Everyday Habits That Make You Look Older

The journey of aging is both inevitable and, in many ways, beautiful — a testament to the experiences and wisdom we gain along the way. However, while the process is unavoidable, there are everyday habits that can speed up that journey, making you look older than you feel. From the gentle touch of the sun's rays to the occasional sleepless night, the telltale markers of age can be attributed to a variety of daily behaviors.


So, what if the secrets to maintaining youthful skin and vibrancy were hidden within the routines of our everyday lives? What if a few simple changes could slow down the visible indicators of time passing? While aging is a natural part of life, understanding these habits and their potential impact can help you make choices that honor your health and well-being — and your youthful appearance, too. We can't stop your wrinkles from appearing, but we can give you a few tips on how to age gracefully.

Too much sun exposure and too little sunscreen

Basking in the warmth of the sun may feel lovely, but it's a habit that can make you look older. Excessive sun exposure, combined with insufficient sunscreen protection, is a known recipe for premature aging. It can cause fine lines, wrinkles, and brown spots, according to the Better Health Channel. "Sun damage is what happens when the skin is overexposed to the sun's UV rays," board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD told Byrdie. "The UV rays can penetrate the skin even in the deepest layers and cause changes to DNA at the cellular level."


Fortunately, you can prevent the sun's harmful effects on your skin by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, which "protects against both UVB and UVA rays," revealed board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche (via Byrdie). "UVB causes burning of the skin, whereas UVA causes photoaging such as wrinkles, loss of collagen, and promotes the formation of brown spots (lentigos) on the skin." But sunscreen alone may not be enough. Timing is everything, which is why it's best to avoid the sun during its peak hours, usually from late morning to mid-afternoon, per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This way, you minimize direct exposure to the sun when its rays are the strongest.


Poor sleep hygiene can age you

Imagine sleep as your body's nightly spa session, rejuvenating and refreshing your skin and overall appearance. The concept of beauty sleep is more than just a myth; it holds some scientific truths. Not getting enough sleep can actually accelerate the aging process. "The first third of our sleep (when we get the deepest sleep) is suggested to be the most helpful [for skin repair] due to a sharp increase in growth hormone, which is responsible for skin cell reproduction and regeneration," Dr. Guy Meadows, the Co-Founder of Sleep School, explained to Women's Health. "If you want to assist in your skin's recovery process, it makes biological sense to ensure you get biological sleep needed every night."


To harness the power of deep sleep for your skin's benefit, it's crucial to prioritize your sleep hygiene. Having a good nighttime routine that relaxes you and allows you to easily fall asleep is essential. Waking up every day at the same time is also beneficial (via Healthline). So, make sleep a non-negotiable part of your skincare routine, and your reflection in the mirror will thank you for it.

Smoking may take a toll on your appearance

The consequences of smoking extend far beyond internal health, as it can also leave a visible mark on your appearance. In fact, one of the most apparent effects of smoking is the toll it takes on your skin. "Smoking reduces the collagen formation, results in collagen degradation, and reduces skin circulation," Dr. Bahman Guyuron revealed to CNN. "Additionally, nicotine reduces the skin thickness. All of these reduce skin elasticity and (cause) premature aging." Apart from this, over time, the repeated act of puckering your lips to draw on a cigarette can lead to deeper lines around your mouth (per Cleveland Clinic).


However, while some effects of smoking may be evident on the outside, it's essential to recognize the deeper, more dangerous impact it has on your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this list includes life-threatening conditions like cancer and lung disease, which can extend even to those who inhale the smoke secondhand. Kicking the habit can not only rejuvenate your appearance but also contribute to your overall well-being and that of the people around you.

Prolonged stress can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin

In addition to impacting your mental and emotional well-being, stress can have a negative effect on your skin. The link between stress and aging is a complex one. One of the key culprits behind this connection is cortisol, often also referred to as the stress hormone. When your body is under stress too often, it releases higher levels of cortisol. While cortisol serves essential functions in the body, excessive and prolonged elevation of this hormone can lead to bad outcomes for your skin's health and appearance. According to Westlake Dermatology, cortisol may influence the skin to create more sebum, cause redness, and break down elastin and collagen. "Stress wrinkles are thought to occur as a result of chronic stress—typically psychological stress—and environmental stressors," stress expert Dr. Eric First told Byrdie. "The facial region is typically where they are more common."


