Facial skin fluorescence as a marker of the skin's response to chronic environmental insults and its dependence on age

Br J Dermatol. 2006 Jan;154(1):125-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06949.x.


Background: Throughout life facial skin is exposed to a variety of adverse environmental conditions and is constantly required to repair itself. The rate of epidermal cell proliferation is indicative of the skin's repair rate and can be monitored noninvasively in vivo using skin intrinsic fluorescence markers.

Objectives: The goal of the present study was to assess the effects of ageing, geographical region, ethnic origin and season on the ability of facial skin to repair itself in the presence of chronic environmental insults using in vivo fluorescence spectroscopy.

Methods: Skin fluorescence emission was measured on the cheeks of 522 individuals in winter and repeated in summer in five different geographical locations in the Asia-Pacific region. Fluorescence emission was also measured from 80 caucasians of fair complexion in the United States (New Jersey area) on the face and on a relatively protected area (upper inner arm). The age range of the participants was 14-75 years.

Results: We found that epidermal proliferation rates decrease monotonically with age, while the fluorescence of collagen and elastin cross-links increases with age indicating accumulation of advanced glycation end-products. These trends were independent of geographical region, ethnic origin and season of measurement. Epidermal proliferation rates of facial skin were higher than those of unexposed sites; they may be 10 times higher in younger (second decade) than in older (seventh decade) individuals, and they decrease with age at rates 10 times faster compared with those of unexposed sites.

Conclusions: This is the first time that epidermal proliferation and its dependence on ageing have been measured noninvasively on the human face. The higher tryptophan fluorescence values on the face vs. the protected site are indicative of accelerated rates of epidermal proliferation in the presence of chronic environmental insults. The repair potential of facial skin, i.e. its ability to maintain high proliferation rates, is maximal in younger populations and gradually decreases with age.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Environment
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / physiology
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Face / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Regeneration
  • Seasons
  • Skin / cytology*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Aging / physiology*
  • Skin Aging / radiation effects
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Sunlight
  • Tryptophan / metabolism


  • Tryptophan