What Is Anti-Aging?

Like many terms in skincare (clean, natural, etc), anti-aging isn’t a defined and verified claim (like an “organic” apple vs. a non-organic apple). And no skincare product can claim that it will actually stop aging (that’s impossible, or at the very least, would be a drug claim). So anti-aging in skincare generally means that a product may reduce the appearance of things that people associate with aging (deep wrinkles, fine lines, discoloration). But it’s a term fraught with issues.

Recently, anti-aging has come under scrutiny — and for good cause. For starters: ageism. Allure’s editorial board, in 2017, decided to phase out the term and instead “celebrate the beauty in all ages.” And the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health released a report in 2018 that called on the beauty world to “ban the use of the term ‘anti-ageing’, and to re-focus their ageing narrative on opportunities to be embraced rather than processes to be resisted.”

Age-shaming is out.

And skin-positivity is in. Cheryl Wischhover at Vox took a deep dive on the term, chronicling its roots, myths and recent shifts (to, mainly, “glow”). All that to say, anti-aging is, to Millennials anyway, a hollow term. But, to beat a dead horse, let’s dive into what it once meant and what we can take away from the decades of anti-aging hype.

Fact: as we age, our skin changes. Once we pass the 25 year mark, the productivity of the “youthful” elements in our skin begins to decline. Collagen production slows, the skin thins, lines form, odd pigmentation begins to show. This is due to extrinsic (photoaging) and intrinsic effects. It’s normal. It’s natural. It happens. Some people prefer to slow or reduce the effects of this aging process, and thus anti-aging was born.

So...What to Do?

The key to “anti-aging” is keeping the skin healthy — pH balanced, hydrated and not-inflamed. When the skin is out of balance, dehydrated or irritated, it works harder to restore itself and that stress leads to signs of age. The less stress, the more youthful in appearance the skin. And, now’s a good time to mention the number one hero in “anti-aging”: sunscreen (and sun protection).

Behavioral steps are vital for skin health. First and foremost: avoid the sun and wear broad spectrum sunscreen. But also eat a diverse diet. Get lots of sleep. Reduce stress where possible. And exercise regularly.

In twin studies — our best look at environmental and behavioral effects on similar skin — the following factors all led to an older appearance: smoking, sun exposure, lack of sunscreen and, sorry for the #outsideisfree crowd, outdoor activities. Body mass index affects appearance differently depending on age. Until about middle age (age 40 for a four-point higher BMI, age 55 for an eight-point higher BMI), the higher the BMI, the older the appearance. After that, the higher BMI translated to a younger appearance. This is likely due to fat tissue in the face, which decreases with age. The higher the BMI, the more fat tissue in the body, which can make the skin look plump and therefore less loose (“skin laxity”) and “old.” Depression can also affect appearance, as can stress.

You Have Options

To counter the effects of time and gravity on the skin, there are potent medical-grade treatments, like peels, laser treatments, LED light therapy, platelet-rich plasma facials (aka, the “vampire facial”), dermaplaning, microneedling and infusion therapies. And there is daily skincare. We like the daily approach.

Quality skincare products are a convenient way to keep the skin healthy. The rules of thumb are fairly straightforward: keep your skin pH balanced, exfoliate skin regularly to stimulate new, healthy growth, offer the skin nutrients that naturally occur in the skin (but decrease with age) and those that help the skin reduce inflammation (antioxidants) and stimulate skin rejuvenation.

Daily practice is simple: cleansing and moisturizing — morning, night and post-exercise. And then build on that routine with an occasional exfoliant scrub and nutrient boosting mask.

To recap: anti-aging as a term is regressive, ageist propaganda no-longer en vogue. And, secondly, aging happens, celebrate it! Or, if you want to slow the appearance of aging, follow the simple best practices: a) avoid sun and wear sunscreen, b) live a healthy life (sleep, exercise, diet, stress) and c) use quality skincare products and keep a consistent daily skincare routine.

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