As an esthetician, I’m always asked, “What should I be doing to my skin NOW to prevent wrinkles from appearing later?” The truth is that there are many different things you can do. As someone who will be turning 53 this year, I know firsthand the difference that a healthy lifestyle and an effective skincare routine can make. And no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to implement new habits. Keep reading for my guide to healthy aging.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Aging
First, let’s talk about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic aging. We’ve all heard someone say, “Look how young they look! They must have good genes.” While we are genetically programmed from birth to age a certain way, genetics are now thought to only be responsible for 20-30% of aging. This is what’s referred to as intrinsic aging.
The other 70%-80% depends on extrinsic aging. This refers to aging caused by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and skincare—all of which you have control over. This is great news because it confirms that how we care for our skin far outweighs our genetic predisposition. When it comes down to it, healthy aging is all about making good choices.
Your Guide to Healthy Aging
Here’s what you can start doing NOW to promote healthy skin aging later.
1. Limit Sun Exposure
UV rays are the number one reason for premature skin aging. A study out of Australia even showed that “the skin of daily sunscreen users aged a full 24% less than that of occasional wearers.” This just goes to show how important daily sunscreen use is. You must apply SPF every day, 365 days a year, rain or shine, inside or out.
I started wearing sunscreen every day when I was 28 years old, which was considered pretty early back in 1998. I would have worn it earlier in my 20s but I just couldn’t find one that didn’t make me break out. So, I created my own! Weightless Protection SPF 30 is lightweight and won’t clog pores, cause blemishes, or feel greasy. It’s great for all skin types, and I wear it every single day without fail. (It’s my daily moisturizer, so no extra moisturizer is needed once I apply it.)
I really envy and admire all of the teens out there who are diligent about sunscreen. They are so lucky to have this knowledge and be able to put it into practice at such a young age. Sunscreen will undoubtedly and dramatically slow the progression of visible signs of aging, so make it a daily habit. And make sure you’re using it correctly (this is the right way to apply sunscreen).
2. Switch Up Your Sleeping Position
Did you know that the way you sleep may be the second most prominent cause of wrinkles (after sun exposure, of course)? Sleeping on your side is like ironing wrinkles into your skin. To prevent wrinkles from forming around the chest, neck, mouth, and eyes, you should sleep on your back. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you sleep on your side, you could potentially be spending more than 2,500 hours per year reversing the positive effects of your skincare routine. (See how I sleep.)
3. Wear Glasses and Sunglasses
Creases from repetitive facial expressions (like squinting, laughing, smiling, talking, and yawning) can ultimately result in permanent lines and wrinkles. Of course, our faces were meant to move, but you want to avoid facial expressions that are unnecessary, such as squinting. This will accelerate the appearance of lines and wrinkles around your eyes. Be sure to wear glasses (if you need them) and sunglasses. Don’t put off getting your eyes checked.
FYI, you can also prevent signs of aging from forming on your neck. Neck lines and wrinkles, which are called “tech neck,” are caused by the constant position of looking down at phones and computers. Read more about “tech neck” and how to prevent it.
4. Try Microcurrent Treatments
Gravity causes the muscles of the face to sag—especially those that are rarely used. Skin experts used to think this was unavoidable, but now we understand that exercising the muscles is possible and can help the face appear tighter and firmer. (Fun fact: We have 53 muscles in our face, and 32 of them are accessible for exercise.)
So, how do we exercise the muscles of our face? We can use professional microcurrent treatments. These are machines that use low-level electrical currents to simulate the currents that naturally run through your body. The waves it gives off are able to penetrate through your skin and into your muscles. Because microcurrent works to strengthen muscles, it’s often described as a “workout for your face.”
5. Wear Sun-Protective Clothing
This is an important key to healthy aging. Just like sunscreen, sun-protective clothing can prevent UV light from accelerating the aging process. (One more thing—stop wearing this piece of clothing if you want to save your skin—and chest!)
