I consider myself to have a pretty typical skin appearance for a middle-aged woman. I also have a lot of Chinese friends and I’ve repeatedly wondered why their skin looks about 10 years younger than mine. This is not just my observation; many people look at the skin of Asian women with a great deal of envy. So, I have to ask why and what’s going on there?
The secrets behind the spectacular skin of Asians are actually quite fascinating. I found two very significant elements of Asia culture and cuisine that have a major impact on skin health – tofu and the sun.
Let’s talk about tofu first because most people probably don’t know what the connection is between good skin and tofu. Although many of us like to ignore this fact, what we eat has a significant impact on our health.
Asian diets tend to be very high in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and low in meat - particularly red meats. Many chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers are not as common in Asia as they are in Western countries and this is thought to be the result of this plant-based diet.
In terms of our skin, one thing that figures very prominently in an Asian diet is a skin superhero - tofu. As it turns out, soybean-based foods happen to be very high in a natural compound called isoflavonoids and isoflavonoids are extremely beneficial to skin health and appearance.
As we age, the dermal and epidermal skin layers suffer from a reduction in collagen density, a decline in cellularity and skin thinning. This is because the cells in our skin that produce collagen (fibroblasts), use estrogen to produce collagen. As estrogen levels drop so does collagen production. Decreased estrogen levels also cause fragmentation in elastin fibers. The fastest changes tend to occur in the first 5 years after menopause and the cumulative result can be as much as 30% loss of skin thickness.
The good news is that the consumption of isoflavonoids has been seen to reverse this trend, to some degree, in postmenopausal women.
A Study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health showed that for post-menopausal women, consuming 100mg/day of isoflavones-rich concentrated soy extract, for a period of six months, had some pretty impressive improvements in the skin:
Pretty impressive right. Well, if tofu isn’t a big part of your present diet, grab a good (authentic) Chinese or Japanese cookbook and try some of the many outstanding tofu dishes that feature so prominently in Asian cuisine. And for those who don’t love tofu, try buying a good quality isoflavones-rich concentrated soy extract.
With a lifetime of eating tofu and soybean products, many Asians enjoy very healthy skin throughout their lives and their skin frequently tends to look younger and healthier as they age.
As for Asian customs, there’s one in particular that has resulted in an extraordinary benefit for skin. Dating back to ancient times in China, fair skin has been considered extremely beautiful, very desirable and this sentiment still the prevails today. As a result, most Asians never allow their skin to be exposed to the sun, darkened by a tan and certainly never burned.
We are all very clear today on the harm that the sun can do to our skin, but for those of who grew up in a western country, we can usually remember summers spent tanning, using baby oil to amplify the rays and the occasional getting sunburned from head to toe.
Sun definitely plays a significant role in the functioning of our bodies – it aids in regulating our sleeping patterns, affects our moods and helps our skin to produce vitamin D (actually not a vitamin, but a pro-hormone which is something that the body converts to an important hormone). However, ultraviolet rays – UVB rays are short waves and UVA are longer waves – can both penetrate the skin and enter skin cells. When UV rays enter skin cells it causes problems with the cell’s normal functioning which changes the way skin grows and appears.
Exposure to UV rays damages the DNA inside our skin cells which causes them to grow rapidly and divide abnormally. The result can be clumps of abnormal cells which can darken in colour (sunspots or liver spots) and also form tumors and lesions – both benign and sometimes malignant.
The UV rays that penetrate the skin also work to break down the collagen and elastin that we naturally have in abundance in our skin - remember that collagen represents 70-80% of the dry weight of human skin. These two important skin components give our skin its strength and elastic qualities. You can think of their structural properties like a lovely firm mattress you’re your epidermis is the top sheet. Healthy and abundant collagen and elastin are like a springy, firm mattress that hold the top sheet tight, firm, and smooth. The wrinkles and loose skin that develop from depleted collagen and elastin in your skin’s dermal layer are similar to a saggy, lumpy and soft mattress which then have a wrinkly and loose top sheet. Your body’s ability to produce collagen diminishes as you age so it’s a bad idea to speed up that process by allowing UV rays to break down the collagen that your body has worked so hard to produce.
Of course, our skin repairs and renews itself by forming new skin cells and shedding dead cells from the outer most layer of the epidermis. However, the natural ageing process slows down our ability to make new skin cells, so the skin’s renewal process slows and declines. Exposure to sun speeds this decline and enhances the skin’s overall deterioration.
Like the isoflavonoids, you can also improve your skin’s collagen levels by taking high-quality marine collagen peptides. Marine collagen is a type 1 collagen which represents 90% of the collagen in our bodies. So, when you take a marine collagen supplement you are helping your body replenish the collagen that is lost through ageing and sun exposure.
Many collagens are made in developing countries where standards can be questionable so it’s good to choose a collagen produced in Canada where food safety and natural product standards are among the highest in the world. DeepMarine Collagen is an ultra-pure collagen that is 100% produced in Canada and all packaging is also produced in Canada – a truly Canadian product. DeepMarine does not add anything to its collagen to you know that you’re getting a clean and pure collagen peptide.
The good news for those of us in our middle years is that no matter what we grew up eating, or how much sun we got in the past, there are still things that we can do to improve the health and appearance of our skin.