Autophagy: The Secret to Successful Skin


For better or worse, first impressions do make a difference. Whether it’s storefronts or book covers, you definitely get a feeling about what’s inside by what you first see outside

That goes for your skin as well. But skin doesn’t just serve the function of being a design element for your body; your skin is actually a proxy for your overall health. That’s because glowing, youthful, and vibrant skin can indicate that there’s a whole lot of good going on inside you at the cellular level. 

The opposite is true as well. Dull, wrinkled skin doesn’t just mean you have a crumpled piece of biological wrapping paper. It’s also an indication that there are other things going on that are causing your skin to look less youthful.

Improving your skin isn’t just about boosting your beauty and improving your health. It also contributes to some of the intangible things that absolutely influence how you feel day to day. 

Self-confidence. Strength. Energy. Youthfulness.

That’s why I care so much about beauty and skin—not only because of what happens at the mirror, but also what happens below the surface. The more I delve into what causes overall aging, the more I understand that unlocking our youth—and slowing down aging—comes down to the process of autophagy and what we can do to activate it.

The Function of Skin

As you know, the main purpose of skin is to act as one of your initial defense systems. It’s the first barrier to any threats to your body; those threats can be physical, chemical, or bacterial. (Interestingly it’s also a barrier to keep good stuff inside your body from escaping—that is, it works to prevent dehydration by trying to prevent you from losing water.) Skin also serves another function: it helps regulate your body’s temperature via its sweat glands. You notice this anytime you’re overheated; the sweating is your body’s attempt to take you back to normal.

What Causes Skin to Age

Skin is made up of several layers:

  • Epidermis: The outer layer
  • Dermis: The layer underneath the epidermis and contains connective tissues, as well as sweat glands and hair follicles
  • Hypodermis: The deepest layer, which has connective tissue and fat (also called subcutaneous tissue)

While incredibly durable (after all, it has had to put up with scratches, bug bites, and all sorts of mini attacks in its life), skin also goes through the aging process, as it experiences wear and tear over a long period of time.[*][*][*]

Some of the things that happen to your skin when you age:

  • The epidermis thins. This happens in women especially, and in such places as the face, neck, upper chest, hands, and forearms.[*][*][*]
  • Collagen—a protein in your body (actually, it’s the most abundant protein in your body)—decreases with age. One of the reasons is that the cells that produce collagen (fibroblasts) age, making them less able to produce collagen.[*][*]
  • A decrease in estrogen after menopause can age skin more quickly. That’s because of the effect that estrogen has on a variety of components of skin, including fibroblasts.[*][*
  • There’s a decrease in the cells that produce keratin, another protein that is a structural component of skin. This decrease also happens because of a weakening of the junction between the dermis and epidermis.[*][*]

How Autophagy Helps Improve Damaged Skin

Autophagy is the body’s housekeeping function: it gets rid of toxins and repairs cellular damage. It’s the process that slows aging and keeps your cells—and thus your body—young. Autophagy is important for so many aspects of health, including your weight, overall aging processes, and your skin.[*]

Over time and because of other factors, autophagy can slow down—meaning your body is less able to clean and repair cells, making you more susceptible to the damage caused by aging.

As your skin induces damage (via stress, diet, toxins, excessive sun exposure),[*] autophagy goes in motion to help repair the skin that has been damaged. But if autophagy cannot be activated, then it’s less likely to be able to repair the cells associated with skin and with aging. That results in excessive inflammation and damage through such mechanism as a decrease in fibroblasts, collagen production, and more.[*][*] 

As you age, the damaged proteins accumulate, your body can’t clear the trash, and skin health deteriorates because of that. But if you can activate autophagy, that helps with the cellular cleanup process, and thus reduces the amount of damage your skin sustains.[*]

Things that activate autophagy:

  • High-quality sleep: It’s important to not just focus on the hours, but also focus on getting into the deepest sleep cycles as well. This is the time that your body is repairing itself.
  • Eating healthy fats: Autophagy loves good fats (carbohydrates, not so much).
  • Intermittent fasting: Cycling through periods of eating and fasting can also do it. I eat within an eight-hour window and fast for 16 hours (half of that is during sleep).
  • Exercise: Interval training and resistance training are especially good for activating autophagy.

A Note About My Autophagy-Activating Products

Certain ingredients have also been shown to activate autophagy, specifically citrus bergamot (a fruit found in Italy and a component of Earl Grey tea). Several of my skincare products include nutrients that are good for the skin for a variety of reasons, including their ability to activate autophagy and help the body repair itself. They work by helping the body remove the garbage that is aging your cells. 

After testing hundreds of topical ingredients to determine which ones most effectively activated autophagy in skin, a Ph.D. dermatologist that I work with, Dr. Richard Wang, leading researcher at the Center for Autophagy Research at the University of Texas Southwestern, identified four that most effectively activated autophagy in the skin: ceramides, polyphenols (such as the antioxidants in citrus bergamot), trehalose (a natural plant sugar), and caffeine. 

These autophagy-boosting ingredients power the exclusive Cellular Rejuvenation Complex, which appears in every OMI product and is clinically proven to rejuvenate aged, devitalized skin. Experiments have shown that activating autophagy pathways can enable 60-year-old skin to behave as young as 28. The complex works by helping to rebuild the skin barrier, enhance moisture, and decrease inflammation. 

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