The anti-ageing lifestyle hacks you need to know
Did you know your skin is your largest organ? Foot and hand health expert Margaret Dabbs OBE shares her tips for taking care of it
Our skin is our largest organ but it’s one we often mistreat. Skipping sunscreen, "forgetting" to take off our makeup and eating a few too many processed foods are pitfalls we’re all prone to that exaggerate the age of our skin.
We often try to correct the bad decisions of yesterday by investing in handy anti-ageing products. It’s predicted that the global anti-ageing market will be worth more than £48.9 billion by 2027. Some choose to go even further by undergoing non-surgical treatments, or "tweakments". In the UK, these procedures make up a large percentage of a £3.6 billion industry. A recent poll of 47,000 people in the UK revealed 68 per cent belonged to friendship groups where one or more people had undergone non-surgical procedures.
"All skin inevitably ages, but some simple lifestyle switches can help you keep younger-looking skin for longer"
Finnish tech company Revieve gathered data from 4 million global users of its AI skincare tool and found that wrinkles, fine lines and eyebags are top skin concerns for both men and women. It seems we’re preoccupied with the effects of ageing on our skin.
Dermatologists agree that the hands, neck and chest are the areas that reveal your age first as they’re prone to wrinkles and dry skin. These areas require their own specialist skincare but are often overlooked.
All skin inevitably ages, but some simple lifestyle switches can help you keep younger-looking skin for longer in addition to your topical skincare. Foot and hand health expert Margaret Dabbs OBE, owner of Margaret Dabbs London and multiple renowned foot clinics shares her top lifestyle hacks for younger, healthier skin.
Effects of exercise
We know that regular exercise is essential for our physical health, but certain activities can impact your skin positively. Regardless of age, we all reap the rewards of a post-workout glow—that gorgeous, healthy quality our skin takes on after an hour in the gym.
A recent study found that exercise not only helps keep skin looking younger, but it can actually reverse the premature ageing of your skin! The benefits are still present in the skin of people who didn’t start exercising until later in life.
Studying skin that had not been regularly exposed to the sun, experts found that the skin of those who exercised regularly retained its youthful, healthy condition well into their 60s!
So exercise can actually improve the elasticity of your skin as a whole by improving the metabolism of skin cells so they’re able to function better.
As you exercise, your blood vessels expand, circulating more blood and oxygen around your body and brightening the skin on your face. This will inevitably lead to more sweating, which can release impurities from your skin.
" The benefits are still present in the skin of people who didn’t start exercising until later in life"
Unfortunately, getting older doesn’t mean you’re immune to breakouts, with some women experiencing problem skin well into their 30s, 40s and 50s. To combat the excess sebum created during exercise, make sure to rinse off as soon as possible after your gym session and remember to apply moisturiser and any spot treatments as soon as you get out of the shower.
If you are an avid jogger, you might have heard of "runner’s face"—the idea that regular running can make your jowls sag and your cheeks appear hollow. But don’t panic! Dermatologists believe this is a myth—it’s not the act of running that’s causing these effects, but outdoor runners’ regular exposure to sunlight.
The dangers of sunlight
Speaking of sunlight, the main cause of premature skin ageing is overexposure to the sun—also known as photo-ageing. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays causes up to 90 per cent of all symptoms of premature skin ageing, including wrinkles, sagging and pigmentation issues.
Sunscreen is essential in the fight against not only sunburn but also photo-ageing. Everyone should apply sunscreen as part of their daily routine, year-round (yes, even during the British winter), regardless of the colour or tone of their skin and whether or not they’re trying to get a tan. The NHS recommends an SPF of at least 30, and if you’re going for the bronzed look, try a spray tan or self-tanning water or mousse instead of sunbathing.
Sunscreen should be applied to all skin, including the hands and decolletage. These areas often show signs of ageing first, but many people forget to apply protection to these areas. In fact, 3.7 million UK adults don’t apply sunscreen to any part of their body when sitting in the sun.
Dermatologist Dr Kiran Mian took to TikTok to let her followers know that SPF alone is not enough—we should be investing in wide-brimmed hats to help protect our scalps and faces and considering UV-protective clothing to help us stay safe during exercise and when swimming.
Overexposure to the sun can also damage your skin’s DNA, causing premature ageing and skin lesions later in life. In the UK, 24 per cent of those over 60 have one or more of these lesions. Often, they aren’t painful or cancerous but can be unsightly, appearing as reddish scaly lines on the surface of the skin. Again, these lesions are preventable with the proper use of sun protection. About one per cent of these lesions turn cancerous, so if they start to feel painful or begin weeping, go and see your doctor.
Even if your skin is young, it’s still important to apply SPF every day. Depending on the level of sun exposure you’ve experienced in your lifetime, photo-ageing can start in your 20s!
