Few human attributes signal health and youth like a clear, glowing complexion.We all start out with a similarly clean slate skin-wise, but by the time you reach your 20s — and definitely in the decades that follow — your skin will start to reveal what type of lifestyle you’ve lead.
So George Orwell really hit the nail on the head when he said, “At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.”
In reality, though, your skin will start to show wear and tear long before that. Some of this may be related to your genes — if your mother was wrinkle-free until she turned 65, you may be too — but more so, it’s related to how you live.
The Low-Down on Skin Aging: What Happens When we Get Older?
In your teens your skin may battle acne as your hormones run rampant during puberty, but by the time you reach your 20s expression lines from smiling and frowning will begin to surface.
It’s around this time that collagen, which contributes to your skin’s firmness, and elastin, which helps your skin’s elasticity, begin to break down as well — a phenomenon that will continue through your 30s and beyond.
In your 30s, wrinkles caused by sun damage may form, although the real evidence of sun damage won’t surface until your 50s. In your 40s, your skin may become dry as it loses its ability to retain moisture, and dead skin cells will not be shed as quickly. Those expression lines that started in your 30s will also be more pronounced by this time.
By your 50s and 60s, age spots, spider veins and wrinkles are often apparent, and fat cells will gradually disappear, which can lead to skin sagging.1
As you likely already know, these changes can quickly age you on the outside, even if you still feel like a 20-year-old on the inside. This is true not only of the dreaded wrinkle, but also of uneven skin tone and discoloration.
For instance, one study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior found that participants with the most even skin tone were rated as significantly healthier, more attractive and younger than those with uneven, blotchy skin.2
The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to get healthier, more even, younger looking skin — without resorting to plastic surgery or chemical peels. Some of the best solutions for healthy skin come from leading a healthy lifestyle and improving your skin’s appearance from the inside out.
What to Eat for Healthy Skin
If eyes are the windows to your soul, your skin may be the window to your stomach! That’s because what you eat has a direct impact on your skin health.
Antioxidant-rich foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are at the top of the list of skin-boosting foods because they help to fight free radicals, which can contribute to signs of aging.
Susan C. Taylor, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York, N.Y., and clinical assistant professor of dermatology and associate faculty of the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa., told ScienceDaily:
“Research has shown that the antioxidants in vitamins C and E can protect the skin from sun damage and help reduce damage in skin cells caused by harmful free radicals, which contribute to aging skin.
Similarly, we have long known that the B vitamin biotin is responsible for forming the basis of skin, hair and nail cells, and vitamin A — found in many fruits and vegetables — maintains and repairs skin tissue. Without an adequate supply of these vitamins, you may notice it in the appearance of your skin, hair and nails.” 3
Fruits and vegetables are not the only foods your skin can benefit from; olive oil and legumes are also beneficial. One study even found that a high intake of vegetables, legumes and olive oil could help protect against wrinkles.4
Omega-3 fats, which are found in fish and fish oils, walnuts, and flaxseeds, are also important for skin health, as they support healthy cell membranes, which will help keep skin cells hydrated and plump.5
Green tea has also emerged as a powerful beverage for skin health. With both antioxidant and immune-enahncing properties, green tea is protective against harmful oxidative stress. Preliminary animal research suggests that a compound in green tea, EGCG, may help reduce skin damage from ultraviolet light when applied topically.6
Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body, so any food that is good for your body will also be good for your skin.
Sun Exposure Do’s and Don’ts
Sun exposure is a leading cause of wrinkles, age spots, freckles, dry, rough “leathery” skin and premature skin aging. If excessive, sun exposure can also lead to the development of skin cancer.
For these reasons, most public health agencies recommend wearing protective clothing to shield your skin from the sun or sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 when you’ll be out in the sun. Make sure the sunscreen you choose offers protection against both UVA and UVB ultraviolet lights, as both can lead to skin damage.
You will need to reapply sunscreen often, about every two hours or more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming, to maintain its effectiveness.
It is typically advised to also avoid staying in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as this is when the sun’s rays are the strongest. However, there is now emerging evidence that avoiding the sun altogether, including during these peak hours, may put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Your skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to UVB rays from the sun, and some now advise regular mid-day sun exposure (without sunscreen, as sunscreen will block vitamin D production) during the spring, summer and early fall to ensure adequate levels.7 Adequate vitamin D levels have been linked to lower risks of cancer, including melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, among other health benefits.
No matter when you’re in the sun, however, it’s very important to avoid getting burned. This will not only damage your skin, leading to premature aging, but will also increase your risk of skin cancer. On a sunny day, it only takes a short amount of time, 15 minutes or so depending on skin color (darker skin tones need longer exposure) to produce your maximum level of vitamin D, so be careful not to overdo it.
If your skin becomes pink or red, painful or feels hot to the touch, you should get out of the sun immediately, as these are signs of sunburn. Once you’ve been sunburned, the damage to your skin has already occurred, however the following tip can help to soothe the burn:
- Apply a damp, cool washcloth to the area or take a cool bath or shower. Baking soda in your bathwater may help to relieve the burn.
- Apply a moisturizer to your skin to alleviate dryness. Aloe vera gel works exceptionally well, especially when you use the salve directly from a live plant.
- Drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids and help heal the sunburn
- Leave any blisters alone. Breaking blisters will increase the risk of infection and make the healing process take longer.
What to Avoid for Your Skin’s Sake
Eating healthy and being sure to not overdo sun exposure will help protect your skin immensely, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a healthy, skin-boosting lifestyle. Just as it’s important to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, it’s important to avoid exposing your skin to lifestyle habits that can cause damage.
Among the top items to avoid for your skin’s sake are:
- : Smoking damages collagen and elastin while decreasing blood flow to your skin. This makes it difficult for your skin cells to receive enough oxygen and nutrients to stay healthy. The physical act of smoking can also contribute to expression lines around your lips and eyes (from pursing your lips and squinting).
- : While an occasional glass of wine is not likely to cause your skin much harm, too much alcohol can damage blood vessels over time, leading to permanently flushed skin or visible blood vessels on your skin’s surface.
- : Eating too much sugar or refined carbs leads to the production of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These molecules damage collagen and elastin, and in so doing contribute to wrinkles and sagging skin.
- : Emotional stress can take a major toll on the appearance of your skin. Not only does stress lessen your skin’s ability to function properly, putting it at risk of skin diseases and increasing the length of time wounds take to heal, but stress also speeds up the rate of cellular aging, which can make you look older, faster.
Healthy Skin Comes From Within
Virtually no salve, cream or treatment can do for your skin what a healthy lifestyle can. If you want a smooth, glowing complexion, the type that makes your friends want to know your “secret,” there really is no better way.
By eating right and protecting your skin from damage, you’ll have visibly healthier, younger looking skin, no matter what your age. Plus, these same steps that give you a healthy complexion offer benefits that are much more than just skin deep — they’ll help you get healthier overall, too!