Skin Through Your Ages I: Childhood

Skin in the First Decade

DrLindaHonet_HeadShotDid you know that you’re never in the same skin twice in any given month? Whether it’s the weather, “that time” of the month, a nasty cold that is challenging your immune system, or the stress you’re under at work, your skin takes a beating and truly reflects what’s going on inside and outside your body. And these constant challenges can cause a myriad of changes like wrinkles, sagging, and dryness, which are never attractive qualities, if you’re trying to look the best you can be. In fact, cell turnover in the skin occurs on the average every 30 days, plus or minus, depending on your age. So literally, you are never in your same skin twice, at least every 30 days. But this rapid turnover of cells is also an opportunity to renew and rejuvenate your skin every month, like having a do-over, which is an incredibly golden opportunity. How often are we able to truly improve the health of an organ in our body every month, especially because it is so very accessible and open to improvement? You can literally change the quality and health of your skin every day of every month, with help of course. So let’s look at how skin changes over time. Let’s look at each decade in the life of your skin.

Every woman knows that her skin is always changing– daily, weekly, monthly, and by the decade. And as a rule, let’s be honest, most men don’t really think about their skin unless someone– mother, wife, sister or dermatologist– forces it upon them. So let’s focus on women’s skin, shall we? Of course, one need only extrapolate a little to help the skin of our men folk out, if need be, minus the hormones.

We women are constantly subject to numerous “stressors” on our skin. Our skin is continuously bombarded every minute of every day. And because our hormones compound the effects of time, aging, environmental stressors, and genetics, the state of a woman’s skin is in constant flux. Remember that annoying trio of zits that magically pops up on your face every month? Yes, you know what I am talking about. The monthly zit thing is only one small example of what happens to a woman’s skin. So what’s a girl to do? In this series, I will review what you can reliably expect every decade and understand what is actually “normal” as our skin ages. And then we can talk about how to fix it, or at least greatly improve it.

Before I even delve into the “skin decades,” I have to make a public service announcement and say that the two worst things you can do for your skin is to smoke and to tan. And in reference to tanning, sun is bad, but tanning booths are terrible. Smoking and tanning not only cause wrinkling, sagging, leathery thickening, and unhealthy discoloration, but both cause skin cancer. Each one is a tremendously powerful and well-known carcinogen. In fact, as early as in 2008, we already knew that tanning booths could increase your risk for the deadly melanoma by up to 75%. And let’s not ignore the fact that tobacco causes not only wrinkling and skin cancer, but also heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer. I urge quitting both vices asap! Even if you really don’t care about the cancer issue, which I cannot even comprehend, most every one is a little bit vain or care about having less wrinkles. So please, please stop the sun worshipping and tobacco smoking. Your skin, heart, and lungs will be forever grateful.

The skin through your ages has a predictably consistent path. Of course, nature and nurture have a large influence on the degree and pace in which aging of the skin happens, but every single person on this sweet Earth will age, albeit some more gracefully than others. It’s true that no one is going to mistake an 85 year old for being 45, but the degree in which they are wrinkled or saggy is highly variable even at that mature, seasoned age.

At end of very month, in this series “Skin Through Your Ages,” we will look at skin in each decade, during each stage in life, learn what normal is, and see how to take care of the skin. Let’s start with childhood, shall we?

The first ten years of your skin are the really prime years of your skin’s life because it really is the most healthy and self-healing than at any other period in a lifetime. The skin is a clean slate and is truly nearly perfect in every way. It renews itself faster and more efficiently than it will ever again. This renewal or cell turnover occurs remarkably every 14 days, much faster than the average of 30 days. All of us know how beautiful babies’ and children’s skin is. It’s flawlessly hydrated, soft, supple, resilient, and glowing with the perfect amount of rosiness and hue. Although some children can be born with birthmarks or can develop skin ailments like eczema and psoriasis and other types of dermatitis, most of our children are blessed with beautiful, healthy skin. But why? What is so different in children’s skin that we as adults lose and don’t have? Why can’t we replicate it? If we could bottle this magic, we would, but the biology of skin is very complicated.

