The elderly may have more than just years of wisdom to share with us. Their elderly bottoms may help crack the code of aging skin.
In a small study on octogenarians just published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers found that dermal fillers do more than plump up the skin, they can make it act younger.
Researchers looking for ways to help thin, aging skin to heal after incisions or injury injected the dermal filler Restylane into the buttocks area of nearly two dozen 80-year-olds. They then conducted biopsies after one, two, four and 12 weeks.
“When we injected the filler and increased the mechanical pressure around the cells, the cells responded robustly,” says Gary Fisher, Ph. D, the Harry Helfman Professor of Molecular Dermatology at the University of Michigan and senior author of the study. “They made new collagen and several features of the skin improved in the direction of looking younger and behaving younger.”
Medicis, the manufacturer of Restylane, a popular product used to soften wrinkles on the face, donated the filler but was otherwise not involved in the study.
Skin cells are surrounded by connective tissue which is largely made of collagen, Fisher explains. When this connective tissue or extracellulal matrix (ECM) ages, it fragments, causing the skin cells to deteriorate further. When the filler was injected into the old folks’ buns, it bolstered the ECM and caused the skin cells to produce more collagen. The layer of skin also grew thicker and produced more blood vessels.
“Essentially, we’re fooling them,” says Fisher. “Not by manipulating something inside the cell but by manipulating the external environment. The observed failure of the cells to function well may not reflect inherent changes in cells. It may reflect their response to the fact that their environment is becoming fragmented and falling apart.”
Fisher likens aging skin cells and the material surrounding them to a person living in a collapsing house.
“It’s like if you were in your home and your daily activities were to cook and clean and move around your house but then your house fell apart around you,” he says. “Basically, you’d just sit in one spot. You couldn’t cook, clean, or take a shower. Your behavior would look like you’d stopped to function but the fact is there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Skin cells surrounded by an aging matrix “give up,” he says, much like the person in the collapsing house. Injecting filler into the area, however, doesn’t just plump up the skin, but fools the cells into acting young again.
“They sense the increase in the mechanical pressure around them as a need to produce more collagen,” he says.
If making the backside look younger — and not the face — seems like a waste, Fisher says the rear end is typically less damaged by the sun or other environmental factors.
“We did that because we wanted to separate the effects of environmental damage from the effects of chronological aging,” says Fisher. “Most people cover their rear ends most of the time.”
“We now know the cells — even though they appear to be sleepy — are just waiting for the right signal to stimulate them,” says Fisher, adding that with further research, some kind of medicinal lotion might be developed for therapeutic purposes.
“It could go into the skin like a drug and activate some molecular biochemical pathway that would turn on the cells,” he says.
Interestingly, this is not the first study to use dermal fillers on the buttocks area in order to test their effect on aging skin.
“Buttocks skin is turning out to be a really fertile area for research,” says Dr. Hema Sundaram, founder and director of Sundaram Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery and author of “Face Value: The Truth about Beauty– and a Guilt-Free Guide to Finding It.” “It’s been used for a few years now. It’s not exposed to the sun and patients are more willing to have biopsies from there because it doesn’t show.”