The fact that your metabolism slows as you age is something that the media, sellers of diet supplements, and your “skinny” jeans never quite let you forget. But while you’re busy trying to speed up your digestive metabolism with green tea or cinnamon-spiked water, you may be totally overlooking the most important thing about this chemical process (at least, for a beauty enthusiast): Metabolism affects your skin.
More accurately, the skin has its own metabolism. “Skin metabolism refers to the biological processes that occur amongst the epidermal and dermal cells to regulate the rate of cell turnover, collagen production, and repair any damage that occurs due to UV light or aging,” Dr. Neil Sadick, a dermatologist with Sadick Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report. And just like its famous calorie-burning counterpart, skin metabolism slows with age, too. “In infants, epidermal cells renew every two weeks,” the dermatologist says — which explains that whole “baby skin” phenomenon. This takes a hit in your twenties, when skin cells renew about every 22 days. “In older people it takes over 50 days,” he tells TZR.
This gradual deceleration doesn’t just affect the skin’s inherent functions of renewal and collagen production — it also changes the way it responds to skincare products. “Our cells’ ability to respond to nutrients slows as we age,” Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, the medical director of Mudgil Dermatology, tells The Zoe Report. In layman’s terms, the skin-healthy nutrients you attempt to supplement via vitamin C serums and peptide creams aren’t as easily absorbed in your thirties (and beyond) as they were in your twenties. “Moreover, decreased cell turnover means that an accumulation of dead skin cells can further block nutrient absorption,” Dr. Sadick adds. You know when you’ve been using a skincare product for years and one day it seems like it just… stops working? Yeah, your metabolism is likely to blame.
Even though this is a totally natural (and inevitable) part of aging, environmental and light pollution do contribute to skin’s metabolic slow-down. “Various environmental toxins can disrupt our cellular processes,” Dr. Mugdil explains. This is confirmed by the fact that the skin on your body remains “young-looking” long after your face has started showing signs of aging. “The rate of skin metabolism does not differ, whether it’s on the face or body,” Dr. Sadick tells TZR. “The face shows the signs of aging quicker, as it’s the most exposed part of the body.”
You’re not just doomed to deal with slower and slower skin metabolism until the end of time, though. Many of the skincare ingredients you know as antioxidants, exfoliators, and collagen-boosters can help speed up skin’s metabolic rate and thus, enhance all the functions it controls: cellular renewal, collagen production, product absorption, and damage control.
“One of the key discoveries on skin aging has been that the decline of coenzyme Q10 [CoQ10] that regulates many metabolic processes,” Dr. Sadick says. He suggests supplementing with skincare products that feature the antioxidant enzyme, like Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner and Eminence Organic Skin Care Firm Skin Acai Cleanser, to keep your skin behaving like it did in your teenage years (but, you know, without the acne).
According to the dermatologist, you can also look to exfoliating acids like AHAs (lactic acid, glycolic acid) and BHAs (salicylic acid), retinoids such as prescription tretinoin and over-the-counter retinol, and stem cell extracts. “Applying products with these ingredients triggers biological pathways and stimulates cell turnover, boosting the skins intrinsic metabolic rate,” he says.
Of course — as with basically everything skincare-related — SPF always helps. “The key is prevention by wearing sunscreen,” Dr. Mudgil advises, adding that it’s important to limit your exposure to toxins (like cigarette smoke), as well.
Luckily, boosting your skin’s metabolism is a whole lot more fun than attempting to boost the other kind of metabolism (there are no cayenne pepper and lemon water cleanses here). Ahead, shop all the skincare products derms swear by to get your metabolism going — and keep your skin young and glowing.