1. Dry skin

Dry skin is common in both young and old individuals. However, as we age, oil production in the glands of the skin decreases over time, reducing our skin’s moisture. Being in a dry environment such as air-conditioned rooms can exacerbate the dryness.  
 

Remedy: Stay properly hydrated, maintain a nutritious, balanced diet, avoid harsh weather environments, and use a light protective moisturiser. According to TCM, dry skin can be a sign of excess yin (passive energy) deficiency or an impaired lungs organ system. This condition can be alleviated with herbs and foods that nourish and dispel heat in the lungs such as bird’s nest, white fungus, and Chinese wolfberries.

2. Melasma (Hyperpigmentation)

Melasma or hyperpigmentation are uneven patches of dark spots on the skin. Oestrogen and UV rays in sunlight stimulate the production of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its colour. Certain chemicals in conventional skincare and cosmetic products can also accelerate melanin production. Some people are also genetically more likely to develop ageing spots. 

Remedy: Strive for a healthy lifestyle that promotes hormonal balance. Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and a hat when outdoors and be careful about what’s in your skincare products and makeup. Once again yin (passive energy) deficiency is likely at play, increasing inner heat and interfering with blood flow to the skin leading to these age spots. TCM herbs such as Gotu kola can assist with clearing this heat when taken internally. In powder form, it can be mixed with water and applied directly onto the spots. Researchers have confirmed that a host of other TCM herbs are also effective at preventing or reducing hyperpigmentation. These herbs include Panax Ginseng berry extract and Ssanghwa-tang, which is also widely used in Korea and Japan. 

Western Treatment: If you have hyperpigmentation, consult a dermatologist on treatments like hydroquinone, tretinoin, and topical vitamin C to help minimise the appearance of dark spots on your skin.

3. Wrinkles

Wrinkles become more apparent with age because the decreasing production of collagen fibres and adipose tissue results in thinner skin that makes the creases and folds more visible. There are two types of wrinkles:  

Dynamic wrinkles

This type of wrinkle appears with facial expressions like smiling or frowning. For example, forehead lines, crow’s feet, and frown lines. 

Static wrinkles

This wrinkle shows up as our skin loses its elasticity and gives way to gravity, such as sagging jowls. It appears even when there are no facial expressions. 

If you smoke or are often exposed to second-hand smoke, the chemicals in the smoke may constrict blood vessels in your skin and reduce oxygen supply and nutrients to the topmost layer of your skin. This results in wrinkles, fine lines, and other early signs of ageing skin.

Remedy: To avoid wrinkles, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, use sunscreen and a hat, and don’t smoke. Keep your face moisturised and stay hydrated. In addition to TCM herbs, facial acupuncture is also a proven TCM treatment for reducing wrinkles because many of the meridians begin or end on the face. Micro-trauma from fine acupuncture needles inserted into key points on the face enables the body’s own repair mechanism to increase blood flow and encourage collagen production. 

Western Treatment: Dermatological treatments for wrinkles include laser treatment, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or topicals. These treatments infuse tretinoin, alpha hydroxy acids, or vitamin C through the dermis to remove dead skin on the topmost layer of the skin and stimulate collagen production in the dermis or middle layer to bring back skin elasticity.

Botox is another popular treatment for wrinkles. For dynamic wrinkles, botulinum toxin injection can help remove lines and regain a more youthful look. A combination of botulinum toxin and hyaluronic filler injection is usually required for static lines. Fractional carbon dioxide laser, radiofrequency device, and high-intensity ultrasound can also help reduce wrinkles and offer a “lifting” effect.

TCM Herbal Treatments for Ageing Skin

Edible birds nest soup in clear glass bowl
Edible bird’s nest soup promotes skin cell regeneration.

TCM provides a holistic treatment approach for ageing skin using herbs that strengthen the spleen, heart, and lungs – three organs linked to healthy skin and a youthful appearance. 
 

  • lingzhi (灵芝), ginseng (人参), Chinese wolfberries (枸杞子), white fungus (银耳), and bird’s nest (燕窝) help to maintain soft and lustrous skin. 
  • peach kernel (桃仁), Dhorian angelica root (白芷), and magnolia flower (辛夷) aids with removing excess metabolic waste, resulting in clearer and more radiant skin 
  • Chinese angelica root (当归), red dates, oysters, mulberry fruit, white and black fungus, black rice, black soybean, and sea cucumber can help nourish yin (passive energy) and boost blood production, contributing to skin renewal  
  • other ingredients like sesame, honey, mushrooms, and milk products can also assist with rejuvenating the skin

Acupuncture and Tuina

In addition to consuming replenishing herbs, you can also consider acupuncture and tuina. Numerous studies have shown the efficacy of acupuncture for health maintenance and treatment of certain conditions, including rejuvenating ageing skin.

“Acupuncture and tuina can help to balance the body’s yin, yang, qi and blood,” says TCM Physician Anita Pee. “Done twice a week, acupuncture can help with fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.” Apart from this, it can stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory systems, which work together to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your skin cells. This helps to nourish skin from inside out. 

Treatments and remedies aside, a well-balanced lifestyle is the foundation of healthy, youthful skin. “The best way to ensure great skin and reduce visible signs of ageing is to have adequate sleep, a healthy diet with less oil and sugar, good sun protection, regular exercise, adequate hydration, and proper stress management,” Physician Pee advises.

At the end of the day, beauty is not only skin deep – it comes from within. Getting older is inevitable, but early ageing skin doesn’t have to be. While many anti-ageing skin remedies and skincare products are available, it’s still a good idea to consult a dermatologist or a TCM physician to find the right treatment plan.

This is an adaptation of an article, “皱纹和肌肤老化 (Wrinkles and Skin Aging)”, which first appeared on Health123 website.

References

  1. Allied Market Research. 2020. Malaysia Skin Care Products Market: Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021–2027. [online]  [Accessed 12 November 2021]. 
  2. Scientific Reports (Nature.com). 2021. Defining skin aging and its risk factors: a systematic review and meta‑analysis. [online]  [Accessed 12 November 2021]. 
  3. Aging Medicine. 2019. Traditional Chinese medicine and aging: Integration and collaboration promote healthy aging. [online]  [Accessed 12 November 2021]. 
  4. Integrative Medicine Research. 2017. Effect of thread embedding acupuncture for facial wrinkles and laxity: a single-arm, prospective, open-label study. [online]  [Accessed 12 November 2021]. 
  5. Eu Yan Sang. Aging with Grace. [online]  [Accessed 3 December 2021] 
  6. Cosmetics and Toiletries. 2013. Traditional Chinese Medicine in Cosmetics. [online]  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 
  7. Eu Yan Sang. Tips For A Healthy, Rosy Complexion. [online]  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 
  8. Eu Yan Sang. Mirror Mirror: Tackling Skin Issues. [online]  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 
  9. Natural Product Communications. 2020. Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine for Whitening[online]  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 
  10. Eu Yan Sang. Beauty: From the Inside Out. [online]  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 
  11. Oriental Remedies Group. 2019. Is Facial Acupuncture The New Botox?  [Accessed 19 December 2021] 

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