When asked to describe aging skin, generally the phrases “wrinkled”, “thin-skin”, or “sagging” are the first to be used. Really, the phrases we should think of first include: damaged strands of DNA, misshapen cells, or damaged chromosomes … the fact is that the aging process begins on a cellular level. One key discovery is the understanding of telomeres, and how they play a key role in understanding the aging process.
Before we go too in-depth about what a telomere is… let’s first review some basics of biology:
- Our bodies are made of cells.
- Cells must divide and replicate themselves in order for us to heal, reproduce, and survive.
- Cells house our Chromosomes, which are made up of strands of our DNA which stores our genetic information, and determines our genetic outcomes (like our hair color, eye color, etc).
- DNA strands have ends to them, which are called telomeres.
- Telomeres protect the integrity of our DNA when a cell divides.
A little more about telomeres:
Telomeres were first discovered in the early 1970’s when scientists recognized that chromosomes could not completely replicate their ends. It was almost as if there was a “cap” at the end of the DNA strand. Research would continue to show that these “caps” were made of a separate DNA sequence that varied from the rest of the DNA strand. It was noted that each time a cell divided, the ends (the telomeres) became shorter until eventually the ends diminished, and the DNA would not replicate correctly, and eventually the cell would die.
A fantastic analogy to describe a telomere came from a video by the Smithsonian Channel called “Decoding Immortality” (click here to view it!). In this video, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn (who has extensively studied telomeres, and won a Nobel Prize for her findings) describes how the strand of DNA and the telomere is similar to a shoelace. Think about how the shoelace is woven together with different threads, and is capped at the end with a small plastic piece. In this scenario, the shoelace represents the DNA, and the plastic end represents the telomere. If you were to trim the plastic end, eventually the shoelace would become unraveled, becoming unusable. The same applies to our DNA and our telomeres. Once the telomere shortens to the point of not existing, the Cell can’t replicate correctly, and is no longer usable. In short …the length of the telomere will determine how long your cells will live.
Why is this important for your skin?
So this is important for many reasons… but when it comes to prolonging the aging process of the skin, it is important to use products that don’t just address the look of the skin. It is arguable more important to think about preserving and protecting the DNA of the cells. And protecting the telomeres could be the key to preserving a youthful complexion.
Although telomere shortening is a normal part of the aging process, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to slow the process down. Oxidative stress, UV exposure, and inflammation can speed up the process of cellular turnover that result in telomere shortening.
So … protecting the skin from the sun with a physical sun barrier like Zinc Oxide; using topical ingredients that are rich in anti-oxidants (like Spin Trap) or a retinoid (we recommend an encapsulated retinaldehyde); and optimizing the skin’s Vitamin D activity (Chronocycline® is the ingredient to look for) will be your best defense against telomere shortening.
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