Just like death and taxes, growing older is inevitable. But aging before your time? That’s something that can be under your control.
Turns out, many of the habits you do every day—some you probably don’t even recognize you’re doing—might be making you look way older than your years.
And that’s a big problem: An aging face is one of the most common insecurities men seek to correct cosmetically, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Think creams, peels, and even Botox injections.
But your wallet will be a lot better off if you make an active effort to prevent premature aging in the first place. Nix these six habits from your routine, and watch the years slip off your mug.
FORGETTING TO APPLY SUNSCREEN CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
The number one thing you can do to keep your skin looking young and healthy? Slather on the SPF, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“UV light exposure causes free radicals that damage collagen, elastin, and skin cells themselves. This leads to premature aging of the skin, with wrinkling, dark spots, and the development of skin cancers. Even short amounts of sun exposure on a daily basis add up over a lifetime,” he explains. (More on that in the video below.)
Case in point: When Australian researchers followed more than 900 people for four years, they found those who were instructed to apply—and properly reapply—sunscreen daily were 24 percent less likely to show signs of aging in their skin than people who weren’t given any SPF instructions.
Even using SPF 30 alone for 12 weeks is enough to visibly reverse the signs of UV-related skin damage, like uneven texture and pigmentation, according to a studypublished in Dermatologic Surgery. Looking for a great all-purpose choice? Check out Neuturogena’s Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 100, suggests Dr. Zeichner.
NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
Sleep not only maintains your sanity—it helps you look younger for longer, too.
Your skin cells function on a circadian rhythm, similar to the sleep-wake cycle that makes you tired at night and wakes you up in the morning, explains Dr. Zeichner.
Its nighttime function? Repairing the damage it endured during the day, he says, like being exposed to sunlight, pollution, or a breakout.
So when you skimp on sleep, that entire process is thrown off, and your skin can’t prep for the next day, says Dr. Zeichner. This stresses your skin out, throwing off the repair process, which ultimately leads to less healthy cells and premature aging.
Try to clock in at least eight hours a night, he suggests. Before you plop into your bed, make sure you apply moisturizer to your entire body, since your skin can get dehydrated as you sleep. Dry, inflamed skin doesn’t function properly, limiting its ability to heal itself overnight, says Dr. Zeichner. Try Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion, he says. For your face, opt for one of these best moisturizers for men.
NOT EATING ENOUGH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
Nearly 90 percent of Americans don’t eat the recommended 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, while 76 percent fail to eat enough fruit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, several studies suggest that eating a balanced diet loaded with disease-fighting fruits and vegetables can help prevent damage that causes your skin to age too early, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
That’s because fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients, like antioxidants and vitamins, which help fight free radical damage and keep your skin cells healthy.
Research has shown that vitamin E specifically might help protect you your skin from UV damage, even out any pigmentation issues, and reduce inflammation, a review published in ISRN Dermatology notes.
Vitamins A, C, and B3 are also great for your skin, according to research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, since they may help prevent collagen breakdown, produce and maintain elasticity, and reduce hyperpigmentation, respectively.
Some fruits and vegetables to consider for your grocery list that fit the bill? Dark leafy greens like spinach, sweet potatoes, oranges, red peppers, strawberries, asparagus, and mushrooms.
EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
That donut does damage beyond your waistline. Starchy, sugary foods—like white bread, ice cream, and potato chips—can cause all sorts of problems with your face, too. That’s because they spike your blood sugar levels, which can ignite inflammation and spur acne breakouts, says Dr. Zeichner.
Dealing with pimple after pimple can lead to permanent scarring, either in the form of a depressed or raised bump in the skin caused by damaged collagen, he explains. Even if they go away, you might deal with brown and red marks, similar to sun spots that tend to make you look older. They will fade over time, but not keeping your acne in check will continue to spur that cycle. (Here’s how to get rid of acne scars.)
Plus, eating too much of the sweet stuff can lead to glycation, a process in which sugar molecules attach to your collagen, or the main building blocks of your skin, says Dr. Zeichner. This makes your collagen hard and less flexible, promoting premature wrinkling.
To make matters worse, dark sugary drinks like soda and sweetened coffee can also damage and stain your teeth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), which is often a sign of one too many years under your belt.
Have a hard time fighting that sweet tooth? Here are four smart ways to kill a sugar craving.
SMOKING CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
Before your light another cigarette, keep in mind that your lungs aren’t the only part of your body paying a painful price.
Smoking tobacco can maker you look older, faster. The proof? After researchers compared the facial features of 79 sets of twins—in which one twin currently smoked or smoked five years longer than his or her double—they found that those who puffed on cigs experienced greater eye bags, more lip wrinkles, and jowls, according to a studypublished in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
And it’s not just your face that bears the damage. Other parts of your body, like your inner arms, may start to wrinkle, too. One potential reason? “Smoking decreases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your skin by constricting blood vessels and cutting off circulation,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Plus, tobacco is loaded with chemicals that may harm your collagen and elastin, the Mayo Clinic says, both of which are crucial for a youthful looking mug. On top of that, smoking can also do a number on your mouth, since it can cause periodontal disease—which may lead to tooth loss—gum recession, and stain your teeth, according to the ADA.
If you’re ready to kick the habit for good, here’s how you can quit smoking right now.
DRINKING TOO MUCH ALCOHOL CAN MAKE YOU LOOK OLDER
There’s a reason no one looks great the morning after one too many beers.
Research suggests that alcohol can lower antioxidant levels in your skin. This can cause inflammation and free radical damage to your skin cells, says Dr. Zeichner, promoting wrinkles earlier on. Alcohol also tends to dehydrate your skin, which can make your face look dry and rough, the AAD says.
Still, there’s not a ton of research out there to support that alcohol alone is directly linked to premature aging, says Dr. Zeichner. If you really can’t resist a post-dinner libation, stay within the recommended limit of no more than two drinks per day for men. You should also take note of the ingredients you’re mixing your booze with. Say, if your drink is loaded with sweet mixers and juices, it’s probably loaded with skin-damaging sugars, too.
Booze can just make you feel older, too. Drinking too much raises your risk for serious health problems, like heart and liver disease, depression, and several types of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, here’s how drinking a little booze each day may be killing you.