The Cellular Water Principle and Aging Skin

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Dr. Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD

Beauty / / September 16, 2013

Aging Skin. It is a concern for most of us at some point in our life. How do you define aging skin and what works to reduce its effects? There are over 300 theories on skin aging. At least a dozen of them explain why cells decline. Inflammation and free radical damage have been pinpointed as the main culprits in the aging process. No matter what the cause of aging, I like to first look at the three types of aging which I classify as: Intrinsic Aging, Environmental Aging, and Hormonal Aging.


Intrinsic aging is the natural aging process. It’s the type of aging that occurs whether or not you were exposed to sun, pollution, stress, alcohol or other aging elements. Even if you lived in a cave, your skin and your cells would experience intrinsic aging. Genetics play a key role in this type of aging. If your parents and grandparents aged well, chances are with a healthy lifestyle, you will too.

At about age twenty-five, the skin begins to show signs of intrinsic aging. These subtle skin changes include:

  • Reduction in skin firmness as collagen fibers begin to lose their resiliency and become thicker and brittle. Collagen fibers decrease by about 1 percent each year starting at this age.
  • Reduction in skin elasticity as elastin fibers become loose and break easily. There are also fewer of them.
  • There is a decrease in the water-holding molecules surrounding the collagen and elastin that keeps them pliable and moist.

Environmental Aging

I first introduced the concept of environmental aging back in 1992. At that time, the link between environmental factors and skin aging was rarely discussed.

While the ultraviolet rays from the sun are a direct cause of environmental skin aging, they are not the only cause. Environmental aging is the only form of aging that we can prevent. Stress, nutrition, smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to pollution and sun are all factors that we can have control over.

Environmental aging can add years to the appearance of the skin, while taking years off the average lifespan. After more than thirty years of observing the lifestyles of my patients, I firmly believe that environmental aging is unnecessary aging.

In addition to the depleted collagen and elastin tissue as seen in intrinsic aging, environmental aging changes include:

  • Uneven skin tone called Hyperpigmentation (excess pigment) and Hypopigmentation (lack of pigment). The pigment producing cells become 20 percent less dense every ten years. At the same time there is an increase in melanin production in small areas, this leads to darker age spots and lighter areas or white spots.
  • Increased redness due to thinner skin and increased blood vessels. Blood vessels carry nutrients and remove cellular waste from the skin. As they age, they diminish while the remaining become thicker and tend to twist and break.
  • There is a decrease in the water holding-molecules that surround the collagen and elastin plus developing skin cells and the statum corneum cells.
Categories: Skin Care
About The Author
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Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement. Click here for more articles by Dr. Murad.

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