One day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw two faint creases around my mouth. Then I scrunched my eyebrows and saw angry lines forming and — gasp! — staying on my forehead. “Where did these come from,” I wondered aloud. “And when the hell did I get these spots on my chest and back?”
Of course, I knew what had happened. I was getting older (as are all of you. Don’t try to deny it.) And throughout my 29 years of life, I’ve been accidentally aging my skin. In the grand scheme of things, I look fairly good for my age. At least, that’s what people tell me. But just the fact people say I look “good for my age” is unsettling and a little insulting — insinuating that, at my “advanced stage” in life, I could be looking a lot worse.
I have nothing and no one to thank besides good genes, given my sorry efforts in anti-aging prevention. Granted, I’ve made some effort to keeping my skin young-looking. I stopped tanning after high school and I’ve never picked up a cigarette. I’m also pretty good at taking off my makeup before bed. But it’s the smallest mistakes and oversights that end up aging people’s skin sooner than they’d like. Here are a few things that are sneakily again your skin (and easy ways to turn them around.)
1. You Skip Sunscreen In The Off Seasons
I usually wear sunscreen if I know I’ll be out in the sun all day, but I don’t think about it in the winter (or fall or spring). And yet according to Tori Hoolihan, esthetician at One on One Salon in Rhinebeck, New York, that’s the biggest skincare mistake 20-something women make.
“Ultraviolet rays are our biggest enemy, and they’re present all year round,” she says. “They cause free radicals to generate, and damage our protein and DNA in our cells. When we don’t protect against the three types of UV rays, we eventually get wrinkles, sun damage spots, and leathery skin.”
Her advice? Wear sunscreen! And not just in the summer, but during all seasons. She recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays, especially if you’re tanning (although, you should probably stop tanning to prevent skin cancer.)
2. You Use Oil-Control Face Products
If you’re still wandering the pimple prevention section of the drugstore (unfortunately acne isn’t just a teenage problem), your bathroom is probably stocked with oil-control face washes, scrubs, and masks. But those products could be aging your skin faster than you realize.
“Oil acts as a natural barrier for your skin, even though everyone thinks it is your enemy,” Hoolihan explains. “A little oil will help boost moisture, fight wrinkles, and reduce inflammation. And oil also helps your collagen and elasticity stay nice and firm.”
She notes that vitamin C will be your best friend in repairing the oil-free damage, but also suggests using rose hip oil, Argon oil, and any products with vitamin E, coconut oil, or black currant oil.
3. You Take Really Hot Showers
I’m a big culprit of this mistake, but it turns out my too-hot showers are unknowingly damaging my face. “Hot showers can strip your skin of essential moisture and healthy oils,”Howard Murad, a California-based dermatologist told Bustle. He recommends using warm, not hot, water — which I suppose I can live with.
4. You Skimp On Sleep
Some people see sleep deprivation as a competitive sport, pinning their measly four to six hours on their chest like a badge of honor. Unfortunately your skin (and body and brain) does need sleep. And no amount of catch-up snoozing can erase the permanent wrinkles caused from a decade of all-nighters.
“Your body and skin starts to repair itself while you sleep, and of course not many 20-somethings get enough,” Hoolihan says. “Every so often, ditch the club and loud music, and have an affair with a book and your bed.” Game of Thrones will still be there tomorrow, so turn off the TV and hit the sack, for the sake of your skin.
5. You Drink Too Many Cocktails
“Don’t get me wrong — a glass of red wine every so often doesn’t hurt, and actually does your body and skin some good,” Hoolihan says. “But as you get older, your skin starts to lose the ability to retain water. Keeping hydrated, meaning avoiding too much alcohol, gives you that young, fresh, dewy glow, and helps boost collagen and elasticity that we naturally lose with age.”
Beyond hydration, alcohol can cause tiny leaks in our blood vessels, leading to sagging and puffy skin. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, those leaks increase when you’re laying down — so avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of going to sleep.
Bottom line: Cut down on the booze and drink some damn water! You’re not getting any younger.
6. You Live In The City
This doesn’t mean urban living is a mistake — the ability to have literally anything delivered to your door at 2 a.m. is a massive perk — but it’s probably taking a toll on your skin. According to Cosmopolitan, women who live in high-traffic areas have 20 percent more pigmentation than rural-dwelling ladies.
If you live in a city, or have ever set foot in one, it’s pretty obvious why. You can feel the car exhaust and fumes settling on your skin (which, according to Cosmopolitan, destroys our skin’s lipids and proteins), and the lingering soot and chemicals cause inflammation, free radicals, and consequently wrinkles and age spots.
That’s not to say you have to pack up and move. Dermatologist Jeannette Graf suggested Cosmopolitan readers use an oscillating facial brush (like the Clarisonic) to unclog our city-living pores.
7. You Skip The Gym
There’s something freeing about looking in the mirror and saying, “You know what? I’m just not ‘one of those people’ who enjoys exercise. So I’m not going to do it.” But what if those sweaty gym sessions could actually keep you looking younger? Would that motivate you back on the spin bike?
According to a Canadian study, exercise improves the youthfulness of our skin composition. In the study, researchers found that middle-aged people who exercised frequently had skin that looked closer to someone 10 to 20 years younger, and that exercise might even reverse skin aging in people who start exercising later in life.
So in other words, get your tush to the gym. Your 40-year-old self will thank you someday.
8. You Devour Every Cupcake
There’s sound science behind the sugar-wrinkle connection, according to Elle magazine. When you gulp down a sugary drink or eat a stack of cookies, all that excess sugar binds to proteins, including the proteins in our skin: elastin and collagen. (This happens naturally with any food that breaks down into sugar, like carbs and fruit, but refined sugar overloads our system faster.) Apparently then elastin and collagen collide with sugars, “they become discolored, weak, and less supple; this shows up on the skin’s surface as wrinkles, sagginess, and a loss of radiance.”
This doesn’t mean you have to quit sugar forever. But it wouldn’t hurt to cut back on the afternoon sweet treats.
9. You Stare Down At Your Phone
Beyond the obvious eye squinting and facial scrunching, screens have another surprising effect on the aging process, specifically in people as young as 18 years old – neck wrinkles.
Dubbed “tech neck” and “smartphone face” by Forbes, this is what happens when an entire generation spends ungodly hours slumped over a phone, looking down. As Dr. Christopher Rowland Payne, a consulting dermatologist at The London Clinic, told the Wall Street Journal, tech neck — creases and wrinkles on the wide area of the neck — are caused by flexing the neck down to text or type, and it’s aggravated by sun exposure.
So chin up! Not only will these keep your neck pain-free, but it will prevent unwanted wrinkles as well.