Do all of us age at the same rate? What then is the secret of “exceptional agers” who defy the aging clock of mere mortals?
The tipping point, when you’re talking about aging—as in actually looking older—is not always easy to pinpoint.
I remember when it happened to me. I was 28 and in a semi-long term relationship with a workmate. One morning, he looked at me with concern and said, “Did you sleep OK? You look tired.” I had slept fine, thank you. But when I leaned close to the mirror in the unforgiving fluorescent cast of the bathroom lights, I saw that dark circles under my eyes told a different story that no amount of shut-eye could rectify.
Getting older—it’s inevitable. But when exactly does that notice-it-in-the-mirror, complain-about-it-to-friends type of skin aging start? And can anything be done to delay it? According to a new study, changes in our skin that herald the onset of visible aging happens years before our first wrinkle. If we can nullify these changes, then we could possibly retard the hands of time.
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The BIG change
The old thinking was that you do not need anti-aging products until you are at least 35. But according to a new study by scientists in Harvard, that’s not the case. In reality, different cell processes change at each decade, until you start seeing the cumulative effects all together.”
The best time to start using products with antioxidants such as stabilized vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea extract, and fruit acids is right around college graduation!
After analyzing the genes of more than 200 women of different ethnicities over the course of two years, the study was able to pinpoint five different cell processes that slow or decline at five different landmark ages.
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20s ‘Antioxidant Decline’
The first process to decline is natural antioxidant production, and that happens in your 20s. “We always thought that you just need to moisturize and use sunscreen in your 20s, but new data shows that skin is already susceptible to oxidative stressors and damage,” says Dr Low Chai Ling. ‘I tell my patients the best time to start using products with antioxidants such as stabilized vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea extract, and fruit acids is right around college graduation”.
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30s ‘Energy Depletion”
When your body’s metabolism starts slowing in your 30s, so, too, does the bioenergy of skin cells, which powers the creation of collagen, activates repair processes, and even helps absorb and process ingredients applied to your complexion. When bioenergy drops, it’s like your skin is getting tired and no longer firing on all cylinders. According to Dr Low, the key ingredient for revving up the cell metabolic engine is niacinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3, which has been shown to raise skin’s bioenergy levels.
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Around 40, cellular “senescence” kicks in. It’s a complicated process in which the natural life cycle of skin cells is arrested, and it could affect your complexion in many ways. To boost cellular renewal that has dipped to a sluggish rate, Dr Low advises to use skincare ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, and peptides because they help jump-start the cell processes that are starting to lag.
50s ‘Menopausal age’
As you transition into menopause (average age: 51), skin barrier function weakens, which makes skin dry and unable to retain enough hydration on its own. Experts say that rich moisturizers like oils and petrolatum can help counteract the process.
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60s ‘Global slowdown’
Then, in your 60s, all the aging processes mentioned here dramatically accelerate. But there’s good news, according to researchers: Aerobic exercise (like jogging or cycling) twice a week has the ability to transform the protein structure of skin in those 65 and older so it more closely resembles the skin of those 20 to 40.
That’s a lot of information to process, but the main takeaway is that using different skincare ingredients as you progress through life, along with exercising, will go a long way toward helping you look younger than the age on your driver’s license.
The Moment You Look Old
What you’re probably still wondering is when exactly these internal changes become visible. Experts say that depends on your race and, possibly, your lifestyle. For Caucasian women, fine lines on the forehead and around the eyes, less-elastic skin, and brown spots and broken capillaries from accumulated sun damage crop up typically around the late 30s. If you’re a woman of color, the tipping point is more likely in your 40s. “African-American women aged, on average, 10 years more slowly than Caucasians in our study, which could be seen not only in skin appearance, but also in underlying genetics.
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Now, here’s the glimmer of hope for all of us. Researchers found a group of women who defied the so-called tipping point—genetic overachievers, if you will. These women all appeared at least 10 years younger than their true age. Some were 60 but looked 39, according to the researchers. While they weren’t surprised to find women who looked younger than their actual age (after all, we all know people who inspire envy by defying nature’s clock), they were however intrigued to learn that these particular women showed similar gene expression. Their skin was somehow able to robustly renew itself through the decades so that, for example, the antioxidant decline typically seen in the 20s still hadn’t happened by their 50s.
Do these women have nature (DNA) or nurture (lifestyle) to thank? Scientists believe the answer is likely a bit of both, and determining exactly how much of it is related to factors like UV exposure, nutrition, and skincare will be questions leading future studies.
Their skin was somehow able to robustly renew itself through the decades so that, for example, the antioxidant decline typically seen in the 20s still hadn’t happened by their 50s.
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Dr Low, for one, believes that up to 80 percent of aging is due to lifestyle choices. Here is a summary of the ‘Exceptional Aging’ Plan she puts her patients on:
She suggests sleeping seven to eight hours a night, following a lean-protein-rich diet that gives skin the building blocks it needs to renew.
Drinking lots of water to stay hydrated from the inside out. And she means water, and not soda, coffee or tea.
While food is the best source of vitamins, some people have trouble absorbing all of the nutrients they consume. Dr Low recommends a supplement that contains peptides, amino acids like collagen, and biotin to help replace what is lost with aging.
Some may think that skincare is only skin deep, but studies have shown that a good skincare routine and diligent habits can make the difference between looking 10 years older or 10 years younger than your actual age. Studies have already shown the anti-aging value of retinoids on your skin. Regular sunscreen use can prevent UV-induced aging. While the daily benefits may not be visible, the cumulative effects after years can be drastic.
“A 60-year-old who has never done anything and buys a $200 antiaging cream once just isn’t going to see the same results as someone who has been taking care of her skin throughout earlier aging stages,” says Dr Low.
We know collagen cannot be absorbed meaningfully into the skin. So the best way to boost the hyaluronic acid levels in your skin is to use dermal fillers. One of the first signs of aging is sunkenness around your lower face, cheeks, undereyes and even temples. To stave off the visible signs of age, replace this loss in facial volume with natural hyaluronic acid fillers. “The best hyaluronic acid filler that is suitable for you will depend on the area that you are using this” says Dr Low. “Your cheeks may require a softer filler, and areas like your chin will benefit from a filler that is better able to hold its shape.”
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