A good skin is something that many of us strive for, because a youthful complexion is associated with health, vitality and even success!
Many skincare companies now concentrate their promotions on the “Thirty Somethings”, recognising that nowadays more mature women expect to retain their looks for longer. As we live longer, however, so our skin becomes more exposed to the two main factors which affect skin health – ageing and the sun. Amazing as it may seem, the sun’s UV rays are believed to be responsible for up to 80% of all the visible age-related changes that occur in the skin, so anything we can do to protect our skin from such damage is a plus. Other factors such as smoking, poor diet, and for women, the slowing down of sex hormone production around the time of the menopause also take their toll on our skin.
The Skin Structure
The skin is the largest single organ in the body and is divided into 2 interdependent but distinct layers. The outer epidermis provides a flexible, waterproof barrier between the internal and external environments. From it arise hair, sebaceous glands and sweat glands. Beneath it lies the inner dermis, which contains the skin’s structural support – the protein fibres of collagen and elastin. Both the dermis and epidermis rely heavily on adequate and balanced nutrition.
Collagen and Elastin
The collagen and elastin fibres in the dermal layer of the skin are particularly important for maintaining a strong, supple and smooth skin. We see the best, healthiest collagen and elastin function in babies’ skin. As we get older, the cells that help produce these elastin compounds slow down and the existing fibres become more brittle and easily damaged. The result – thinner, less supported and wrinkled skin. Long-term exposure to the sun’s rays causes abnormalities of these fibres and as a result free radical attack (see box), they become clumped and this contributes to irregularly thickened, yellow and wrinkled skin.
Skin researchers have discovered that certain nutrients, particularly antioxidants such as vitamin C, are able to protect collagen and encourage production of new collagen. Even more dramatic benefits seem to be offered by a class of plant pigments called anthocyanidins.
Anthocyanidins (also referred to as leucoanthocyanidins and pycnogenols) belong to the family of semi-essential nutrients called plant flavonoids. These flavonoids have been shown to demonstrate a wide range of pharmacological activity. The most potent anthocyanidins used in commercially available sources are extracts from grapeseed (Vitis vinifera) and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). These dark-skinned fruits contain small quantities of anthocyanidins believed to be more powerful than vitamin E and C as antioxidants. In the last few years, several studies have shown these substances can play a major role in supporting collagen structures and preventing their destruction.
The main actions attributed to those anthocyanidins are:
Protecting collagen and elastin from the enzymes that break them down.
Reinforcing the cross-linking of collagen fibres that form the so-called collagen matrix of connective tissue
Preventing free radical damage through their potent antioxidant and free radical scavenging action.
Reducing capillary permeability and fragility – ie. promoting stronger skin capillaries and reducing the risk of broken vein problems, often seen as stressed skin gets older.
Preventing the release and synthesis of compounds which promote inflammation such as histamine, prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) and leukotrienes, which may stress the skin.
Increasing the intracellular levels of vitamin C, which is required to change proline into hydroxyproline, one of the important amino acids in collagen.
What this all means for skin is the potential for a more resilient, elastic skin. Anthocyanidins are likely to grow in popularity and in France they are already a multi-million pound industry.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that healthy, youthful skin cannot be maintained by applying expensive synthetic creams to the outside surface. Instead the answer lies with nourishing the part of the skin that is alive and growing and how better to do this than with the nutrients that nature has provided.
What is Collagen?
Collagen, which is often considered the mortar of the cells, makes up more than 40% of our body’s protein. Collagen fibres are formed from overlapping triple helix protein chains, which can then form cross linkages for additional strength. It lends support to cells, enabling them to be nourished. It allows oxygen, moisture and nutrients to pass through the collagen network and also allows elimination of the cell’s waste products. But collagen is damaged by free radical attack; which can prevent cells from being nourished and will also hinder waste elimination. The result of this is that our skin ages more quickly, leading to premature loss of tone and suppleness.
*References available on request