April 04, 2018 6 min read
I get a lot of questions (always from women) about whether I offer anti-aging products in my line. Totally a fair question – I know that they are just asking whether or not my products will help reduce the visible signs of aging – but this question is so loaded and my answer is usually long-winded. So I figured I would write a post about it since this is something I feel very passionately about since I am a science geek and I have a B.S. in Human Development with a focus in Gerontology. Oh, and I used to work in long-term care.
First, let’s unpack the idea of “anti-aging” products. What does that actually mean on the cellular level? Aging is an omnipresent, complex process that involves oxidative stress and inflammation, accumulation of mutations in the repair of DNA, telomere shortening, epigenetic shifts, misfolded proteins, and more. I’ll take you through a crash course on the science of aging:
Oxidative stress & inflammation. We’ve all heard of antioxidants, but what is the problem with oxidation anyway? Oxidation occurs when a molecule loses electrons and becomes a free radical. Free radicals bounce around the body looking for a mate for its now unpaired electron. They are very unstable and react quickly with other molecules.
Typically, a free radical will steal an electron from the nearest stable, thereby creating another free radical in a chain reaction. Once this process has begun, it can snowball until the cell host is disrupted, damaged, or killed.
Typically, the body can handle free radicals and oxidative stress by employing antioxidants, which fight oxidation by donating one of their own electrons to the free radical and stopping the snowball effect. We supply ourselves with antioxidants via our diet and some innate human biological processes. However, widespread and unmanaged oxidative stress leads to systemic inflammation in the body at the cellular level. You might not feel hot or swollen anywhere, but if there is excessive oxidative stress happening in the body, you have some level of inflammation going on. Oxidative stress is cumulative and it accelerates with age.
Accumulation of mutations in the repair of DNA. Our DNA is constantly replicating and repairing itself. As our DNA replicates itself (many, many, many times per day throughout the body) our “cellular machinery” makes mistakes which leads to changes in the DNA sequence. This can be caused by oxidative stress, inflammation, UV exposure, and more.
In a healthy cell, our “cellular machinery” can take care of these errors, but these mistakes are cumulative and accelerate with age, leading to permanent DNA errors in your cells. Once the cell’s DNA becomes too damaged, the cell will kill itself or enter a nonreplicating state, called senescence. Cell death can lead to tissue atrophy and dysfunction. And although senescent cells are largely dormant, they can accelerate the aging process by secreting inflammatory compounds called cytokines which contribute to age-related conditions and systemic inflammation.
Telomere shortening. This is where a lot of emerging aging research is focused, and is related closely to the issues discussed in point #2. Telomeres are the repetitive, noncoding sequences of chromosomes that “cap” the ends of your DNA. Think of it like your body’s way of protecting the coding portion of your DNA from being affected by DNA replication and repair.
Over time, these telomere caps shorten, exposing the coding portion of your DNA to damage. While germ and stem cells express an enzyme called telomerase that replenishes telomeres, most cells’ telomeres shrink with every division. If the telomeres shrink too much or are damaged, cells will kill themselves or enter the dormant senescent stage.
The shorter your telomeres, the faster you age, the lower your organ and stem cell function, and the shorter your life span. Organisms with longer telomeres age more slowly and experience less chronic health issues.
Epigenetic shifts. Epigenetics literally means “on top of the genome” and is a fascinating area of scientific research. The study of epigenetics has shown us that you can change your gene expression by your environment, diet, lifestyle, and more without even altering the genetic code itself.
Simply put, your grandfather’s diet can have an effect on the way your genes are expressed! Epigenetic markers cause shifts in both healthy and unhealthy (e.g. carcinogenic, senescent) cells. These epigenetic changes are catalyzed by environment and lifestyle and happen during the process of DNA replication and/or repair. There are questions as to just how much epigenetic changes contribute to the aging process.
Misfolded proteins. Our life depends on the proper synthesis and function of proteins in the body. In order to function correctly, proteins must be folded correctly. Misshapen proteins are often useless to the cell and can clump together with other misfolded proteins in cells. The presence of misfolded proteins in our cells accelerates with age partly because the “cellular machinery” responsible for protein folding dwindles over time.
In Ayurvedic terms, older age is considered the Vata (air and space) phase of life, characterized by problems such as: dryness, constipation, insomnia, anxiety, and more. One of the most important ways that Ayurveda manages Vata is through abhyangha, a self-massage with oil. That’s because Ayurveda recognizes that managing the dry quality is important to healthy, vibrant aging.
On a cellular level, I’m totally down to use ingredients and products that manage oxidative stress and inflammation, prevent & repair damaged DNA, mitigate negative epigenetic shifts, help proteins fold properly, and manage the “dry” quality of Vata in aging. The compounds that do that sort of work are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and emollients. And guess what? All Bright Body products are loaded with these sorts of properties (more on this in future posts & resources I’ll be posting)!
But here’s the kicker: on a societal, psychological, and sociological level, I’m not comfortable with the term anti-aging, because it is sending a message that we are against the ever-present and unavoidable aging process and therefore people “of a certain age.” Ageist discrimination is a very real thing, and it disproportionately affects women in the workplace (yes, men still experience it but not at the same rates). Furthermore, this type of discrimination affects women of color more than their white counterparts.
Outside of the workplace, think about the messages we receive from the media. How many times have you read about clothes women “shouldn’t” wear after 40, haircuts “inappropriate” for older women, and women who were considered “too old” to be considered attractive. Older men are much more likely to be considered attractive with age, with terms like “gray fox” becoming more popular. How many times have you heard women swoon over George Clooney, Dennis Quaid, and Denzel Washington? And by comparison, how many men have you heard drool over Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, or Viola Davis?
This all comes from the fact that women are constantly receiving messages that aging is bad. We are told that we become “irrelevant” and “unattractive” with age. Grey hair must be dyed if you want to be respected (or promoted) in a corporate environment. Women who appear younger than their age are praised while women who look their age are ignored. When was the last time that you saw an anti-aging product commercial with a man as the main subject? You probably haven’t. And that is on purpose. Marketers know that women are much more sensitive to the signs of visible aging than men because of the social implications of their age.
I realize that this is ironic coming from me as a 28-year-old woman who looks like I’m 18. My perspective comes from the fact that I have lived with serious, life-limiting chronic illnesses that have made me fully appreciate my life and my body. I learned to never take my body for granted, because I never really know how I will feel when I wake up in the morning. Every “above baseline” day for me is a f*cking gift that I cherish. Even the bad days are better than the alternative - I lost my stepsister who was only 3 months older than me to cancer when she was only 22 years old. Things like that put your life in perspective.
Every. Single. F*cking. Day. Is a gift. No matter how sh*tty your day is, you are alive. The alternative to aging is quite simple: an early death. I don’t know about you but that is not on my priority list. I am 200% about embracing your body in EVERY stage of life. The frustrating part is that many women (especially older women of color in corporate environments) don’t have the luxury to say “f*ck it” to societal expectations about aging women by embracing their grey and being open about their age and experience.
My problem isn’t the properties of anti-aging products(who doesn’t want to minimize oxidative stress, inflammation, and boost moisture?) it’s fact that the term “anti-aging” tells us to be against aging.That aging is bad, that you will become unattractive, irrelevant, and unappreciated.That you NEED to look young as you age in order to be considered remotely important. F*CK THAT. The only thing you NEED is to love yourself through all stages of life.
So yes, my products have anti-aging properties, but I will never name a product or line or products “anti-aging.” I’m pro-aging, pro-health, and anti-anti-aging. Let’s start a revolution of powerful women who are not afraid to both nourish their skin AND embrace their bodies during all seasons of life.
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