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Aging is a natural process all people undergo. The continuous process of aging begins in the third decade of life but physical changes usually do not become apparent until much later in life. This type of aging is called intrinsic aging, which is influenced mostly by genetic factors. Physical changes that are typically visible in older people include sin dryness, fine wrinkles, hair loss, loss of fat under the skin, and thinning of nail plates. Graying of the hair typically begins in the mid-30s for white people, in the late 30s for Asians and in the mid-40s for African-Americans. Many people have plenty of gray hair by the time they are 50 years old.

Some people, however, show signs of aging earlier than expected for their natural age. This type of aging is known as extrinsic or external aging, but is more commonly called premature aging. Some of the signs of premature aging include the appearance of freckles, fine wrinkles, and age spots in the face, and loose skin. Premature graying of hair sometimes occurs by the age of 20 in white people, or before 30 for African-Americans.

Causes of Premature Aging

Most people age prematurely because of exposure to external factors. The most significant external factor that can cause premature aging is overexposure to sunlight, which leads to photoaging. The degree of photoaging one develops depends on the amount of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun and the person's skin color. UV rays damage the skin by affecting collagen and elastin synthesis, thus reducing skin elasticity, leading to wrinkle formation and loosening of skin. Changes in skin color occur because specialized cells in the skin (melanocytes) produce more pigment, thus the appearance of freckles and age spots. Other unhealthy lifestyle factors that can cause premature skin changes include repetitive facial expressions that lead to formation of grooves and lines, gravity, which can cause drooping of the skin, sleeping positions that lead to formation of sleep lines on the face, and heavy smoking, which causes biochemical changes in the body.

Premature graying of hair may involve both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Genetic predisposition to graying has a big influence on the likelihood of color-producing cells (melanocytes) to stop producing hair pigment. Some research also shows that certain medical factors like vitamin B-12 deficiency, a pituitary gland, or thyroid gland problem can lead to premature graying. Contrary to some beliefs, stress does not affect hair color.

Prevent Premature Aging

Aging occurs naturally and our genetic make-up has a lot of influence on this continuous process. However, we can slow down these changes or prevent them from accelerating by protecting the skin from too much exposure to the sun. Research shows that modifying certain lifestyle factors, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and using certain skin care products are also helpful in reversing premature aging.

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