The process of aging and its telltale wrinkles is as inevitable as the rising of the sun – coincidentally, a sun that directly contributes to the development of wrinkles.|
But these changes in our skin don't happen overnight. At some point, generally by age 25, our bodies' accelerated rate of cellular turnover begins to slow down, making the skin less able to repair damage.
"When we think of aging on the outside, we are really talking about how fast our collagen and elastin, which are the protein fibers that keep our skin springy, resilient and vibrant, deteriorate," writes RealAge Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book, "The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin."
"Once damaged, these fibers become dry and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging."
Simultaneously, your body's subcutaneous fat begins to diminish, and because the face has less fat in the first place, it is one of the first places where wrinkles occur.
The rate at which this natural deterioration progresses is a combination of both genetics and lifestyle choices – namely, sun exposure, smoking and stress, but most of us begin to see the signs of aging pick up the pace around age 35, and the 40s is when they really make their mark.
Why our skin ages is one thing, but how we feel about is something else entirely, and it appears that most of us are none too pleased. According to the NPD Group, a leading consumer and retail information provider, Americans shelled out 2.5 billion dollars for skincare in 2007, 1.2 billion of which was specifically related to anti-aging.
One reason women and men both may cringe at the sight of their crow's feet, is that wrinkles are a reminder of our mortality, said Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio, and author of "Change Your Mind, Change Your Body: Feeling Good Again About Body and Self After 40."
She sees this especially among the Baby Boomer generation. "We grew up with a sense that we were forever young and prided ourselves on how active we were and how much we did," she said. "But now we're starting to look like our parents, with the expanding mid-sections, saggy skin and wrinkles. It's a reminder that someday, maybe sooner now rather than later, we will get old and die."
However, perhaps more instrumental than mortality in the anti-aging cosmetic craze, is vanity.
Look up the word "sexy" in the dictionary, and you won't find the word "wrinkles" in the definition. Famous poets, from Homer to Shakespeare to William Carlos Williams, have linked beauty with youth. "Nowadays there are middle-aged women who are models, but they still have to look 30," Kearney-Cooke said. You might see Christie Brinkley or Courtney Cox hawking beauty products, but it's unlikely the next face of Cover Girl will take the form of Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren or Dianne Wiest.
Regardless, this list of women demonstrates an ancient double standard still is alive and well. "Traditionally, wrinkles and other signs of aging have been perceived differently on men and women," said Stephen Franzoi, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis. "With men, aging can lend an air of sophistication, enhancing their attractiveness. But with women, it's a sign of diminishing beauty and thus a decrease in attractiveness."
The evolutionary theory for this disparity is youthfulness in women indicates fertility, while wrinkles indicate a woman is at the end of her reproductive cycle and is no longer "valuable" in regard to passing on a potential suitor's genes. With a man, for whom lost fertility is not an issue, aging instead tends to indicate heightened social status, suggesting he might now be even better equipped to protect and provide for a family. However, now that the link between age and fertility isn't value-based, modern socio-cultural theory has suggested value based on physical appearance has to do with one's position in the social hierarchy, with those higher up viewing those lower down as a sort of aesthetic possession.
"In societies in which women have achieved more economic power, they too begin to select men for their physical appearance," Franzoi said.
Indeed, over the last 30 years, there has been pressure for American men to also achieve a certain level of beauty, primarily the muscled physique and chiseled jaw of youth. In response, we've recently seen a proliferation of anti-aging products specifically targeted at men, available in stores from the local pharmacy to Barney's.
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