Age and skin structure and function, a quantitative approach (II): protein, glycosaminoglycan, water, and lipid content and structure

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The aging process has been studied with fervor recently, given our shifting demographics. As age's effects are so manifest in the skin's appearance, structure, mechanics, and barrier function, it is not surprising that much effort has been made in research to better understand them. Quantitative measurements permitted by bioengineering have allowed us to objectively and precisely study aging skin. These overviews piece together the immense amounts of information that have emerged from recent technological advances in dermatological research in order to develop a unified understanding of the quantitative effects of age on skin.


We performed a literature search on age-related changes in protein, glycosaminoglycan (GAG), water, and lipid content and structure, searching Pub-med, Em-Base, Science Citation Index, and the UCSF dermatological library's collection of books on the topic of aging skin.


Collagen becomes sparser and less soluble in intrinsically aged skin, but is thickened and more soluble in extrinsically aged areas. Elastin is degraded slowly and accumulates damage with intrinsic aging; also, increased synthesis of abnormally structured elastin occurs in photoexposed areas. This leads to an age-related accumulation of aberrant elastoic material, clumped in the papillary dermis. Generally, age leads to increased folding and decreased interaction of proteins with water. Also, despite increased GAGs in aged skin, these are abnormally deposited on the elastoic material and cannot interact properly with water. Hence, in aged skin, water is found in the tetrahedron form, bound to itself rather than other molecules. Lipid content appears to decrease with age, although the proportion of different lipid classes seems to remain fairly constant.


Much work remains to be carried out to reach a consensus on the effects of age on skin structure and function. Future studies would be benefited by increased standardization of skin sites tested, methodology, and increased sample sizes.

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