There's loads you can do to minimize lines on your face without resorting to Botox. Find the best foods and lifestyle moves to keep your skin youthful at any age.
I'm aware that sun exposure can contribute to skin ageing, so I'm careful to protect my face daily with a high-SPF moisturizer. But I've noticed the beginnings of wrinkles developing around my eyes and at the corners of my mouth as well as some general sagging. What else can I do to keep my skin young-looking? Do any of the anti-ageing creams out there actually work?
-S.E., via email
You're right about sun exposure. Although the sun provides us with vital vitamin D, its ultraviolet (UV) rays are by far the most important factor in skin ageing, especially premature ageing, or 'photoageing' as it's known.
Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) radiation are responsible, but UVA penetrates more deeply into the skin so it's able to damage both the epidermis-the outermost layer, made up of skin cells, pigment and proteins-and the dermis-the next layer in, made up of collagen and elastin fibres.1
The tell-tale signs of photoageing include wrinkles, sagging, dry or rough skin, age spots, spider veins and actinic keratoses-rough, thickened, wart-like reddish-brown to blackish patches of skin that may later develop into skin cancer.2
It's a good idea to protect your skin with a hat or with a daily sunscreen. A recent Australian study found that people instructed to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) on their face, neck, arms and hands daily had 24 per cent less skin ageing after four and a half years compared with those who used sunscreen at their own discretion.3
But be sure to check out what's in the one you're using, as several sunscreen chemicals have been linked to adverse effects like hormone disruption and allergic reactions. And avoid formulations containing parabens and other potentially harmful chemicals such as synthetic fragrances (see WDDTY's Healthy Shopping story on natural sun creams in the August 2013 issue). There's even a question of whether skin cancer is linked to frequent use of chemically-laden sun filters.
You're better off going for a product that contains natural mineral UV filters, preferably zinc oxide, which provides the best broad-spectrum protection.
Also look for formulas that contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and coenzyme Q10, as these natural free-radical fighters play an important role in protecting your skin against UV-induced damage.4
One four-month study found that twice-daily applications of a cream containing antioxidants provided protection against UVB-induced oxidative stress in the epidermis, a crucial factor in skin ageing.
Another showed that the topical application of coenzyme Q10 was effective against UVA-induced oxidative stress in the skin and concluded that "CoQ10 has the efficacy to prevent many of the detrimental effects of photoageing".5
One product you could try is Avalon Organics CoQ10 Wrinkle Defense Cr`eme SPF 15, which contains mineral UV filters plus coenzyme Q10, vitamin E and other antioxidants (available from www.revital.co.uk).
Besides protecting your skin from the sun, there are a number of other ways to fend off wrinkles and keep your skin looking younger for longer.
What you eat can have a significant impact on the state of your skin.
According to one study, eating a lot of vegetables, legumes and olive oil can protect against wrinkles, while high intakes of meat, dairy and butter can have the opposite effect.6 In particular, full-fat milk (rather than skimmed milk, cheese and yoghurt), red meat (especially processed meat), potatoes, soft drinks/cordials and cakes/pastries were all associated with extensive skin-wrinkling. Protective foods included leafy green vegetables, broad beans, lima beans, nuts, olives, dried fruit/prunes, cherries, grapes, apples and tea-so aim to get plenty of these in your diet. It's their high content of antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals that seems to be good for the skin.
Another study found that having higher dietary intakes of vitamin C (from orange juice, other citrus fruit juices and tomatoes) and linoleic acid (found in oils like rapeseed and soybean oils, and in foods such as green leafy vegetables and nuts), and lower intakes of fats and carbohydrates were associated with fewer wrinkles and better skin condition.7
The bottom line: eat a Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables plus healthy fats.
If you smoke, stop, as smoking increases the quantities of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs)-enzymes that break down the collagen, elastin fibres and connective tissue in the skin. These enzymes also cause oxidative stress, which impairs collagen production. The result of this double whammy is skin that's old before it's time. In fact, studies show that the longer you continue to smoke, the older you'll look.8
Luckily, just stopping smoking can have a rejuvenating effect on the skin. In women who took part in a nine-month stop-smoking programme, the results showed that kicking the habit can dramatically reduce the biological age of your skin-by a whopping 13 years on average.9
Protect against pollution
Besides tobacco smoke, air pollution from road traffic and other sources can also have a negative impact on the skin.
A study of elderly women found that exposure to air pollution was significantly linked to signs of skin ageing like pigment spots and wrinkles.10
While it's impossible to completely avoid air pollution, increasing your intake of antioxidants through diet and supplements can boost your skin's natural defences.
Also, keep tabs on the air pollution in your area by contacting your local air-quality monitoring service (online at http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/).
When pollution levels are high, avoid spending a lot of time outdoors if you can possibly help it.
Look at your lifestyle
As physical and psychological stress can take their toll on how your skin looks,1 consider stress-busting techniques like yoga, meditation and tai chi as part of your anti-ageing regime.
It might also help to get into the habit of sleeping on your back rather than on your side, as years of sleeping with your face buried in the pillow every night can lead to wrinkles known as 'sleep lines'.11
And don't forget to drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and smooth-looking.
If you want to try and reverse skin ageing as well as prevent it, there are countless creams on the market claiming to do just that-erase wrinkles, stop sagging and generally make you look younger. But few have undergone any rigorous scientific trials to prove they work. One exception is No 7 Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum, made by Boots, which was put to the test in a double-blind randomized controlled trial (the gold standard for scientific studies).
After one year, the researchers found "significant clinical improvement in facial wrinkles" with the No 7 serum, which they believed was due to the increased production of fibrillin-1 in the skin, a protein that promotes skin elasticity.12
But if you're looking for a more natural solution (the Boots serum contains a raft of harsh chemicals), your best bet is to look for products with high levels of antioxidants (see Healthy Shopping, page 84 in the September issue of WDDTY Magazine).
In particular, the following ingredients have proven wrinkle-reversing and skin-rejuvenating benefits:
Coenzyme Q10.At a 1 per cent concentration, CoQ10 in a cream can significantly reduce wrinkles after five months.13
Vitamin C.Six months of using a 5 per cent vitamin C cream can improve sun-damaged skin, especially deep furrows and skin elasticity.14
Niacinamide.Applying a 5 per cent niacinamide (vitamin B3) moisturizer to the face can improve various signs of ageing, including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, blotchiness, yellowing (sallowness) and loss of elasticity.15
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).If rough skin is an issue, a cream with 5 per cent ALA can help.16
1. Acta Dermatovenerol Alp Panonica Adriat, 2008; 17: 47-54
2. Coll Antropol, 2008; 32 Suppl 2: 177-80
3. Ann Intern Med, 2013; 158: 781-90
4. Curr Probl Dermatol, 2001; 29: 157-64
5. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed, 1999; 15: 115-9; Biofactors, 1999; 9: 371-8
6. J Am Coll Nutr, 2001; 20: 71-80
7. Am J Clin Nutr, 2007; 86: 1225-31
8. J Dermatol Sci, 2007; 48: 169-75; J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc, 2009; 14: 53-5; Plast Reconstr Surg, 2009; 123: 1321-31
9. Skinmed, 2010; 8: 23-9
10. J Invest Dermatol, 2010; 130: 2719-26
11. Scand J Plast Reconstr Surg Hand Surg, 2004; 38: 244-7
12. Br J Dermatol, 2009; 161: 419-26
13. Biofactors, 2008; 32: 237-43
14. Exp Dermatol, 2003; 12: 237-44
15. Dermatol Surg, 2005; 31: 860-5
16. Br J Dermatol, 2003; 149: 841-9