6. Avoid Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke
This should come as no surprise. Smoking (and inhaling second-hand smoke) are dangerous to the body. When it comes to the skin, specifically, it starves cells of oxygen, making it look dull and tired. Also, collagen-destroying enzymes (MMPs) ramp up when the skin is exposed to tobacco smoke. This dramatically increases how quickly the skin ages. Read more about how smoking affects the skin.
7. Limit Alcohol and Drug Use
Every drug will affect the body differently, but generally speaking, drugs can stress the nervous system. This, in turn, elevates hormones (adrenals) that contribute to the wear and tear of connective tissue, resulting in loose, sagging skin.
As for alcohol, it’s not doing your skin any favors either. Overconsumption of alcohol causes chronic inflammation and harmful free radical activity which is the underlying cause of skin aging. Learn more about how drinking alcohol affects the skin.
8. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
When it comes to healthy aging, don’t overlook your lifestyle as a whole. This includes everything from eating a nutritious diet to getting enough quality sleep, exercising, and focusing on living your best, happiest life that’s filled with love and laughter. As for laughter, did you know that doctors and health professionals are prescribing laughter to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase disease-fighting cells? Laughter is free and fun and everyone can do it. It’s no wonder you always hear, “Laughter is the best medicine.
When Should I Start Using Preventative Aging Products?
Answer: six months old (well, for sunscreen, that is).
Since the sun is the primary cause of premature aging, this makes sunscreen the most biologically active ingredient available. Sunscreen, more so than any other over-the-counter skincare product, has the greatest ability to prevent wrinkles and premature skin aging. Sunscreen can be applied to children as young as six months of age. (Of course, consult your doctor as to the best one to use for an infant.) This essentially means that the concept of healthy aging begins at less than one year of age. It’s never too early to start, right? Again, Weightless Protection SPF 30 is the one I recommend for everyday use under makeup.
As for other skincare products, a serum can be a game-changer. They’re designed to create positive change in the behavior of your skin. However, depending on the ingredients (such as retinol, certain vitamin combinations, and peptides), it may not be appropriate for those in their 20s and younger. This is because many serums are formulated to increase the metabolism of the cells. This action is needed for skin that is showing a lot of signs of aging but may be too active for younger skin and those prone to breakouts since this type of skin already has an active metabolism.
If you need help choosing the right serum for your skin type, take the Skin Type Quiz. At the end of it, you’ll get personalized recommendations.
What Skincare Ingredients Should I Use for Healthy Aging?
Aside from sunscreen, there are two skincare ingredients/products I recommend using to encourage healthy aging.
1. Retinol or Retinoids
We can now safely speed up the skin renewal process with products that contain retinol. I, for one, use the Advanced Resurfacing Serum three nights per week to encourage smooth, even-toned skin without wrinkles. Make sure you look for these four things when choosing a retinol product. Then, read my beginner’s guide to retinol before adding it to your routine.
2. Vitamin C
This is one of the most extensively researched antioxidants in skincare. It’s found to be extremely effective in interfering with aging free radicals that are found in the environment, such as those that come from sunlight, stress, and pollutants. (Learn more about free radicals and how they can accelerate the aging process.)
Not only does vitamin C give your skin a daily dose of antioxidants, but it’s also helpful in reducing discoloration and brown spots. I use the Vitamin C&E Treatment every single day (I apply it in the morning before my sunscreen). It contains both lipid and water-soluble forms of stable vitamin C to work deep within the epidermal layers.
Will Anti-Aging Products Make My Skin Worse If I’m Prone to Breakouts?
It’s important to always choose products that are appropriate for your skin type — even when it comes to products that slow down signs of visible aging. Many cosmetic companies assume those who want anti-aging care must have dry skin but this is not always the case. For those who produce oil and are prone to breakouts (like Skin Types 1, 2, 3, and 4), using products for dry skin can be problematic. It is possible for all skin types to preserve their youthful appearance and achieve their skincare goals with the right balance of products. Take my Skin Type Quiz to learn about which products are best suited for your skin’s unique needs.
In summary, it’s all about prevention. How you take care of your skin, body, and mind now will pave the road for how you will look and feel in the future. Make caring for your skin a priority and you will get the reward of beautiful, healthy skin for a lifetime.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”