Your skin is the canvas on which you can make changes, good and bad, which is positive news if you’re prepared to look after it. No matter what your age or skin type, there is always something you can do to look the very best you can.
Here are some basic lifestyle, diet and beauty tips to set you on course for lovely, healthy skin, well into your old age.
Other things to remember
Lifestyle factors accelerate much of our skin’s ageing. By changing these factors and restoring volume, it’s within your power to stay one step ahead.
Too much sun
Over-exposure to the sun is the number one cause of unnecessary skin damage. It’s why the skin on our hands, face and neck seems to age faster than on other areas such as the tummy. As a result of too much sun, skin becomes wrinkled and thin, even on young complexions.
The sun damages important proteins like elastin, which gives skin bounce and resilience, and collagen, which acts as scaffolding to support the skin’s tiny blood vessels. By weakening collagen through sun damage, blood vessels bleed more easily and may show up as broken thread veins or ‘farmer’s face’.
Smoking adds years to the skin; there’s no question about it. The chemicals in cigarettes starve the skin’s cells of oxygen, reduce its elasticity and have a deadening effect on complexion. They also cause deep lines in the mouth area, due to the stress of puckering to drag and inhale, and crow’s feet around the eyes, due to squinting to keep smoke out of the eyes.
Studies have shown that cutting down on cigarettes is really not enough to avoid the damaging effects of smoking. You have to stop completely.
They’re not called ‘worry lines’ for nothing. Ongoing stress can increase the signs of facial ageing, especially in lines on the forehead and around the eyes. Stress can also cause hair loss and acne.
Lack of sleep
Your body needs rest to regenerate cells, including your skin cells. Less than six to eight hours’ sleep a night soon shows on your face, especially in dark or sagging areas under eyes. If repeated lack of sleep is a result of daily stress or anxiety, the problem can perpetuate and lead to greater lack of sleep and increased signs of ageing.
Lack of exercise
Exercise gets your blood flowing and helps to tone muscles, which is as important for your skin and face as it is for your legs or tummy. Also, the increased pumping of blood around the body oxygenates the skin, improving colour and tone.
Exercise should be an important part of your everyday life, even if it’s as little as 30 minutes’ brisk walking five times a week. Without it, your skin will suffer from poor circulation and appear sallow. Lack of exercise can also lead to weight gain, which in turn can lead to bloated jowls and chin.
Diet plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin. Skin cells (as well as hair and nail cells) are highly active, which means they are lost and replaced very quickly, so they must be ‘fed’ a nutritious diet or else skin can become dull, sluggish and lack lustre.
Eat well and fresh
Your diet provides all the nutrients needed to regenerate cells; namely protein, carbohydrates, fats, essential fatty acids and all the essential vitamins and minerals. This means you should include in your diet plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as oily fish, grains, beans, seeds and nuts - as you’ll see below.
Proteins supply the essential amino acids needed to build cells, particularly important for regenerating the high turnover of cells in the skin. Proteins are also key in the production of elastin and collagen, which give skin the suppleness and volume essential for a youthful look. You’ll find protein in fish, lean meat, cheese, eggs, lentils, beans and soy.
’Good’ fats such as omega 3, found in oily fish, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, allow the skin to produce its own fats, which act as a barrier against water loss. So they’re important for keeping skin hydrated, supple and smooth. Avoid too many ’bad’ fats, however, like the saturated fats in butter and red meat.
Complex carbohydrates, which release energy slowly, not only fill you up and stave off hunger, but they contain vitamins and antioxidants important for healthy skin. These carbohydrates can be found in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, as opposed to simple (fast-acting) carbohydrates, which you’ll find in sweet things and should be kept to a minimum.
Vitamins (especially vitamin B)
Vitamin A, found in dark green and orange vegetables, and vitamin E, found in nuts and cereals, are important for healthy skin. But skin’s real ’wonder food’ is vitamin B. This is found in beans, nuts, seeds and grains and is considered pivotal in maintaining healthy skin, hair and nails.
Another excellent source of vitamin B is brewer’s yeast. Not to be confused with baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast is available as a supplement in powder, tablet or liquid form. Even if your skin seems smooth and healthy now, you should notice an improvement in texture and glow within just a week of adding two or three tablespoons of brewer’s yeast to your daily diet.
Skip fast food
We know fast food is typically laden in fats and high calories but it is also extremely low in nutritional value, which means your skin won’t gain anything from eating those greasy hot dogs and takeaways.
Avoid severe weight loss or gain
Drastic weight loss through crash dieting can one look gaunt and drawn, with increased lines creating an older appearance. This is because you lose some of the fat under the skin that supports it and creates the volume that gives a more youthful look.
On the other hand, excessive weight gain is not good for skin either as obesity increases jowl size, creating a double chin effect, and causes extra fat pads under the eyes, which combines to produce a more aged look
Drink plenty of water
Hydration is key to a lovely complexion, both in appearance and its inner condition. Every expert on the planet is unanimous that water is essential in maintaining skin's elasticity and suppleness.
If urine isn't clear or at least pale straw coloured, you’re drinking too little water. Not only is this tough on your kidneys, it will severely dry your skin.
It may sound like a recipe for spending your life in the lavatory, but you should drink one to two litres of water a day. It can be still or sparkling, mineral or tap. And, if you get bored with plain water, try mixing it with fruit cordial. Just don't count coffee or fizzy drinks in your daily two litres, as these actually dehydrate your body.
