You’re exercising on the reg, prioritizing sleep, minimizing stress and following a (generally) healthy diet. But common everyday habits could be making you look and feel older than your years. Nine sneaky saboteurs that speed aging and steal your youthful glow:
1. Your water bottle. Adequate hydration keeps skin supple and smooth, and ample water intake is crucial for healthy aging—but drinking it the wrong way can add years to your face. Swilling from a sports water bottle makes you purse your lips and, like any repetitive motion over time, leads to lines and wrinkles around your mouth (not unlike what you’ll see in long-time smokers). Any water bottle with a small opening has a similar effect; pursing your lips to drink amplifies wrinkles and lines. Don’t stop hydrating; just choose a different delivery system. Look for wide-mouthed water bottles, or drink from a glass or cup (no straws). If you have to use a sports bottle, tilt your head back and squirt the water into your mouth. And if you’re drinking from a bottle with a small opening, relax your mouth and try not to purse your lips.
2. Your carnivorous tendencies. Break that bacon and burger habit: dozens of studies suggest people who eat the most meat (especially red and processed meat) have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Research shows the longest-living populations consume fewer animal products, and going meat-free can dramatically extend both the quality and quantity of your years. A plant-based diet is naturally lower in saturated fats, higher in fiber and rich in antioxidants that fight free radical damage and dampen inflammation. And swapping beans and legumes for animal protein ups your intake of lignans—plant compounds that protect against breast, colon and other cancers. You don’t have to go full-on vegan. Start by limiting meat to twice a week; make portions smaller and amp up your intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
3. Skipping your body lotion. Regular moisturizing affects more than your complexion: some research suggests taking care of your skin can lessen the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions. The reason: age-related changes to skin promote the release of cytokines, molecules that trigger inflammation—and because skin is such a big organ, even minor alterations can have a significant impact. In one study of older adults, nightly moisturizing lowered cytokines to levels associated with people in their 30s, dampening inflammation and protecting against age-related diseases. Other research also links inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and dermatitis with a higher risk of heart disease. Moisturize nightly, and not just your face: slather your whole body—especially important for guys, who tend to skip moisturizers.
4. Sleeping on your stomach. Lack of restful slumber is linked with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, even early death. But how you sleep can make you look older. Sleeping on your stomach creates folds and wrinkles in skin, and allows fluids to accumulate around eyes, increasing bags and puffiness. Snoozing face-down also stresses the spine, impacting healthy aging. Sleeping on your side isn’t much better; you’ll wake up with creases in your cheeks and décolleté that, over time, can form permanent wrinkles. The best position: sleeping on your back allows fluids to drain, keeps the spine in better alignment. And use a silk or satin pillowcase; the smooth surface offers less friction and tugging on skin than polyester or cotton pillowcases.
5. Your casual approach to flossing. Rigorous oral hygiene is crucial for healthy aging—and brushing isn’t enough. Bits of food stuck between teeth and other hard-to-reach areas foster the growth of bacteria; over time, plaque and tartar deposits form, leading to gum disease and inflammation, and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. Your toothbrush can’t remove food deposits and bacteria from tight spaces, so floss—every single day. For added protection, look for natural toothpastes and mouthwashes with gum-supportive botanicals like aloe vera, goldenseal and propolis.
6. Your sunless tanner. UV rays from the sun age skin fast and promote skin cancer. But that sunless tanner you’re using may not be the solution. The active ingredient in most products is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a compound that reacts with amino acids in skin, generating pigments responsible for that sun-kissed glow. The problem: that reaction between DHA and amino acids generates free radicals that damage skin, break down collagen and speed aging. UV rays make DHA less stable, so hitting the beach after using sunless tanner can generate even more free radicals. Some research also suggests long-term exposure to DHA can harm DNA. Use sunless tanners for special occasions, not every day; apply them at night, not right before you hit the sun. And slather on an antioxidant moisturizer or serum before and after using sunless tanners, to heal and repair.
7. Electronic devices. Your smart phone, laptop and tablet may be aging you before your time. Slouching over your devices wrecks posture, impacting spinal alignment and disrupting nerve communication to organs and tissues. The result: neck and back pain, gastrointestinal problems and, over time, hyperkyphosis—abnormal curvature of the spine, linked with pulmonary and arterial health conditions. Plus, blue light emitted from electronics can damage eyes, impairing vision and increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Even worse if you’re using your devices at night: research shows exposure to blue light impacts sleep, crucial for vital aging. And if you’re glued to a screen for most of the day, you’re probably not as active as you should be—bad, because research links a sedentary lifestyle with a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, colon cancer, osteoporosis and all-cause mortality. Minimize electronic devices, especially before bed, and take frequent breaks throughout the day to move your body and rest your eyes. Use a blue light screen filter, and when you’re checking your phone, hold it at eye level to lessen stress on your neck and upper back.
8. Bargain basement skin care products. Those super-cheap cleansers, moisturizers and toners are loaded with chemical ingredients and synthetic fragrances that age more than your skin: common ingredients like parabens, phthalates and pesticide residues are endocrine disruptors, linked with altered nervous system function, impaired immunity, respiratory diseases and certain cancers. And don’t think spending a bundle ensures quality; even pricey department store brands may be laced with toxic chemicals. You’ll find dozens of modestly priced cleansers, toners and moisturizers—free from sulfates, petrochemicals, parabens, synthetic fragrances and other toxins—at most natural grocery stores. Or try simple DIY options, like organic coconut oil, honey, coconut sugar and avocado.
9. That Starbucks addiction. Your daily venti latte isn’t doing your face any favors. Caffeine is a potent diuretic, depleting your body of water and making skin look dull and aged. Dairy can impact the microbiome—the balance of gut bacteria, linked with healthy aging. And if you’re adding sugar, you’re promoting glycation, a chemical reaction that impacts collagen and elastin, making skin less elastic and supple, and amplifying lines, wrinkles and sagging. Limit coffee to two cups a day, and skip the dairy and sugar. Better yet, switch to tea. Green tea is a concentrated source of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a potent antioxidant that protects against skin cancer, minimizes sun-related damage, lessens inflammation and reduces the risk of heart disease.