Why does one person look their age or 10 years older? Yet another looks fifteen years younger. You’ve probably known people who never show their age, despite the ravages of time. Not only are they young at heart, but their skin also has the youthful luster of someone much younger. Are they just lucky and, if not, what’s their secret?
As you might expect, genetics plays a role in why some lucky folks defy the aging process, but that’s not the full story. In fact, lifestyle factors have a stronger impact than the sequence of your DNA, thanks to the contribution of epigenetic factors. How we eat and lifestyle habits can’t change our genetic code, but it can alter the way these genes are expressed. So, you have more control over the aging process than you think!
It’s true that some people start with an unfair advantage. Some lucky folks are blessed with genes and a healthy dose of skin protective melanin that slows down skin aging. But lifestyle is a factor too. You already know that smoking and too much sun can add lines to your face and contribute to loose, saggy skin, but according to research discussed in Anesthetic Medicine News, there are other surprising factors that can affect how old you look and how you age.
Factors That Affect Skin Aging
Researchers from the department of plastic surgery at University Hospitals Case Medical Center looked at how numerous factors affected skin aging in identical twins. They chose 186 pairs of identical twins since they had similar genetics and were programmed at a cellular level to age at similar rates. Using identical twins controls for the role genetics plays in skin aging.
Although these twins were genetically the same, they had different life experiences and environmental exposures. For the study, they asked an independent panel to view photos of the twin and guess their ages. Based on their guesstimates, the study found the following factors affect how quickly skin ages.
Divorce Makes You Look Older
When the researchers compared one twin who had been divorced to a twin that had never been married or who had been widowed, they deemed the divorced twin to be older by about two years. This isn’t surprising since stress plays a role in aging, and divorce is a stressful experience for most people. These findings show the emotional toll that separating from a spouse inflicts on people and how that mental stress alters the aging process.
Body Weight Plays a Role in How Young You Look
Have you ever noticed how older people who are a few pounds heavier look more youthful in the face? This study showed that losing weight after the age of 40 can cause you to look older. The panel judged thinner twins 40 and over to be older than their heavier siblings, but the opposite was true of younger twins. The thinner of the two twins under the age of 40 was more likely to be judged as the younger one.
Why is carrying more body fat youthful as you age? People lose volume from their face with age, so being a little heavier fills in facial hollows that form because of aging. That’s why filler injected underneath the skin to add volume is a popular anti-aging treatment in the over-40 set. However, fat looks more natural than injecting a foreign substance under your skin.
Some people lose weight and regain it in a cycle over many years. We call them yo-yo dieters. Losing weight and regaining it places stress on the proteins, collagen, and elastin, that help preserve skin integrity. So, it’s not surprising that yo-yo dieters look older than their age.
Taking Antidepressants May Contribute to Saggy Skin
The panel also rated twins who had taken antidepressant medications as being older than their identical siblings. Why would this be? Scientists speculate that antidepressants cause the facial muscles to relax and that contributes to skin sagging. There’s also the possibility that stress is a factor since people under stress are more likely to take antidepressants. Chronic stress increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and that has a number of negative effects on health, including suppressing the immune system, loss of bone density, and redistribution of body fat. However, cortisol can also prematurely age the skin.
The Bottom Line?
This isn’t a comprehensive list of factors that age your skin early. There are some obvious ones that are well established. For example, exposing your skin to ultraviolet light from the sun damages collagen and elastin, two proteins important for skin integrity. Ultraviolet light also causes areas of uneven skin pigmentation to form. Not to mention, it increases the risk of skin cancer.
The most important thing you can do to prevent wrinkles and saggy skin is to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Wear it even when you’re in the house since UVA rays can penetrate glass. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburn, but UVA rays penetrate deeper and break down collagen and elastin, your skin’s support structure. Other tips include:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C helps preserve collagen, a protein that protects against skin sagging and wrinkles.
- Learn how to manage stress since we know that stress contributes to skin aging.
- Don’t smoke or drink lots of alcohol.
- Don’t go on drastic weight loss diets or yo-yo up and down.
Finally, you can’t pick your parents! Genetics still plays a role in how rapidly you age. However, there’s much you can do from a lifestyle standpoint to look more youthful through life. Take advantage of the things you can control through healthy lifestyle habits.
- Aesthetic Medicine News. “Divorce, Antidepressants, or Weight Gain/Loss Can Add Years to Your Face”
- Front Pharmacol. 2019; 10: 759.Published online 2019 Jul 9. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2019.00759.
- 2014 May; 19(5): 6202–6219.Published online 2014 May 15. doi: 10.3390/molecules19056202.