Skin, Age and Aesthetics: It’s Not Just Vanity



You look old. Tired.

Your skin is dull.

It’s wrinkled.

Is that a new age spot?

It’s a conversation I’ve had and continue to have with myself. Don’t get me wrong. I’m anything but sunbaked and shriveled, but it’s hard not to be at least a little self-critical living inside the modern vortex of idealized media images that promote “anti-aging,” turning back the clock, and finding the fountain of youth, all of which will lead to happiness, self-contentment, a better job… (Because that’s what youth and beauty promise, right?)

I know. I sound like all the anti-aging marketing you’ve ever been exposed to. And it all feels so 2012.

The reality is, I like myself better with age. I’m smarter, I’m healthier, and my relationships are more meaningful. And importantly, I care SO much less now than I ever have about what anybody thinks. THIS is the key to the fountain of youth, as far as I’m concerned.

Besides the external forces insisting we buy products, devices, injections, and more to “fix” the appearance of our aging skin, is there another reason why those imperfections bother us to the tune of the $135+ billion spent worldwide annually on skincare products?

In a word, yes.

Caring about what your skin looks like is NOT a simply matter of vanity (or marketing pressure, though it certainly exacerbates it). Your skin is your largest organ. It can (and does) reflect internal health. So it’s only natural to associate bright, clear, youthful-looking skin with health and vitality. And hence we buy all the products that promise miracles. Even when they don’t deliver. And we do it over and over again… because we so desperately want them to work.

The Science of Skincare

Cosmetic dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD, gives us a simple, medical answer to the role the skin plays in the aging process: “[The epidermis] is very important from a cosmetic standpoint, because it is this layer that gives the skin its texture and moisture, and contributes to skin color. If the surface of the epidermis is dry or rough, the skin appears aged.”1

And if we’re talking science, we also know that skin is constantly in a state of skin cell turnover: It makes new cells and sheds old ones. This is its natural repair process, which keeps skin fresh and new. Unfortunately, it’s a process that slows down with age, which means skin doesn’t look as healthy and youthful as it once did—without two-fold help:

  1. Clearing off (exfoliating) dead skin cells, which are largely responsible for enhancing the appearance of unwanted aging skin attributes.
  2. Supporting new skin cell development.

This is skin rejuvenation in a nutshell.

I like to think of exfoliation like refinishing a chest of drawers. You’ve got something with beautiful bones, but on the surface it’s seen better days. First thing you do? Sand it down to remove the old varnish that has thickened, discolored, and started cracking with age.

Similar principle with the skin. Laser resurfacing, chemical peels, mechanical abrasion/scrubs—all of these can be used to remove that layer of dead skin cells.

In terms of getting those skin cells to turnover more efficiently and have the skin “repair” damage and imperfections more efficiently on its own, that’s going to either be a retinol, a vitamin A derivative available from many product lines, or Defensins, a molecule found exclusively in the DefenAge beauty brand. Both work. The difference is in the age of the cells themselves that your skin makes: retinol makes new cells from existing (old) cells; Defensins make new cells from previously dormant (young) cells.

The bottom line is this: Wanting healthy looking skin isn’t simply a superficial desire. It’s innate. Clean it up, give it a little support, and you’ll find all those other [brightening, tightening, clarifying, smoothing, dark spot correcting] products may actually deliver on their promises.


  1. Baumann, Leslie. Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill; 2009.

About the Author:

Eliza Cabana

Eliza has put fingers to keys in medical aesthetics and the science of skin and beauty since 2007. She has direct access to multi-specialty aesthetic physicians and their daily skin, face, and body work, providing her with a keen understanding of perception vs. reality in this space. A fitness nerd and mother of two teenage girls, she keeps a close eye the effects of social media on body image and self-esteem. Botox, brow lift, breast augmentation? Whether you do or don’t, cultivating poise, courtesy, and confidence, she believes, creates genuine beauty. 

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