Skin Science & Anatomy | Ageing

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Ageing 101: Your complete guide

Picture this: Your skin is your lifelong canvas.

And the ageing process is like an ever-evolving masterpiece.

It’s like an art project where nature and nurture collide.

Skin ageing comes down to two things: intrinsic and extrinsic ageing,

So, whether you’re on a quest for the fountain of youth.

Or you are simply curious about the secrets of a youthful complexion.

Join us as we delve deep into skin science and the effects of ageing.

Skin Aging is an Intricate Process

Skin ageing is complex, as this study (1) demonstrates it is a multifaceted biological process influenced by various intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

These factors contribute to losing your skin’s structural integrity, causing common signs of ageing, including lines, wrinkles, sallow complexion, crow’s feet, sagging skin, and hyperpigmentation.

Whilst some aspects of skin ageing are beyond our control, others can be managed.

Age is Not the Sole Determinant

Understanding that your chronological age doesn’t solely determine skin ageing as this research shows (2), infact several factors play a role in how your skin ages:

Intrinsic Aging: The impact of internal factors

Your natural genetic ageing process occurs over time. It involves the gradual slowing down of cellular and biological processes.

Intrinsic ageing is influenced by hormone shifts, free radicals, and the body’s diminishing ability to repair skin damage.

Fundamental changes include decreased fibroblasts, weakening of your skin’s elastic matrix, collagen depletion, reduced oil production, hormonal shifts, slower cellular turnover, and even diminished blood vessel supply.

Intrinsic ageing is often called “chronological ageing” or “genetic ageing in many esthetician circles.”

Still, either way, it is your natural ageing process that occurs internally and is primarily influenced by genetic factors and the passage of time.

Let’s break down the critical aspects of intrinsic ageing for you to make it easy:

  1. Cellular and Biological Changes: Intrinsic ageing involves gradually slowing down your body’s cellular and biological processes. This includes reduced cell turnover, which leads to a build-up of dead skin cells on your skin’s surface. As a result, your skin may appear dull and less vibrant.
  2. Hormone Shifts: Hormonal changes that occur with age can impact your skin. For instance, a decline in estrogen levels in women during menopause can contribute to skin dryness and reduced collagen production.
  3. Fibroblast Activity: Fibroblasts produce collagen, elastin, and other structural proteins in your skin. With age, fibroblast activity decreases, leading to a decline in collagen and elastin production. This can result in the loss of skin elasticity and the formation of wrinkles.
  4. Collagen Depletion: Collagen, a critical protein that provides structural support to your skin, diminishes as you age. This reduction in collagen can lead to your skin sagging and the development of fine lines and wrinkles.
  5. Reduced Oil Production: The sebaceous glands, which produce natural oils that keep your skin soft and supple, become less active with age. This reduction in oil production can cause your skin to become dirty.
  6. Blood Vessel Supply: Ageing can reduce the number and functionality of blood vessels that supply your skin with nutrients and moisture. This may result in your skin looking paler and less vibrant.
  7. Fat Shrinkage: The fat layer beneath your skin, the subcutaneous layer, changes with age. Fat shrinkage can lead to deep furrows and wrinkles, particularly in your cheeks and around your eyes.
  8. Cellular Repair: Your body’s ability to repair your skin’s damage decreases with age, making it less effective at addressing issues like UV, healing wounds and other environmental damage.

So, as you can see, intrinsic ageing is a natural and inevitable part of the ageing process, and its effects vary based on genetics and lifestyle.

Whilst intrinsic ageing can’t be stopped or reversed, you can manage and mitigate its impact through a healthy lifestyle, correct skin care, and sensible and protective measures to maintain overall skin health.

Extrinsic Aging: The impact of external factors

These, then, are factors you can control. They encompass your lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to environmental elements (UVA rays, pollutants, heat, and radiation), stress, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and more.

Extrinsic ageing is often called “photoaging” or “environmental ageing.

Unlike intrinsic ageing, which is largely genetically determined and progresses naturally over time, extrinsic ageing is influenced by choices and environmental exposures.

This research (3) points toward the following critical factors that contribute to extrinsic ageing:

  1. Sun Exposure: Prolonged and unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a significant contributor to extrinsic ageing. UV rays lead to the formation of free radicals, which can damage collagen and elastin fibres in your skin. This damage results in wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and a loss of skin elasticity.
  2. Smoking: Smoking is a well-known accelerator of skin ageing. It reduces blood flow to your skin, depletes oxygen and nutrients, and releases harmful chemicals that break down collagen and elastin. Smokers often exhibit premature signs of ageing, including deep wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and a lack of skin elasticity.
  3. Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can dehydrate your skin, leading to dryness and a dull complexion. It can also dilate your blood vessels, causing redness and broken capillaries. Over time, alcohol abuse can contribute to developing spider veins and other visible signs of ageing in your skin.
  4. Environmental Pollutants: Environmental pollution, such as smog and particulate matter, can harm your skin. These pollutants can generate free radicals that damage skin cells and accelerate ageing. They may also contribute to conditions like acne and inflammation.
  5. Sleep Deprivation: Lack of sufficient sleep can disrupt your body’s natural repair and regeneration processes, including those involving your skin. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to dark circles under your eyes, a sallow complexion, and increased fine lines.
  6. Poor Nutrition: A diet lacking essential nutrients, particularly antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, can contribute to premature ageing. These nutrients protect your skin from oxidative stress and support its overall health.
  7. Central Heating and Air Conditioning: Prolonged exposure to indoor heating and air conditioning systems can lead to dry indoor air, which can, in turn, dehydrate your skin. This dryness can exacerbate the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Understanding the impact of these extrinsic factors on how your skin ages highlights the importance of protective measures.

Implementing strategies like daily sun protection, a balanced diet, adequate hydration, and a healthy lifestyle can help you mitigate the effects of extrinsic ageing and promote your skin health and longevity.

To conclude. The naked truth

Hopefully, understanding the intricate interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic ageing will empower you to make more informed choices in pursuing radiant, youthful skin.

But if you are still confused, here’s a little recap:

Genetics and time, an internal transformation governs intrinsic ageing. This process entails slowing cellular and biological activities, hormonal fluctuations, diminished fibroblast function, collagen loss, reduced oil production, blood vessel changes, fat shrinkage, and compromised cellular repair.

Intrinsic ageing, though inescapable, will differ among all of us, and it represents a core element of ageing,

External forces and lifestyle choices drive Extrinsic Aging. Factors such as sun exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental pollutants, sleep deprivation, suboptimal nutrition, and indoor climate conditions can also exacerbate the effects of intrinsic ageing on your skin.

The good news is that many extrinsic factors are preventable if you implement a healthy lifestyle and use topicals such as antioxidants to fight free radicals.

So, in conclusion, you could say that skin ageing is a multifaceted process that is influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors collectively, which give rise to various visible signs of ageing, such as lines, wrinkles, sallow complexion, crow’s feet, sagging skin, dark spots and uneven texture.

And as you navigate the complexities of skin ageing, it becomes evident that age is but one element in the broader equation.

There is a combination of factors that shape your skin’s journey through time, and by recognising and addressing these influences and embracing protective strategies like sun protection, a good skincare routine, a balanced diet, optimal hydration, and stress management, you can help to manage some of those external factors that contribute to ageing.

You can work toward preserving and enhancing the health and beauty of your skin throughout your life for now and many years to come.


1. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors in skin ageing: a review.

2. Fighting against Skin Aging.

3. Defining skin ageing and its risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

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