You’ve heard how important it is to take care of your skin. From using sunscreen to proper moisturizers, skin care tips are everywhere for men and women of all ages. Aging causes substantial effects on the skin, but you can minimize these effects by following some diligent skin care practices. From spending too much time in the sun to your diet and bad habits like smoking, everything you do throughout life can either damage or help to protect your skin.
With summer just around the corner, we thought now is a great time to discuss some of the common effects of aging on the skin and what you can do to prevent or minimize skin damage later in life.
Common effects of aging on your skin
There are some changes that naturally occur in the skin as you grow older, many of which will occur to some degree regardless of your lifestyle habits and skin care regimen. WebMD.com names several changes you can expect as you age, including:
- rougher skin texture
- lesions, such as benign tumors
- loss of elastin or elastic tissue, leaving a slack or loose appearance
- thinning of the epidermis or the outer layer of skin, leading to a more transparent appearance
- flattening of the area between the epidermis and the dermis (the layer beneath the epidermis), leading to more fragile skin
- thinner blood vessel walls, leaving your skin more susceptible to bruising
And of course, repeated exposure to the sun without adequate UV protection has been linked to the development of skin cancer. All of these changes are changes that most seniors would prefer to avoid. But what can be done to help prevent the changes associated with aging skin?
Lifestyle habits that affect skin health and aging
Prevention is key, and it’s never too late to start looking at skin care and lifestyle habits that you could change to minimize further skin changes associated with aging. About.com Senior Living lists a multitude of common lifestyle habits and other factors that can speed up the aging process of the skin, including:
- Smoking cigarettes—if your skin isn’t enough of a motivator to help you quit, quit for your respiratory and cardiovascular health.
- Unprotected sun exposure—it’s true that natural sunlight helps to boost your mood and can have many other positive impacts. However you can enjoy the benefits of the bright summer sun without damaging your skin by applying sunblock before venturing outside, even for a short walk.
- A sedentary lifestyle—yes, exercise is even good for your skin! Regular exercise helps to tone your muscles (reducing the likelihood of sagging skin) and increases blood flow, which is also good for skin health. Not to mention, the vibrant energy regular exercise provides will put a smile on your face and add a glow to your skin.
- Failing to moisturize your skin—your body doesn’t have to be dehydrated for your skin to be dry. In fact, it’s often the harsh, cold winters that wreak havoc on skin’s natural moisture. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Using a humidifier in heated rooms is also a good idea, as some forms of home heat can sap the air of moisture.
- Alcohol use—a diuretic, regular or heavy use of alcohol can lead to dehydration, but it can also lead to permanent skin damage. That’s because alcohol dilates small blood vessels near the skin’s surface while also increasing blood flow near the surface of the skin. This can lead to permanent damage over time, creating a flushed appearance or even showing broken blood vessels just below the skin’s surface.
- Too much stress—while there’s no substantial clinical evidence that definitively and conclusively links stress to skin damage, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and other factors that make the link between stress and skin aging a logical conclusion. For instance, stress increases the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as other hormones that communicate with oil production glands. Increased oil can lead to adult acne and other problems with the skin. Additionally, cortisol causes blood sugar to rise, which increases the production of glycation. Glycation negatively affects collagen (a substance that helps to give skin its plump, youthful appearance), leading to less collagen and more wrinkles.
- Not enough sleep—”beauty sleep” is a common expression, but there’s some validity behind it. Not only will you feel tired and sluggish, you’re more likely to be over-stressed when you don’t have enough sleep. And, you could develop dark circles and bags under your eyes.
- A poor diet lacking in vitamins and nutrients—you are what you eat, and so is your skin, to some extent. The food you eat is what gives your body the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its best. Vitamin C and Vitamin E both promote skin health and help to protect the skin against sun damage, while healthy zinc levels support cell turnover. Do your homework and eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals for optimal skin health.
How to protect your aging skin
Most of the contributors to aging skin are avoidable with some simple lifestyle changes. No matter how old you are or how much damage your skin has already experienced, it’s never too late to begin taking better care of your skin. The National Institute on Aging offers a few essential tips to care for your skin at any age:
- Limit your time in the sun—the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., so avoiding too much sun exposure during these hours is a good idea.
- Remember, clouds do not filter out UV rays—you can still get a sunburn on a cloudy day or while you are in water.
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher—look for a sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum” protection, which is noted on the label. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply at least every two hours—more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Wear sun-protective clothing—wide-brimmed hats protect the delicate skin on your face (and protect your eyes from harsh sunlight, too). Good quality sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of the sun’s rays are a good idea as well. Finally, opt for loose, lightweight clothing with ample protection, such as long skirts or long-sleeved shirts that are light enough to keep you cool while still protecting your skin from the harsh sun’s rays.
- Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps—awareness surrounding the dangers of tanning beds and sun lamps has grown substantially, but reminders are always helpful.
No matter your age, you’re never too old to start taking better care of your skin. While you may not be able to reverse previous damage to your skin, you can certainly minimize and even avoid damaging your skin further through ordinary lifestyle changes and habits you never knew were damaging to your skin. Most importantly, remember that sunscreen as we enter the hot summer months when the sun’s rays are strongest.