Even though most of us are under the age of 25, that’s no reason not to think about anti-aging now. Take a look at all these beautiful women who look amazing at age 40 and above — Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Halle Berry are just a few. One of the ways they look so fab (okay, aside from great genes and access to the best dermatologists) is because they started taking care of their skin at an early age.
I don’t know about you, but one of my goals has always been to keep my skin as young and healthy as possible for as long as possible. I’d love to be one of those young-looking 40 year olds in 20 years! How does one accomplish that? Simple — by learning about anti-aging and putting it into practice as soon as possible.
Here’s a guide to anti-aging skincare, and all the things you can do now to prevent skin aging in the future!
What causes skin aging?
Before you can effectively prevent skin aging, it’s important to understand what exactly causes our skin to look older. Here are some of the main culprits behind wrinkles, sagging skin, and other factors that determine how old your skin looks.
Sun Damage – You knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Well you hear it everywhere because it’s true – the sun ages your skin more than anything else. Literally a few minutes a day over the years is enough to cause wrinkles, age spots, rough and leathery skin, a blotchy complexion, and of course, skin cancer. People with fair skin see more skin aging from sun exposure, but those with dark skin are not immune either.
Smoking – Cigarette smoke is a major contributor to skin aging. Research has shown that smokers are statistically more likely to develop deeply wrinkled, leathery skin than nonsmokers. People who smoke also tend to develop an unhealthy yellowish tone to their complexion. And a study from 2002 showed that facial wrinkles could be seen under a microscope in 20 year old smokers. BTW, this includes smoking of any kind! With marijuana becoming increasingly legal, we need to realize that inhaling smoke, period, is damaging to our lungs and bodies.
Pollution – Car exhaust, smog, and other pollution common in urban areas is another skin enemy. Pollution creates free radicals, which are oxygen molecules that have been stripped of one of their electrons. Because of this, free radicals are looking for replacement electrons and attack skin components like collagen. Scary when you think about it, right?
Not Correctly Removing Makeup – If you don’t remove your makeup at night, you are blocking your pores and not allowing them the air exposure your skin needs to stay healthy. Repeatedly not removing your makeup causes lasting damage to your skin, and if you are not removing your eye makeup you can seriously damage your eyes! Also, you should be removing your makeup as gently as possible. Elastin is what makes our skin snap back to place when your tug on it. But as you age, elastin production decreases, so if you are vigorously tugging on your skin, you will be causing extra elastin degradation.
Lack of Moisture – They tell you to drink more water for a reason! Dry skin is not a cause of aging, but a symptom – it’s actually a sign that your skin isn’t holding enough water for its repair enzymes to work correctly. Basically, when the enzymes can’t work right, your skin can’t repair the inflammation caused by the sun, poor diet, and pollution. Just another reason to finally buy that cute reusable water bottle…
Genetics – Unfortunately, a portion of your skin aging comes from something you can’t control — your own genetic makeup. To a certain extent, how our skin ages will mimic the way our parents’ skin aged. Of course, genetics are only one piece of the puzzle, so even if you have bad skin genes, it’s still possible to keep your skin looking great for many years to come!
Time – Obviously, skin aging is also caused by the body aging, no matter how good your genes are. (This is another factor we obviously can’t control.) According to this Scientific American article, the body produces 1% less collagen in the skin per year. Collagen is a chemical that helps to make our faces look plump and wrinkle free. Therefore, our goal should be to look the best we can for our age (not to completely defy age, which would be impossible). I’ll explain how to do this below.
Anti-aging skincare basics
If you want to prevent your skin from aging too fast, there are tons of skincare products out there that claim to fight wrinkles, age spots, sagging skin, and everything else. But let’s cut through the clutter and talk about what really works. The ingredients themselves are what make the biggest difference.
Here’s a list of must-have products that contain ingredients proven to help pause the aging process. There’s no magic bullet that will cure aging, but the following products, especially when used together, form a great defense against what ages our skin the most.
A good-quality sunscreen – SPF 30 or higher! This is perhaps the most important thing you can put on your face now that will keep you looking young for years to come. Once you find a good sunscreen, you need to wear it EVERY DAY – not just when you plan to be out in the sun for a while. UV rays are present even when it’s cloudy, and incidental sun exposure (walking to class, going to and from your car, waiting for a bus) all adds up. To help even more, try to reduce how much time you spend out in the sun. It all helps.
