In this day and age, where we are constantly bombarded with photo-shopped images of perfect wrinkle-free skin, everyone is looking for the secrets to looking younger. While photo-shop is probably the biggest (non) secret, there are a number of evidence-based tips for how to look younger than your age.
Of course, there are some aspects of aging that are genetic or intrinsic (internal) that we are unable to control. However, the majority of skin aging is premature and extrinsic (external). This is often referred to as intrinsic vs extrinsic aging, or chronological vs premature aging. In order to understand how to look younger than your age, we first need to understand the aspects of aging that we can affect and those that we can’t.
Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Aging
Intrinsic aging is often referred to as chronological aging or natural aging. This is the inevitable way that your skin ages over time and is rarely influenced by behavioral changes. Skin that ages intrinsically is usually smooth and unblemished with some exaggerated expression lines .
Factors that affect the way that skin intrinsically ages include:
- Ethnicity – High levels of pigmentation (and therefore darker skin color) appear to naturally protect the skin from UV radiation and its associated aging effects (photoaging). Darker skin types also have a higher level of lipids and water content in the stratum corneum and may have a higher skin cell turnover rate .
- Anatomical variations – the skin on different bodily areas of the same person has a differing thickness and lipid composition, and thus ages at differing rates. In addition, areas with high blood flow age slower as blood flow decreases with age .
- Hormones – specifically, changes of estrogen levels in the skin of women around menopause where the decline of estrogen causes skin aging (among other symptoms). Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can alleviate the symptoms of menopause, including reversing skin aging, but is controversial due to the potential health risks associated with it (e.g. blood clots, and some cancers) .
As you can see, there is relatively little that we can change about the way our skin intrinsically ages. However, there are a few characteristics that are present in both intrinsically and extrinsically aged skin that can be treated, such as:
- Decreased skin cell turnover
- A reduction in dermal thickness
- A reduction in collagen production, particularly type I collagen, with total collagen levels per unit area of skin surface reducing by approximately 1% each year.
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Loss of hyaluronic acid in the epidermis (however, dermal levels of hyaluronic acid remain stable in intrinsically aged skin)
- Reduced skin barrier function and thus skin hydration 
While these characteristics are present in both intrinsically and extrinsically aged skin, they are far more severe and pronounced in extrinsically aged skin.
In fact, the vast majority of facial skin aging is extrinsic, meaning that it is caused by environmental and behavioral factors that we can mostly change. Extrinsic aging factors include pollution, poor nutrition, ambient conditions (e.g. temperature and humidity), medications, smoking, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation .
So the majority of tips on how to look younger than your age, and the secrets to looking younger overall, will involve reducing the extrinsic aging factors where possible. Here they are…
7 Scientific Secrets Of How To Look Younger Than Your Age
1. Use A Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen Every Day
As mentioned before, skin damage from UV radiation accounts for 80-90% of all facial skin aging. That’s huge! However, this secret to looking younger is so often overlooked. Many people think that they don’t need to wear sunscreen if it’s cloudy or if they are indoors all day. This is often due to the belief that sunburn and sun damage are one and the same, but this is not the case.
In fact, the damage from UVA radiation has often been overlooked as it requires 1000 x the radiation levels of UVB to cause sunburn. However, it is now known that UVA radiation is responsible for the majority of the skin damage associated with photoaging due to the fact that it is able to penetrate the dermis (UVB only penetrates the epidermis due to its shorter wavelength) .
Another common misconception involves moisturizers and foundations with ‘added SPF’. Firstly, the amount of product typically applied would not reach the level of advertised SPF protection and, secondly, SPF only protects against UVB and not UVA. For this reason, people often have a false sense of security and believe that they are protected from the harmful effects of UV radiation when using these products.
For optimal sun protection, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen (both UVA & UVB protection) that is SPF30 or higher. There is not much added protection between SPF 30 and SPF 50 (97% vs 98% UVB blocked/absorbed), but higher SPF’s are often required to offer higher UVA protection due to the PPD method.
To extend the protection of your sunscreen into the longer UVA and visible light spectrums, look for mineral sunscreens with added iron oxide.
2. Don’t Smoke
Smoking reduced the blood flow to the skin, which, in turn, deprives the skin of oxygen and vital nutrients. Research has also shown that individuals who smoke have fewer collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis and rougher skin texture. Furthermore, it appears that the relationship between smoking and wrinkles is dose-dependent – basically, the more frequently a person smokes, the more wrinkles they are likely to have. In fact, wrinkling is supposedly 3x worse in smokers than non-smokers .
3. Use An Antioxidant Serum
Both UV radiation and smoking, as well as a number of other extrinsic aging factors, cause the production of free radicals, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), that damage DNA and alter gene expression pathways. These alterations can lead to the break-down of collagen and build-up of elastin, as seen in photo-aged skin .
Unfortunately, sunscreen is only able to block 55% of the free radicals produced by UV exposure and, alone, provides no protection from the free radicals produced from other forms of solar radiation such as infrared radiation and visible light. Visible light, itself, accounts for 33% of the free radical production in the skin after exposure to solar radiation (UV radiation accounted for 67%) .
