Aging — it’s inevitable, but you don’t have to dread it.
For those who’ve mastered the mindset of growing old gracefully — the ones who welcome a forehead crease as a sign of wisdom — you deserve a salute. And for the others who stack their medicine cabinets with products promising to turn back the clock, you’re in good company. By 2021, the anti-aging beauty industry is projected to gross over $331 billion globally, according to a 2017 report by Orbis Research.
But when it comes to preventing wrinkles and keeping your face as plump and firm as a baby's, you shouldn’t just rely on magic anti-aging potions to do all the heavy lifting. Making small but smart lifestyle changes play an essential role in erasing the effects of time on your face. Try adding these anti-aging strategies to your daily routine.
1. Slather on the Sunscreen
If you do only one thing to protect your skin from premature aging, this is it. Sun exposure is responsible for increased fine lines, wrinkles, brown spots, blotchy complexion, uneven texture and skin laxity, says Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. But it’s completely avoidable!
“Diligent sunscreen use can prevent these negative effects on the skin,” says Dr. Chang. In one 2013 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, participants who applied sunscreen three to four days each week were less likely to have increased photo-aging after four years than those who didn’t.
Dr. Chang recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreens — and mineral sunscreens like zinc oxide — that protect against both UVA and UVB, with SPF of 30 or greater. And don’t forget to rub some on the back of your hands, neck and decolletage! These delicate areas are often neglected and thus show the earliest signs of aging, says Dr. Chang.
Read more: The 31 Safest Sunscreens and 3 to Avoid
2. Wear Sunglasses
Now that you’ve loaded up on sunblock, don’t forget your sunglasses. The skin around your eyes is delicate, thin and susceptible to crow’s feet.
“Excessive movement of facial muscles, like squinting or frowning, increases the risk of forming or worsening facial creases around the eyes,” says Dr. Chang, adding that “wearing sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat can help you from making excessive facial movements.”
The more surface area you cover, the better. And the next time you shop, consider buying an oversized pair of shades, and make sure they’re plastic (metal frames can reflect the sun on your cheeks).
3. Skip the Straw
Bad news for milkshake fans: Like squinting at the sun, sipping on a straw can result in an increase in fine lines.
“Lip wrinkles are often referred to as ‘smoker’s lines’ or ‘lipstick lines,’ but they’re not truly caused by smoking or applying lipstick,” says anti-aging specialist Lionel Bissoon , DO, author of The Cellulite Cure. “Vertical lip wrinkles are the result of repetitive contraction of the lip muscles.”
Sipping on an occasional smoothie isn’t going to hurt you, but if it’s a daily thing, you’re better off tossing the straw. The more often you use those muscles, the more pronounced the fine lines will be.
Read more: 12 Ways Your Home Is Making You Age Faster
4. Apply Retinoids
Next to sunscreen, retinol is the next best thing you can use to keep your skin looking youthful. The OG of anti-aging skincare products, retinoids and retinol (the over-the-counter counterpart) have been used since the 1980s for their anti-aging effects, says Dr. Chang.
Retinoids are so effective because they’re “cell communicators,” according to Kate Kerr, expert clinical facialist and director of Kate Kerr London. “They can attach to most skin cells and tell them to behave like younger healthier versions of themselves,” she says, adding they also speed up cell turnover and thicken the dermis resulting in plumper, younger looking skin.
Need more proof? A 2007 study published in the Archives of Dermatology showed that retinol increases collagen production and approves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
5. Moisturize Daily
What’s the difference between a plump plum and a wrinkly prune? Hydration! “Dry skin worsens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as dulls your complexion,” says Dr. Chang.
Keep your skin dewy, supple and smooth by moisturizing. Look for creams that contain hydrators like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which function as magnets for moisture. Another powerful hydrating ingredient is niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3. Not only does this potent anti-oxidant decrease water loss, but it also fights against environmental stressors that can lead to premature aging.
Read more: 9 Ways to Keep Your Skin Looking Great
6. Use a Humidifier
For an extra boost of hydrating power, get a humidifier. “Low humidity in the air can lead to dry skin, which worsens the appearance of wrinkles,” says Dr. Chang.
You might’ve noticed your face looking particularly parched — and your fine lines especially pronounced — in the winter. That’s because the air tends to be drier during the colder months when the heater is on and sucking the dewiness from the surface of your skin. Using a humidifier can help replace the moisture you’ve lost and give you a vibrant, glowing complexion, says Dr. Chang.
Just like a snake needs to shed its dead skin, so do you! “As we mature, the rate at which skin cells turnover slows down, leading to a dull complexion,” says Dr. Chang. “Exfoliation can help increase skin cell turnover, remove dead skin cells, and maintain a healthy glow to the skin.”
Dr. Chang recommends chemical exfoliation (with chemical peels like glycolic acid or salicylic acid) over harsh scrubs, which can excessively irritate the skin. “Those with normal skin can use exfoliation one to three times per week, but those with sensitive skin may need to exfoliate less frequently,” she says. And be careful not to overdo it. Over-exfoliating can lead to dryness, redness, and irritation.
