You know lines and wrinkles on your face will only increase over time — that’s just a given. While you’re not in control of the physical traits you inherit, you are in control of a lot more than you think. “You can’t change your genes (at least not yet), but there are plenty of things you can do to minimize the environmental effects on skin aging,” Dr. Gloria Nguyen, dermatologist at Stanford Health Care, said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. Ready to start your wrinkle-preventing repertoire? Adopt these 12 lifestyle habits.
1. Stay out of the sun
Lying in the sunshine might feel nice, but it’s one of the worst things you can do for your skin. In fact, according to experts, sun damage is the number one cause of wrinkles. “When the sun’s UV rays penetrate the skin, they start a process that leads to collagen breakdown, and once that’s started it can continue without additional sun exposure,” Cynthia Bailey, M.D., dermatologist, and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care, said. “It is a slow process, which is why the wrinkles are delayed and worsen over the course of your lifetime.” Your best bet is to avoid camping out under the sun for long hours, especially during peak hours, which are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
2. Always wear SPF
Sunscreen isn’t just a precaution — it protects against the sun’s invisible UVA rays and minimizes the damage to your skin. “People who diligently use sunscreen every day can slow or even prevent, for a time, the development of wrinkles and sagging skin,” Michele Green, M.D., board certified dermatologist, and RealSelf contributor, said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet.
And remember that it takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen, so you should apply it before heading outside and reapply at least every two hours to remain protected. “Even on overcast days or when you’re sitting in your car, there are invisible UVA rays coming through the clouds or your window glass and hitting your skin causing photoaging,” Nguyen said. Use a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 or higher for adequate protection.
3. Wear protective clothing
Any area of skin that’s not protected by clothing or a hat — including your face, ears, neck, arms, and hands — should have sunscreen. Otherwise, it’s prone to sun damage, which is cumulative over your lifetime and continually adds to your risks of premature aging and skin cancer.
Simply put, the more skin you cover, the better. “A long-sleeve shirt covers more skin than a T-shirt, especially if it has a high neckline or collar that shields the back of the neck,” Green said. “In addition, a wide-brimmed hat protects more of the face than a baseball cap and close-fitting wraparound sunglasses protect more of the area around the eyes than small lenses do.”
4. Don’t smoke
In addition to increasing your risk for heart and lung disease, studies have shown smoking can really do damage to your complexion. “The toxins from cigarette smoke deprive the skin of oxygen and nutrients and trigger the destruction of collagen and elastin,” Cherise M. Levi, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist, told us. “Smokers also use the muscles around their lips more frequently than non-smokers in order to pucker each cigarette.” It’s this repeated puckering that causes deep wrinkles to develop around the mouth — not a look most of us are going for.
The best thing you can do for your health — and skin quality — is to stop. “Quitting smoking improves blood flow to the skin and minimizes overuse of the muscles around the mouth to allow those ‘smoker’s lines’ to eventually soften,” Levi explained.
5. Lay off the booze
“Frequent and heavy drinking can be bad for your skin health because it damages the liver, which is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body,” Nguyen said. “But drinking in excess also temporarily dehydrates the skin, making it appear less plump and fresh and more thin and wrinkled.” You don’t have to give it up, just be sure to monitor how much you’re drinking.
6. Use a daily moisturizer
If you’re someone who only uses a facial moisturizer when your skin’s super dry, you might want to consider making it a part of your daily routine. In addition to keeping the skin cells hydrated, moisturizers also help maintain the skin barrier, which keeps the skin looking plump and radiant.
When choosing a moisturizer, experts recommend brands that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acid. “These ingredients gently exfoliate the top layers of the skin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve overall skin texture and brightness,” Levi explained. She recommends using a daily hydrating moisturizer containing hyaluronic acids or ceramides, and incorporating an alpha-hydroxy acid cream, such as Skin Medica AHA/BHA cream ($44), two to three nights per week.
7. Wash your face before bed
You’ve probably been told to wash your face twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. This is an important step in your skin care routine and one that can significantly help reduce your chances of premature wrinkles. “We’re exposed to free radicals in the environment all day, which can cause the breakdown of healthy collagen and eventually lead to fine lines and wrinkles,” Green said. “If you don’t wash your face before bed, your skin will have to fend off those free radicals all night long.”
In addition, makeup left on your face while you sleep can clog your pores and increase the chance of breakouts, which can then lead to scarring. Try your best to stick to washing your mug twice a day, as any more than that could lead to excessive dryness.
8. Sleep on your back
Believe it or not, sleeping on the same side of your face and applying that repeated pressure each night can lead to more wrinkles. To prevent this, it can be helpful to try sleeping on your back more often — or, at least, avoid always sleeping on the same side.
A few tricks to avoid sleep lines would be to get satin pillowcases, so your face slides more smoothly across the pillowcase, rather than crunching up against it. “You can also look into getting beauty sleep pillows, which are made of a special foam and have a unique shape that helps alleviate pressure on the face,” Nguyen suggested.
9. Eat more salmon
Fish, like salmon or mackerel, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. These essential fatty acids also make up an important component of cell membranes. “When you have healthy cell membranes and cell walls, the skin cells do a better job of retaining moisture in the skin,” Nguyen said. “I try to get at least two portions of fish per week in my diet.” If you don’t think you can do this, it may be worthwhile to consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
10. Get your vitamin C fix
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant and an essential building block for collagen production (the stuff that gives your skin strength and elasticity). You can eat vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus and cruciferous veggies, but your body will only absorb so much. “While getting enough vitamin C in the diet is crucial for your immune system and connective tissues, not enough of it will get into the skin,” Levi said. “Therefore, it’s important to include properly formulated vitamin C serum in your skin care regimen to increase collagen production and improve skin pigmentation and photoaging.”
11. Get reading glasses
Think about the lines that appear around your eyes when you squint, either to read a sign off in the distance or because the sun is too bright. Over time, these lines will become static. “Constantly using the muscles between your eyebrows and around your eyes over time will turn natural dynamic wrinkling into long-lasting, unwanted facial wrinkles that ultimately persist even without squinting,” Levi warned.
What to do? Have annual eye exams and wear appropriate prescription contacts or glasses if needed. Or, wear sunglasses when outdoors to prevent this same type of squinting on a bright, sunny day.
12. Lack of sleep
You already know not getting eight hours of sleep at night can cause bags and dark circles under your eyes. But that’s not all. “When you are sleep deprived, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to breakdown of skin collagen,” Nguyen warns. “Sleep deprivation also decreases the amount of human growth hormone that’s released by your body, which contributes to normal tissue repair in the body, including in the skin.”
[Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 13, 2017]