There’s no denying the power of a good skin-care regimen. Exhibit A: sunscreen. The sun causes 90% of the signs of skin aging, so sunscreen is a great ally in the fight against lines, wrinkles, and brown spots. But that’s just one tool you can use to look your most youthful at any age. Here are a host of others that may help reverse—or at least slow—the hands of time.
“An upright, flexible posture when we sit, stand, and walk not only signals youthfulness, it’s healthier for your joints and spine and allows you to breathe better and have more energy,” says Margaret Pierpont, a New York City-based practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, a therapy that uses body awareness to help you move with greater ease.
To keep your spine supple, Pierpont suggests doing this exercise for a few minutes whenever you’ve been in one position for two long, especially sitting: Sit at the front of a chair with feet flat on the floor. Start to rock gently forward and back so you’re slightly rounding and arching your lower back. Coordinate the movement with inhaling one way and exhaling the other, whichever feels good to you. Keep the movement easy and slow and let it go all the way up into your upper back, neck, and head.
Exercising doesn’t just benefit your waistline. Regular exercise can actually protect against skin aging by delivering more nutrients that assist in repairing damage. The evidence is striking: One study at McMaster University found that women over age of 40 who were active for at least three hours a week had skin that was similar to that of someone in their 20s and 30s—even in someone as old as 65! The U.S. Department of Health recommends doing 150 minutes of aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) each week and performing muscle-strengthening activities (like lifting weights or using resistance bands) at least twice a week.
Too much of the sweet stuff triggers a process called glycation. That’s when sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (or, appropriately, AGEs for short). In the skin, AGEs target collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep it plump and springy.
“When this happens, these normally resilient fibers become stiff and their ability to repair themselves is hindered,” says Christine Choi Kim, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. The result: fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging. These aging effects start at about age 35 and increase rapidly after that, according to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology. What’s really scary is that once collagen is damaged by glycation, it’s resistant to reversal. The easy fix is to cut back on sugar: no more than 12 teaspoons of added or “free” sugars a day (meaning the kind from cookies and soda, not fruits and vegetables).
Luckily, the FDA has ordered newly designed nutrition labels that separately list added sugars, so they’ll be easier to spot in the future.
Their prominence on your face may wax and wane with the times, but the importance of eyebrows in maintaining a youthful look never wavers. “A properly shaped brow can take a decade off your appearance,” says Elizabeth Maloy, a brow designer at Yves Durif Salon in New York City. It can be tricky to create perfect arches on your own, which is why many women have brows that arch too high or extend out too far—two common brow screw-ups that can make you look older. If you’re unsure of your tweezing skills, have a professional shape your brows. Then you’ll only need to pluck stray hairs to maintain the shape.
Living in the pressure cooker known as 21st-century life is like riding on a speeding train to aging, says Elisa Zied, RD, a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, and author of Younger Next Week. “Emerging evidence suggests that chronic stress causes premature aging at the cellular level, effectively rendering your body, including your skin, face, and hair, up to 10 years older than you really are.” Ouch! One effective way to redress your stress is with meditation, which focuses your attention, eliminates the stream of jumbled thoughts crowding your mind, and creates a lasting sense of calm. There are many ways to meditate, including tai chi and yoga. Try this stress-busting yoga routine whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Whether smiling makes you look younger or older depends on the study you’re reading—the research goes both ways. But one thing is for sure, says Marc Lowenberg, DDS, a cosmetic dentist in New York City: “Just as smooth skin looks younger than wrinkled skin and a full head of hair looks younger than a bald pate, white teeth look younger than dark teeth.” It’s almost impossible to escape the fate of your teeth becoming less than pearly white: Teeth naturally darken with age because the enamel becomes thinner, which allows the yellowish layer below it to show through.
You can get your gleam back with at-home or in-office tooth whitening. In-office procedures use a higher percentage of hydrogen peroxide compared to OTC bleaching, so you’ll see faster, brighter results. Don’t overdo it, though—a youthful smile is not obviously white, but healthfully white, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
If your teeth have also become chipped or worn down due to the natural wear and tear from chewing and possibly grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist about porcelain veneers. They’re pricey, but, according to Lowenberg, they’re a multi-purpose grinnovation. “They can make yellow teeth look dazzling white, transform crooked teeth, or simply glamorize your smile.”
Are your hands doing too much talking when it comes to telling your age? Research shows a manicure and a little bling can go a long way toward remedying that. When people were asked in one study to guess women’s ages judging by photos of their hands alone, nearly half of them said the hands that wore nail polish or jewelry looked younger. Put a ring on it indeed.
And don't forget to slather sunscreen all over your hands in addition to your face and the rest of your body. Your hands are an oft-overlooked spot, but sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent age spots and keep your hands looking young.
“Beauty sleep is no myth,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of the book Skin Rules. When people don’t get enough shut-eye, levels of the hormone cortisol rise, causing havoc throughout the body. “This stress is reflected in skin, which is why people who toss and turn look so haggard in the morning,” says Dr. Jaliman. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, the amount recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. To wake up looking your best, consider switching to a pillowcase made of silk, satin, or another smooth fabric. Dr. Kim says they can help keep your strands smooth and your skin unwrinkled.
“You can use the most expensive beauty products and have the best dermatologist, but if you’re not eating correctly your skin and hair will show it,” says Dr. Jaliman. Some key elements of an age-proofing diet are lean protein (think fish, turkey, and omelets), healthy fats (olive oil and nuts are good sources), and lots of fruits and vegetables—the more colorful, the more beneficial. One Australian study found that elderly men and women who’d eaten this type of diet had less skin wrinkling than people ate more meat, dairy, and butter.
Preeti Parikh, MD
Review date: April 18, 2018