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Everyday Habits That Make You Look Older, According to Science

These patterns can age you before your time.

Americans are obsessed with looking young — the ever-growing, multibillion-dollar beauty and fitness industries are a chronic testament to that. But at the same time, we undermine our own efforts (and expense) by regularly engaging in behaviors that prematurely age us. These are some everyday habits — which may seem harmless or unrelated to aging — that, in fact, make you look older. 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.


Drinking Soda

drinking soda

Tipping back sugar-sweetened drinks can pack on the pounds. But sugary drinks might actually make you age faster, too. That's according to a study conducted at the University of California—San Francisco, which found that people who drank more sugar-sweetened drinks like soda had shorter telomeres, the components of cells that hold DNA information. Telomeres start out long and get shorter as they grow older; when they get too short, they die. "Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging," wrote the study's authors. "The extremely high dose of sugar that we can put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic to metabolism." 


Eating Sugary Foods

dunkin sugared donut
Julia Guerra/Eat This, Not That!

Consuming anything with excessive sugar is a recipe for aging, including sugary foods. Our skin's support system, which keeps it plump and youthful, is composed of the compounds collagen and elastin. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Dermatology, when high levels of sugar are consumed, it binds to amino acids in collagen and elastin, causing damage and making it harder for the body to repair them. 

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Drinking Too Much Alcohol

drinking whiskey

Beer goggles have a reputation for making people seem more attractive, but nothing makes you look older faster than alcohol. It dehydrates the skin and causes inflammation throughout the body, which can show up on your face as flushing, swelling and broken capillaries. A 2019 multinational study of more than 3,200 women found that 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 not at all.

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Not Getting Enough Sleep

30-something woman having trouble sleeping

A sleepless night doesn't just make you look and feel ragged the next day. Too many nights of too-few z's can make you look older, 24-7. During sleep, several body systems—ranging from the brain to the skin—undergo renewal and repair. Too few z's mean those processes are incomplete. 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." How much sleep is enough? Experts like the National Sleep Foundation recommend seven to nine hours every night. 

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Mature woman with sore throat, standing in living room at home.

It's no wonder that smoking is terrible for your skin: Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxins which float around your face whenever you light up, while inhaling smoke causes blood vessels to constrict and prevents oxygen and nutrients from circulating to the skin. In one particularly vivid study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers compared the facial features of 79 sets of twins. They found that those who currently smoked, or had smoked for five years or more than their twin, were more likely to have drooping eyelids, undereye bags, lip wrinkles, jowls and lines around the mouth.

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Getting Too Much Sun

a woman's sun burned back

The sun's ultraviolet rays damage the skin, making it look prematurely older. The process is called photoaging, and it can lead to skin cancer. "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," says Harvard Medical School. Signs of photoaging include wrinkling, pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots and freckles, loss of skin tone, and broken capillaries (spider veins). 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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Stressing Out

Man suffering from a stress attack

Don't panic, but chronic stress can age you faster. That's according to Harvard Medical School, which reports that protracted stress can shorten telomeres, those structures inside each cell that contain genetic information which are also damaged by sugar. Not only is telomere shortening the literal process of aging, people with shorter telomeres are at risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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