What’s Aging Your Skin?

Actually, many factors beyond genes and the sun. Avoiding these eight common pitfalls will help keep your skin youthful.

Photo by  Ericka McConnell

Skin aging, like most physiological phenomena, is the result of many things. “But only about 20 to 30 percent of the process is genetically determined,” says Doris Day, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. “So there’s more you can do to control it than you might have thought.” We know you already wear sunscreen every day to fend off those UV rays—here are some stealthier skin agers and ways to mitigate their effects.

Sweet Treats

If sugary foods are a staple of your diet, you may want to reconsider what you eat. “When sugar breaks down and enters the bloodstream, it bonds with protein molecules, including those found in collagen and elastin [the fibers that support skin], through a process called glycation,” says Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist in Miami Beach. “This degrades the collagen and elastin, which in turn leads to sagging and wrinkles.”

Preventive measures: Curb your consumption of simple carbohydrates, which include the obvious treats, like soft drinks and candy, but also seemingly innocuous choices, such as honey, white rice, and white bread. These foods are quickly converted into sugar in your body and put your skin on the fast track to glycation. If you need something sweet (and, really, who doesn’t?), Baumann suggests a small square of dark chocolate. The antioxidants in it can protect you from free radicals, those unstable atoms in the atmosphere that latch on to skin and lead to fine lines. Also, increase your intake of vitamin C. “It helps generate collagen,” says Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist in New York City and the author of Simple Skin Beauty ($27, amazon.com). You’ll find vitamin C in papayas, strawberries, broccoli, oranges, and kiwis.

Frequent Flying

You’re much closer to the sun in a plane than on land, so it stands to reason that solar rays, which can penetrate windows, “are more intense at higher altitudes,” says Marmur. This may explain why pilots and flight attendants have been found to be at an increased risk for melanoma and other skin cancers. Plus, the air up there is notoriously dry—and without moisture, skin, like any living tissue, simply shrivels.

Preventive measures: Drink as much water as you can in flight; avoid alcohol and salty foods, which are dehydrating; and apply a rich moisturizer with SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before boarding, as sunscreen needs time to be absorbed before it’s effective. And if you’re sitting next to a window, pull down the shade.