Curious as to how well you’ll age? It might be easier to do than you think. While your lifestyle choices (i.e. whether or not you wear sunscreen or smoke) and genetics play a key role in determining how early you’ll start to wrinkle, there’s a few indicators that generally can show whether or not you’re predisposed to premature skin aging.
While these features won’t completely nix your dream for wrinkle-free skin well into your 60s, they do mean you’ll have to treat your skin with extra care in order to keep those fine lines at bay. Ahead, the 11 telltale signs your skin is on the fast track to accelerated aging and how to combat them.
According to New York plastic surgeon B. Aviva Preminger, MD, some people are simply luckier than others when it comes to aging. “Genetics definitely play a role, and if your mom aged well, you may be more likely to age well, too,” says the doctor, noting that unfortunately, the converse is also true.
Despite this harsh truth, Dr. Preminger says there are ways to avoid harsh aging: “While genetics certainly play a role, there is a lot you can do to take care of your skin to maintain a healthy and youthful appearance and prevent the signs of aging before they happen. I am a proponent of maintenance and prevention, which includes the regular use of sunblock, Botox Cosmetic, a good skin regimen with liberal moisturizer application and occasional facials, peels and laser treatments.”
Poor Diet or Fluctuating Weight
“When you fluctuate in your weight or practice unhealthy diet habits, this can accelerate the signs of aging—think sagging skin, wrinkling and dehydration of the skin,” says Prospect, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD. “I can not stress the term ‘we are what we eat’ enough. Choose wisely or you will see your skin age before your eyes.”
However, Dr. Preminger says that “fuller” is not necessarily a bad thing. “Fuller faces tend to remain more youthful in appearance, and weight loss can actually result in skin laxity and premature aging.”
“The thinner the dermis, the less elastic and supportive framework there is,” says La Jolla, CA plastic surgeon Joseph Grzekiewicz, MD, who explains that thin skin is especially subject to the normal forces of nature as we age. “This type of skin breaks down faster and loses its tone and thickness. In addition, if the dermis is thin and the skin is fragile, the deeper tissues are too, so that person will not only appear prematurely aged on the surface, but they can also develop sagging of the body, which can make them look older.”
Lighter Features and Freckles
In a study dubbed the Multi-Decade and Ethnicity Study (MDE), researched by Olay, scientists found that the lighter your features, the more likely your skin will age at an accelerated rate. Lighter features typically indicate a paler skin tone, which—as previously noted—is more prone to sun damage (the number-one risk factor for fast-tracked aging.)
“Having less melanin in your skin may also predispose you to premature aging due to photodamage,” says Dr. Preminger. “Rigorous sunblock application is so important in protecting skin from sun damage and photoaging. There is also evidence to suggest racial differences in the amount of collagen present in your skin. The more collagen present, the better you will age.”
History of Sunburns
“The way that solar damage works on our skin is cumulative,” says Dr. Grzekiewicz. “This means that as we incur more and more damage through our lives, the chickens come home to roost in our later years, and our skin starts showing the breakdown and effects of all of those sunburns when we were carefree kids. This is especially the case if the sunburns were more severe, like blistering, peeling burns.”
New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD adds that your skin ages faster if you burn easily. “This is a sign that you are not able to make melanin in response to exposure to UV rays. The melanin selectively absorbs the UV rays and protects the DNA of your skin cells and also the collagen in the layers below. Chronic exposure to the sun will lead to continued breakdown of collagen which will be visible as wrinkles and folds in the skin as well as uneven skin tone from redness and sun spots.”
An Expressive Face
Depending on how often you move your facial muscles (through smiling, raising your eyebrows or frowning), your facial expressions can be causing deep wrinkles over time. As we get older, our skin loses elasticity and the ability to bounce back after making any movements. So, if you’re an extremely expressive person, these lines may start to set in sooner than you’d like.
Dr. Preminger says that there are some parts of the face where expressivity is good, like smile lines, and some parts of the face where facial expressions can age you, like brow furrows. “Usually, these can be prevented or treated with regular use of Botox Cosmetic.”
Dr. Day adds that “using antioxidants along with being sun smart can help keep your skin looking young well into your 80’s.”
According to Dr. Grzekiewicz, stretch marks are the visual indication that the elastic and supportive elements of our skin have “fractured under mechanical strain.” He also explains that once stretch marks are apparent, they are very hard to repair. “This same type of process happens not just in the skin where it’s visible, but underneath the skin in the supportive ligaments of our fatty layer, and this is responsible for things like jowls, turkey neck, sagging breasts, sagging tummy, bra line, arm or thigh tissues and the like,” says the doctor. “People often think that liposuction is the answer, but it’s not. It’s an issue of tone and strength of the tissues. If striae appear early, it may be an indication that your body will look old before its time.”
The Little Things
New York plastic surgeon Mokhtar Asaadi, MD offers a few signs that your body is starting to age: “Sagging breasts, sagging arms, loss of fullness in the cheeks, more nasal and ear hair in men, puffiness of the lower eyelids, dropping of the nasal tip, less scalp hair and bad posture.”
Skin conditions, like eczema, that reveal themselves as inflamed, dry patches of skin, are typically indicators that your face will start to appear older than your age early on. Because hydrated skin has the ability to rapidly repair itself and stay healthier for longer (the reason why moisturizers help delay signs of aging so well), these conditions prevent skin from functioning at its peak performance and hinder its ability to recover itself properly, leading to fine lines.
The obvious truth about pale skin is that it’s extremely prone to burning in the sun. Considering the detrimental effects that the sun can have on our skin, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that lighter skin tones typically ages faster than darker ones. “More photoaging occurs in pale skin, as there is less protection from UV damage,” explains Dr. Alexa B. Kimball, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. Darker pigmentation acts as a natural protectant from the sun’s harsh rays, so the paler the skin, the more likely you’ll develop hyperpigmentation and early-onset wrinkles.
Naturally Dry Skin
“The drier the outer skin layers, the stiffer they are,” explains Dr. Kimball. “If well-moisturized, skin is more elastic and thereby diminishes the formation of temporary wrinkles during facial expression that will ultimately lead to persistent wrinkles.” Translation? Expressions obviously causes wrinkles, but creating expressions with dry skin can cause them to become permanent much quicker due to the lack of the skin’s elasticity.