Academic journal article The Science Teacher

How Old Is Your Skin?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

How Old Is Your Skin?

Article excerpt

Wrinkles, dryness, and a translucent and fragile appearance are hallmarks of old skin, caused by the natural aging of skin cells. But while most of us can recognize the signs of lost youth when we peer into the mirror each morning, scientists do not have a standardized way to measure the extent of age damage in skin.

Now Taiwanese researchers have used a specialized microscope to peer harmlessly beneath the skin surface to measure natural age-related changes in the sizes of skin cells. The results, published in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, can be used to study the general phenomenon of skin aging and may help provide an index for measuring the effectiveness of "anti-aging" skin products.

The study evaluated 52 subjects from 19 to 79 years old. The researchers focused a brief burst of infrared laser light into the skin of the subjects' inner forearms. The beam penetrated to a depth of about 300 millionths of a meter, or approximately where the epidermis (the upper layer of skin) meets the dermis (the lower layer).

The researchers used a technique known as harmonic generation microscopy, which sends a concentrated beam of photons into a material. The photons naturally oscillate at a particular frequency, and as they interact with the material, they generate "harmonics"--vibrations that are multiples of the original frequency, which are characteristic of the material structure and properties. For example, the second harmonic is twice the original frequency and the third harmonic is three times the original frequency. In an imaging system, harmonics can reveal different structures at very high resolution. In their study, the team scanned for reflected second and third harmonic photons and from those measurements produced a high-resolution 3-D map of the tissue that revealed structures within the skin cells. …

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