Everyone has that 50-something friend with barely a hint of wrinkles and a fresh, taut complexion. While good plastic surgery can’t be ruled out in every case, some people really are blessed with good skin.
“There’s definitely a genetic component,” says Mary Sheu, M.D., a dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Part of it is one’s ability to continue to generate collagen and elastin, the components of the skin that give of us structure, elasticity, and resistance to wrinkles.” Another hereditary aspect: your skin color. The darker your skin, the more melanin it contains. This natural pigment determines your ability to tan and blocks the penetration of UV light, the naturation radiation that causes skin to become thin, crepey, and wrinkled, says Dr. Sheu.
So how can you make the best of what your genes gave you? Practice smart wrinkle prevention by avoiding the following skin-damaging habits.
Frowning or squinting often
If you’ve been avoiding your eye doctor or feeling unhappy a lot lately, you may be inadvertently worsening your wrinkles. Facial movements—like squinting, raising your eyebrows, or furrowing your brows—cause the muscles in those areas to contract, which makes the skin wrinkle, says Melissa Piliang, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. If you repeat the same facial movements frequently, the muscles become bigger and stronger, and over time those wrinkles will become deeper and fixed, she explains.
“It can be helpful to try not to move your face as much,” says Dr. Sheu. “If you make a conscious effort to not furrow your brows, you can probably slow down that process”—and maybe even lift your mood. A 2014 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research showed that 52 percent of depressed study participants who got Botox injections to paralyze their frown muscles reported relief from depression. The study authors posited that the mood improvement was due in part to other people’s reaction to participants’ placid facial expressions. When you frown, people respond to that frown, setting a negative feedback loop in motion. symptoms.
Sleeping on your stomach or side
Did you know that doctors recommend sleeping on your back to prevent back and neck pain, reduce acid reflux, maintain perkier breasts… and minimize facial wrinkles? “When you sleep on your side or stomach, your face is smushed down against the pillow, pushing the skin into creases,” says Dr. Piliang. “If you lay like that for 6 to 8 hours, the wrinkles become etched into your face.” The pressure of your face against the pillow could also contribute to wrinkle formation by changing the pattern of blood flow in that area, says Dr. Sheu. “Your circulation might not be quite as good as it is on the side of your face that’s not being pressed into the pillow.”
Rubbing your eyes
Dermatologists agree, the skin around your eyes is the most delicate skin on your body. Treating that area roughly will likely result in wrinkles and sagging. “The more you rub, the more it stretches the skin and breaks down the collagen and elastin, making skin more wrinkly,” says Dr. Piliang. “The more you do it, the worse it gets.” Stretching the skin around your eyes to apply makeup has a similar damaging effect. “You want to minimize the tension you put on that skin,” she adds.
Eating too much sugar
The connections between sugar and weight gain or sugar and cavities are well documented, but eating excessive amounts of sugar may also make you look older. “Sugar causes hormonal changes in the body, similar to things that happen when you’re under stress, which damages your collagen and elastin fibers,” says Dr. Piliang. She describes the effect as being similar to when the elastic band in your underwear wears out—over time, eating sugar causes your skin tends to hang more and wrinkle. “We’re still finding out the long-term effects of excessive sugar intake as it relates to the skin,” says Dr. Sheu. “There are suggestions that it can lead to brittleness or loss of elasticity, because it creates compounds in the body called glycation end products, which accelerate aging.”
Incidental sun exposure
Just because you don’t plan on sunning yourself on a beach chair, that doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen. Failing to protect yourself from the sun on a daily basis is one of the most skin-damaging habits you can have, say Drs. Sheu and Piliang. A year’s worth of incidental sun exposure (from activities like going to and from the car or sitting by a window) has the cumulative effect of two full weeks at the beach, according to a sun protection report from the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “If your commute is long, it’s even more sun exposure,” says Dr. Sheu, who recommends that everyone wear sunscreen every day, especially on the face and backs of hands. “Even if you have windows in your office, there’s UVA coming through. It definitely causes wrinkles and discoloration.”
Of the remaining skin-agers, it’s tough to pick one, but smoking creates some of the most visible skin damage, including: saggy upper eyelids, baggy lower eyelids and under-eye bags; facial wrinkles, wrinkling above and below the lips, and saggy chin, according to researchers who studied sets of twins in which one smokes and the other doesn’t. (The photo evidence is dramatic!) The cause of the damage is two-fold, according to the Mayo Clinic: One, the nicotine in cigarettes narrows the blood vessels in your skin, which restricts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the outer layers. Furthermore, cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which damage your skin’s collagen and elastin.
To keep your face looking as smooth as possible, also avoid these habits:
- Chronic stress
- Not sleeping enough
- Drinking from a straw
2 Best Ways to Beat Wrinkles
If you only do two things to protect your skin from wrinkles, Drs. Sheu and Piliang both recommend using sunscreen and a retinol product everyday. “These same two things that have been proven again and again,” says Dr. Sheu. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money on anti-wrinkle cream. “Over-the-counter retinol products are very good,” says Dr. Piliang. “Using a cream like that nightly can help with fine lines and wrinkles.”
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