There’s No Need to Look Your Age When You Can Rejuvenate and Protect Your Skin Naturally
How old is your skin?
Chronology isn’t the best measure of skin’s health and good looks, because the rate at which skin ages is significantly influenced by genetics, lifestyle habits and environment. Nutrition and exercise, exposure to sun or smog, and your skin care regimen all influence skin’s appearance. Thus, even if you feel younger than ever, it’s possible that your complexion could be getting old before its time.
But there’s good news for those who want to look as good on the outside as they feel on the inside, because, “You don’t have to look your age,” says Doris J. Day. Day is a medical doctor, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University Medical Center, and author of Forget the Facelift. “Your skin’s health and resiliency can be decades younger than the number of candles on your last birthday cake,” she affirms.
What makes skin age?
While DNA’s role in how skin matures might be around 30 percent, the remaining factors are environmental. “It really is rooted in diet, how we handle stress, how we rest or sleep, and our exposures to environmental toxins,” observes Dr. Andrew Weil, director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and author of Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being.
Poor sleeping and eating habits, along with exposure to sunlight, chemicals or smoke, can lead to the formation of free radicals, those unstable molecules that capture oxygen and release cell-damaging electrons, explains physician Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She notes that free radicals break down the skin’s vital support structures— namely, collagen and elastin—which leads to premature aging.
Environmental and lifestyle factors also can trigger chronic, low-grade inflammation, increasing the number of free radicals and infiltrating your complexion with harmful chemicals. “Micro-inflammation can’t be seen or felt, but goes on all the time,” says Dr. Nicholas Perricone, an adjunct professor of medicine at Michigan State University and author of The Wrinkle Cure.
Fortunately, it is possible to forestall the aging process and prevent further skin damage. With the right approach, you may also be able to diminish problems that have already occurred. “No matter what your genes have to offer you in terms of your complexion, if you take care of it, you can have beautiful skin that will stay young,” Day declares.
How to make youthful looks last
It’s not possible to stop the clock or totally erase hours spent soaking in the sun, but you can help prevent future damage and keep skin looking fresh and young—while improving overall health. Try applying these five top strategies for keeping age at bay.
EAT “YOUNG”. What you eat affects how your skin ages. “People who eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich fish, tend to have fewer wrinkles” says Perricone. That’s why it’s smart to consume an anti-inflammatory diet that includes plenty of whole grains; fruits and vegetables of different hues; omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish, walnuts, extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed; and antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric, ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Wash it all down with plenty of water—a minimum of eight cups per day—to keep skin hydrated and free of impurities.
At the same time, avoid partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which are all pro-inflammatory. Foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin—such as sugary or starchy processed foods—can trigger inflammation as well.
CHILL. Stress leaves its mark on your skin by promoting the inflammatory process. “Psychic stress can accelerate aging of the skin,” observes Perricone, “because it releases hormones such as cortisol, which break down tissue and inhibit collagen synthesis.” To protect your emotional well-being—and skin—from decline, carve out ample time for relaxation through yoga, deep breathing, meditation or massage.
HIT THE HAY. It’s called getting your beauty rest for good reason: “While you’re sleeping, your skin is in repair-and-restore mode,” Day notes. If you don’t accumulate enough quality shuteye, you deprive skin of its prime time to rehydrate, heal damaged tissue and nourish healthy cells.
GET SUN SMART. Although changes in diet, exercise and sleep protect skin from the inside, it’s essential to guard it from external elements as well. Wearing sunscreen year-round is key, and diligence is vital.
“With too much sun exposure, blood vessels in the skin grow, and the stimulation from ultraviolet light causes enzymes in collagen and elastin to break down,” says Dr. Lisa Donofrio, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. “Sunburns set up an inflammatory response that breaks down proteins in the skin, accelerating the loss of collagen and elastin, which can cause the skin to wrinkle.”
KNOW THE ALPHABET. To guard against environmental aging, choose beauty products that contain free-radical-fighting antioxidants like green tea, grape seed extract, alpha-lipoic acid and vitamins A, C and E. Antioxidants work synergistically to combat the aging process, so don’t be afraid of products that mix and match the different types, starting with your morning moisturizer.
Before bed, apply a moisturizer that combines antioxidants with hyaluronic acid or extracts of shea butter, which are especially good at retaining water in the skin. “Because your skin loses more moisture at night as it undergoes a natural process of renewal, you’ll want to use a thicker moisturizer,” suggests Day.
Tips to rejuvenate skin now
As we mature, the skin’s dead surface cells don’t always slough off efficiently, which can make the complexion appear dull or rough. Here are five ways to keep cell turnover high and skin glowing.
BLAST THE PAST. Microdermabrasion, a widely available predecessor to today’s cutting-edge resurfacing technologies, uses fine crystals made of aluminum oxide or salt to loosen the outer layers of dead skin cells, which are then vacuumed up by a suction device. “It’s not really the abrasion of the crystals that produces results, it’s the suction,” Donofrio says. “The better the suction, the better results you’ll get in terms of improving the moisture barrier and collagen synthesis in the skin.” That’s why it’s best to go with an in-office procedure.
PEEL BACK THE YEARS. Peels made with salicylic acid (from willow bark) or glycolic acid (from sugar cane) improve the complexion by removing dead surface cells and cleaning out pores. In a doctor’s office, a combination of up to 30 percent salicylic acid and 70 percent glycolic acid can be used to penetrate the upper layers of skin and exfoliate dead cells. Because of the potential for scarring, these procedures are best performed by a dermatologist. “You need to start at a low concentration and move up slowly,” cautions Day.
REV UP ON RETINOIDS. Reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles and diminish pigment changes with nightly applications of a topical retinoid cream derived from vitamin A. “It can also reverse sun damage and plump up the epidermis,” Donofrio notes. “These products thicken the epidermis and thin out the stratum corneum, the dead skin layer, to make skin look more youthful.”
SLOUGH IT OFF. If you can’t seek professional help just now, refine the skin’s surface and boost its radiance by exfoliating two or three times a week with a gentle at-home scrub.
WORK LATE. An alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) night cream will help smooth skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Be sure not to use it with a retinoid product, to avoid serious irritation. Counsels Sekula Gibbs, “Applying AHAs at night can help reverse the skin damage that occurred during the day.”