Changes in Skin, Hair, and Voice
When we, like Kristina, see the first visible signs of aging, it makes no difference that these changes are universal and inevitable. Nor does it matter that our wrinkles are caused by a combination of changes in the structure of the skin and its connective and supportive tissue and the cumulative effects of exposure to sunlight. As normal as the loss of hair pigmentation is, we may still want to hide the gray (Aldwin & Gilmer, 2004). What matters on that day is that we have seen our first wrinkle and gray hair.
Changes in the Skin. Why does our skin wrinkle? Wrinkling is actually a complex, four-step process (Gilchrest, 1995). First, the outer layer of skin becomes thinner through cell loss, causing the skin to become more fragile. Second, the collagen fibers that make up the connective tissue
© Ariel Skelley
Getting gray hair and wrinkles is part of the normative aging process.
lose much of their flexibility, making the skin less able to regain its shape after a pinch. Third, elastin fibers in the middle layer of skin lose their ability to keep the skin stretched out, resulting in sagging. Finally, the underlying layer of fat, which helps provide padding to smooth out the contours, diminishes.
It may surprise you to know that how quickly your face ages is largely under your control. Two major environmental causes of wrinkles are exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, which breaks down the skin’s connective tissue, and smoking, which restricts the flow of blood to the skin around the lips (Mayo Clinic, 2007a). Using sunscreens and sunblocks properly and limiting your exposure to sunlight, as well as quitting smoking, may slow the development of wrinkles. The message is clear: Young adults who are dedicated sun-worshippers or are smokers eventually pay a high price.
Older adults’ skin is naturally thinner and drier, giving it a leathery texture, making it less effective at regulating heat or cold, and making it more susceptible to cuts, bruises, and blisters. To counteract these problems, people should use skin moisturizers, vitamin E, and facial massages (Mayo Clinic, 2007a; Ramirez & Schneider, 2003). The coloring of light-skinned people undergoes additional changes with age. The number of pigment – containing cells in the outer layer decreases, and those that remain have less pigment, resulting in lighter skin. In addition, age spots (areas of dark pigmentation that look like freckles) and moles (pigmented outgrowths) appear more often. Some of the blood vessels in the skin may become dilated and create small, irregular red lines. Varicose veins may appear as knotty, bluish irregularities in blood vessels, especially on the legs (Aldwin & Gilmer, 2004; Gilchrest, 1995).
Changes in the Hair. Gradual thinning and graying of the hair of both men and women occur inevitably with age, although there are large individual differences in the rate of these changes. Hair loss is caused by destruction of the germ centers that produce the hair follicles, whereas graying results from a cessation of pigment production. Men usually do not lose facial hair as they age; you probably have seen many balding men with thick, bushy beards. In addition, men often develop bushy eyebrows and hair growth inside the ears. In contrast, women often develop patches of hair on the face, especially on the chin (Aldwin & Gilmer,
2004) . This hair growth is related to the hormonal changes of the climacteric, discussed later in this chapter.
Changes in the Voice. The next time you’re in a crowd of people of different ages, close your eyes and listen to the way they sound. You probably will be fairly accurate in guessing how old the speakers are just from the quality of the voices you hear. Younger adults’ voices tend to be full and resonant, whereas
Physical Changes 71
older adults’ voices tend to be thinner or weaker. Age-related changes in one’s voice include lowering of pitch, increased breathlessness and trembling, slower and less precise pronunciation, and decreased volume. A longitudinal study of Japanese adults revealed that women have more changes in their fundamental frequency, and shimmer and glottal noise is characteristic of older voices (Kasuya et al., 2008). Some researchers report that these changes are due to changes in the larynx (voice box), the respiratory system, and the muscles controlling speech. However, other researchers contend that these changes result from poor health and are not part of normal aging.