Along with obesity and diabetes, sugar contributes to skin aging. Through the process of glycation, the sugar in your bloodstream is transformed into molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which damage collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep skin firm and elastic. To keep glycation to a minimum, read food labels carefully (to avoid added sweeteners), stick to low-glycemic carbs, and use stevia instead of sugar.
While no one would argue with a diet that limits saturated and trans fats, we all need some healthy fats to survive (and to look good doing it). Avocados are one of the richest sources of healthy monounsaturated fats and also contain skin-loving biotin. Skin also requires essential fatty acids (EFAs), which the body can’t produce on its own. Olive oil, flaxseeds and certain types of fish (including tuna, sardines and salmon) are high in omega-3 EFAs, which are an integral part of skin structure (they strengthen skin-cell membranes, helping keep moisture in).
Oysters and wheat germ both are rich in zinc, which plays a crucial role in the production of new skin cells (it also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce acne). Selenium, an antioxidant, can be found in Brazil nuts as well as certain grains and dairy products.
Romaine lettuce is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamins A and C, which can help keep skin youthful (research has linked eating lots of yellow and green vegetables with fewer wrinkles). Broccoli, carrots, spinach, red peppers, arugula, watercress, escarole, Brussels sprouts and endive-plus mango and guava-are also good sources.
Tomatoes (as well as watermelon, grapefruit, asparagus, and red cabbage) provide lycopene, which acts as natural sunblock, preventing the UV damage that causes age spots, dryness and wrinkles (cooked tomatoes provide more lycopene than raw).
Regular exercise is important to overall health, but when you’re talking about your skin, it’s important to consider the type of exercise you’re doing.
Activities that reduce stress, such as yoga, seem to reduce the inflammation and stress that speed skin aging (research shows that tension can aggravate acne and other types of skin inflammation). Likewise, doing regular strength training creates the muscle tone that will keep you from sagging from the neck down.
Sleep is your skin’s chance to repair itself, as new cells grow and take the place of older ones (it’s also time for a host of hormonal and metabolic changes). When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more cortisol, a stress hormone that can exacerbate acne and other types of inflammation and lead to the breakdown of collagen. Insufficient sleep also inhibits the body’s release of human growth hormone, which is used to repair tissue and maintain skin, muscle mass, and bone.
Chronic shortage of sleep can actually accelerate skin aging. In one study, sleep deprived women showed signs of premature skin aging, such as fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced elasticity; what’s more, their skin lost some of its ability to recover after sun exposure.
Most people do best on seven or eight hours a night (getting too much sleep can be as bad as not getting enough, by increasing the rate of cell breakdown).
It’s a myth that you can improve the look of your skin by drinking more water (unless, of course, you’re severely dehydrated to begin with). However, hydration is important to skin – a shortfall of moisture leads to dry, uneven texture, plus fine lines and wrinkles. The key is to start with hydrated skin and keep it that way, through the use of emollients designed improve skin barrier function and maintain the skin’s smooth texture.
Skipping sunscreen is the single worst thing you can do as far as aging your skin.
Drinking (more than one drink a day for women, two for men) and smoking (any number of cigarettes) is bad news, as well. Alcohol increases oxidants in the skin, making it more susceptible to damage (which may up your chances of skin cancer as well as wrinkles). Smoking degrades collagen and elastin and deprives your skin of oxygen and nutrients, which leads to sagging skin (all over the body). Smokers are also more prone to age spots, hair loss, and oral disease.
Wearing too much makeup (or the wrong makeup) can cause breakouts, while using too many products made with fragrances and alcohol can dry out your skin, causing lines.
Likewise, using too many products at once (or using any product too often) is a bad idea, as is combining products with similar effects (using a chemical exfoliant with a grainy scrub, for example).