If you work in an office, keep a 1 litre bottle or jug of water on your desk and try to refill it at least once during the day. Also, make sure you increase your intake of water when exercising, flying long haul or spending time in an air conditioned or centrally heated building.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and fizzy pop
Alcohol, coffee and caffeinated drinks have a dehydrating effect that depletes the skin of vital moisture.
If you’re susceptible to facial flushing when you drink alcohol, you might want to cut down on the tipple to prevent the onset of thread veins or facial spider.
Fizzy drinks often contain dehydrating caffeine and sodium, but their carbonation also reduces the amount of calcium in your bones, which can lead to the early onset of osteoporosis. On the whole, there is no nutritional value whatsoever in fizzy drinks so, while they may quench your immediate thirst, try to choose herbal teas or natural fruit juices.
Our skin produces natural oils, which prevent it from losing valuable moisture. Over time as our skin ages we produce less oil, so care should be taken with sun exposure and and cleansing.
So here are some tips to minimise the loss of skin’s essential oils.
Cleanse with care
With so many soaps, non-soaps, creams, gels, lotions and potions on the market, all claiming to wondrously transform your skin, it’s hard to know what to believe or where to begin. So we’ll try to help.
What to believe?
Impressive advertising, glamorous packaging, celebrity endorsements and media hype are generally not to be trusted. All that counts are the ingredients on the label, and the most expensive products are not necessarily the best.
Some important ingredients to look out for are:
Glycolic acid - a good exfoliator and smoother
Vitamin A - rejuvenates skin
Vitamin C - antioxidant and skin lightener
Vitamin E - a powerful antioxidant
Coenzyme Q10 - a good antioxidant and moisturiser
Idebenone - an excellent antioxidant that helps reduce wrinkles
Where to begin?
By knowing your skin type - oily, dry, sensitive or combination, you can identify the way your skin responds to different things, from the various products you use to the different winds and weathers.
If you’re unsure, it’s worth asking your skin care professional or dermatologist, as establishing your skin type will form the basis of any skin care routine.
What skin type are you ?
If it reacts to various creams by stinging or burning, your skin is probably sensitive. Stick to products that are tested and labelled specifically for sensitive skin.
If it feels tight and/or is flaky in patches, your skin is likely to be dry. Choose non-soap washes with built-in moisturiser, and use moisturiser immediately after washing.
If it feels greasy and looks shiny, your skin is known as oily. Go for degreasing cleansers and toners, and apply an oil-absorbing face mask from time to time.
If you are blessed with skin that’s neither overly oily nor excessively dry, you can use pretty much any product you like.
If your skin is oily in places, probably the nose and forehead (the t-zone), but dry in others, say around the cheeks, mouth and neck, your skin type is known as combination (although you have more normal skin than people with ‘normal’ skin!). It’s best to use a different routine for the different areas of your face or find products aimed specifically at combination skins.
Once you’ve established your skin type, try to find products that suit your skin and stick to them.
You may have to adjust your skin care routine as seasons change or if you go on holiday somewhere particularly hot or cold, but otherwise your routine should include:
Cleansing is meant to remove the day’s surface dirt, makeup and other creams. Don’t overdo it on areas of dry skin, as you’ll dry them even more. Take care around the eyes where your skin is at its thinnest and driest (as there are fewer oil glands) and most sensitive to irritation.
Toning reduces surfaces oils and should only be done on areas of greasy skin.
Morning: Moisturising helps to reduce dryness by creating a barrier to prevent water loss from your skin. If you have oily skin, choose a very light moisturiser and apply just a little. Whatever your skin type, the moisturiser you use on your face, neck and hands should also be a form of sunscreen and at least contain a strong SPF filter.
Night: Moisturisers tend to work more effectively at night than during the day because the outer epidermis is less exposed, which means your cream will stay in better contact with your skin. Use this opportunity before going to bed to apply night cream to your face, especially around the eyes.
Gentle exfoliating, with a face mask or scrub, removes damaged surface skin cells, helping to give the skin vitality. But don’t do it too often or use too harsh a product, as this can also remove some of the protective cells from your skin.
Other things to remember:
Avoid using soap.
Soap is alkaline and tends to upset the balance of your skin, which is slightly acidic. Today’s soap-free bars and gels, often described as ‘pH neutral’, are made to match the skin’s natural pH of 5.5 and are gentler on your skin.
Older skin perspires less than young skin, so body odour becomes less of a problem as you age. Of course you want to be hygienic, but consider bathing or showering on alternate days instead of daily.
Apply body cream.
Once you’ve dried off after bathing or showering, apply a body moisturiser as quickly as possible so as to trap moisture on your skin. Body cream is better than bath oil, which can make the bath or shower slippery.
At the end of the day, you need a routine that’s quick, simple and practical. So find what works for you and stick to it.
Apply sunscreen daily and liberally.
On top of washing your skin with care, the single most important piece of beauty advice is to protect your skin from over-exposure to the sun.
Apply sunscreen every day. Sunscreen or sun block with SPF 30 or higher will provide the best protection. Remember to continuously reapply your sunscreen on days when you are directly exposed to the sun.
Even better than sunscreen, your clothes will protect you from the sun. Cover up with a long shirt, wide-brim hat and sunglasses.
Stay in the shade (or indoors if you can bear to) between 11am and 3pm in summer when the sun pours down most of its total daily UV radiation.
Whatever you do, make sure you never burn, as this will cause permanent damage to your skin, even if you don’t see the signs until you’re older.