Skin Aging: What’s Causing Those Wrinkles? - Pathway Genomics
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Skin Aging: What’s Causing Those Wrinkles?

Wrinkles are a tell-tale sign of aging, and something that we all must face (no pun intended). As we age our skin loses moisture and elasticity, making it prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles. We also lose our ability to produce collagen and elastin, causing the skin to become less firm and lose its flexibility. While developing wrinkles is an unavoidable part of the aging process, it can be slowed down or prevented to some degree. However, to fully understand how to protect and preserve our skin, we first must learn about the two primary culprits of skin aging- extrinsic aging and intrinsic aging.

Most wrinkling is due to extrinsic aging, which is caused by environmental factors and lifestyle choices such as smoking, sun exposure, alcohol abuse, air pollution, poor diet, and lack of sleep1. Prolonged sun exposure is by far the leading cause of early wrinkling. UV light breaks down the collagen and elastin fibers that form our skin’s connective tissues. As a result, the skin becomes weaker and less elastic, causing photo damage and wrinkles to appear. Good news is, there are ways you can protect your skin from the sun, including daily use of sunscreen (SPF 30+) and wearing protective clothing. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking are other important ways to combat extrinsic aging.

Intrinsic aging, on the other hand, is the natural process our skin goes through as we get older. These age-related changes are inevitable, but vary from person to person based on the person’s genetics and the body’s many internal processes. A sign of intrinsic aging, for example, is thinner and more fragile skin that occurs naturally over time2. Genetics also determine our ability to generate collagen and elastin, which give us elasticity and resistance to wrinkles. Genetic variants in the MMP1 and STXBP5L genes specifically have been associated with increased risk of developing wrinkles3,4. While we can’t change our genes, we do have the ability to develop good habits and a lifestyle that reduces our risk and increases our skin health.

The best anti-wrinkle defense is to understand your individual risk factors, maintain proper nutrition, and limit UV exposure. Over time this can help build collagen and thus improve the skin’s appearance. Fortunately, DNA testing now allows us to dive even deeper and identify the specific genes that increase our susceptibility to aging. By understanding our genetic predisposition to wrinkles, as well as other skin conditions, we can make proactive changes to eliminate, reduce, or delay symptoms and have you feeling and looking your best.

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  1. Farage, M.A., Miller, K.W., Elsner, P. & Maibach, H.I. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors in skin ageing: a review. Int J Cosmet Sci 30, 87-95 (2008).
  2. Puizina-Ivic, N. Skin aging. Acta Dermatovenerol Alp Pannonica Adriat 17, 47-54 (2008).
  3. Le Clerc, S. et al. A genome-wide association study in Caucasian women points out a putative role of the STXBP5L gene in facial photoaging. J Invest Dermatol 133, 929-35 (2013).
  4. Vierkotter, A. et al. MMP-1 and -3 promoter variants are indicative of a common susceptibility for skin and lung aging: results from a cohort of elderly women (SALIA). J Invest Dermatol 135, 1268-1274 (2015).