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Massage Today
August, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 08

A Wrinkle in Time

By Rita Woods, LMT

Anyone wanting to get involved in the anti-aging boom must understand wrinkles. While wrinkles certainly are not the only thing with which we should be concerned in any good anti-aging regime, it's what most people think of first.

It's what we see everyday. I suppose if we could see our liver or intestines, we probably would approach anti-aging with a new focus. Be that as it may, we see our skin so our "looks" take on greater importance.

As massage therapists, we see all types of skin - from young to old and from healthy to sick. We also know we can tell a lot about a person's health simply by putting our hands on their skin and feeling the underlying tissue. We know if they are properly hydrated, if they smoke, if they are active or inactive, and if they have sun-damaged skin.

Changes in the physiology of the skin dictate the development of wrinkles. Heredity plays a big role in skin health as well. If you've been blessed with good skin genes, congratulations! If your mother, grandmother and great aunt Mildred had no wrinkles when they died at the ripe old age of 93, you're in luck. But for most of us, we have to look at the factors that contribute to wrinkles and try to avoid them. Your clients probably have asked you about this already.

To form a wrinkle you need loose skin. Loose skin comes from physiological changes, toxic influences and from shrinking bones. For instance, after age 70, the bones of the skull begin to shrink, causing even more sagging skin. Wrinkles appear to start in the dermis as changes in the elastin structure cause the elastin to lose its snap. Fibrils of elastin running through the layers of our skin are what help hold the skin and muscles together. When this system can no longer do its job, you will begin to see wrinkles form. Decreased production of both collagen and elastin play key roles in the formation of wrinkles.

If you are doing any facelift massage work, there is some crucial information you need to know to assist you in releasing some of the expression lines. Wrinkles form perpendicular to the long axis of facial muscles. Forehead furrows run horizontally to the vertical axis of the frontalis. Wrinkles around the circular muscles of the eyes and mouth form in a spoke-like fashion; specifically, the crow's feet and upper lip vertical wrinkles in the orbicularis oculi and orbicularis oris.

As with any other muscles in the body, working the fibers in a gentle cross-friction fashion will help to release adhesions and working in the direction of the muscle fiber will help re-educate the muscles for proper positioning and function. Next time you look at a face, really look at it and I'm sure you'll be able to see how the wrinkles have formed. Folds in the skin that run parallel to the underlying muscles are natural crease lines and are not technically wrinkles. They might come from the loss of fat in the underlying dermis or result from severe sun damage. These actually are referred to as "crinkles" by some skin care experts.

These changes are going to happen whether we like it or not. After all, we're only human. However, we can slow these changes and reverse some of the damage. Age isn't the only culprit; research shows the following key factors to aging skin. They all appear to damage the cellular structure in such a way as to alter its ability to perform.

First and foremost is sun exposure. It's the number one "bad guy" on the list. Every sunburn you have ever had damaged your skin, and it might take 15 to 20 years before you see visible signs of that damage. Ouch. The sun's rays denature proteins and enzymes through a cascade of events; even the DNA is changed and the cells undergo profound structural changes. Preventing damage from sun exposure is easy with sunscreen, hat and long sleeves. Remember, a tan now will become a wrinkle in time.

Smoking cigarettes is number two on the list. Surely you have noticed that people who smoke have a lot more wrinkles than people who don't. The damage comes from free radicals. There is growing evidence in the dermatology field that free radicals are one of the major causes of abnormal proteins in the body. These abnormal proteins produce damage to the various tissues of the body. It's estimated that with every inhale of cigarette smoke, there are more than 10 thousand trillion free radicals. That's many times more free radicals than there are cells in the body. I'm sure you've noticed the dull yellowish hue and lack of luster in the skin of a smoker. It is aging at an accelerated rate. Trying to get rid of wrinkles in a smoker is wasting time and money. Telling that to a client might not endear them to you, but you need to know it's a losing uphill battle unless they quit smoking.

Alcoholic beverages also produce a complex set of problems for body tissue. It's toxic to the body at a certain level. Heavy drinkers have a dull, yellow skin tone that is very dry. This shows the ravaging taking place on the underlying tissue. Once again, this situation makes it difficult to achieve good skin care.

Soap-based cleansing products are no doubt a contributing factor to the formation of wrinkles. But why and how much has not been determined. Soap is, however, consistently cited as contributing to dry and prematurely aging skin. Soaps must remove oil and dirt to clean. The drawback is they also can strip the skin of its natural lipids. Natural lipids are essential for maintaining skin integrity and for protection of the dermis. Most soap adversely affects the pH of the skin. That's why a toner is traditionally used after cleansing - to balance the disrupted pH. Just stay away from toners with alcohol. Soaps also adversely react with keratins in the skin, resulting in a dry, tight feeling. There are good cleansers that don't strip the skin but actually hydrate as they clean.

Good luck with your next face massage. Perhaps you'll view it with a different perspective. And when your clients ask for suggestions concerning their skin, remember it's what they don't do, rather than what they actually do.

Share your knowledge.

Click here for previous articles by Rita Woods, LMT.


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