There are tons of great sunscreens out there, and really, any sunscreen is better than none. But if you want a high-quality sunscreen, the best ones for your face (as recommended by editors and skincare experts) include La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, SPF 60 ($35.99 for 5 oz), CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, SPF 30 ($12.31 for 3 oz), and Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer, SPF 50 ($16.79 for 1.7 oz).
For more information on how to protect your skin from the sun, plus more sunscreen recs, check out my article on skin protection.
A topical exfoliant. This step isn’t an absolute must, but is recommended. Topical exfoliants remove the top layer of dead skin cells, which improves skin texture, unclogs pores, and makes your skin absorb moisturizers better. There’s also research that indicates the alpha and beta-hydroxy acids in exfoliants can increase production of collagen, an ingredient your skin loses as it ages.
To find a topical exfoliant, look for a product that has glycolic or lactic acid (if you have normal to dry skin), or salicylic acid (if you have normal to oily skin). The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($8.70 for 8 oz) is great for normal or dry skin, and Stridex Maximum Pads ($16.00 for 180 pads) are perfect if you have oily or combination skin.
Vitamins C, E, and B3. Another nonessential, but important if you’ve been out in the sun a lot and are concerned about wrinkles forming already. All of these vitamins have been proven to reduce and even help reverse the aging process (all the details here)! Just remember, using a product with vitamins and antioxidants is not as important as simply wearing sunscreen, so these won’t do you any good if you run around outside every day without SPF.
If you do want the added benefits of vitamins, though, here are some highly recommended products that contain them: Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($27.19 for 1 oz), Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum – Fragrance-Free ($19.59 for 1.7 oz), and Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Anti-Aging Moisturizer ($21.15 for 1.7 oz).
Retinol (Vitamin A). This is a word you’ve probably heard a lot, for good reason. Retinols work! That said, be careful: They can be very strong!
The 1% Retinol Treatment from Paula’s Choice ($58 for 1 oz) is a great one to try because it is affordable (as far as retinols go) and gives you a clear idea of the strength.
Retinols can be very harsh on the skin and so you should start slowly with them. A good measure is that you should use retinol the same number of days a week as the first number of your age. So, if you’re in your twenties, use it twice a week, if you’re in your forties, use it four times a week, and after fifty you can use it every day as part of your skincare routine if needed.
A Note: Take care of your body, too!
Yes, we are all worried about wrinkles on our faces, but you shouldn’t neglect your body when it comes to anti-aging skincare!
In particular, your hands, neck, and décolletage areas deserve attention. These areas tend to age just as fast as the skin on your face. In order to convincingly look younger, you need all of your skin to look the same which is why you should apply all of your facial products to your neck, chest, and hands, including the cleanser and any serums and moisturizers that you apply.
Also, be careful at the nail salon. Many of the new nail polish technologies utilize UV rays to instantly dry the polish or gel. What is great is that many of these also work with LED light, which doesn’t harm skin. So next time you are getting your nails done make sure to ask what type of light is being used to save your hands from the harsh light.
Finally, you can keep your hands moisturized and in good shape with products like The Chemistry Brand’s Ha3 Hand Hydrator ($9.00 for 2 oz). This product is great because it includes hyaluronic acid which will penetrate deep into the skin to hydrate.
Prevent skin aging with your diet.
Skincare is only one piece of the anti-aging puzzle. What you eat also has a huge impact on how your skin ages. Fresh, healthy foods contain vitamin antioxidants that can again help protect against free radical damage.
Here are some foods you should load up on for maximum anti-aging power:
Fruits: Papayas, mangoes, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruits, berries (all types)
Vegetables: Spinach, leaf lettuce, carrots, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers
Oils: Olive oil, avocado oil
Nuts: Almonds, sunflower seeds
Dark Chocolate (!!!)
What do you think?
We all want to stay looking young forever and many of us dream of the perfect face, or the perfect body. But the key to having confidence and loving yourself is taking great care of yourself. Live your life, have fun, take care of yourself the way you need to and you will be looking and feeling great for years to come.
What do you think? Are you concerned about anti-aging, or has it been something you thought you’d worry about later? Will you be thinking more about it now? Leave a comment and let me know!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2009; it was completely updated and revamped in 2019 with new photos and information.