Aging is inevitable and it begins at birth. After age 40, however, the aging process tends to accelerate and the effects of time become more visible. Before this milestone, people have a large reserve of resources within their bodies to enable them to rebound quickly when they detour from good health habits. Unfortunately, age diminishes that reserve and people need to make self-care a priority.
In order to age gracefully over 40, it is important to strive for a body that is internally alkaline. The body functions optimally with an internal pH of 7.4 — slightly alkaline. After 40, the internal natural buffering pH capacity decreases, and the body becomes progressively acidic. This metabolic acidosis leads to enhanced skin aging as well as problems with internal organs due to acid buildup. In order to neutralize these acids, the body utilizes the tissues’ mineral sources. When tissue sources are depleted, our bodies then take minerals from bones, which leads to osteoporosis.
While the outlook may look grim, a healthy lifestyle can help us attain optimal alkalinity. I remind patients that graceful aging starts with diet. In the pursuit of alkalinity, it is important to stay away from acid-producing foods such as sugar, carbonated soft drinks (especially colas) and refined, processed foods. Coffee and alcohol should be moderately consumed. A high-fiber diet rich in colorful and alkalinizing foods, such as those found in the Mediterranean Diet, can help restore alkalinity to the body and improve skin’s enzyme function. Also rich in omega fatty acids, the Mediterranean Diet includes foods such as halibut, salmon, olive oil, flaxseeds, dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens and winter squash. Alkalinizing grains include oats, wild rice and quinoa. Examples of alkalinizing fruits are apples, pears, blackberries, cantaloupe and grapes.
Water is also a key component. Drinking fresh water with lemon, taking the right supplements and drinking alkalinizing super green juices also enhance internal pH. Among the supplements I recommend:
- Vitamin D3 — levels should be checked, but I generally recommend 5,000 IU per day
- Mineral supplement
- Flaxseed oil in morning when absorption is optimal
- 7-keto dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) 25 mg to 50 mg in the morning to minimize cortisol levels and stabilize blood sugar (the keto form is the non-hormonal form)
Once a person reaches 40, the skincare regimen should be stepped up because the natural aging process poses challenges. The inevitable decline in collagen and elastin production causes the skin to lose firmness and suppleness, as well as the volume that gives the faces its youthful contours. As a result of lower estrogen levels, a slowdown in the renewal of fresh, healthy skin cells occurs. The natural exfoliation process is also more sluggish, resulting in enlarged pores and skin that is rougher to the touch.
The moisture barrier of the skin, which is composed of water and oils produced by the sebaceous glands, forms the hydrolipidic film and should be protected. I explain to patients that when the moisture barrier is intact, it acts as our natural defense, keeping moisture and essential nutrients in, and bacteria and other potential irritants such as allergens out. Exposure to pollutants and ultraviolet rays trigger an inflammatory response that results in the breakdown of enzymes that cause collagen and elastin to degrade, leading to wrinkle formation. Another result is the formation of lipofuscin (pigment) that shows up as brown spots and discoloration.
Skin must maintain a pH at 5.4 in order for optimal barrier function that provides the highest level of protection. With age the skin thins, making it a less efficient barrier against moisture loss and environmental aggressors. This means that every product — including cleansers — must be soothing and support the hydrolipidic film of the skin barrier. This is important for over 40 skin, which is prone to dryness as perimenopause and menopause occur.
Sleep is another essential factor to aging well. The study of skin circadian rhythms is well-documented and the renewal of the skin’s ability to repair and renew itself occurs while sleeping. This is why it is best to use retinol at night as it helps to regulate skin repair on a molecular level. Skimping on sleep throws your renewal cycle off balance and the disruption in your circadian rhythms also makes your daytime protective cycle less efficient.
Stress is a major ager and raises cortisol levels, which affects blood sugar and skin aging. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland whenever the body is stressed, particularly with sleep deprivation. DHEA is also a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which inhibits cortisol. As we age, however, our DHEA production and levels diminish, which results in higher cortisol levels.
Cigarette smoking is out. It increases the rate of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin by more than 60% and literally cuts the amount of oxygen, which gets to the skin to miniscule levels. In addition, studies have shown a direct correlation between cigarette smoke and increased levels of matrix metalloproteinase-1, an enzyme that breaks down collagen. This means that cigarette smoke breaks down collagen fibers and causes wrinkles.
Used in combination, these steps can help patients curb the aging process.
Dr. Graf is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in NY. She is the author of Stop Aging, Start Living. She was a featured presenter on the topic of aging gracefully after 40 at the American Academy of Dermatology’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA, in March 2015.
Disclosure: The author reports no relavent financial relationships.