One of the best anti-aging techniques you can practice is the art of de-stressing. “Chronic stress can lead to profound and detrimental changes in your body's metabolism that accelerate the aging process,” says Rocco Monto, M.D., aging expert and author of The Fountain. “And, like a canary in a coal mine, your skin is the first organ to show the negative effects.”
Stress’ insidious impact stretches down to your DNA. A 2012 study published in PLOS ONE found that work-related exhaustion accelerates aging at the cellular level. Participants who experienced chronic job-related stress had significantly shorter telomeres (the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes). In other words, the shorter the telomere, the further along your cells are in the aging process.
But on the other hand, the regular practice of relaxation exercises, such as meditation and yoga, can actually alter your genes’ expression in response to stress, according to 2013 study in PLOS ONE. And a 2011 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that meditation can increase telomerase activity.
As with most things in life, the more you practice, the better the results. Try to incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. “Taking even ten minutes out your day to disconnect from the chaos to quietly reconnect with your body to can be a restorative experience,” says Dr. Monto.
9. Do Low-Impact Exercise
“Working out leads to an incredible cascade of genetic and metabolic shifts that increase energy stores and slow down aging,” says Dr. Monto. In fact, when practiced in moderation, regular exercise increases the expression of antioxidant enzymes, which defend against the harmful effects of free radicals associated with aging, according to a 2008 study in Free Radical Biology and Medicine.
And researchers from McMaster University in Canada found that a daily sweat sesh could take years off your face, as reported by The New York Times. One reason for this anti-aging effect may relate to the benefits of sweating. “The sweat we produce helps to flush out cell debris from the pores and improves skin clarity,” says Kerr. In effect, when you perspire, you’re washing away impurities.
But certain types of exercise may also have a less pleasant effect on your skin: sagging. “Jogging, sprinting and jumping activities increase the gravitational force on the skin,” says Dr. Bissoon. “Every time we impact the ground, the downward force going through the body is three times the body weight.” So maybe swap a jog or two with some low-impact, high-intensity workouts.
Read more: 8 Ways to Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age
10. Try Facial Exercises
Just like you do squats to lift your booty, you can do exercises to lift your face, which becomes droopier with age thanks to a loss of collagen and subcutaneous fat. One 2018 study published in JAMA Dermatology found that practicing face exercises for 30 minutes a day could reverse the signs of aging by as much as three years!
By building up and strengthening your facial muscles, your face appears plumper, firmer and rejuvenated. The bonus? It’s way cheaper than botox or a facelift! Intrigued? Check out this online facial exercise program to get you started.
11. Massage Your Face
Just as a relaxing rubdown does a body good, your face can reap the benefits of massage too. Not only does it feel heavenly, but facial massage can also help decrease wrinkles, says Dr. Bissoon. The gentle rubbing movement relaxes the muscles, increases lymphatic drainage and increases circulation to the skin.
Plus, you can do it at home as part of your regular skincare routine, says Kerr. It’s the perfect way to apply moisturizers or anti-aging serums because the repetitive rubbing motion and warmth of your hands helps to increase the absorption of the product. Try out facial massage tutorial.
12. Catch More ZZZs
After a bad night’s sleep, you’re probably not going to look your best. But not catching enough ZZZs on a regular basis might have serious consequences for your skin in the long term. Quality of sleep plays a significant role in skin health and aging, says Dr. Bissoon, citing a large Japanese study that demonstrated a link between poor sleep and accumulation of advanced glycation end products (a marker of skin aging).
Another 2013 study by researchers at University Hospitals Case Medical Center found that inadequate sleep not only accelerated skin aging but also reduced the skin's capacity to recover after sun exposure. So aim for six to eight hours of shuteye a night, says Dr. Bissoon.
13. Don’t Sleep in Your Makeup
In addition to clogging your pores and increasing your risk of breakouts, failing to wash your face and remove makeup before bed might also be prematurely aging your skin. “Environmental pollutants accumulate in the makeup on the skin’s surface and drive the generation of free radicals," says Kerr.
"This free radical attack contributes to the breakdown of healthy collagen and elastin, the proteins that provide structure within the skin.” Basically, your makeup captures all the day’s dirt and grime, even things like car exhaust and smoke. So, if you don’t want to bring this toxic crap into your bed and stress out your skin, you’ll give it a good scrub before sleepy time.
14. Sleep on Your Back
Lying on your side (or face down) may be aging you every time you snooze. That’s because sleeping sideways increases compression and decreases circulation to one side of your face, says Dr. Bissoon. This repetitive compressive force and the prolonged stress on the face — combined with the natural decrease in elasticity of the skin as one ages — will lead to more fine lines and wrinkles.
Plus, for the same reasons, side-sleeping can lead to breast ptosis. Or in laymen’s terms, saggy boobs. Luckily there’s a simple solution — just sleep face up. Not only will sleeping on your back help prevent wrinkles, it can also decrease neck pain and pressure on your spine.