Addressing chronic stress and adopting stress-reduction strategies is not only important for your appearance but also for your health. Regardless of the quest for timeless beauty, managing stress levels and prioritizing self-care is essential. Remember, true beauty radiates from within, and a calm, well-nurtured mind will always reflect a more youthful and vibrant appearance.

Alcohol overconsumption may cause dull skin

Excessive alcohol consumption not only affects your liver but can also accelerate the aging process, leaving your skin looking dull and tired. Alcohol's dehydrating effects extend to your skin, and it can lead to dilated blood vessels, resulting in redness and broken capillaries (per Medical News Today). Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep patterns, preventing your body from undergoing its natural rejuvenation process during deep sleep (via Drinkaware). Prolonged heavy drinking can even lead to vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin A (retinol), which plays a vital role in maintaining healthy skin, according to a 2012 study published in Nutrients.


"Alcohol is a toxin with little nutrient value and can contribute to poorer liver function, reduced immunity, hormone disruption, cell damage, and insulin issues all impacting on the quality, appearance, and aging of your skin," nutritional therapist Lola Ross stated to Elle. "Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you can lose plenty of skin cell-loving water from the body quite rapidly, leaving your skin dehydrated and dull." Given these damaging effects on your skin and overall well-being, it's wise to enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation to maintain your health and, with that, your skin's youthful appearance.

Too much sugar can speed up the aging process

It's no secret that a healthy diet affects the way your skin looks (via the American Academy of Dermatology Association). However, what many may not know is that high sugar intake can accelerate the aging process through a phenomenon known as glycation. Glycation is a process "where sugar molecules attach themselves to collagen and elastin and form damaging by-products, known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs)," aesthetic doctor Dr. Wassim Taktouk detailed to Harper's Bazaar. AGEs make "newly glycated collagen lose its critical regenerative ability," and eventually, "the process weakens skin integrity resulting visibly as wrinkles, crepiness, sagging, and dullness ... Glycation also causes free radical formation, oxidative stress, and inflammation, all of which accelerate aging."


High sugar consumption can also lead to more acne, dark spots, and a longer healing process when it comes to cuts and similar injuries — all of which can contribute to an aged appearance (per UnityPoint Health). To maintain youthful skin, reduce your consumption of sugary foods and beverages and opt for a balanced diet rich in antioxidants instead to help combat the negative effects of glycation. Of course, treating yourself every now and then is perfectly fine, but it's important to keep in mind that sugar should be consumed in moderation.

Not drinking enough water can show on your skin

Dehydration is harmful to your health on many levels, and it can certainly affect your skin's health and contribute to premature aging. When your body lacks the necessary hydration, your skin loses its natural plumpness and elasticity, leading to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. While occasional dehydration won't have a permanent effect on your skin, chronic dehydration will. "Chronic dehydration will literally 'suck the life' out of your skin. If the tissues are not maintained with healthy levels of water, the reproduction cycle of your skin's cells is impaired. Your skin will not function as normal healthy skin, and the reproduction of collagen and elastin fibers will be the first to go," aesthetician Karen Fernandez explained to The Zoe Report.


The solution to this problem is straightforward: ensure you stay adequately hydrated throughout the day. The six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water serve as a general guideline, but individual hydration needs often vary (via the University of Missouri System). Factors like climate and physical activity can also influence how much water you should consume. Adding foods with high water content, like fruits and vegetables, to your daily diet can also contribute to your hydration levels. Additionally, having a moisturizing skincare routine can help lock in hydration and support your skin's natural barrier.

Not removing your makeup before bed can cause premature aging

Falling asleep with makeup still clinging to your skin is a habit that can eventually make you look older than you are (per Short Hills Dermatology). Makeup, when left on for extended periods, can clog your pores, trapping oil, sweat, and environmental pollutants. Not removing your makeup before bed can interfere with your skin's natural regeneration process, which is key to healthy and plump skin. "For some, sleeping just one night with makeup on leads to an inevitable breakout. For others, it won't have visible consequences. But repeatedly sleeping with makeup on will certainly compound the issue," board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose told Byrdie. "During deep sleep, there is a boost in healing hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin, resulting in more rapid rates of cellular regeneration and repair, and sleeping with makeup on may hinder these processes in many ways."


