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The Aging Process and How Retinoids Repair Skin

By Kayla Shellhammer Introduction

Aging is something not many people enjoy, as it has both mental and physical effects. What if the physical effects of aging could be reversed? Of course, there is no way to make your skin look the way it was when you were a teenager, but there is a way to repair the damage from internal and external effects of aging. As the skin ages, cells decrease and deterioration of collagen (a protein that gives skin strength and elasticity) occurs. Treatment of these signs of aging comes from derivatives of vitamin A, called retinoids. These products work on the molecular level because skin cells contain retinoid receptors which help regulate skin turnover and collagen production.

Anatomy of the Skin

Skin is the largest organ of the body and protects all other organs from the environment. The skin is divided into three layers: the epidermis, dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue, as seen in Figure 1. The epidermis is mainly composed of keratinocytes, the most common type of skin cell, and Langerhans cells (antigen producing immune cells). A basement membrane separates the epidermis from the dermis, which contains extracellular proteins. The dermis contains the vascular supply to the skin, as well as the protein collagen and elastin, which give the skin its strength and elasticity. The subcutaneous tissue contains fat cells that underline the connective tissue network. With age, Figure 1. Layers of the skin the skins natural process i8giEi9vk3geO5umThBfKREUjyI7NtuftZ8JNu7p20yvMkR8l-n6sSujteH_SXRcxpuczYPoWQ slows drastically and the skin becomes thinner, drier, and less elastic.

The Aging Process

Aging of our skin is caused by many different internal and external factors such as the natural aging process, genetics, sun exposure (photoaging), smoking, muscle use and even the effects of gravity. During aging, the epidermis begins to thin, but the number of cell layers remains the same. The number of pigment-containing cells, called malanocytes, will decrease and the melanocytes that remain will increase in size. These two changes result in the thinner, more translucent appearance associated with aging skin. In particularly sun-exposed areas, age spots or liver spots may also appear. Wrinkling of the skin is another sign of its aging. Wrinkles are caused by deterioration in the skins fibrous connective tissue, known as collagen. Collagen is responsible for our skins strength and elasticity and forms the main structural component of the dermis. As we age, cellular proteins hook together or change shape. These changes keep the proteins from doing their jobs properly, and result in depleting collagen levels and less firmness to body tissues. This process, known as elastosis, eventually leads to wrinkles.

What are Retinoids?

Retinoids are topical or oral products, chemically related to vitamin A, that help with acne, antiaging, and hyper-pigmentation. The retinoid family comprises vitamin A (retinol) and its natural derivatives such as retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, and retinyl esters, as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives. Retinol is the immediate precursor two two important active metabolites, retinal and retinoic acid, seen in Figure 3 on the right. Retinal plays an important role in vision and retinoic acid serves as an intracellular messenger that affects transcription of a number of genes. Vitamin A cannot be synthesized in the body, so it must be supplied. Naturally, it is present as retinyl Figure 2. The structure of some retinoids esters and beta-carotene, present in many if plants that can be converted to vitamin A within the intestine and other tissues.

How Retinol Repairs Skin Damage

Retinoids work on a molecular level because skin cells contain retinoid receptors that help regulate certain functions. With age and sun damage, these functions deteriorate. The regular use of a retinoid helps to normalize these functions. Retinoids improve skin texture and reduce dark spots by speeding up skin cell turnover that slows down as we age. They reduce blackheads and minimize pores, both of which worsen with too much sun exposure. But the most powerful effects of retinoids are on collagen, the building blocks of the skin. Retinoids not only help to decrease the amount of collagen breakdown from sun exposure by preventing the rise of an enzyme called collagenase, but they also help to stimulate the production of new collagen. The process of collagen production can be seen in Figure Figure 3. Process of anti-aging with retinol 3.

Retinoic acid acts by binding to the retinoic acid receptor (RAR) with the retinoid X receptor (RXR) in regions called retinoic acid response elements (RAREs). Binding of the retinoic acid ligand to RAR alters the confirmation of the RAR, which affects the binding of other proteins that either cause or suppress transcription of a nearby gene (molecular unit of heredity). Transcription is the first step in gene expression, which is the process by which information from a gene is used to produce a protein, like collagen. Retinoic acid receptors mediate transcription of different sets of genes controlling differentiation of a variety of cell types, thus the target genes regulated depend upon the target cells. In some cells, one of the target genes is the gene for the retinoic acid receptor itself, which amplifies the response. Control of retinoic acid levels is maintained by a suite of proteins that control synthesis and degradation of retinoic acid. Therefore, retinoids improve the way the skin sheds and renews itself by binding to and activating these RARs.

Aging is a natural process that occurs in everyone, but keeping the skin looking younger is becoming an increasing aspiration. Decreasing skin cells and collagen levels give a wrinkled and translucent appearance that is not desirable. Natural derivatives of vitamin A, called retinoids, can help make the desire of younger looking skin a reality by working on the molecular level within skin cells. They help to speed up cell turnover and stimulate collagen production, giving skin the smoother and firmer appearance associated with younger looking skin.