When I mention wrinkles to a woman, the response I tend to receive is something along the lines of "The joys of getting older".
But did you know that there are a number of elements that create wrinkles in our skin which have nothing to do with our age?
I'm listing 6 of the top causes, with the top 1 causing up to a whopping 75% of wrinkles! (yep... that was scientifically proven!). But not only am I listing the top 6, I'm also giving you practical ways of ensuring these causes have a minimal effect on your skin.
Cause #6: Pollution
When I talk about pollution in this context, I'm not just referring to car or factory pollution, the kind evident in big cities. I'm also talking about pollution generated by machinery or even by chemicals used in farming. So, just because you live in the countryside and work locally, it doesn't mean you should ignore this advice. Pollution is everywhere.
Pollution creates free radicals, tiny chemically-unstable nano-particles which are attracted to other electrons that will make them more stable. And one such source are the electrons in human cells.
When free radicals attach themselves to your cells, they don’t just sit on your skin, they penetrate into the deeper layers of the epidermis to cause inflammation, dehydration, and loss of elasticity and firmness, all of which create wrinkles.
Now naturally your skin will be exposed to more pollution if you live/work in a big city and, as a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2010 showed, the more pollution your skin is exposed to the more damage it may cause. Spanning some 24 years, the aforenamed study compared the skin of women living in rural areas with those who lived in the city. The study found that those who lived in the city and were more exposed to pollution showed increased dark spots on their skin as well as increased wrinkles.
But it's not all doom and gloom.
You can reduce the impact that pollution has on your skin by following a few simple steps:
- exfoliate your skin weekly to remove sluggish dead skin cells and any grime that's caught in your pores
- apply a cream or serum containing antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C and E before going out (anti-oxidants are anti (against) oxidants; they prevent cell damage caused by oxidants aka free radicals)
- wash your skin as soon as you come home, to remove any dirt and grime as quickly as possible
- eat a diet high in anti-oxidants (for a list of foods that slow down aging and fight free radicals, pop on over to my article here)
Cause #5: stress
The daily stress we experience in our life is the modern-day equivalent of our body going into prolonged fight or flight mode. When our body goes into flight or flight mode, one thing that happens is that it releases the stress hormone, cortisol.
When cortisol remains high for a prolonged period of time it reduces the skin's ability to hold onto moisture. And when our skin becomes dehydrated, wrinkles result.
Prolonged increased levels of cortisol will also cause a decrease in the hormone called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), referred to as the anti-aging hormone. Our levels of DHEA start to diminish as we enter our 20's. This natural decrease coupled with increased cortisol levels which add to the loss, will lead to added wrinkles.
And if that wasn't enough (sorry), stress increases our blood sugar levels. And elevated blood sugar levels damage the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin which are the critical support structures. As they become more damaged, our skin will begin to sag and develop wrinkles.
It would be easy to say "keep your stress levels in check" but, in today's world, this is by no means easy to put into practice. So what should you do? Well when you feel the stress levels begin to rise in your body (eg upset tummy, headache, your heart rate rises, sweaty hands, feeling a bit panicky or flustered), take action as soon as possible. Don't ignore it. Because the longer you hold stress in your body, the bigger the impact it will have.
Here are some suggestions as to de-stress your body:
- place your feet on the ground (take your shoes off if you can), close you eyes and breathe deeply into your stomach and out through your mouth. Repeat a few times until you feel the feelings of stress subside
- go for a walk, preferably in nature but if that isn't possible, just enjoy the fresh air on your face as you walk outside
- meditate... either use a guided meditation, listen to relaxing music or just being present in the moment
- practise yoga, either at home or in a class
- take up a new hobby that is fun and relaxing such as knitting, sewing or, simply, reading
- dance and/or sing... either alone or in company. But really let yourself go
Cause #4: sugar
Sugars are one of the most aging ingredients we eat. Too much sugar not only speeds up your body’s production of wrinkles but it also leaves your skin looking dull and lacklustre. This is because it damages the collagen and elastin in your skin which keep your skin plump and looking youthful.
Research has shown that advanced glycation end products (AGEs), a class of compounds that result from the combination of sugar with protein, can accelerate the effects of aging. Ingested sugar goes through a process called glycation which means that it bonds to proteins (like collagen and elastin) in our body, weakening them. When these proteins are weakened they can't do their jobs as efficiently ie keep your skin plump, firm and youthful.
