Age comes for everyone sooner or later, and one of the many ways it changes the body is the face you present to the world.
Over time, “the skin becomes less elastic, drier and thinner,” says Dr. Troy Pittman, a board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice in Washington, D.C. These changes mean the skin is less able to protect itself from damage. “This brings about creases, wrinkles and lines on the skin.”
Wrinkles of the Skin
Dr. Tanya Nino, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon and melanoma program director with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, describes wrinkles as “furrows in the skin that result from weakening of the elastic fibers in our skin.”
Many factors can influence how many wrinkles you have and how early they start showing up. Pittman notes that wrinkles can be categorized into intrinsic and extrinsic aging factors.
“Intrinsic aging, a natural process programmed by our genes, influences the decrease in elastin and collagen production,” he explains. Elastin and collagen are two proteins in the skin that help “give the skin its elasticity and strength. The decrease in elastin and collagen production can produce wrinkles.”
Extrinsic aging factors, on the other hand, are factors “we expose ourselves to,” and these can also create wrinkles, Pittman says. “For example, the amount of sleep we get, sun exposure (also called solar elastosis), smoking and the amount of air pollution we’re exposed to, among other factors, cause wrinkles.”
Just plain living life and using your face to talk, cry, squint, laugh and so on also contributes to the development of fine lines and wrinkles over time. Wrinkles occur “as we age due to repeated use of our muscles of facial expression,” Nino says. “We get them because the underlying facial muscles contract, causing the skin to move and stretch in the opposite direction of the muscle contraction, which results in a crease.” She notes that “people who are in pain often may frown more creating creases in the mid-brow area.”
Variations in lifestyle from person to person can have a significant bearing on how many wrinkles one person has versus another at the same age. But “healthy lifestyle habits can help you control how your skin ages,” Pittman says.
Eating Right for Your Skin
Avoiding excessive sun exposure is a big way to help stave off wrinkling. But you can also make some changes in the kitchen that could impact how many wrinkles you get.
Nino notes that “foods rich in antioxidants can help fight the free radicals created by UV damage to our DNA.” So, if you’ve spent a lot of time tanning or enjoying the great outdoors, you should focus on adding more foods that are high in antioxidants. Examples include:
— Dark green, leafy vegetables.
Vitamin A and its constituent compound beta-carotene — the compound that gives carrots their bright orange color and is transformed by the liver into vitamin A — is also a helpful nutrient in the fight against wrinkles. Foods high in vitamin A and beta-carotene include:
— Carrots. Carrots are high in a range of antioxidants and contain high levels of vitamin A.
— Sweet potatoes. “Sweet potatoes are also rich in beta-carotene,” which “can help boost the skin’s natural sun protection and defend against sun-induced damage that can cause wrinkles,” Pittman says.
— Cheese and dairy products.
“Vitamin E is an antioxidant that’s part of the skin’s natural defense system,” Pittman says. Vitamin E-rich foods may help calm the internal inflammatory process that plays a role in skin damage. In addition, getting an insufficient amount of vitamin E has been linked to skin dryness, leading to wrinkles.”
Foods high in vitamin E include:
— Sunflower, safflower and soybean oil.
— Peanuts and peanut butter.
A powerful antioxidant that helps support immunity, vitamin C can also help defend your skin from the ravages of time by mitigating the damaging effects of free radicals.
Foods high in vitamin C include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acid can lower inflammation. “Those who eat more omega-3s experience less wrinkling and dryness,” Pittman says.
Foods high in omega-3s include:
— Salmon and other fatty, cold water fish such as sardines and herring.
— Oysters, shrimp and other shellfish.
— Chia and hemp seeds.
Collagen is a type of protein that’s integral to building strong bones, tendons, skin, hair and nails. While there are collagen supplements on the market that you could take, there are also foods that are rich in collagen that can help support healthy joints, skin, hair and nails.
Collagen-rich foods include:
— Egg whites.
Foods to Avoid to Reduce Wrinkling
While there are a few foods that can help reduce skin wrinkles, there are plenty that can contribute to wrinkling.
Avoiding the following foods may help support healthy skin as you age:
— Fried foods. “Food fried in oil at high temperatures can release free radicals that cause cellular damage to the skin. Exposing yourself to these radicals can potentially accelerate the aging process,” Pittman says.
— Salty foods. “Consuming too much salt can draw water out from the skin, leading to dehydration. Dehydrated skin is then more prone to wrinkling,” Pittman says.
— Sugary or high-glycemic index foods. “The glycemic index is essentially a value that measures how certain foods increase your blood sugar levels,” Pittman explains. High-glycemic index foods raise your blood sugar levels and can contribute to the development of inflammation throughout the body. That inflammation in turn can speed up aging and increase risk for developing or exacerbate chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. “Foods with a high glycemic index can cause excessive inflammation in the body which can have a negative impact on skin health,” Nino says.
— Ultra-processed meats. “Meats like hot dogs, sausages and bacon are all high in sodium, saturated fats and sulfite,” a type of preservative added to certain ultra-processed foods. “These compounds can dehydrate skin and weaken collagen,” Pittman says.
— Alcohol. Nino also notes that “excessive alcohol intake can take a toll on our skin health and should be avoided in order to prevent premature aging.”
[Read: Sunscreen Recommendations.]
When eating right, reducing sun exposure, staying well hydrated and getting enough sleep can no longer slow the approach of wrinkles, plastic surgery and Botox injections can help decrease the visible signs of aging, Pittman says.
Also known as Botulinum toxin injections, Botox “can help slow down the formation of wrinkles by weakening the muscles of facial expression temporarily, which places less stretching forces on our skin,” Nino explains. The smoothing results from a Botox infection usually last around three to four months after the treatment. However, she cautions that Botox is not the best option for everyone and urges you to seek the assistance of a board-certified dermatologist before pursing such treatments.
In the meanwhile, Nino says that “the single most important thing we can do to help prevent premature aging is to protect our skin from sun damage. This can be achieved by seeking shade, wearing a hat and sunglasses when outdoors or using sunscreen on unprotected skin.”
She also recommends using retinoid creams, which “can be applied to the skin to help with fine lines and early wrinkles, by increasing skin cell turnover and promoting collagen renewal.” Retinoids are a type of chemical related to vitamin A that have been found to be supportive of skin health.
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Update 03/14/22: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.