No one likes getting old; we have less energy, many people put on weight and the body becomes more susceptible to injury and disease. Our looks hardly escape unscathed either, as Father Time often leaves an everlasting imprint on our skin. The faces of millions of middle-aged and elderly people are stricken with wrinkles, eye bags, age spots and face jowls. As with the other aspects of aging, heavily damaged and deteriorated skin is not a fait accompli. Though proper maintenance, it is eminently possible to slow and even reverse the wear and tear dealt to your body’s largest organ (yes, that’s right – the body’s largest vital organ is the skin).
Why Skin Ages
When it comes to the health, vitality and overall appearance of your body, your fortunes (or misfortunes) hinge heavily upon your diet and lifestyle choices. A diet that emphasizes fast food, sugar and salty snacks will almost certainly cause an unwanted gain in weight. A sedentary lifestyle that completely excludes exercise often leaves the body weak, flabby and injury prone.
Your skin is no different; make the wrong sort of decisions, and the consequences will soon be staring back at you in the bathroom mirror. Below are some of the common pratfalls that cause noticeable aging of the skin.
Tanning – It would be a bit of an understatement to say that tanning is a popular activity. Millions of people spend the summer months soaking up the sun’s ultraviolet rays, all in the hopes of getting a darker shade of skin color. While the immediate effects of tanning might be cosmetically impressive, heavy exposure to the sun is detrimental to the long-term health of your skin.
The sun inflicts skin damage by accelerating collagen breakdown in the dermis, the thick inner layer of the skin. Youthful skin goes hand in hand with your body’s collagen supply; as you start to lose more and more of this vital protein, your skin’s formerly tight and smooth appearance begins to age and wrinkle.
So how much outdoor tanning is safe? To be frank, any amount of unprotected exposure to the suns rays can damage your skin. Some organizations, such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, argue that tanning should be avoided entirely. If you do decide to get a sun tan, be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Limit your tanning time to no more than 2 to 3 hours a day (it should be stressed that fair skinned people can tan in as little as 30 minutes).
Smoking – Virtually everyone is aware of the dangers of smoking. To name just a few risks, smokers stand a much greater chance of suffering from lung cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease. To add insult to injury, years of smoking cigarettes can leave the skin looking haggard and worn. Cigarettes pump the body full of nicotine, a notoriously addictive substance that narrows the blood vessels near the skin. Once this occurs, the skin is effectively choked off from its supply of oxygen, causing it to age badly.
Alcohol – Another popular (and frequently abused) vice is alcohol. Unlike smoking, which strangles the vessels carrying blood to the skin, alcohol abuse causes blood vessels to expand in size. This excessive blood flow can cause the skin to take on a reddish tinge, and can also lead to various blemishes and bumps.
Lack of Sleep – The culprit behind your lack of energy and sluggish demeanor might also be causing those eye bags and dark circles. While the body sleeps, its stress hormones begin to retreat from the elevated levels reached during consciousness. This gives the body’s cells ample time to repair any damage sustained from the previous day. Without proper amounts of sleep, these cells are not fully restored during the overnight hours, leading to rough-looking skin.
Stress – When someone is buckling under the pressures of life, it often shows up on their face. This apparent connection is no coincidence; feelings of stress divert nutrients from your skin to the vital organs, leaving your largest organ starved for nourishment. In this state, your skin is highly susceptible to dulling, sagging and wrinkling. Stress can also be the trigger behind recurring skin problems, such as psoriasis, rosacea and eczema.
Turning Back the Clock
While reading the preceding section, a discerning eye might have noticed a common theme among the listed causes of skin damage – they are all largely self-inflicted. In other words, it is certainly possible to improve the appearance of your skin through certain changes in lifestyle. The initial list of recommendations is fairly obvious; for starters, it would be tremendously beneficial to your skin to strictly limit tanning, drink in moderation, stop smoking and hit the sack at a reasonable hour. Stress can be a tougher nut to crack, yet even this opponent can be vanquished with enough patience and persistence.
In addition to the guidelines mentioned above, the following tips have an impressive track record of promoting healthy skin.
Use Sunscreen Each Day – Most people only resort to sunscreen during the scorching-hot summer months. And, to be sure, sunscreen provides an excellent defense against the long reach of the sun. You probably weren’t aware, however, that using a 15 SPF sunscreen on a daily basis can greatly improve the long-term prospects of your skin. Even in the midst of winter, the ultraviolet rays of the sun still reach your body. All of this exposure can eventually add up, taking a heavy toll on your skin’s appearance.
Familiarize Yourself with Retiniods – The word “retinoid” might seem unappealing, but these chemical compounds can do wonders for your looks. Retinoids, which are usually applied to the body in the form of a cream, help prevent collagen breakdown in skin tissues. As an added bonus, retinoids work to clear dead skin cells from the body, clearing the way for fresh and new layers of skin. Retiniods are best used at night, as sunlight can limit the overall effectiveness of retinoid-based products. Should you decide to purse this option, be aware that over-the-counter retinoids are typically referred to “retinol.”
Pick Up a Skin Moisturizer – If your skin has a tendency to become dry and cracked, a skin moisturizer might be just what the doctor ordered. Using a moisturizer in conjunction with a retinoid ointment should give your skin a healthy aura.
Shield Your Windows – Care to guess how many hours worth of sunlight you absorb while sitting your car? The answer will probably surprise you. According to one Boston dermatologist, the average car commuter receives 200 hours of sunlight each year, with 80 percent of that figure coming through car windows. Buying window shields for your cars can prove to be worthy investment; shields built with 285 SPF properties can block 99 percent of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays (these are the rays that typically penetrate the ozone layer).
Reduce Your Stress Levels – There are many options for treating stress; deep breathing, quick walks and yoga have proven effective at calming the frayed nerves of stressed people.