Nefertiti and Cleopatra are eternal symbols of an ideal of beauty that still applies today. But even these famous historic female icons had to do something for their beauty. Armed with their modest lotions and tinctures, they battled against aging skin and the transience of their youthful splendor. A foray through the drugstores and perfume shops of our time and an accurate knowledge of the skin's needs would probably send these two women into raptures. They took baths in donkey’s milk to counteract the aging of the skin, whose causes were unknown to them. The men of that time were also vain, however. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, smoothed facial wrinkles with a paste made from the liver of a lizard, olive oil, and undiluted wine.
By contrast, many of the mechanisms by which the skin functions as the largest human organ are known today. And we also know what can impair its function. Targeted prevention and systematic treatment has therefore been the motto ever since the discovery of the damage that UV light, unhealthy nutrition, and free radicals can do the skin.
Prevent and correct
Prevention works because the causes of many harmful effects on the skin are known. “Every person has a certain genetic predisposition to wrinkles; there’s nothing we can do about that,” explains Jürgen Lademann, Professor of Experimental and Applied Physiology of the Skin at the Dermatological University Clinic of Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany. “But we can do something about a whole range of other factors. Take exposure to sunlight, for instance.”
UV light produces free radicals on the skin and can damage tissue and components of the tissue, leading to the formation of wrinkles. Avoidance and protection are the most important measures here. “The body has also developed a defense system against the harmful effects of free radicals: the antioxidants, including vitamins, carotenoids, and enzymes,” explains Lademann. These antioxidants can neutralize the free radicals before they can exert their harmful effect on the cellular scale. The human body is not capable of making most antioxidants on its own, however. These must be taken up through foods such as fruit and vegetables, for instance. But Lademann also warns that “Tobacco, alcohol, little sleep, stress — all of these things reduce the antioxidative potential of our skin. Healthy nutrition and a good lifestyle are the only ways we have to improve this potential.”
The other front in the struggle for beauty and a youthful appearance is the treatment of existing damage and the optimization of the skin’s own regenerative processes. Besides laser treatment and plastic surgery, the weapons in this struggle include creams and lotions, gels, peelings, masks, and ointments with active ingredients that reorganize the collagen fibers, deliver moisture to the skin or optimize collagen metabolism — the range of active ingredients and modes of action is broad.