It’s never too late to start looking after your skin. Make just a few simple lifestyle changes in your 20s or 30s, and you’ll be enjoying smoother, more youthful skin in your 50s, 60s, and beyond. If you have a family history of premature aging, or if you’re concerned about facial wrinkles that are beginning to appear, now is the time to take action. Preventing or slowing the onset of wrinkles is much easier than getting rid of them once they’ve already appeared.
Stay Out of the Sun
Exposure to sunlight (or UV light from tanning beds) is, by far, the biggest cause of wrinkles and premature aging. Here, the advice is simple—wear sunscreen. Every day. Whatever the weather. Try to use a product with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15, but ideally 30 or greater, especially if you have fair skin. And remember—SPF only measures the level of protection from UVB radiation. To look after your skin properly, make sure you wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that also protects from UVA light. There is no commonly agreed measure of UVA protection, so checking the ingredients list is the only way to ensure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreens with any of the following ingredients:
· Menthyl anthranilate
· Octyl methoxycinnamate
· Octyl salicylate
Many people choose to apply a moisturizer that contains sunscreen—a simple way to incorporate sun protection into your daily skin care routine. But if you’re planning a day on the beach, consider wearing protective clothing, too. A wide-brimmed hat can shade the face, and sunglasses shield the delicate skin around the eyes from the effects of the sun, not to mention the eyes themselves. Just make sure the lenses offer full UV protection.
Please note that sunlight is also a major source of vitamin D, essential for a robust immune system and healthy bones. You can also intake vitamin D2 by eating portabella or shiitake mushrooms, while fatty fish, fish liver oils, and beef liver are all good sources of vitamin D3. Unfortunately, there is evidence that vitamin supplements are not an effective alternative. So if you’re not getting enough vitamin D in your diet, you should balance the negative effects of the sun against the health benefits of naturally produced vitamin D through limited, sunscreen-free sunlight exposure. During the summer months, this might be as little as 5 to 10 minutes each day for those with very fair skin.
Kick the Habit
If you smoke, then giving up is absolutely the first step to improving the condition of your skin and preventing wrinkles, as well as a long list of other, serious health problems. Each puff of cigarette smoke is seething with free radicals that do permanent harm to the skin’s connective tissues, directly contributing to wrinkling. Smoking reduces levels of natural antioxidants within the body, such as vitamin C, which protect against free-radical damage. And by significantly reducing blood flow, smoking restricts the body’s ability to deliver these antioxidants, along with other essential nutrients and oxygen, to the areas of the skin where they are needed. The effect is long-lasting damage to the skin’s collagen and elastin.
The benefits of giving up smoking can be swift and substantial. A 2010 study measured the biological age of women’s skin as they gave up smoking, charting smoothness, brightness, coloring, and elasticity among other factors. The study found that on average, just 9 months after quitting, the participants’ skin was 13 years younger.
Watch What You Eat
While there’s consensus that what you eat can have a substantial effect on the long-term condition of your skin, it’s often hard to get clear advice from the scientific community on the best anti-aging diet. But here are two steps you can easily take to protect your skin against the signs of aging:
Glycation—when proteins are ‘browned’ by exposure to simple sugars like glucose—is a major cause of wrinkles, doing huge damage to the collagen that’s responsible for the skin’s firmness. Glucose is the body’s chief fuel, and our digestive systems break down all carbohydrates into glucose eventually, so it is impossible to avoid glycation entirely. But choosing foods that don’t break down so easily can lessen spikes in the level of glucose in your bloodstream, which can make a big difference in your skin’s condition over the long term. Try switching from white bread and pasta to whole grain, eating breakfast cereals from oats, bran, or barley, adding more fruits and vegetables when cooking, and reducing potato consumption.
Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electron bonds that damage structural proteins such as collagen, accelerating the aging of the skin. There is no way to totally avoid exposure to free radicals—sunlight, environmental pollutants, and the body’s own metabolism all raise their levels within the body. But, thankfully, natural substances known as antioxidants can shield us from the worst effects of free-radical damage.
Anti-aging skin care products now often contain additives with antioxidant effects, such as vitamins A, C, and E. Unfortunately, many of these are not absorbed well through the skin. Diet may offer a more effective solution—rich sources of antioxidants such as dark berries, red cabbage, citrus fruit, soy, green tea, and even red wine (in moderation) can all boost the body’s defenses against free-radical damage, helping to prevent wrinkles.
Get Your Beauty Sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be doing serious damage to the long-term condition of your skin. Sleep deprivation raises levels of cortisol—a steroid hormone—within the body. Cortisol directly inhibits the production of collagen, reducing the skin’s ability to repair itself, as well as boosting sugar levels in the blood, accelerating glycation and damaging the skin’s connective structure. Make sure you always get a good night’s sleep to avoid the wrinkles that raised levels of cortisol can cause.
But it’s not all about those eight hours a night—cortisol levels are also raised by emotional stress. So if you work in a high-powered job, or have to deal with an angsty teenager when you get home, make time in your schedule for meditation, yoga, massage, or whatever stress-reducing technique suits you. You’ll save on serums and creams in the long run.
All of these simple steps—protecting yourself from the sun, avoiding tobacco, eating right, sleeping well, and minimizing stress—have added benefits that will leave you feeling as healthy and energized as you look for years to come. But the signs of aging cannot be postponed forever, and when it gets to the point where your appearance is affecting your sense of well-being, never fear—there are steps you can take to effectively treat wrinkles once they’ve appeared.