How old we look and to how old we are may not match up to the same number. In fact, our skin may start heading downhill long before we enter a psychological mid-life crisis. The concept of a skin tipping point was introduced at a recent presentation by SK-II, the luxury Japanese skincare brand with a thing for yeast. SK-II has come up with a new way of measuring skin power, or its natural ability to withstand stress and maintain its original texture, radiance, and firmness. Move over IQ, and make way for the anti-aging rating system du jour- the SPQ ("Skin Power Quotient").

As a means of measuring this new factor, SK-II developed a skin compression imaging device (or "skin phone") imbued with the power of calculating the skin's elasticity and resilience with a single cheek pinch. The better skin is able to withstand pressure, the higher its SPQ is. While 20-something skin typically has an SPQ of 3, indicating no lines in the compressed skin area, 40-something skin has often crossed into the SPQ 2 set, meaning that less than 50% of the compressed area shows shallow lines. Once over 50% of the area exhibits deep lines and other signs of aging, the skin has officially achieved SPQ 1 status- not exactly an award you want to mount on a plaque.

It is the jump from SPQ 3 to 2 that has been labeled the tipping point of skin aging. Introduced by Professor Osamu Kuwazuru at Fukui University and dermatologist Dr. Shuhei Imayama, the skin tipping point appears to occur most often at a certain stage in a person's 30's. In a study of 100 women ages 25 to 55, skin power gradually declined throughout the subjects' 20's and 30's. The women experienced a sudden onset of skin aging in their mid-thirties (35.09 to be exact), precipitated by accumulative changes that caused the skin layers to collapse. At this point, there were textural alterations, such as wrinkles and sagging, which were much more obvious than a gradual erosion of collagen and elastin over time.

The skin tipping point theory holds that a definitive moment marks when facial skin starts to experience rapid textural and pigment changes, volume loss, and other signs of aging. Once the skin has been exposed to a certain amount of environmental damage, which leads to excessive oxidative stress, cells simply stop proliferating. Damage from the sun and smoking are not only concerns for cancer, but also triggers for free radicals that wreak cellular havoc. While alcohol and coffee can dehydrate skin, sapping its vitality, weight gain is a culprit for sagging skin. How you live and care for your body affect how much oxidation inflicted by UV rays, pollutants, and intrinsic stress your skin must endure. At some point, your inherited genes weigh in, tipping the skin's scale over the brink of noticeable aging.

Could there really be a point when your skin cells enter into a tug-of-war between genetics and lifestyle? Out of the 28,000 genes on the human genome, SK-II identified 27 that are known "biomarkers" linked to skin oxidation. These biological on-off switches are behind our cells' self-defense system against stress, which works less and less efficiently over time. No matter how much SPF you've dutifully slathered, genetic aging is inevitable. The best way to slow the aging process is a steady diet (for both the body and skin) of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. SK-II's study went on to prove that its signature olive-extracted Oli-Vityl ingredient had the greatest effect on the skin's security system, by boosting activity in the genes that regulate the body's antioxidant supply. How convenient.

While SK-II's smartphone device is gimmicky and its discovery of a single antioxidant to rescue skin from aging is self-serving, the concept of a skin tipping point may have some merit. In a recent survey reported in the Daily Mail, it was revealed that four out of ten British women feel their most beautiful at the age of 32. These results would support the tipping point theory, save for the fifth of women who picked 40 as their most attractive age. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

If skin quality really does drop precipitously around age 35, why do so many celebrities (Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and Demi Moore spring to mind) seem to reach their peak in their forties and beyond? Aside from having work done, were these women just genetically blessed to bloom later in life, or did they prevail over aging by maintaining healthy, balanced lifestyles? Such cases skew the tipping point to a different age bracket.

Probably the trickiest part about assigning a number to the onset of skin aging is its subjectivity. In 2008, Estee Lauder surveyed 600 women to try to quantify their skin's "true" age. The study honed in on nine key factors that affect the skin's perceived age. While 65% of perception showed to be visible (i.e. wrinkles and age spots), 35% was due to barely discernible factors (i.e. firmness and texture). As much as SK-II's skin compression imaging device tries to make the aging process follow a universal trajectory, the fact is that every person's skin is unique. Deciding when your skin has undergone fundamental changes that need to be addressed with anti-aging remedies is your own personal tipping point.

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