Skin health, aging and the cellular powerhouse
- Our skin, the biggest organ in the body, needs a lot of energy to renew and repair itself
- Mitochondria are found in every cell in the body, including skin cells, and provide the source of energy to the cell
- Keeping mitochondria healthy can help to keep our cells healthy and maintain healthy cell renewal
- Mitochondria are recycled in a process called mitophagy (or autophagy of the mitochondria). This process becomes less efficient as we age which can lead to a build-up of free radicals which damage the cell
- Mitochondrial dysfunction (unhealthy mitochondria) is a major cause of aging
- Dysfunctional mitochondria are associated with skin aging and some skin diseases
- Keeping our mitochondria healthy via diet and lifestyle changes can impact skin health
What are mitochondria and how are they connected to the skin aging process?
To most of us, skin is just a protective sheet that covers our body. Little do we know, there is a lot going on under the surface. Skin is a living organ with multiple functions, and it requires a lot of energy to maintain and repair itself. Energy production happens in each and every skin cell thanks to the mitochondria.
You might remember mitochondria from your high school biology class. This tiny, yet mighty, component of the cell (called an organelle) is responsible for using oxygen to produce energy that can be used throughout the cell to function, survive, and renew itself. In particular, the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) is continuously regenerating itself. Epidermal cells need huge amounts of energy, produced by the mitochondria, to keep the process going.
The tiny-but-mighty mitochondria
How does the mitochondria affect skin aging?
As we age, this process of energy production becomes less efficient, and it literally shows in the mirror! The outer layers of the skin start to lose their vitality and youthfulness as our skin-cell health becomes compromised.
Cellular health for skin depends upon cellular renewal
Remember when you bought your first car? A wise family member most likely told you to make sure you get a regular service, change the old parts when they wear out, take care of it – and it will last for years! The same wisdom applies to your skin. We use it day in and day out. It needs maintenance and repair, and it needs fuel in the form of cellular energy, supplied by the mitochondria.
Our cells have an “internal mechanic” that helps to replace any worn out components as they get older. It does this through a recycling process called autophagy, where it disassembles the old parts and uses them to make new ones. Did that wise family member also tell you to keep your car clean, because a dirty car will become rusty over time? Autophagy also cleans up the useless cellular “litter” to keep the workspace clean in order to maintain cellular health. As we age, cellular renewal (autophagy) becomes less efficient and leads to signs of skin aging such as fine lines, sagging or loose skin.
During cellular recycling, one of the key components that is replaced is the mitochondria. We call this process mitophagy (autophagy of the mitochondria). Renewing the mitochondria is a bit like replacing the car engine. As our mitochondria get older, they get less efficient at producing energy, causing them to generate more free radicals which damage our cells. On top of that, the whole process of cellular recycling becomes less efficient with age, which further reduces their ability to mop-up the free-radicals. The result is less energy being produced for the cell to use, more damage to the cell, and weaker defenses, all of which accelerate cellular aging.
The mitochondrial life cycle
Can healthy mitochondria help delay skin aging? Maybe even enhance skin longevity?
Scientists have found that when it comes to skin aging, research has shown a link between mitochondrial dysfunction and visible signs of aging such as: wrinkle formation, hair greying and hair loss, uneven pigmentation and decreased wound healing (Stout et al, 2019). This means that keeping our mitochondria healthy may help to keep us young at heart.
3D representation of Mitochondria
What does “healthy mitochondria” mean? Why is it important?
Mitochondrial health has become one of the major areas in studies on longevity, and more and more evidence is available on how these tiny powerhouses can be used to delay aging:
- Healthy mitochondria help to maintain production of energy to fulfill the needs of the skin cell and its functions such as collagen formation and deposition. Collagen is key to skin youthfulness (Sreedar et al, 2020).
- Mitochondria contain antioxidant enzymes that help counterbalance the amount of free radicals produced during normal cell functions. This can help to reinforce defenses against intrinsic but also extrinsic damage linked, for instance, to photoaging (sun damage) and pollution.
- Normal mitochondrial function was shown to be involved in how epidermal cells develop and differentiate, forming a strong skin barrier. Having a strong skin barrier provides a shield against extrinsic aggressions and helps to delay skin aging.
Tips to help maintain or enhance the health of our mitochondria
It probably comes as no surprise that by maintaining overall health, you can maintain the health of your mitochondria:
1. Exercise regularly, it helps to keep mitochondria “young”
2. Stop smoking, or don’t ever start
3. Look after your gut. It can help to keep your mitochondria healthy. Eating a diet with food sources of fiber, or using dietary supplements containing prebiotic fiber and probiotics, will help to keep your gut healthy and help to support mitochondrial health
4. Eat a healthy diet, full of antioxidant fruits and vegetables
5. Keep an eye out for topical solutions that can directly improve skin health mitochondria – they are looking very promising!
We can’t turn back time, nor can we reverse aging, but scientific research has uncovered how important the mitochondria are for skin health and the aging process. Using strategies such as taking care of our gut health, exercising, and eating healthily will keep our skin, and our body, healthy in the long term. In the meantime, scientists are working on new ingredients to target the mitochondria which may reinforce skin-cell health for a more youthful appearance. Skin-specific solutions for mitochondrial health might just be the future!
Knowledge is power
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