However, antioxidants are molecules that co-exist to protect the skin from free radicals, including ROS. In fact, antioxidants can reduce the production of free radicals by up to 78% . This means that they can ‘mop-up’ the damage done by the sun, pollution, and smoking and help prevent the breakdown of collagen.
One antioxidant in particular, vitamin C, is essential for collagen synthesis in the skin which means it offers a more general anti-aging effect as well. Plus, a number of antioxidants can improve inflammatory skin conditions and reduce hyperpigmentation.
4. Hydrate Your Skin
Have you ever noticed your skin looking older after a heavy night, or used a skincare product that appeared to reduce fine lines almost instantly? If you have, this wasn’t due to sudden aging or anti-aging but due to the fact that your skin was dehydrated. Dehydrated skin leads to a dull, uneven skin tone and fine lines that are suddenly more visible.
Dehydrated skin can result from aging, sun exposure, pollution, ambient conditions (e.g. temperature & humidity), and certain medications . As you may notice, all of these are also extrinsic aging factors. Another common cause of dehydrated skin is the use of harsh cleansing products that damage the skin’s barrier by decreasing skin surface lipids and damaging stratum corneum proteins.
The good news is that improving skin hydration can almost immediately improve the appearance of skin. Look for products and moisturizers with natural moisturizing factors (e.g. urea, lactic acid, amino acids) and lipids (e.g. fatty acids and ceramides). These ingredients can help strengthen the skin’s barrier (the stratum corneum), thus improving skin hydration by increasing the water content of the skin and reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL; water lost from the skin) . Hyaluronic acid is another excellent ingredient for skin hydration as it can bind up to 1000x its weight in water, locking more water into the skin.
As well as hydrating your skin from the outside, you can also improve skin hydration, as well as increasing overall body hydration, by drinking more water and less diuretic substances (e.g. coffee/tea, etc.) and alcohol.
However, it should be noted that coffee, black tea, green tea, and red wine all possess antioxidant activity, which brings us onto our next point…
5. Improve Your Diet
Consuming antioxidants is another way to reduce the free radical damage caused by extrinsic aging factors. This generally means consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables but, as mentioned above, coffee, green tea, black tea, and red wine also have antioxidant activity .
In addition, whole grains, oils, fatty fish, meat and dairy also contain essential vitamins and minerals that may not be available from fruits and vegetables alone . This means that, to make it easier to achieve the recommended daily nutrients, it is usually better to consume a wide variety of foods.
However, there is one type of food that is associated with increased skin aging – sugar! This is due to the products of a process called glycation, where proteins, lipids, or nucleic acids bond with sugar molecules (e.g. glucose and fructose) without enzyme mediation. This results in the inhibition of the protein, lipid or nucleic acid’s ability to function. The products of glycation are known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) .
Glycation is particularly prevalent in aged skin, where it results in structural and functional changes in the skin. One protein known to be particularly affected by glycation is collagen. In fact, collagen in the skin can experience up to a 50% increase in glycation over a persons lifetime .
Another dietary factor that affects the production of AGEs is the way in which food is cooked. For example, water-based cooking (e.g. boiling and steaming) produces lower AGEs than grilling, frying, and roasting .
So, given this research, one of the secrets to younger looking skin is to reduce sugar intake and boil or steam food. However, there are also a number of foods that can reduce the production of AGEs, including antioxidants, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, ginger, garlic, alpha-lipoic acid, taurine, carnosine, flavonoids, vitamin E, niacinamide, zinc, and manganese .
6. Increase Skin Cell Turnover & Renewal
As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of aged skin (both intrinsically aged and extrinsically aged) is a reduced rate of skin cell turnover. This basically means that it takes longer for new skin cells to reach the surface of the skin.
However, certain products can increase skin cell turnover and keep skin looking younger. For example, topical retinoids are known to influence a variety of cellular processes and can increase the rate of skin cell turnover and cell renewal . This has a direct impact on wrinkle appearance and formation .
Another way that skin cell turnover and renewal can be achieved with cosmetics is by chemical exfoliation with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid and lactic acid. AHA’s can also increase skin thickness and firmness, improve skin softness, and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles .
7. Exercise Regularly
Blood flow decreases as we age which means that less oxygen and nutrients are available for the skin. However, exercise increases blood flow in the body and to the skin as part of it’s ‘cooling’ mechanism . This increase in blood flow can help nourish cells as well as remove waste products, including free radicals.
In addition, physical activity is associated with lower levels of AGE production , and more intense forms of exercise can stimulate growth hormone secretion . As levels of growth hormone decrease as we age , this may be one of the ways in which regular exercise can keep us looking younger. Other ways that exercise may contribute to younger looking skin is through the regulation of skin mitochondrial metabolism .
Regardless of the underlying mechanism of action, regular exercise can make skin appear more youthful. However, there are some ways that exercising may have the opposite effect, for example, due to UV exposure if exercising outdoors without adequate protection.
How To Look Younger Than Your Age – Summary
As you can see there are some aspects of aging that are inevitable and largely out of our control. However, there are a number of aspects that we can influence with lifestyle changes and good skin care. Other secrets to looking younger include getting plenty of sleep and caloric restriction.
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