FLAW MAKERS: where skin's ruin starts ..

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A modern woman would have to be living in OUTER SPACE not to know that sunlight and cigarettes can be lethal to her health and looks – and even there she would probably still need SUNBLOCK. Wreaking unspeakable damage that starts in the cradle and continues to the grave, the sun causes 80% of the changes we associate with AGEING. Deep wrinkling, sagging and bagging, leatheriness, visible blood vessels, sallow yellow colouring and brown spots are due to excessive sun and POLLUTANT (like cigarette smoke) exposure according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and not to age at all. As the sun’s rays hit the skin, free radicals are released on the surface of it. These then go on the RAMPAGE, oxidising lipids both on the cell membrane and between the cells, triggering chain reactions that result in an outpouring of malevolent MOLECULES, such as arachidonic acid and the anti-inflammatory agent interleukin-II. Research conducted at the Estee Lauder laboratories in NEW YORK suggests that these chemicals act as distress signals that have a knock-on effect in CELLS deeper down: rising levels of interleukin-II in the epidermis, for example, parallel those of the marauding molecule collagenase in the DERMIS. Antioxidant vitamins have long been used by cosmetic scientists to stop creams from going rancid. Now it’s thought that they can render free radicals impotent on arrival. Experiments at Duke University in North Carolina have shown that when VITAMIN C is suspended in an aqueous solution and rubbed lightly into skin, it seems to stall the free radical damage that can lead to cancer and probably prevents collagen distruption too. In animal studies, antioxidant-based creams have been found to prevent skin cancer. A second source of harm is the direct damage from ULTRAVIOLET RADIATION itself. Packaged in little packets of ENERGY called photons, like bullets, it’s sometimes deflected by the dead cells on the skin’s surface and bounces off (hence the importance of allowing the stratum corneum to stay put and not aggravate it with excessive exfoliation or resurfacing treatments), and sometimes ABSORBED and disarmed by the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes in the upper dermis. At other times, however, it evades both defences and penetrates deep into the dermis. Here it hits the HEART of the skin cell, the nucleus, which contains the DNA that carries the genetic BLUEPRINT for all subsequent cell reproductions. When this happens, a photochemical reaction changes the chemical structure of the DNA so that, the next time the cells divide, they are not perfect: there is a FLAW ..