Let’s face it nobody wants wrinkles. We’d much rather look like Elle Macpherson than Gordon Ramsey when we’re pushing 50, so is there a way we can make it happen?!

Currently, there is loads of research going into why we age and anti-ageing products to help treat the signs of it. With so many different products on the market, we thought it would be best to get stuck into the nitty gritty science behind them all to help us work out what actually works!

Professor Tom Kirkwood CBE is the Associate Dean for the Institute of Ageing and Health at Newcastle University. Since 1977 his research has been aimed at understanding ageing, so we went to see if he could help us get our heads around the truth behind it all.

What are the most damaging effects on the skin and how are they linked to ageing?

Prof. Kirkwood : – The skin is the boundary between the inside body and the outside world. It is a front-line defence to the bad stuff from the environment. The thing that probably affects the skin most is sunlight, which contains high-energy rays that energise the skin and ultimately can damage the skin cells. Also, if you live in the city there are lots of pollutants and these can settle on the skin and cause damage. Damage is happening to our cells all the time, from loads of different sources, and the accumulation of this damage leads to ageing.

But why do we age? Why can’t the body repair this damage?

Prof. Kirkwood : – The body requires energy in order to carry out its normal functions. A lot of the energy required for the body is committed to damage repair but the body has other functions requiring this energy too. Evolution has given us good enough bodies to survive but our bodies don’t waste resources maintaining a body better than you need. We call this the Disposable Soma Theory.

ATP is the energy molecule used by our cells – each day we make 65kg of ATP!

Ageing happens because when repairing the damaged cells, we fix most of it but fixing that last little bit just costs too much. Like anything, the last little details take too much energy and a disproportionate amount of effort!

Do you think anti-ageing products can actually help ageing ? 

Prof. Kirkwood: – In theory, if they could really get in there and somehow stop the damage accumulating and empower our bodies repair methods – there’s no reason in principle why they shouldn’t work. However, the problem at the moment is we need to understand more about these complex mechanisms before we can really answer that question in a meaningful way. If you don’t know how a car works properly, you can’t fix it. A lot of the anti-ageing remedies are like the ill informed driver who is trying to apply a solution to a problem they don’t really understand. What we’re discovering is some of the anti-ageing remedies, particularly the vitamin supplement ones, seem to do more harm than good. Our bodies are engineered to work with the materials we normally receive and meddling can imbalance the system rather than benefit it. These substances work in a chain of steps rather than in isolation – if you bung in a load of stuff that’s not usually there it might mess up the chain.  As a scientist with a background in ageing you can see the ideas behind the products but there is not enough information available to suss out whether or not they really work.

So there’s some of the Sassy Science behind Ageing! Once again we have run into the problem of Beauty Companies not exposing their science so at the moment we are unable to recommend any anti-ageing products that truly work. But don’t worry we shall continue on our quest to find out the Truth behind the Products!

We have much more Ageing  – Ask the Expert coming up and keep your eyes peeled for the Eczema – Ask the Expert issue coming up in the next few weeks!!

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