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Pollution. Air pollutants generate free radicals, which damage our DNA, says Susan Taylor, MD, a dermatologist in Philadelphia. "That can lead to the loss of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid in the skin, causing wrinkles," she explains. A German study also found that women who were exposed to high levels of traffic emissions, soot, and other pollutants had more brown spots. Here's what you can do to protect your skin:
Extreme Temperature Change. Hitting the slopes this winter? "When the temperature and humidity drop, skin goes from well hydrated to red, flaky, and dry," Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas says. "That makes it susceptible to other forms of damage." Cold, dry air isn't the only thing that causes trouble. Extreme heat (hello, hot yoga!) can result in flushing and even broken capillaries. "Repeated exposure to high temperatures can leave skin permanently red, and that can make you look older," Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas notes. In a season marked by both blustery conditions and cozy fires, these strategies can help you keep your skin climate-controlled:
Lack of Sleep. In a recent Estee Lauder study, researchers found that women between ages 30 and 60 who were poor sleepers showed more signs of aging and recovered slower from environmental assaults than those who snoozed soundly. "Lack of sleep may age us because it physically stresses our bodies and doesn't allow our cells time to repair themselves, or because we have more wrinkle-forming muscle tension in our faces when we're tired," says Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and a FITNESS advisory board member. Try these techniques:
Genetics. According to a recent Elizabeth Arden survey, nearly half of women under age 40 are more worried about aging gracefully than saving for their retirement. Here's the thing: When it comes to aging, genetics rule, according to Dr. Schultz. "If your parents had beautiful skin when they got older, you're more likely to have it too, provided you always wear sunscreen and don't smoke," he says. And "if your parents looked much older than their age, there's a chance you will too, despite doing everything right." But it's not all doom and gloom. There are new ways to beat your genes and head off aging:
Sugar. Some not-so-sweet news: Your 3:00 p.m. vending machine habit can make you look old. The culprit is glycation, a process in which glucose, aka sugar, binds to tissue in our bodies and produces substances that turn the collagen and elastin in our skin stiff and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging. To add insult to injury, eating sugar can also generate free radicals. To curb your sweet tooth and save your skin, try these tips:
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2014.