Beauty Really Is Skin Deep

Some years ago when I was writing a book about ways to avoid premature ageing I was amused to read a quote by Erwin Tschachler, a Professor of Dermatology who said “Ideally we should do a study of ageing in a Nunnery, with subjects who have stayed out of the sun and subjects who have lived their lives without vices”!

Sounds a bit boring to me but I get his point!  Skin reflects our lifestyle and some of us succumb to vices such as smoking, excess alcohol and processed foods.  However, stress and lack of sleep, certain medications, inactivity and over exposure to the sun all contribute to the ageing process. Our skin is the body’s only external organ, protecting what is inside and keeping harmful things on the outside.  It effectively retains essential fluids, protects internal organs, resists infections and acts as a physical barrier to damage.

We spend a lot of time and money worrying about the top layer of skin, the epidermis, which we see daily in the mirror.   But skin has 2 more layers, the middle dermis and lower hypodermis. And beauty really is skin deep, because what goes on below the surface in the dermis and hypodermis is what really matters. These lower layers contain hair follicles, nerve endings, connective tissue, blood vessels, sebaceous and sweat glands, and collagen fibres. This is where the skin process begins, with new cells being constantly formed and renewed.  It takes approximately 30 days for these new cells to find their way up from the lower layers to the top layer.

What we see in the mirror when they finally reach the skins surface are old cells, which are then shed naturally in a continuous process.  But the older we get the longer this process takes!  So what’s new? The most damaging factor is over exposure to the sun which affects the skin cells causing cell damage, but also poses health threats including skin cancers.  The effects from the sunburn may not be visible for years (40 years in my case) but harmful rays will have done their damage.   I learnt the hard way to protect my skin, particularly sensitive facial skin from sun’s harmful rays and pollutants. I use sunscreen containing SPF 15 (sun protection factor).  I consider higher than SPF 30 or extreme sun block unnecessary as we all need some sunlight (Vit D) to protect us from osteoporosis

Beauty can be ageless, it depends on knowing what your body and skin needs most.  Adequate sleep speeds the healing process, and nourishing maintains it helping us look and feel our best. “We can’t beat Old Father Time – no but some women drive a mighty close bargain with him”

Question

When I brush my teeth I have noticed that my gums have become incredibly sensitive, and often hurt for a while after brushing. They don’t bleed but it has become quite an annoyance. Are there any toothpastes I could buy without irritating ingredients? Do you have any other suggestions?

Francis Hird, Cambridge

Answer 

Francis making simple changes such as using desensitizing toothpaste and brushing less vigorously could make a difference.  Many types of toothpaste contain harmful chemicals so I personally use Sensodyne toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth. Brushing after we have been eating or drinking acidic foods which soften and make our teeth more vulnerable, may cause the enamel to be more easily worn away. Maybe you are one of those people who often grind your teeth during the day or more usually during sleep?  If yes, this can expose the lower layer of dentine making the teeth more sensitive. Gum disease (Gingivitis) can also cause receding gums and if left untreated can lead to Peritonitis which damages tissue and the bone supporting your teeth.  Francis your symptoms could be more than just a nuisance, because receding gums leave dentine exposed making the teeth very sensitive.  I think it’s time to pay your Dentist a visit to be sure your tooth pain is not the result of a more serious condition. Keep smiling!

Question

During a recent holiday to Crete my husband noticed that the whites of my eyes had developed a slightly yellowish tinge. That was a month ago now and my eyes still haven’t returned to normal. My sight hasn’t been affected and the colour change is minimal but noticeable to me. I am 51; could this be a side effect of the menopause?

Rona Gower, Cheltenham

Answer

Well Rona, by co-incidence I have just read the result of a small study claiming a link between yellow eyes and Menopausal 50-59-year-old women who had been taking Hormone replacement therapy, or Prempro.  I will look out for further studies.

But normally the whites of eyes or sclera are white in colour, but one can get yellow sclera (also called scleral icterus) caused by a high level of bilirubin in the bloodstream.  Bilirubin is made in the liver and is yellow in colour.  If a person suffers from liver disease, the liver can no longer process the breakdown of red blood cells and bilirubin, its natural metabolic product, and no longer enters the bile. Instead it builds up in the blood and tissues, including the sclera of the eyes.

One of the first signs is yellowing, probably caused by blocked bile ducts, leading to a backup of bilirubin.  More seriously it could be a sign of Cirrhosis of the liver due to an excess of alcohol damaging the liver. Or Hepatitis, caused by toxins – but most commonly by a virus that infects the liver, resulting in its dysfunction. Bilirubin backs up and the individual will suffer from jaundice.  Rona, since your eyes have been affected for over a month I would advise you to drink plenty of water and to talk to your GP mentioning any medications you may be taking.