As a dermatologist, patients often approach me about age-related changes of the skin. Wrinkles, dark spots, and sagging skin are all hallmarks of aging skin; most people are looking for ways to prevent and treat these changes. Unfortunately, there is no fountain of youth or magic pill to make us look younger, but there are ways to prevent aging caused by environmental factors.
Aging is often described as either intrinsic or extrinsic. While intrinsic aging is a natural process related to genetic factors, extrinsic aging is caused by external factors and can often be preventable. Extrinsic causes of aging include sun exposure, smoking, poor diet, air pollution, lack of sleep, and repetitive facial expressions. Premature aging is primarily caused by sun exposure, but making healthy lifestyle choices can also help to prevent the signs of aging. Below are ways that we can combat extrinsic aging to keep you looking younger for longer.
Too much sun exposure causes dark spots (lentigines) and degeneration of the skin’s elastic tissue, which leads to wrinkles, skin laxity, and loss of volume in the face. Here are some helpful tips to reduce your risk of aging from sun exposure:
- Use a broad- spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of greater than 30. Apply sunblock to all exposed skin daily. Click here to learn more.
- Wear sun-protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, wide-brim hats, and sunglasses.
- Seek shade whenever possible. The sun’s rays are the brightest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds. The ultraviolet light from the bulb is just as harmful, if not more so, than the actual rays of the sun.
Maintaining a healthy diet is another important way to combat extrinsic aging. To improve your diet:
- Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat and hydrogenated oils, such as fried food, red meat, butter, and lard. Look for foods with “healthy” fats, such as salmon, almonds, avocado, and olive oil. “Healthy” fats are the key to shiny hair and strong nails.
- Increase your fiber intake by eating fresh fruits, vegetables, oats, whole-grain rice, beans, and potatoes.
- Seek foods that are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent damage to our skin cells, thus preventing the signs of aging. Foods that are high in antioxidants include fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and green tea.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Reasons that people may not be getting enough sleep include stress, anxiety, and bad sleep habits. To improve your quality of sleep:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol for 6 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid vigorous exercise for 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Clear your mind of the day’s stress by meditating, taking a few minutes to talk about the day, or making lists to clear your mind.
- Control your exposure to light. Turn off your TV, smart phone, computer, and tablet at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature, with little noise or other distractions.
Cigarette smoking causes biochemical changes in our bodies that accelerate aging. Research shows that smoking leads to deeply wrinkled, leathery skin and a dull, sallow complexion. These signs can be greatly diminished by stopping smoking. Here are some ways to help you quit smoking:
- Make a list of reasons you want to quit. Keep this list and read it often.
- Pick a date to quit smoking, and then stick to it.
- List the things that make you want to smoke. Think of ways to avoid these “triggers.”
- Set goals for yourself, such as going for one week without smoking. Reward yourself when you meet your goals.
- Talk to your primary care physician about medical options to assist with smoking cessation.
- If you don’t quit the first time, keep trying! Many people have to try more than once before they can stop smoking for good.
Following these helpful tips can alleviate many of the harmful effects that environmental factors have on extrinsic aging. This will lead to an increase of overall health and have you looking and feeling your best.