8 Surprising Habits That Make You Look Older
Find out if you're making a fast-forwarding faux pas—and how stopping can help you regain a few years.
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Your Daily Hair Routine
The habit: Automatically putting your styling tools on the hottest setting
Why it’s making you look older: When you blast your hair with heat (whether it’s from your blow dryer, your curling iron or your straightener), you create tiny air bubbles within the hair shaft, explains Pamela Jakubowicz, MD, a dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center in Scarsdale, New York. Those bubbles lead to breakage, which makes your head of hair look thinner, and you, a bit older.
The fix: When it comes to hair dryers, the distance between the nozzle and your hair matters too—one study in Annals of Dermatology found that holding your dryer 6 inches from your head caused the least damage to hair (compared with 4 inches and 2 inches), even when hair was dried for longer periods of time. There are also plenty of heat-free hairstyles that still look polished. If you cannot (or will not) part with your hot tools, always use a heat protectant product first, set your tools to medium heat instead of high heat and don’t use the tools on the same section of hair over and over.
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Your Book-Club-Night Snacks
The habit: Bingeing on hors d'oeuvres like crackers, flatbreads and cookies.
Why it's making you look older: Consuming refined carbohydrates and sugar results in a rapid spike in blood sugar, explains Whitney Bowe, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. The sugar molecules travel through the blood to all the cells in our body, linking up with fats and proteins. When that sugar links to collagen (the protein that gives skin its elasticity) without the presence of an enzyme, a process called glycation occurs, Bowe explains. The resulting collagen-sugar combo is stiffer, and that can lead to wrinkles and compromised circulation to the skin.
The fix: Snack on nuts, yogurt, edamame—all low-glycemic foods that are better for you skin (and the rest of you, too).
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The habit: Wincing, squinting, groaning and straining your facial muscles while lifting weights.
Why it's making you look older: You know that squinting can cause wrinkles, and that's why you invested in those broad-spectrum UV sunglasses. But bright sunlight isn't the only thing that makes you squint. Bowe says straining your facial muscles while doing exercise can have the same affect.
The fix: Do a few reps in front of a mirror to see if you're practicing incorrect "face form." If you are, try to focus on your breathing during reps: It's hard to scrunch up your face while inhaling and exhaling.
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Your High-and-Tight Ponytail
The habit: Wearing your hair like a Robert Palmer backup singer.
Why it's making you look older: Repeated tugging on the root of the hair can lead to traction alopecia, or a receding hairline, Bowe says.
The fix: Bowe reassures us that this type of hair loss is easily reversible—if caught early. Instead of pulling your hair into a tight ponytail, she suggests getting it off your face with a messy off-duty-model bun.
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Your Healthy-Eating Resolution
The habit: Avoiding fat.
Why it's making you look older: Healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, calm inflammation throughout the body, says Bowe, making your skin less likely to break out in acne, rosacea and other conditions that result in redness. Omega-3s also prevent the breakdown of plumping collagen and elastin fibers in the skin.
The fix: While no one's stopping you from limiting your saturated-fat intake, make sure you're still eating food with healthy, unsaturated fats—like avocados, salmon, olive oil and flaxseeds.
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Your Late-Afternoon Tic
The habit: Rubbing your eyes.
Why it's making you look older: Not only can aggressive rubbing break your eyelashes and cause them to fall out, but it can also cause trauma to the under-eye area, turning the skin red and making you look extra-fatigued, Grossman says. It will go away, but not until you're able to keep your hands off your eyes.
The fix: Develop a new habit that saves your vision and your youthful good looks: The 20-20-20 rule of looking at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
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Your Get-Up-and-Go Breakfast
The habit: Drinking mango-pineapple smoothies.
Why it's making you look older: We know what you're thinking: Fresh fruits and vegetables are supposed to be packed with antioxidants that fight the free radicals that damage skin cells. And they sure are, Bowe says, but juices that contain lots of fruit—and only fruit—tend to have sky-high levels of fructose. Even though fructose is a natural sugar, it can still lead to the glycation process (again!), which makes your skin look weary.
The fix: Throw some kale into your blender. Bowe says that dark green, leafy greens have the highest amounts of those skin-saving antioxidants—including zinc, which helps to break down old collagen, build new collagen and prevent wrinkle formation.
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Your Anti-Aging Skin Regime
The habit: Applying sunscreen daily, but only to your face, and forgetting about antioxidants
Why it's making you look older: Although women have finally taken the sunscreen message to heart, far too many of us are still neglecting our hands, Bowe says (and she's not the only dermatologist who's shared this with us). Hands are already susceptible to indignities of aging, like a loss of fat that makes veins more prominent, and UV rays add insult to injury in the form of sunspots and wrinkles. Many dermatologists also recommend antioxidant products to minimize sun and pollution damage. (Pollution is linked to more signs of facial aging, like dark spots.) “Think of sunscreen as the lock on the front door of your house, and antioxidants as the burglar alarm,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. “Locking the door is most important, but locking the door and setting the alarm gives you extra protection.”
The fix: Always remember to put sunscreen on the backs of your hands, especially when you're driving. UVA rays, which play a major part in skin aging, can penetrate glass. For antioxidant products, look for serums, which generally layer better under makeup and should be applied under your sunscreen. (Always layer products from lightest to heaviest or thickest, so the thicker products don’t keep the lighter ones from reaching your skin.)