Extrinsic Vs. Intrinsic Skin Aging: What You Need to Know

Extrinsic Vs. Intrinsic Skin Aging: What You Need to Know


Some people seem to have put the brakes on aging. Sure, they grow older and celebrate birthdays every year like the rest of us, but their skin somehow remains plump and smooth, belying their actual numerical age. When you ask what their secret is, some of them will say they don’t do much (but their mom looks amazing at 95), while others will fire off a litany of skincare products and foods they eat daily to maintain such glowing skin.

This helps explain the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic aging. In short, intrinsic aging refers to aging due to the simple act of living and hereditary predisposition, while extrinsic aging refers to aging due to lifestyle and environmental factors.

Some people were literally just born with it and have won the genetic lottery. But here’s the positive news: Researchers have found that for most of us, only about 10% to 15% of skin aging is due to genetics. Which means that around 85% to 90% is extrinsic—and controllable. {1}


The Difference Between Extrinsic And Intrinsic Aging

Intrinsic and extrinsic aging are both biological processes. Unlike extrinsic aging, intrinsic aging is not preventable. It's the result of internal physiological factors and genes. This is why it is also referred to as chronological aging.

Intrinsic aging affects the skin as it does all the other organs in your body. As we age cell turnover, skin moisture and firmness naturally decrease. In women, the decline of estrogen leads to less collagen and elastin production leading to wrinkles, sagging skin and loss of elasticity {2}.

Moreover, intrinsic aging is genetically predetermined. If very deep wrinkles and a lot of sagging run in the family, you may notice it in your own skin. If your parents showed few of the outer signs of aging during their lifetimes, it is likely you will benefit from this type of genetic makeup as well.

Extrinsic aging is caused by external factors—and these are what you can pay attention to if you want to slow down the manifestation of wrinkles. The greatest culprit of extrinsic aging is photo-damage or the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Thus, another common name for extrinsic aging is photo-aging. Other environmental factors, such as pollution, play a role as well. {3} Preventable habits, like smoking, are yet another culprit.

Extrinsic signs of aging include dryness, loss of volume, fine lines and deep wrinkles, sagging, coarseness, blotchy or irregular pigmentation or dark spots and loss of elasticity. At its worst, extrinsic aging—due to overexposure to UV light—may also result in skin cancer. {4} Protection against UV exposure and pollution, breaking up with bad habits like smoking and eating fresh, skin-friendly foods can significantly push back extrinsic aging.


Staying Out Of The Sun

Extrinsic aging is also referred to as photo-aging because the sun is enemy number one when it comes to external signs of skin aging. The radiation from the sun’s UV rays accelerates the breakdown of skin cells, leading to sagging, pore enlargement, epidermal and dermal weakening and wrinkling.

Broad-spectrum UV protection (protection against both UVB and UVA wavelengths) is essential in the fight against sun damage. UVB rays usually only burn the more superficial layers of the skin, whereas UVA rays are longer, and can penetrate deeper into the dermis. UVB rays can also lead to skin cancer, whereas UVA rays are more closely associated with aging of the skin.

Physical sunblocks, including FDA approved zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are best for sensitive skin. When applied, the micro-sized particles in these sunscreens form a protective barrier against UV rays. Reapplying every two hours is key, and more often might be necessary if you have been sweating excessively, swimming or toweling off. {5}

Antioxidants can help stave off UV-induced oxidative stress, or free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage skin cells, leading to some of the very signs of aging we are so determined to avoid. Antioxidants help fight off free radicals, giving back the missing electron to the unstable atom, thereby fending off the chain reaction and negating the damage. {6} Supplement your sunscreen with serums that contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E, or green tea phytochemicals like epigallo¬catechin gallate, which are known to fight off free radicals.


Quitting Smoking

Everyone knows the harmful effects smoking has on our bodies and our skin suffers dramatically. Smoking accelerates extrinsic aging by causing skin discoloration, deep wrinkles, and poor wound healing. Smoking restricts circulation and blood flow, preventing needed oxygen from passing to skin cells. The results are dilated blood vessels on the skin surface and the dull, sallow gray-tinged complexions smokers are known for. {7}

Adding to those vascular effects are the many pollutants present in cigarette smoke. The nicotine, carbon dioxide, tar and other toxins all lead to the deterioration of collagen and elastin, two of the most important substances that keep skin looking youthful and radiant. So, quitting smoking is absolutely imperative in the fight against extrinsic aging.


Rest and Rehydration

Catching adequate zzz’s is another way to fight against extrinsic aging. Lack of sleep can make you look older by contributing to wrinkle formation. It all has to do with the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol levels go down when we sleep and go up when we’re awake. Lack of sleep can lead to higher levels of cortisol production, causing a breakdown of collagen and then wrinkles.

Lack of sleep also depletes your immune system and defenses, so your body is less capable of fighting free radicals. Fewer antioxidants can form when you’re running on low sleep. It becomes a one-two punch against your skin. {8} Finally, sleep deprivation can lead to dehydration. Dryness, as you probably know, not only leads to flakiness but can also rob skin of its plumpness and radiance.

The obvious solution here is to get those seven to eight hours of sleep whenever possible, ideally every night. As you sleep your body will shore up its defenses, regenerate new cells and lower its stress levels.


Grab Your Armor

Staying out of the sun, quitting smoking, eating healthy and getting enough rest are all ways in which you can fight the extrinsic signs of aging. You can also stock up on products that have some of the best weapons currently available to mount a good battle. Hyaluronic acid, for example, plumps up skin and antioxidants duke it out with free radicals to keep your skin youthful and fresh. There’s also vitamin C which helps your skin create more collagen, while botanical oils like rosehip and seabuckthorn hydrate and keep your skin barrier strong. Protect and support your skin and you’ll put the brakes on aging too!



[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583886/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371636/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583890/


[6] http://news.psu.edu/story/141171/2008/08/18/research/probing-question-how-do-antioxidants-work

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/25/cigarettes-and-skin-wrinkles_n_4323081.html

[1] http://www.allure.com/story/sleep-and-skin-what-happens



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The information provided on this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health provider with any concerns or questions about a persistent problem or medical condition.

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