To Your Health

Tips on preventing wrinkles

Q. At age 60 my wrinkles are not too bad, but I would like to prevent their progression. What about using OPCs either topically or orally to prevent wrinkles, or is there something even better?

A. OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanadins), usually derived from grape seed oil, are among the many antioxidants that are readily absorbed through the skin as well as being available when taken orally. OPCs bind tightly to collagen protein and strengthen the blood vessel walls, making them more resistant to destruction by the enzyme that breaks down collagen. Over time, this breakdown of collagen fibers in skin causes the gradual thinning and sagging that shows up as wrinkles.

Some research has been conducted on the effects of using antioxidant supplements for wrinkles. Using several antioxidants in combination, both topically and orally, seems to be more effective, so you probably should not limit yourself to only OPCs. Vitamins A, E, and C, coenzyme Q-10, alpha-lipoic acid, and selenium appear to be most likely to help, but since they work as a team, taking these vitamins singly does not appear to have much benefit.

Until recently the natural form of vitamin A, retinol, was too unstable to be used in skin products because UV radiation easily destroyed it. Stable preparations are now available without a prescription, and in the right concentration it may be as effective, with fewer side effects, as tretinoin, the prescription product also known commercially as Retin-A, which is sometimes used as a wrinkle remedy.

Dermatologists agree that the role of sun exposure cannot be overestimated as the most important cause of wrinkles. Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, both UVA and UVB, accounts for about 90% of the skin damage leading to wrinkles. To protect your skin, avoid exposure to direct sunlight between 10am and 4pm, when ultraviolet rays are the strongest, or apply a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher on all exposed skin. Remember, UVA light penetrates clouds and can still harm unprotected skin. There is a possible "upside" to wrinkles and sun exposure. A recent study reported that people with more wrinkles were less likely to develop basal cell carcinomas, a common type of skin cancer.

If you smoke, quit. By age 40, the facial wrinkles of smokers are similar to those of nonsmokers at age 60. Just 10 minutes of cigarette smoking decreases the body's oxygen supply for almost an hour, plus nicotine narrows blood vessels and prevents blood from reaching the upper layer of the skin. Studies also suggest that smoking produces higher levels of the collagen-destroying enzymes associated with wrinkles. The effects may be reversible if you quit early enough, but one study showed extra wrinkling among people in their 50s who smoked only during their teens and 20s. Unfortunately you may not be able to reverse the consequence of decades of smoking.

The appearance of a few crow's-feet and laugh lines doesn't necessarily mean that you're on a slippery slope to a furrowed face. By protecting yourself from the sun, discarding cigarettes, eating right, and using antioxidants wisely you can probably prevent the occurrence of new wrinkles.

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