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Micron. 2004;35(3):185-91.

Skin aging and natural photoprotection.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology D42, Bispebjerg Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Bakke 23, 2400 Copenhagen NV, Denmark.


Aging of skin is a continuous process that may be enhanced by sun exposure. Photoaging may provoke changes different from aging. Epidermal changes involve thinning of stratum spinosum and flattening of the dermo-epidermal junction. The senescent keratinocytes becomes resistant to apoptosis and may survive for a long time giving time for DNA and protein damage to accumulate with possible implication for carcinogenesis. The numbers of melanocytes decrease with age with dysregulation of melanocyte density resulting in freckles, guttate hypo-melanosis, lentigines and nevi. The number of dendritic Langerhans cells also decreases with age and the cells get less dendrites and have reduced antigen-trapping capacity. Aging involves dermal changes such as damage to elastic and collagen fibers giving thickened, tangled, and degraded non-functional fibers. Collagen intermolecular cross-links are stable and essential for stability and tensile strength. Cross-links increase with age converting divalent cross-links into mature trivalent cross-links of, e.g. histidinohydroxylysinonorleucine. Two mechanisms are involved; an enzyme-controlled process of maturation and a non-enzymatic glycosylation, the Maillard reaction leading to cross-links in proteins such as in collagen between arginine and lysine. Such may be seen with age and in diabetes mellitus. However, autofluorescence studies have shown that UVR reduces collagen cross-links. Natural photoprotection involves thickening of stratum corneum by sunlight and increased pigmentation. This leads to a factor 2 increase in photoprotection from spring until after-summer. The constitutive pigmentation is independent of age and thickness of stratum corneum is likewise independent of age. The minimal erythema dose is thus the same through life, when corrected for pigmentation or measured in areas with constitutive pigmentation.

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