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7 Things That Make You Look Older, According to Science

Look younger today by avoiding these fast tracks to aging.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Youth may be wasted on the young, but many people who are older can squander a youthful appearance with everyday activities that lead to premature aging. "You can't change what you were dealt with genetically but you can take control of other factors which will help to stay looking younger," says Dr. Eugene D. Elliott of MemorialCare. These are seven things that tend to make us look older as soon as we do them—and, over time, kick off bodily processes that result in the visible, permanent signs of age. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

1

Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Men cheers with glasses of a whiskey soda alcohol cocktail drink
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Alcohol has a number of immediate effects on the body, none of them too pretty. It dehydrates the skin and causes inflammation, which can cause facial flushing, swelling and broken capillaries, all of which make you look older than you are. In a 2019 multinational study of more than 3,200 women, those who drank more than eight drinks a week had more "upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness, oral commissures, midface volume loss, and blood vessels" than women who drank moderately or abstained. 

2

Not Drinking Enough Water

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Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, which can show up on your face in the form of dryness, crow's feet, fine lines and dark circles. How much is enough? According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups a day for men and about 11.5 cups for women. (That includes fluids from water, beverages and food.) About 20% of our daily fluid intake comes from food, with the rest supplied by drinks.

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3

Smoking

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Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxins, while smoking constricts blood vessels and decreases the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the skin. It sounds like a recipe for premature aging, and science backs it up. In a study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers compared the facial features of 79 sets of twins; they found that those who smoked at the time, or smoked five years or more than their twin, had more undereye bags, lip wrinkles and jowls.

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4

Not Wearing Sunscreen

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Getting too much sun can result in dry skin and sunburn, not the freshest and most youthful of looks. Over time, UV light exposure can damage the skin and cause long-term changes. "These changes include photoaging (premature aging of the skin because of sun exposure)," says Harvard Medical School. "In photoaging, the skin develops wrinkles and fine lines because of changes in the collagen of a deep layer of the skin called the dermis." To avoid this, wear a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, with a broad spectrum of protection against UVA and UVB rays. If you're heading to the pool or beach, make sure it's water-resistant.

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5

Eating Too Much Sugar

Smiling young woman having an unhealthy snack, she is taking a delicious pastry out of the fridge
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Collagen and elastin are two compounds within the skin that keep it tight, plump and youthful. One major underminer of this skin support system: Sugar, also known as glucose and fructose. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Dermatology, when high levels of glucose and fructose are consumed, they link to amino acids in collagen and elastin, damaging them and inhibiting the body's natural repair process. 

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6

Not Getting Enough Sleep

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During sleep, various body systems—ranging from the brain to the skin—undergo renewal and repair. Getting less than you need can show up on your face. According to a study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, women who got quality sleep experienced 30% better skin-barrier recovery than women who got poor sleep, and had "significantly lower intrinsic skin aging."

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7

Stressing Out

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Running around seeming freaked-out or constipated isn't just a bad look in the moment—over time, being chronically stressed can age us on the cellular level. That's according to Harvard Medical School, which reports that chronic stress can shorten our telomeres, the structures inside each cell that contain genetic information. As telomeres get shorter, cells age and eventually die. Not only is this the literal process of aging, people with shorter telomeres are at risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer. Contact a medical professional if you feel you are developing dementia, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.