You'll be glad to hear that not all sugars are bad for you or your skin, though. So you don't have to avoid all sugars (and carbohydrates)... handy when you may have a sugar-craving. Naturally occurring sugars, such as glucose, fructose (found in fruits) and lactose (found in dairy products), act as energy sources for the body. It's the refined sugars that you find in sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks, ice cream etc that you want to keep to a minimum.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid sugar cravings and what to do when you have one:
- eat a balanced meal. If you have too many refined starchy foods in your meal that are easily digested (eg white bread, white rice etc) your blood sugar will naturally spike after your meal. Then after a while it will drop, trying to return to a normal level. But during the time when your sugar levels drop, that's when you'll crave sugar. By eating a balanced meal, you'll avoid that immediate sugar spike
- you don't have to cut sugar out of your diet completely. Remember, balance is key. If you remove sugar completely, you may find that it actually intensifies your cravings
- eat foods high in calcium (milk products, leafy green veggies, fish, nuts & seeds) and magnesium (green leafy veggies, fruit (esp banana & avocado), legumes, seafood, whole grains). Science has proven that a deficiency in these two minerals can actually cause sugar cravings.
- when you have a craving, reach for these foods that can fight your sugar craving: fruit & berries, dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa), yogurt, dates, dried fuit & nut mix (aka trail mix))
Cause #3: smoking
Depending on who you talk to, they'll say that smoking is either the #3 or #2 cause of wrinkles. I'm placing it here in the #3 spot, simply because we're all a lot more aware of the affects of smoking on our overall health, nowadays, and the number of women who smoke is reducing.
Smoking has a negative impact on our skin. Not only does it age our skin faster by increasing the number of free radicals in your body (one of the primary contributors of aging, as mentioned above) and creating wrinkles, especially noticeable around the mouth, but scientific research has also recently proven that it can cause skin cancer too.
A study showed that smokers are three times more likely to develop skin cancer than non-smokers, even if they only smoke a few cigarettes a day. It is suspected that smokers’ increased risk to skin cancer is attributable to tobacco’s harmful effect on the immune system. People with damaged or suppressed immune systems are more likely to develop skin cancers than those with healthy immune systems.
And it doesn't stop there. Even if you're not a smoker yourself, being a passive smoker (ie the effects of someone else's smoking on you) can have a negative impact on your skin.
What should you do? Well, the obvious answer is, if you are a smoker then find support to help you reduce and quit. But if you're not a smoker, then here are some ideas:
- only go to smoke-free places eg restaurants, cafes etc
- in the better weather, choose to eat and drink indoors when at a non-smoking restaurant/bar as it is allowed to smoke in the outdoor areas
- don't travel with friends who smoke in their car
- ask friends who smoke to light-up away from you (eg ask them not to smoke when you're all at the same table, even when sitting outside)
- find an excuse to walk away for a few minutes while a companion is smoking in your company (eg go to the washroom), until they've finished
Cause #2: dry skin
Wrinkles are divots in your skin caused by, in part, dryness. A bit like dried-out soil in summer that is full of cracks and divots. But unlike soil, you can’t remove wrinkles by simply hydrating the skin once or twice... you have to start early (before wrinkles even appear) and build moisturising and hydrating into your daily skincare routine.
Whilst creams and lotions work well, the queen of moisturisers is the traditional non-diluted body butter. And for the face, it's just got to be facial serums. These two products take moisturising to a whole new level.
There are 5 primary causes of dry skin (you can read about them in detail here):
- dry air
- hard water
- over-washing & over-cleansing
- your personal DNA
To keep your skin hydrated, moisturised and supple, avoid the 5 main causes of dry skin and incorporate moisturiser into your daily routine.
You might be thinking "But I have oily skin and still have wrinkles! What's going on there?" Here's the thing, women with oily skin will age but they'll age differently from those with dry skin. Oily skin tends to be thicker and, by defnition, less prone to dehydration, one of the causes of fine lines and wrinkles. as it naturally produces more oil (aka sebum). However oily skin can have deeper lines. In contrast women with dry skin can experience flaky skin that has a more wrinkly, crinkled appearance. But women with oily skin tend to find that they age slower, simply because their skin stays naturally hydrated and is generally more plump with collagen.
Cause #1: sun
The biggest culprit of wrinkles, by a mile, is the sun. Science has proven that up to 75% of our wrinkles are caused by the sun. According to Dermatologist Jerome Potozkin, “Sun damage results in loss of collagen and elastin resulting in wrinkling of the skin.”
It’s important to protect your skin from the sun all year round, not just during the summer months when the sun is highest and strongest. For example, the Winter sun in combination with the glare and reflection from the snow can still damage your skin.
The sun emits ultraviolet rays (UVA & UVB) which can be harmful to our skin unless we apply protective UVA/UVB sunscreen. The sun’s rays can not only cause wrinkles and prematurely aging skin, but can contribute to skin cancer.
How do you protect your skin from the sun? Here are some suggestions:
- wear sunscreen all year round (SPF 15 or higher)
- seek out more shaded areas in summer and avoid prolonged exposure to sunny snowspots in winter
- wear protective clothing such as hats
- protect the thinner and more delicate skin round your eyes from the sun and its UV rays by wearing sunglasses (in summer and when there's a snow-glare in winter)
- avoid direct exposure when the sun is at its highest (and strongest) during the day (late morning – early afternoon)
- avoid sunbeds and tanning studios