Your skin is made up of several layers. The bottom layer, the dermis, is composed of connective tissue, blood vessels, nerve endings, hair follicles and sweat and oils glands. The top layer, the epidermis, is visible to the naked eye and renews itself every 15-30 days.
As you get older your skin retains less moisture with every passing day. Just compare the skin of a 15 year old to that of a 50 year old – the main difference is the dryness and crêpeness of the older skin.
Lifestyle do and don’ts
There are several lifestyle factors which accelerate the ageing process: diet, lifestyle choices and genes. By eating well (see below) it is possible to feed your skin the nutrients it needs to continue producing collagen and antioxidants.
Smoking is possibly the most ageing thing you can do to your skin. Constant drawing on cigarettes will leave you with lines around your mouth and hollow cheeks, as well as stained teeth. Dr Alex Bobak, Chairman of Smoking Cessation Action in Primary care (SCAPE), says: “Smoking causes a 40 per cent increase in ageing. A 39-year-old woman who has been smoking for 20 years will have the skin of a 47-year-old.”
It is just as important to keep your weight under control as it is to kick the nicotine habit. A genetic study of twins at the Twin Research Unit at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, suggested that people who smoke 20 cigarettes a day for 40 years add an average of 7.4 years to their biological age. Being obese, as opposed to lean, adds 8.8 years – and the picture is even worse for those who are both overweight and who smoke. “If you’re an obese smoker you will be at least 10 years older, biologically,” says Professor Tim Spector, who led the study.
Feed your face
The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ refers to your appearance and how it reflects your lifestyle. This is because our skin feeds off the food and moisture we put into our mouths – we need the nutrients from food to fuel cellular growth.
Pomegranates contain free radicals, which fight against external factors (such as pollution, cigarette smoke and fats) that may accelerate signs of ageing.
Hailed as a ‘wonder food’, blueberries contain flavonoids, which help to neutralise free radicals and strengthen the collagen in the walls of the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. They are also rich in vitamin C, which helps to keep the skin supplied with oxygen and nutrients.
Peppers have a high water content – one large pepper supplies the body with the equivalent of a glass of water.
Prawns contain copper, vital for creating collagen and springy elastin, which form the deeper layers of the skin. Copper also helps to absorb ultraviolet rays and create an even, natural skin colour.
Avocado is the skin-saver of the food world. You can use avocados externally to moisturise dry, damaged skin, or eat them for numerous complexion benefits.
Scallops contain significant amounts of omega-3 fat, zinc and other nutrients. If you suffer from excessively dry or oily skin, you could be deficient in zinc, which is vital for skin repair and renewal.
Foods to avoid
If you really want to look your best, then taking a firm hand to your diet will pay dividends. Avoid all processed, packed and fast foods: they tend to be loaded with salt, sodium, MSG, sugars and fats, none of which are needed by your skin (or the rest of your body for that matter). Sugar, in particular, is believed to be more ageing than smoking, so if you want to look as young as possible, for as long as possible, cut all sugary snacks out.
Water is needed for healthy, youthful looking skin, as it plumps up the epidermis, making it look smooth and dewy. Drink at least 1.5 litres of filtered water every day.
DIY facial massage
Ideally a once a month facial should be part of your life, but in the meantime you can also give yourself a daily treatment to help relax frown lines and stimulate circulation. According to Elizabeth King at Dr Hauschka (www.drhauschka.co.uk), daily facial massage can slow the hands of time and even firm up sagging jowls and crows’ feet, and is a much healthier alternative to botox.
Place your hands on either side of your cheeks, with your fingertips resting lightly underneath your eyes. “You need to warm the skin,” says Elizabeth, who shows her clients how to “press and roll” the palms of the hands to warm up the face. “The key action is creating a suction which picks up the dirt and grime.” Rubbing can scratch the skin.
“Start working from the forehead down,” says Elizabeth, who explains that the lymphatic pathways drain downwards. “The lymphatic system encourages cells to repair themselves and replicate, removes waste and toxins.”
Imaging you are playing the piano and gently tap the scales out underneath your eyes. This helps to eliminate any puffy and dark eye bags.
Repeat the process on an area just below the eyes. Work your way around your face: across the cheeks, down to the chin.
Splash your face with cool water. “The contrast with the warmth – which is relaxing – exercises the pore walls,” says Elizabeth. “This movement between dilation and restriction helps elimination and encourages pores to breathe.”
Remove the final traces of cleanser by pressing a warm compress soaked in water and lavender or lemon to your face. Finish your face massage by cupping your hands over your closed eyes and breathing deeply.
Exhale. When ready, move your hands and slowly open your eyes.
“Before applying moisturiser, spritz some toner,” says Elizabeth. “This readies your skin for moisturiser.” Then apply moisturiser, during the day only. Elizabeth believes that night creams should be avoided “at all costs, as they are the most ageing thing you can do to your skin”.
Instead, Elizabeth suggests using ampoules, such as vitamin E oil, for dry, sensitive skin, otherwise use a moisturiser that is suited to your skin. “Natural, organic products are best – it’s worth visiting a facialist for expert advice,” she says.
Elizabeth believes that you can look years younger with a few simple facial gymnastics performed every day. “By working with the skin and isolating facial muscles through exercising them, you’re keeping the skin alive and rejuvenating it,” she says. Try over-enunciating the vowels ‘A, E, I, O, U’ ten times every morning to see a difference and tautness in your face.
Bobbi Brown, makeup artist extraordinaire, and author of Living Beauty, has the following tips to help you look ten years younger: “You can use makeup in subtle ways to make your lines more flattering,” she says. “Make sure your skin is well hydrated. Regular exfoliation will help skin shed dry layers, but there is nothing better than adding serious moisture to the skin. It literally plumps up the skin to fill lines out a bit. Stick to cream formulas for your foundation, it will help further hydrate the skin, plus it is less likely to fall into lines and call more attention to them.”
Tricks to try
- Cover dark circles with a creamy, yellow-toned concealer. For extreme darkness, start with a pink-toned corrector, then layer on the yellow-toned concealer.
- Give skin a fresh, healthy glow with a tinted moisturizing balm; it will even out skin without settling into lines.
- If skin around eyes is especially dry, use a cream shadow.
- Natural colouring tends to fade as you age, so brownbased colours can look dull and drab on skin. Opt for brighter shades instead. Every woman should have three shades of shadow. A light base colour, a medium colour for the lower lid, and a dark colour to use as liner.
- Add a pretty flush to cheeks with two shades of cream blush. Start with a neutral shade to warm up skin, then layer on a brighter shade for a pop of colour.
Charmaine Yabsley has over 13 years experience in writing and editing magazines, specialising in health, fitness and beauty. She is also the author of seven health books.