The desire to look and feel young, healthy, and beautiful is the most common reason people seek aesthetic expertise. While aging is inevitable for all of us, there are ways we can help slow and improve the process.
Every aesthetic professional should have a firm grasp of the basics of how and why aging occurs and how to make this a more graceful experience for clients.
What is Aging?
Aging is the process through which health and function declines.
The trends in human aging have shifted over the centuries. Average lifespan and survival rates have steadily improved. Average lifespan is the number of years a person living in a population group can expect to live, on average. An American living in 1900 had an average life expectancy of 45 years, but today, we expect to live an average of 86 years.
Individual life expectancy is influenced by health conditions (like diabetes) and by public health factors. Someone living in 1900 (before sanitary sewer systems) was much more likely to suffer from a life-threatening illness from poor living conditions. The lack of public sewers greatly influenced the average lifespan in 1900. Today’s increase in average lifespan was influenced by the development of sewer systems, other public health factors, antiseptic childbirth, and somewhat by the development of antibiotics and other medicines.
Why Do We Age?
Aging is a natural process of life, not just for humans but for almost all living beings. Research shows that not all living beings age at the same rate – and, strangely enough, some seem not to age at all, and they only grow larger!
Free radical damage is an important factor in the aging process. Scientists believe that the reason some animals (like the Galapagos tortoise and the rockfish) seem to avoid the effects of aging is that they experience relatively low free radical damage or are better suited to resist this damage than other animals. Better abilities at combating free radical damage may also be one of the reasons that women tend to live longer than men.
The Characteristic Signs of Aging
Mammals, including humans, have a similar set of aging characteristics.
- Chance of death increases yearly after maturation (puberty)
- Tissues change and eventually biodegrade with age (occurs with photoaging and elastosis, or damage to the skin’s elastin)
- Decreased physiologic reserves (as seen in the skin’s inability to remain taught and therefore sagging under the force of gravity)
- Reduced ability to heal effectively (wounds heal more slowly or incompletely)
- Increased susceptibility to disease (less likely to resist infections)
The Physiologic Reserve and Aging
Physiologic reserve is the reserve capacity to respond to stress and recover from it. Younger, healthier individuals have more physiologic reserve. They can run faster and longer, and also recover faster compared to the elderly. Much of this depends upon lifestyle and genetics. The physiologic reserve may be thought of as a special savings account for healing resources and energy. During times of need (such as high stress, injury, and illness), the body calls on this reserve to meet its needs.
Stress is a common reason we may pull from our physiologic reserve. When an animal is suddenly faced with a predator, a surge of energy is needed to escape. The body taps into this physiological reserve to power the muscles to rapidly contract, the heart to bet faster, and the brain to work smarter.
The skin also has its own physiological reserve to call upon when it has been damaged and quickly needs to repair itself. Consider the damaging effects of a severe sunburn versus a brief walk outside in the sun. Both instances lead to skin damage, but the severely sunburned skin requires far more healing reserves than a mild sun exposure.
As a savings account dwindles when repeatedly tapped, our physiological reserves also lessen. With aging, fewer reserves remain and healing takes longer or is more complicated. A teenager who cuts her skin will heal much more rapidly and completely than an eighty-year-old who suffers a cut. And the eighty-year-old is more likely to experience a complication, like an infection.
Chronologic Age vs. Physiologic Age
Physiologic reserves decline most rapidly after the age of sixty. At the same age, the visible signs of aging become more apparent, as the skin loses its resilience over time.
But age is not the sole determinant of apparent age or functionality. Lifestyle and habits are very important, causing big differences in the functional age of one person over another. While chronological age is determined by the number of years lived, physiologic age relates to functioning. A person may have a chronological age of sixty-five years but may function like an average fifty-year-old, thus giving them a physiologic age of fifty years. And physiologic age counts the most, by far.
Physiologic age is determined more by individual genetics and lifestyle than by time. Factors such as diet, exercise, stress levels, and habits can either support or drain physiologic reserves. Physiologically “younger” skin looks younger and remains healthier by resisting issues like cancer and infections. While there is no stopping the clock, choices do have an impact on each person’s unique rate of aging.
Physiologic Reserve Decline and the Diseases of Aging
Poor skin resilience is not the only factor of a declining physiologic reserve. With aging, susceptibility to disease increases – like heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. Cognitive issues are also more common with age, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Aging Beautifully and Healthily
There is hope among a significant number of scientists that in the future, we may die only from trauma rather than from the diseases of aging – and our skin will easily look young and beautiful into our older years. Until then, the aesthetic profession will help clients feel and look younger – and also help them improve their physiological age to achieve better overall health.