Time flies, that’s for sure. It wasn’t so long ago that creepy hair transplant ads and pension funds were just things we dismissed as irrelevant. Then comes the day when we look in the mirror and our lifestyle has suddenly snuck up on us: the grey is creeping in, the hair is creeping out and there’s a new a frown line there or an extra eye crease here. Of course, not all of us look any different to how we did 10, or even 20 years ago. Hollywood celebrities like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are officially ageless. Compare recent photos of actor and Gucci muse Jared Leto with his younger self: his face is almost untouched in relation to the years he’s clocked up. The secret? These stars might claim clean living, but we’d wager these actors are more familiar with discreet cosmetic procedures than they let on.
While not all of us have access to a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, or necessarily want to, it doesn’t mean we’re going to start letting ourselves go – just yet. Over the years increasingly sophisticated skincare science has thrown up some super hero ingredients that are proven to help the skin retain elasticity, smooth out lines and maintain firmness – along with some rather baffling jargon. We break down the key anti-ageing players here.
UV & SPF
Genes play a huge part in how we age but we can’t underestimate the impact of epigenetic (i.e. lifestyle and environmental) factors. These external influences can influence how our genes express themselves. A fair-skinned person from the same family will age more quickly if they live in Australia than if they live in Ireland, for example, due to the climate and impact of stronger sun exposure.
One of the biggest factors in ageing is sun damage. UV rays compound ageing in the skin so your first line of defence is wearing a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor all year round. A high SPF is best (30-50 on the face), and always apply it before going outside. Simply screening out harmful rays can go a long way in making your skin more future proof.
The one ingredient that can arguably make the biggest difference to de-age your skin is retinol. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A and can be listed as retinoic acid. When applied topically it has a proven ability to help promote cell turnover, enhance collagen levels, shrink pores and smooth out lines – and forms a key part of acne treatment. It’s a potent, unstable ingredient (hence the opaque packaging to block out light) that can irritate, so it typically has a concentration of 2% or less in non-prescription formulations. It can make skin appear more red, feel dryer than usual and even causing mild flaking but these side effects should lessen as your skin becomes used to it.
Hyaluronan is naturally present in the human body and one of its main lubricants, occurring in connective tissue between joints. Hyaluronic acid is a major component in the skin, where it is responsible for tissue repair and regeneration and works as a “free radical” scavenger (see below). Many face creams can deliver this super-plumping agent to your skin (which can carry 1,000 times its weight in water).
Free Radicals & Antioxidants
We like to think of free radicals as kryptonite for smooth, supple skin. These short-lived, highly reactive molecules are by products of oxygen metabolism and damage living cells, proteins and DNA, causing “oxidative stress”. The vitamins and minerals that counteract oxidative stress are known as antioxidants. Resveratrol is one such antioxidant that’s currently being hailed for its anti-ageing benefit. It’s a natural phenol that occurs in plants when under attack by pathogens like bacteria. Nutritionists love to harp on about eating an antioxidant-rich diet as they have disease-proofing abilities and help protect the skin.
Elastin and collagen are what keep skin soft, firm and smooth. Levels in the skin decrease as our body produces less and it breaks down, leading to sagging and wrinkles. There’s been an explosion in drinkable collagen supplements, but we prefer to take ours the old fashioned way.
Laser & Light Therapy
Topical ointments can only go so far in terms of penetrating the upper epidermis. Laser and light therapy can go deeper into the skin and work on improving hyper pigmentation, sun damage and overall ageing concerns on a deeper level. Light therapy face masks are a relatively new sector in the world of home grooming, while professional clinics such as Skinsmiths, Sk:n Clinics and EF Medispa offer courses of treatments, as well as cosmetic procedures.
With deeply entrenched wrinkles (frown lines and smile lines) no amount of serum or moisturiser is going to make a significant difference. The two main ways to dispatch with a deep furrow is with invasive treatments: injections and dermal fillers.
Botox costs a couple of hundred pounds and works by paralysing the local muscles so that the motion that creates the wrinkle is frozen. This allows the wrinkle to relax and drop out like a crease falling out of a cloth. This semi-permanent procedure will wear off after a couple of months, allowing the muscles to move again and the wrinkles to return. However, the movement in the muscles can be permanently altered, it can make the brow feel heavier and longer term use has been linked to reduced emotional perception. It’s also interesting to note that, for example, babies learn to read emotions by reading faces, and they have difficulty reading a face that doesn’t move. In general, it does work and is fairly subtle, if used with a light hand.
Fillers, such as Juvederm, can be used to plump out smile lines from the inside. Again, this is usually a semi-permanent fix and needs to be topped up. There are risks and possible side effects with any cosmetic procedure so always seek professional advice before undergoing any treatment to establish how it might affect you. Thoroughly research the clinic beforehand too.
Youthful skin is typically unblemished, but as we age, damage from sun exposure or hyper pigmentation triggered by shaving or scarring becomes more likely to leave us with darker patches on our cheeks, neck, chest and backs of the hands. Vitamin C is a key ingredient in the fight to get rid of these “stubborn stains” and minimise their appearance. You’ll need to religiously apply a corrector day and night, and be extra diligent with the SPF.
Frequent professional facials will quickly improve the look of your skin and act as an insurance policy to keep the Peter Pan years going for longer. Spa facials might be relaxing, but if you want results head to FaceGym. The FaceGym facial (£50) is like a bootcamp work out for your chops. By exercising 40 facial muscles it seeks to sculpt, tone and firm the skin – and the best bit is that your therapist will do all the work, you won’t break a sweat.