People sometimes ask me why I always look so serious. The truth is, I’m not actually upset … I’ve just trained my face to maintain the most neutral expression possible—no hints of smiles or frowns—so that I minimize my chances of getting wrinkles. Yes, I’m that obsessed. Ponce de Léon may not have found the mythical Fountain of Youth, but I am determined to keep fighting the good fight, always seeking new and novel ways to turn back the clock.
Our skin is subject to both intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging. Intrinsic aging is a normal and unavoidable part of the aging process: Starting in your twenties, collagen production decreases, cellular turnover slows, and skin begins to show subtle signs of age, such as fine lines, thinness, and dryness. Extrinsic aging, on the other hand, is caused by factors within our control. Serious skin-care devotees know that sun exposure and smoking are the biggest causes of extrinsic aging, but there are a host of other small habits that have detrimental effects on the skin. Some of these habits may seem harmless, but over time, they can contribute to our facial skin’s looking many years older than it really is.
1. Not Wearing Sunglasses
Making facial expressions is a little like a workout for our maxillofacial muscles. After a lifetime of squinting—either from the sun or from poor eyesight—the muscles around our eyes become tighter and less able to relax, causing the overlying skin to wrinkle. Wearing sunglasses when it’s bright outside can help us maintain a neutral expression on our faces and prevent crow’s feet.
2. Sleeping in Makeup
Although it happens to us all every so often, regularly sleeping with makeup on has negative effects on the skin. Our pores secrete sebum, which lubricates and protects our skin, but when they’re clogged with makeup, sebum production backs up. The result is not only troublesome acne, but also skin that isn’t as moisturized and supple as it should be.
3. Sleeping on Your Stomach
Besides being bad for your back, sleeping on your stomach with your face on the pillow can cause skin to be smushed for hours on end. Young skin bounces back easily, but as skin gradually becomes less adaptable and elastic, the grooves and impressions left by the pillow can turn into permanent lines and wrinkles.
4. Not Eating Enough Fat
While no one would suggest that Ding Dongs and Twinkies will help you eat your way to good skin, it’s important to have some fat in your diet, along with the requisite healthy fruits and vegetables. There’s a thin layer of subcutaneous fat underneath our skin all over the body, and this layer provides shape and contour to the facial skin, a contour that’s closely associated with youth. A lifetime of extreme fat restriction can deplete this layer, leaving the skin on top to droop and sag. Our body naturally loses this fat layer as we age, and helping it along by restricting our dietary-fat intake only speeds up the process.
5. Cleansing Too Vigorously
It is possible to have too much of a good thing. While it’s important to cleanse skin every day, it’s just as important to do the cleansing gently. Rubbing too vigorously can tear the connective tissue that supports the skin, eventually causing sagging. Using water that’s too hot can actually cause the sebum on our skin to liquefy and rinse away, leaving it dry and brittle. Harsh soap-based cleansers can have the same effect.
6. Yo-Yo Dieting
Repeatedly gaining and losing weight over the course of several years forces skin to constantly stretch or shrink. Eventually, the elastic structure of the skin becomes damaged, and it just can’t spring back like it used to. Especially when skin naturally starts to lose its collagen, yo-yo dieting accelerates the aging process, making skin look slack, uneven, and loose.
7. Too Much Alcohol
It’s not just that alcohol makes you more likely to fall asleep on your stomach while wearing makeup; it also creates inflammation. Alcohol dilates blood vessels close to the skin, which results in a flushed complexion and a feeling of warmth, and when you consume alcohol in excess, those capillaries can break, leading to a permanently discolored visage. Since alcohol is also a dehydrating agent, the lack of moisture can leave skin dry and prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles.
8. Too Many Products
If you use a toner, a serum, an eye cream, a night cream, or another combination of multiple products, check with a dermatologist to make sure that you aren’t doing more harm than good. Many products contain ingredients that can interact negatively with other products, or even neutralize them entirely. Not only can bad reactions wreak havoc on your skin, but buying counteractive products is also a waste of money. Ingredients that are more prone to react poorly with other products include benzoyl peroxide, retinols, and glycolic acid.
9. Not Enough Sleep
As if anybody needed an excuse to get more sleep … During deep sleep, our bodies rejuvenate our skin by digesting dead cells and regenerating new ones. When someone has a prolonged lack of sleep, this “taking out the trash” doesn’t get done, and the result is that the skin begins to look dull and lifeless. A lack of sleep also results in higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes inflammation.
The good news about running is that it promotes blood flow and releases stress. The bad news is that it exacerbates the effects of gravity, and the repetitive up-and-down pounding motion can eventually lead to sagging. Dermatologists caution that avid runners simply avoid other behaviors that can contribute to aging, and start an anti-aging skin care regimen earlier than normal.
Sometimes it seems like women just can’t win; even when we think we’re doing all we can, we discover that everything we do is still leading us to an early date with the plastic surgeon’s office. A healthy lifestyle is the first step toward maintaining great skin well into adulthood, but making sure to steer clear of these small but destructive habits can help you stay forever young … or at least look that way.