It’s not just about aesthetics either—exposure to UV radiation raises the risk of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the UK, killing seven people every day. So, remember to keep your preferred sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats handy.
A good diet
What you eat can impact the appearance of your skin. For instance, consuming high levels of salt can cause your skin to feel dehydrated and thereby accelerate the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. If you’re concerned about deeper, more noticeable lines appearing on your skin, limit processed foods, as these contribute to around 75 per cent of our salt intake. Many people think of ready meals and snacks like crisps and chocolate when it comes to processed foods, but this group also includes bread, pastries and even canned soup! We know it’s not feasible to cut out all processed foods, but limiting your intake can help boost your skin.
Studies have shown a link between high-sugar, highly-processed diets and accelerated skin ageing. Sugary, processed foods encourage your body to produce increased levels of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which form when fat combines with sugar in our bodies. AGEs are the bio-markers implicated in ageing—so these foods can actually age the appearance of our skin!
As with most things, a healthy, balanced diet is the answer. But don’t cut out all treats—instead, replace some of those overly salty, high-sugar, processed foods with more fruit and veg.
You should also add foods high in omega-3 to your shopping list. Try eating more oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines and swapping your lunchtime bag or crisps for a handful of chia or pumpkin seeds sprinkled over low-fat yoghurt. The omega-3 in these foods provides a triple threat to skin stressors, reducing the effects of UV rays, smoking and pollution!
If you’ve noticed your skin sagging or losing its healthy glow, incorporate more vitamin C into your diet through foods such as kiwis, blueberries, citrus fruits and broccoli. Vitamin C is a well-known topical ingredient, and ingesting it can also help your body produce collagen for plumper skin.
Drinking water can also help to tackle dehydrated skin, but the story that you need to drink eight large glasses of cool, clear water a day is a myth. You can take in water through other drinks, such as tea and coffee, and through your food, including cucumber and watermelon.
If you smoke or vape, the best thing you can do for your skin is stop! Both of these habits have negative effects on the appearance and health of your skin, not to mention smoking is directly linked to the development of various cancers and health conditions.
Alcohol is another stressor that has a negative effect on your skin, so limiting your weekly intake to no more than 14 units can help improve the quality of your skin as well as your mental health.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals that transfer to your skin when you breathe them in. Skin affected by smoking is usually grey and wrinkled, with the effects visible as early as your 20s.
Smoking also promotes the production of the enzyme metalloproteinase, which breaks down collagen, the protein needed to give your skin elasticity and make it appear smooth. Without enough collagen, your skin will look grey and saggy.
Current research tells us that vaping is safer than smoking, but it’s far from harmless. The UK government is handing out vaping starter kits to one million smokers in an attempt to drop smoking rates to five per cent by 2030. But with vapes being such a new product, we don’t have reliable information about their long-term effects. E-cigarettes and vapes still contain high levels of toxins that can have a direct impact on your skin.
Vaping can cause inflammation, pigmentation and wrinkles. If your vape contains nicotine, this will break down collagen and act as a vasoconstrictor, reducing the flow of oxygen through your skin. They also don’t negate the risk of cancer.
At the surface level, alcohol works to dehydrate your body, leaving your skin dry and uncomfortable. However, recent research has shown that excessive drinking can actually affect our skin’s age at the DNA level by damaging our telomeres.
Our telomeres protect the ends of our chromosomes. The length of our telomeres is an indicator of age. A study found a correlation between shorter telomeres and excessive, regular drinking. Increasing your weekly alcohol intake from 10 to 32 units could produce the same effects as three years of natural ageing!
By giving up smoking or vaping and reducing your alcohol intake, you can work to improve not only the appearance but the health of your skin.
Sleep your way to better skin
During a sleep cycle is when some of our most important cell renewal takes place, including epidermal renewal. Your skin’s blood flow increases as you rest, repairing cell damage and boosting collagen production ready for the next day. By contrast, a lack of sleep causes under-eye circles, pale skin and wrinkles.
Recent research has revealed a strong link between a good night’s sleep and good skin. The findings reveal the night-time recovery of skin damage caused by daily stressors was 30 per cent better amongst those who slept well compared to those who experienced poor-quality sleep.
"During a sleep cycle is when some of our most important cell renewal takes place, including epidermal renewal"
Ensure you achieve a good night’s sleep by investing in a good quality pillow that doesn’t scratch or irritate your skin. Good quality silk pillows are often recommended by dermatologists—they’re hypoallergenic and soft against your face. Silk sheets are also good for the skin on your body as their breathable properties help to regulate body temperature, minimising pore-blocking sweat.
If you’re looking to improve how your skin looks and your overall health, try applying a few of these hacks to your own lifestyle. Watch as your skin takes on a healthy, youthful glow and helps you feel good in your own body!
Margaret Dabbs is the founder and managing director of British beauty brand Margaret Dabbs London, which delivers products that harness the best of medical science and beauty.
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