We know that ageing is inevitable and that activities like smoking and sunbathing speed up the process. But we bet you didn’t know about these seemingly harmless things that can also add on years
The sweet stuff
Research shows a direct link between the amount of sugar circulating in your blood and how old you look. ‘Sugar causes ‘glycation’ damage in the skin,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe (drnicklowe.com), author of Away With Wrinkles.
‘This reduces the effectiveness of elastin and collagen proteins, the properties that give skin a youthful, plump appearance. Consuming too much sugar will cause collagen and elastin to become more rigid, fragile and prone to damage, meaning skin will lose its ‘snap back’ and wrinkles will begin to form.’
Make small changes. Don’t add sugar to tea, coffee or cereals. Choose unsweetened wholegrain cereals over sugar-coated varieties.
Avoid refined carbohydrates and switch to natural sweeteners made from plant extracts, like Stevia.
Regularly sleeping with the same side of your face pressed against a cotton pillowcase can cause creases on your skin, which can eventually turn to fine lines and wrinkles.
Sleep on your back or switch to silk or satin pillowcases.
Your central heating
This, and air conditioning at home, at work or in the car, can severely dry out your skin, leading to premature ageing and wrinkles.
Try turning down the heating and wearing more layers to stay warm. Using a protective, moisturising face cream can help relieve dryness.
Drinking from straws
Sucking on straws and drinking out of sports bottles uses the same pursing action – and therefore causes the same lines and wrinkles around the mouth – as smoking.
Drink directly from a glass.
Your on-off diet
Years of repeated yo-yo dieting – losing and then regaining weight – take their toll on your face. Dr Lowe says, ‘As the skin ages, it becomes less efficient at compensating for rapid changes in the amount of supporting fat under the skin. Sagging therefore occurs – leading to a markedly older appearance.’
Eat a healthy, balanced diet, eliminating processed, sugary foods. If you’re overweight, aim to lose a pound or two a week. Include lots of omega-3s (from oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds) to keep skin supple and wrinkle-free.
Vitamin C-rich foods (oranges, peppers, strawberries and kiwi fruit) will aid collagen production.
Exercise helps tone muscles, gets your blood flowing and keeps you looking and feeling young.
Think about being more active generally. And, whether you’re walking, cycling, swimming or gardening, aim to raise your heart rate and get slightly out of breath, at least for a while.
Cooking the Sunday roast
That eyebrow-singeing blast when you open a hot oven can also severely dry out skin, leading to premature ageing and wrinkles.
‘Sudden changes in temperature can all take their toll,’ explains Dr Lowe. ‘Changes from hot to cold to hot can cause a rapid increase in the size of blood vessels, leading to a weather-beaten appearance.’
Stand well back when you open the oven door.
Not enough sex
Regular sex helps people look youthful for longer, says Dr David Weeks, former head of old age psychology at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
His research shows that older men and women with an active love life look between five and seven years younger than their actual age. It’s a combination of pleasure preserving youth and the release of feel-good endorphins and human growth hormone that can help keep the skin elastic.
Make the time and effort to get in the mood. A relaxing warm bath, a nice meal, reading an erotic novel, a massage – whatever works for you.
Skin experts often find more wrinkles, sun spots and skin damage on one side of people’s faces – most likely caused by spending time in the car. The windows do filter UVB rays (so you don’t get sunburnt), but skin-damaging UVA rays can pass through the glass – only the windscreen blocks UVA rays too.
The sun causes 85-90% of all skin ageing, yet most of us only apply sunscreen when we think we’re at risk of burning.
Dr Lowe recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, all year round (SPF 15 to 30), and applying make-up on top.
Regular laps of the pool may be a great way to stay fit but can seriously age your skin and hair.
Chlorine strips the skin’s outer layer of its protective oils and proteins and, over time, will eventually lead to the development of premature lines and wrinkles.
Wear a swim hat, well-fitting goggles and shower off straight afterwards. Don’t forget to moisturise to keep skin hydrated.
Nail varnish can be very toxic and because of the intensity of the colour and the chemicals this can be massively dehydrating on the nails, warns podiatrist Margaret Dabbs (margaretdabbs.co.uk).
‘Dehydration can affect the nails in various ways, including ridging, scaling, brittleness and discolouration.’ Dry nails are also more likely to absorb pigment from the lacquer, creating that ageing yellow tinge.
Have a break between manicures and pedicures, advises Margaret. ‘Polish-free days are essential as they allow the nails time to breathe and recover, rehydrating naturally.’ Gently buff nails in between polishes and always wear a clear protective base coat to avoid yellow-nail syndrome.
A 2012 study published in the medical journal Plos One suggests that work-related stress can have a harmful effect on DNA in your cells. Researchers measured the length of structures called telomeres and found that people under the most pressure in their jobs had the shortest, causing cells to die or become damaged – which may speed up ageing. Additionally, stress can increase blood pressure and disrupt sleep, which can make you look older.
Change the way you react to stress, advises Professor Cary Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Lancaster. Drinking alcohol, eating badly and upping caffeine intake will only make things worse. Make time for a daily walk, yoga or meditation.
Your evening tipple
Apart from reducing the absorption of key vitamins and nutrients required by the skin, alcohol causes small blood vessels to widen, which can lead to broken capillaries on the face, warns Dr Lowe. Drinking also dehydrates the skin, leading to sallowness, deepening of wrinkles and dryness.
Try to avoid alcohol midweek and reduce your intake by alternating with a glass of water.