Growing older is something to be celebrated. Each year gives you a chance to try some cool new stuff (hey, F45) work out how best to protect your mental health and to finally crack how to stop snoozing.
But, sure. The physical effects of ageing are something that plays on a lot of our minds – and at a younger time than you might think (a recent study from Superdrug found that the average female starts to worry about looking older at 29.)
While genetics are obvs going to come into play, there are certain habits that accelerate the loss of collagen that amplifies the appearance of ageing. Here's six of them - plus, what to do instead.
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1/ Not getting enough sleep
Sleep not only maintains your sanity—it helps you look younger for longer, too.
Your skin cells function on a circadian rhythm, similar to the sleep-wake cycle that makes you tired at night and wakes you up in the morning, explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Its nighttime function? Repairing the damage it endured during the day, he says, like being exposed to sunlight, pollution or a breakout.
So when you skimp on sleep, that entire process is thrown off, and your skin can’t prep for the next day, says Dr. Zeichner. This stresses your skin out, throwing off the repair process, which ultimately leads to less healthy cells and premature ageing.
Try to clock in at least eight hours a night, he suggests. Before you plop into your bed, make sure you apply moisturiser to your entire body, since your skin can get dehydrated as you sleep.
Dry, inflamed skin doesn’t function properly, limiting its ability to heal itself overnight, says Dr. Zeichner. He says to try Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion.
2/ Not eating enough fruit and veg
Nearly 65% of Brits don’t eat the recommended five fruit and veg a day, according to a BBC Good Food nation survey.
However, several studies suggest that eating a balanced diet loaded with disease-fighting fruits and vegetables can help prevent damage that causes your skin to age too early, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
That’s because fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, like antioxidants and vitamins, which help fight free radical damage and keep your skin cells healthy.
Research has shown that Vitamin E (which you can also apply topically) specifically might help protect you your skin from UV damage, even out any pigmentation issues, and reduce inflammation, a review published in ISRN Dermatology notes.
Vitamin C, A and B3 are also great for your skin, according to research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, since they may help prevent collagen breakdown, produce and maintain elasticity and reduce hyperpigmentation, respectively.
Some fruits and vegetables to consider for your grocery list that fit the bill? Dark leafy greens like spinach, sweet potatoes, oranges, red peppers, strawberries, asparagus and mushrooms.'
3/ Eating too much sugar
Sugary, starchy foods—like white bread, ice cream and crisps—can cause all sorts of problems with your face. That’s because they spike your blood sugar levels, which can ignite inflammation and spur cystic acne breakouts, says Dr. Zeichner.
Dealing with spot after spot can lead to permanent scarring, either in the form of a depressed or raised bump in the skin caused by damaged collagen, he explains. Even if they go away, you might deal with brown and red marks, similar to sun spots that tend to make you look older. They will fade over time, but not keeping your acne in check will continue to spur that cycle.
Plus, eating too much of the sweet stuff can lead to glycation, a process in which sugar molecules attach to your collagen, or the main building blocks of your skin, says Dr. Zeichner. This makes your collagen hard and less flexible, promoting premature wrinkling.
To make matters worse, dark sugary drinks like soda and sweetened coffee can also damage and stain your teeth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), which is often a sign of one too many years under your belt.
Smoking tobacco can maker you look older, faster. The proof? After researchers compared the facial features of 79 sets of twins—in which one twin currently smoked or smoked five years longer than his or her double—they found that those who puffed on cigs experienced greater eye bags, more lip wrinkles and jowls, according to a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
And it’s not just your face that bears the damage. Other parts of your body, like your inner arms, may start to wrinkle, too. One potential reason? 'Smoking decreases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your skin by constricting blood vessels and cutting off circulation,' says Dr. Zeichner.
Plus, tobacco is loaded with chemicals that may harm your collagen and elastin, the Mayo Clinic says, both of which are crucial for a youthful looking mug. On top of that, smoking can also do a number on your mouth, since it can cause periodontal disease—which may lead to tooth loss—gum recession, and stain your teeth, according to the ADA.
Need one last reminder to quit? 'Smoking has been found to harm nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body,' says the American Cancer Society, making it a leading cause in cancer deaths.
5/ Drinking too much booze
There’s a reason no one looks great the morning after one too many beers.
Research suggests that alcohol can lower antioxidant levels in your skin. This can cause inflammation and free radical damage to your skin cells, says Dr. Zeichner, promoting wrinkles earlier on. Alcohol also tends to dehydrate your skin, which can make your face look dry and rough, the AAD says.
Still, there’s not a tonne of research out there to support that alcohol alone is directly linked to premature ageing, says Dr. Zeichner. If you really can’t resist a post-dinner libation, stay within the recommended limit of no more than one drink per day for women. You should also take note of the ingredients you’re mixing your booze with.
Say, if your drink is loaded with sweet mixers and juices, it’s probably loaded with skin-damaging sugars, too.
Booze can just make you feel older, too. Drinking too much raises your risk for serious health problems, like heart and liver disease, depression, and several types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
6/ Not applying your SPF
The number one thing you can do to keep your skin looking young and healthy? Slather on the best sunscreen, says Dr Zeichner.
'UV light exposure causes free radicals that damage collagen, elastin and skin cells themselves. This leads to premature ageing of the skin, with wrinkling, dark spots and the development of skin cancers. Even short amounts of sun exposure on a daily basis add up over a lifetime,' he explains.
Case in point: When Australian researchers followed more than 900 people for four years, they found those who were instructed to apply—and properly reapply—sunscreen daily were 24% less likely to show signs of ageing in their skin than people who weren’t given any SPF instructions.
Even using SPF 30 alone for 12 weeks is enough to visibly reverse the signs of UV-related skin damage, like uneven texture and pigmentation, according to a study published in Dermatologic Surgery.
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