Aging is an inevitable fact of life. However, this does not mean that we are not going to try our best to slow down this process. In fact, many cosmeceuticals are devoting large sums of money to uncovering innovative technology and ingredients to slow down this ageing process.
To age in the best (slowest) possible way, we need to understand what exactly happens when our skin ages.
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One thing that we cannot change is the natural aging process. This type of aging is largely determined by our genes. With time, we all get visible lines on our face. It is natural for our face to lose some of its youthful fullness. We notice our skin becoming thinner and drier. The medical term for this type of aging is “intrinsic aging.”
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This type of aging is determined by our environment and lifestyle choices. We can influence this type of skin aging. By taking some preventive actions, we can slow the effects that this type of aging has on our skin.
Since our skin age = intrinsic ageing + extrinsic ageing, by taking steps to reduce extrinsic ageing, we will be slowing down our ageing in the optimal way, regardless of our genetic makeup. Even if one is blessed with good genes, they can throw it all away by subjecting their skin to accelerated extrinsic ageing. This means that whatever your genetic lottery has thrown in your way, your actions can level the playing field when it comes to skin aging.
Here are some ways you can tip the scales in your favour when it comes to skin ageing.
- Daily sun protection. Whether spending a day at the beach or running errands, sun protection is essential. You can protect your skin by seeking shade, covering up with clothing, and using sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, SPF 30 (or higher), and water-resistant. You should apply sunscreen every day to all skin that is not covered by clothing. My preference is to use a physical sunscreen containing physical blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, over a chemical sunscreen. I feel that the former is safer for our bodies as chemicals found in sunscreen may enter our bloodstream.
- Stop smoking. Smoking greatly speeds up how quickly skin ages. It causes wrinkles and a dull, sallow complexion. Just being around people who smoke can also subject your skin to the ill-effects of second hand smoke. Steer clear of smoky areas and bask in fresh air instead.
- Reduce repetitive facial expressions. When you make a facial expression, you contract the underlying muscles. If you repeatedly contract the same muscles for many years, these lines become permanent. This may seem like an impossible feat for some people, but there are smart ways you can protect your skin from unwanted repetitive facial expressions. If you are always looking at your phone, take a break from your devices to prevent yourself form developing squint lines. Wear sunglasses when going out in bright sunlight can help reduce lines at the side of your eyes. And when you catch yourself frowning, relax.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you won’t believe the number of people who ignore the link between diet and skin. Studies support the notion that eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables may help prevent damage that leads to premature skin aging. Findings from research studies also suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging.
- Drink less alcohol. Alcohol is rough on the skin. It dehydrates the skin, and in time, damages the skin. This can make us look older. While some argue that the resveratrol in red wine is anti-aging, the amounts of red wine needed to achieve sufficient resveratrol concentration is staggering. Instead, applying skincare with antioxidants such as resveratrol on the skin may work in your favour.
- Moderate, regular exercise. Findings from a few studies suggest that moderate exercise can improve circulation and boost the immune system. This, in turn, may give the skin a more-youthful appearance. Exercise in moderation has benefits not just for your skin, but your body and overall well-being. In the extremes however, it may lead to drastic weight loss which may have a negative impact on your overall appearance.
- Cleanse your skin in the gentlest possible way. My philosophy to my patients is to use the gentlest possible method to clean your skin, regardless of your skin type. The reason for this is to minimize the stretching of our skin and to minimize disruption of your skin microbiome. Your skin microbiome is essentially the balance of good and bad bacteria flora on your skin. Firstly, scrubbing your skin clean can irritate your skin. Irritating your skin in turns accelerates skin aging. Secondly, using a soap-free (non foaming) cleanser that is not too alkaline is in general better for your skin. You don’t have to be harsh on your skin to keep it clean. In fact, gentle washing is sufficient to remove pollution, makeup, and other substances without irritating your skin. For my patients conscious about aging, I usually advise them to use a non-foaming cream cleanser like Warm Vanilla.
- Wash your face after sweating heavily. Perspiration, especially when wearing a hat or helmet, irritates the skin, so you want to wash your skin as soon as possible after sweating. Again, we prefer frequent but gentle cleansing to keep your skin clean yet not irritated.
- Apply a facial moisturizer every day. Moisturizer traps water in our skin, giving it a more youthful appearance. Many people shun moisturisers because they feel it leaves a greasy after feel on their skin. However, as we age, we lose more moisture than we think. If you are not keen to apply something heavy, you can always choose light moisturisers that are water based to give your skin the hydration it needs. You may have to apply it more judiciously and frequently to keep skin hydration levels up, but the trade off is that you will be more comfortable with how your skin feels after application.
- Stop using skin care products that sting or burn. When your skin burns or stings, it means your skin is irritated. Irritating your skin can make it look older. Go for products that are suitable for your skin and gentle enough to be used on a daily basis.
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These pearls of wisdom isn’t just for the people who want to keep looking young. Even if you already have signs of premature aging, you can still benefit by adopting the above tips. While there are many anti-aging treatments in our arsenal these days (from Thermage to Ultherapy), the bottom line is that what you do each day will make a huge difference in the long run.
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Castanet J, Ortonne JP. “Pigmentary changes in aged and photoaged skin.” Arch Dermatol. 1997 Oct;133(10):1296-9.
Chung JH, Hanft VN, et al. “Aging and photoaging.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Oct;49(4):690-7.
Kadunce DP, Burr R, et al. “Cigarette smoking: risk factor for premature facial wrinkling.” Ann Intern Med. 1991 May 15;114(10):840-4.
Rabe JH, Mamelak AJ, “Photoaging: Mechanisms and repair.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Jul;55:1-19.
Amy Bowman, Mark A. Birch-Machin. Age-Dependent Decrease of Mitochondrial Complex II Activity in Human Skin Fibroblasts. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.01.017