For years you thought it was a given that you'd inherit the lines and creases of your parents—but new research suggests you can to shift aging into slo-mo.
Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Two influences come into play with skin aging: extrinsic (outside) forces, like UV damage, and intrinsic causes, which are dictated by our DNA.
We know we can control damage from factors like sun exposure (with sunscreen and other protection), but science is discovering that we also have power over internal triggers—much more than we realized. So, yep, you can actually slow down the aging of your skin. The food you eat, the supplements you take, the lifestyle you follow, and even some things you put on your skin can shift your genes to interpret (or “express”) the information coded in your DNA in a way that actually slows aging. (Related: 5 Legit Ways to Slow Down Your Body's Aging Process)
“It all comes down to communication,” says Shape Brain Trust member Ellen Marmur, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology and genetics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “You can influence the way your body induces production of a protein or a gene product by affecting the communication among those genes. For example, after a day outdoors, the body may ask, How much protein should I make to counteract damaging UV exposure? We can sway the answer to that question.” These strategies do just that.
1. Eat Skin-Friendly Food
The body’s strongest accelerator of intrinsic aging is probably inflammation, says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “But if your diet specifically combats that factor, you can counteract the damage.”
The reason: Consuming anti-inflammatory foods lets genes focus on the processes they’ve been programmed for—like collagen production—rather than exerting all their energy fighting inflammation. To reduce inflammation and slow down the aging of your skin, up your intake of olive oil; fatty fish like salmon and tuna; fruit and vegetables like strawberries, blueberries, spinach, watercress, and kale; and nuts like almonds and walnuts—and avoid processed meats, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates. (Of course, this doesn’t take into account individual sensitivities that may cause inflammation. If you have a food sensitivity to walnuts, for example, then eating those can make your skin worse, not better.)
Focus on antioxidants too (vitamins C, E, and A, resveratrol, and CoQ10). Antioxidants may influence your genes positively because they combat free radicals that trigger inflammation. There is no recommended daily allowance of skin-protecting antioxidants, though Dr. Marmur says “eating [five or more servings a day of] fruits and vegetables in a spectrum of colors will ensure you are getting a variety.” You can also find these nutrients in nuts, fish, red wine, and flaxseeds. (Related: Groundbreaking New Beauty Formulas for Glowing Skin)
2. Try Supplements
Elevated cortisol levels caused by chronic stress can “damage collagen, exacerbate acne, and trigger inflammation,” says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and the author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. Nixing chronic stress not only makes your life more enjoyable but also helps slow the aging of your skin. There are myriad ways to lower stress, including yoga, sleep, therapy, and even herbal adaptogens, which you can apply topically or take orally. Dr. Bowe stirs some into her coffee. Adaptogen herbs come from plants like ashwagandha, reishi mushrooms, Rhodiola, ginseng, wild indigo, and holy basil, and they may be considered gene regulators because they help reduce cortisol. Moon Juice Beauty Dust ($38, sephora.com) is consumable, while Marmur Metamorphosis ($85-$495, marmurmetamorphosis.com ) is a trio of topical serums. Another skin-gene-friendly nutrient is ingestible collagen. “After age 30, we start to lose 1 to 2 percent of our collagen each year,” Dr. Bowe says. Taking a daily collagen supplement may help replace what we lose. (Related: Should You Be Adding Collagen to Your Diet?)
It might also encourage and support the genes that turn on or increase collagen production. Try Vital Proteins’ collagen ($52, amazon.com). “Collagen synthesis requires vitamin C, so accompany your collagen powder with a dose of vitamin C either orally or topically,” Dr. Bowe says. Try Dermalogica BioLumin-C Serum ($87, ulta.com).
3. Use Creams that Affect Genes
New topical formulas can support the communication among your stem cells and keep gene activity robust. Augustinus Bader, a professor of applied stem cell biology and cell technology at the University of Leipzig in Germany, developed a hydrogel for burn victims that healed their wounds without skin grafts. How? A burn cuts off communication among healthy skin stem cells, inhibiting healing. Bader’s patented gel reconnects those severed lines, enabling the body to repair itself.
And aging, it seems, is a bit like enduring a long, slow burn. It doesn’t happen overnight, but Bader says “communication between stem cells breaks down over time,” causing genes once responsible for key processes like collagen production to simply switch off. Bader infused his hydrogel technology—a cocktail of peptides, lipids, and amino acids—into an antiaging cream that keeps your skin smoother, firmer, and plumper for longer. HydroPeptide Nimni Cream ($220, dermstore.com) aims to switch on the genes for collagen production. Augustinus Bader The Cream ($265, augustinusbader.com) has peptides, lipids, and amino acids to support our skin’s stem cells. Neova DNA Total Repair ($99, amazon.com) uses enzymes to help skin repair itself. (Related: The Best Anti-Aging Tips for Better Skin)