Men become more distinguished as they age — and women, well, we just keep getting older.

As if this isn't bad enough, a new study shows that the female skin actually starts to age faster than the hides of men.

Using a new laser imaging technique, researchers looked at the deeper layers of the skin and measure the amount of damage from sun exposure and aging.

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The imaging of collagen and elastin, whose degeneration causes wrinkles and loss of smoothness, revealed that women lose collagen faster than men.

Collagens are a group of proteins in the dermis, the connective tissue layer of the skin, and are responsible for the strength of skin.

The human body makes a lot of collagen in youth. But collagen production declines with aging.

Currently, dermatologists who want to examine a patient's collagen network in the dermis have to remove a sample of tissue and look at it under a microscope.

Researchers would like to measure changes in collagen content over time, said study co-author Johannes Koehler, a dermatologist at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany.

"Moreover, current techniques provide a qualitative assessment of the state of the matrix, but no precise measure of the collagen or of the elastin content, which is what the new technique does," Koehler said.

With the new technique, the doctors shine ultra-brief pulses of infrared laser light that go to the dermis without damaging the first skin layer.

The pulses of light then stimulate the skin tissues in the dermis to emit light back.

Collagen emits blue light and elastin green, allowing the researchers to measure the relative amounts of each.

On average, the relative amounts of collagen and elastin and the physical appearance of the dermis were related to the patients' age.

This appeared to be correlated to gender, with women's skin aging faster than men, the researchers describe in the Oct.1 issue of the journal Optics Letters.

The technique, currently at an experimental stage, could someday help analyze skin diseases that affect collagen and even test anti-aging cosmetic products.

"Some cosmetics are thought to change the content of collagen in the skin," Koehler said, "but until now, to measure that you had to cut out a piece of skin."

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