Very rudimentarily put, we do know that children’s skin has a tremendous amount of collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid, regenerative growth factors and stem cells. Of course, these are all regulated in an exquisitely orchestrated way by our genes. Unlocking the genes, continuously turning some on and turning some off, are what make children’s skin so beautiful and resilient. It is constantly renewing and repairing itself. When we harness our own stem cells and growth factors in procedures such as PRP or platelet-rich plasma treatments, we are attempting to mimic these processes. And these treatments can be very rejuvenative and regenerative, but they are finite by nature. They are limited in that they do not and cannot continue in perpetuity because the injected cells eventually die off and the growth factors get metabolized. So a treatment like PRP has to be repeated on a regular basis to continue to have any persistent effect. If we could somehow replicate and maintain this continuous loop of rejuvenation and regeneration through stem cells and growth factors, we could potentially unlock the elusive fountain of youth. However, I do believe that this is the new frontier of rejuvenative medicine and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of treatment possibilities.

When well cared for, children’s skin is so resilient that it requires only gentle cleansing and light moisturizing. But childhood is also a time when tremendous amount of damage from the sun can occur. Skin never forgets sun damage, no matter how minimal or brief. It is also cumulative over a lifetime. One bad sunburn may heal well and seem to pass without harm in childhood because of the remarkable healing properties of a child’s skin, but this damage will be “remembered” by the genes. One bad burn may not actually show up till much later in adulthood in the form of skin cancer, or at the very least, wrinkles, sagging, and bagging. Remember that childhood skin is beautiful, healthy skin, but exquisitely vulnerable, too, so every attempt should be made to keep it that way and to protect it diligently and consistently.

The skincare regimen for this decade of childhood is simple and straightforward. Daily cleansing with a mild cleanser, a layer of light moisturizer, and a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen of at least SPF 45 when exposed to the sun are all you need. The young beautiful skin of childhood is simply naturally flawless and maintaining it is relatively easy. Skin cleansers like Aveeno® Baby Cleansing Therapy Moisturizing Wash, Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Non-Scents Body Wash & Shampoo, California Baby® Calendula Shampoo & Bodywash, Mustela® 2 in 1 Hair and Body Wash, CeraVe® Baby Wash & Shampoo and Vanicream® Cleansing Bar are all gentle cleansers that will not strip or irritate baby’s sensitive skin. Gentle moisturizers like  Aveeno® Baby Daily Moisture Lotion, CeraVe® Baby Moisturizing Lotion, Vanicream® Moisturizing Skin Cream, Honest® Face & Body Lotion, and Cetaphil® Baby Daily Lotion are free of common skin irritants to safely and effectively moisturize baby’s skin. For extra care in diaper areas, Triple Paste Medicated Ointment, Mustela® 123 Diaper Rash Cream, A+D® Zinc Oxide Cream, or Desitin® Maximun Strength Original Paste are tried-and-trues and also gentle. Finally, for sensitive areas that need extra TLC, try CeraVe® Healing Ointment, which contains moisturizing ceramides or Aquaphor® Healing Ointment, which has long been a dermatology favorite. Not only are these ointments safe and gentle enough for all baby parts, but they are even safe for lips, eyelids, and diaper areas, too.

Finally, let’s not forget sunscreen for our children. I always recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection and an SPF of 45 or higher. Whether you choose a chemical or physical sunscreen is a personal choice, but the key is broad-spectrum coverage. Also, don’t forget to apply sunscreens at least 15-20 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to reapply every 1½ hours for children (and adults) and immediately after swimming and active sweating. Generally speaking, little tots under the age of 6 months should not be exposed to the sun. Note that sunscreens have not been tested in this age group, so absorption and a complete safety profile have not been well established. However, if full sun exposure is not avoidable, the use of sunscreen is the better choice. The best thing to do for a very small infant is to also seek shade whenever possible and keep them covered. I do love the addition of extra protection with rash guards, hats, eye protection, and avoidance of peak sun between 10am and 4pm for all kids, especially for the younger infants. Check out the complete list of sunscreens recommended for children by the Skin Cancer Foundation here. Each one carries the Skin Cancer Foundation‘s official blue seal of recommendation for safety and efficacy.

Next month’s installment for “Skin Through Your Ages” will be about the teenage years of skin—hormones and zits and angst, oh my! So until then, happy healthy skin!

–Dr. H

Read more:

Read  more about your skin in each decade:

Skin Through Your Ages II: The Teens

Skin Through Your Ages III: The Twenties

Skin Through Your Ages I: Childhood