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Why Your Face Ages, and How to Avoid Premature Aging

While your eyes may indeed be your window to the world, your face is like the world's window to you. Just looking at a person's face, you can easily identify whether they are happy or sad, tired or energetic … young or old.

When did you notice your first wrinkle? It's never too late (or too soon) to prevent premature aging to your face (see the tips below).

In your 20s, you might not have given this much thought. At this time, your face is still firm and virtually wrinkle-free. But as you reach your 30s, your 40s and certainly your 50s, an aging face -- particularly one that's aged prematurely -- can make you appear older, more fatigued and less excited than you really are.

You can't stop your face from aging entirely, but there are a number of internal and external factors at work here -- many of which you can influence. It's never too late -- nor too soon -- to start taking care of your face and preventing premature aging.

Why (and How) Your Face Ages

There are two ways by which your face, and for that matter your skin all over, ages: internally and externally. Internal aging is what's commonly referred to as the "natural" aging process. This type of aging occurs as you get older, and involves:

  • Collagen production slowing (collagen contributes to skin's firmness)

  • Elastin production decreases (elastin contributes to skin's elasticity)

  • Fat cells begin to disappear (which can lead to sagging skin)

  • Your skin losing its ability to retain moisture

  • Frown lines and "crow's feet" appearing due to small muscle contractions

  • Dead skin cells not being shed as quickly

  • Slightly less turnover of new skin cells

All of these things combine and contribute to the characteristic face of an elderly person: wrinkles, sagging, dryness, thinness in the skin and perhaps discolorations such as "age spots."

Gravity is Not a Major Part of Face Aging

While common sense might dictate that gravity plays a role in gradually pulling our faces down, leading to jowls and drooping skin around the eyes, chin and neck, a study found this is not the case.

According to researchers, fat loss, sun exposure and natural changes in the skin are the primary causes of face aging -- not gravity.

"People make assumptions about how the face ages because when they pull up on their facial skin, they look better," said Val Lambros, MD, American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) member and author of the study. "Actually the pull of gravity on facial tissues is not a significant component of facial aging. Instead, other factors, like the loss of facial fat and sun damage are more contributory in the complex process of aging."

Are Facelifts a Good Option?

In 2005, more than 10.2 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed in the United States according to ASPS. For the first time in six years, facelifts did not make the top five procedures. (The top five were liposuction, nose reshaping, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery and tummy tuck.)

"The facelift is still a highly sought after procedure, nearly 109,000 were performed last year," said ASPS President Bruce Cunningham, MD. "However, the fact it didn't make the top five surgical procedures can be attributed to increased consumer demand for minimally-invasive injectable wrinkle fillers and fighters as a remedy to combat facial aging."

Minimally-invasive procedures increased 13 percent from 2004 to nearly 8.5 million procedures in 2005. The top three procedures in this category were all related to the face: Botox, chemical peel and microdermabrasion (laser hair removal and sclerotherapy rounded out the top five).

"The statistics show that in a solid economy, more Americans are willing to invest in anti-aging remedies such as cosmetic plastic surgery," said Dr. Cunningham. "For many, cosmetic plastic surgery is the new take on 'growing old gracefully.'"

Every cosmetic procedure has its own unique set of risks and potential advantages that you should research thoroughly before moving forward. For instance, facelifts carry a risk of scarring or permanent damage to facial nerves, while Botox treatments carry a risk of forehead and eyelid drooping and respiratory infection.

Further, there is always a risk that the results will not be what you had in mind. Country singer Kenny Rogers has been very open about his own feelings regarding his plastic surgery operation in 2005.

"I went in and got my eyes done, and I'm not happy about it. (The surgeon) is going to go in and fix that for me. They're too tight around the eyelids for me. It drives me crazy!" Rogers said. "If we can fix that, then I'll be glad I did it. If we can't fix it, I'll regret it or get used to it."

How to Prevent Premature Aging of Your Face

External factors from your lifestyle and environment play a huge role in how quickly your face begins to show the signs of your age. Here are some of the top contributing factors to premature aging of your face, along with how to avoid them and keep your skin looking young longer.

1. Smoking. Exposure to cigarette smoke, whether from your own smoke or second-hand, will increase wrinkling and dryness of the skin. This is partly because smoking depletes your body's vitamin C, which is necessary for young-looking skin. Some researchers even say that cigarette smoke is just as bad for your skin as ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Eating healthy gives your body the antioxidants it needs to keep your skin looking firm, smooth and bright.

2. Sun Exposure. Too much exposure to the sun is well known to cause wrinkling, premature aging and even cancer of the skin. You may develop brown sunspots or the skin can take on a dry, leathery appearance. While some researchers are now pointing out that some sensible sun exposure can indeed be healthy, to protect your face you should:

  • Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, year-round.

  • Avoid exposing your face to the sun during its strongest hours, from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you're out in the sun for an extended period of time.

3. Poor Diet. A poor diet is a source of facial aging (and overall aging) from the inside out. Without the proper fuel, your body does not have the nutrients it needs to even function properly, let alone devote to keeping your skin firm, moist and blemish-free. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, will provide you with plenty of antioxidants that will help to protect your skin and overall health.

4. Not Enough Exercise. Exercise tones muscles and helps promote blood flow -- necessary for healthy skin and body.

5. Too Much Stress. Anyone who's been through an extremely stressful event knows how it seems to show up all over your body, including on your face in dark circles under your eyes, dull skin and new wrinkles. Managing your stress, along with getting enough sleep, is key to retaining a youthful face.

6. Exposure to Cold. If you're outside in the elements -- cold temperatures, wind, etc. -- your face will show it. Too much cold can easily suck the moisture right out of your face, leading to dry, irritated patches. To prevent this, protect your face with a scarf when you're outside and invest in a natural facial moisturizer.

7. Excess Alcohol. Over time, alcohol can permanently damage blood vessels in the skin, causing you to appear flushed. Broken blood vessels may also appear near your skin's surface. Not sure how much alcohol is too much? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define heavy drinking as more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men.

Recommended Reading

How to Relax (and Lower Your Cortisol Levels): A Golden Key to Your Health

If Your Weight is an Issue, This Is (By Far) the Most Important "Secret" You Should Know


Face Ages Due to Fat Loss, Skin Changes

10.2 Million Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures in 2005

Anti-Aging Skin Care Series

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