To prevent premature aging, make it a habit to remove your makeup thoroughly before bed. Invest in a gentle, effective makeup remover and follow with a skincare routine customized for your skin type. And if you really don't have it in you to take off your makeup, keep a pack of makeup-removing wipes by your bed. While they aren't the best choice, they are still better than doing nothing on those bad days.

Aggressive skincare and cleansing too frequently can have an unwanted effect

While skincare products can work wonders for your complexion, it's essential to find the right balance. Overly aggressive skincare routines and excessive cleansing can have unintended consequences, potentially making you look older than you'd like. While aggressive skincare ingredients, such as retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and chemical peels, can be highly effective in promoting cell turnover and collagen production and addressing various skin concerns, they can also lead to skin irritation, redness, and increased sensitivity (via Healthline).


One significant risk of overdoing it with skincare products is the potential damage to your skin's protective barrier. This barrier serves as your skin's defense against external stressors, and when it's compromised, your skin becomes more sensitive. "Using harsh products can cause UV ray damage and cause the skin to constantly be in a state of an inflammatory response resulting in damage over time, premature lines and wrinkles, collagen degradation, and scarring, dullness, and redness," skincare expert and medical aesthetician Cassandra Bankson told Sunday Edit.

Because of this, it's crucial to use these potent ingredients as directed and, in some cases, gradually introduce them into your routine to allow your skin to adapt. Additionally, pay attention to how your skin responds and adjust your skincare accordingly. Washing your skin excessively can strip away its natural oils and disrupt its protective barrier (per Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery). This can also result in dryness and irritation, which is why having a balanced cleansing routine is key to preserving your skin's youthful glow. As always, if you find that your skin isn't doing well, consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional for personalized guidance, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our skin.


Squinting and frowning can lead to wrinkles

Frequent squinting and frowning may seem like innocent facial expressions, but they can leave a lasting mark on your appearance. When you squint due to poor vision or sun exposure, fine lines form around your eyes. These lines can become permanent wrinkles over time. According to Cleveland Clinic, frowning, whether from stress or habitual expression, contributes to lines on your forehead and between your eyebrows. "Repeated movements, such as squinting, cause the muscles around the eyes to form what we call dynamic wrinkles, or lines that occur with motion," dermatologist Annie Chiu shared with Allure. "Over time, with years of the same repeated movement, these lines can etch, causing creases and wrinkles around the eyes even when you are not squinting."


To mitigate the impact of squinting, especially during sunny days, make sure you always bring a pair of sunglasses with you. Shielding your eyes from intense sunlight can help prevent unnecessary squinting and, hence, reduce the chances of dynamic wrinkles forming around the eyes. And as far as frowning goes, managing stress and being aware of your facial expressions is the best way to minimize those pesky elevens (apart from SPF, of course).

Neglecting hand skincare and protection can give away your age

Our hands, which are often overlooked in our skincare routines, are crucial indicators of our age. Exposed to the elements and frequently subjected to harsh soaps and sanitizers, they can develop signs of aging like dryness, age spots, and reduced elasticity very quickly. Neglecting hand care can give away your age, even if your face looks youthful. "We're exposing our hands to the elements more than ever because we're on our phones wherever we go," dermatologist Ranella Hirsch revealed to Allure. "I see people dressed for winter in Boston, but they aren't wearing gloves, because they're busy texting."


To maintain youthful-looking hands, consider extending your skincare routine beyond your face. Use a moisturizing hand cream regularly to combat dryness and enhance elasticity. Additionally, apply sunscreen to your hands daily, especially when you're outdoors, to prevent the formation of age spots and protect your skin from UV damage. And if you're experiencing cold winters, investing in a pair of touchscreen-compatible gloves can also help shield your hands from harsh weather conditions while allowing you to stay connected.

Using devices too much may cause tech neck wrinkles

Now, we just recommended that you get a pair of touch-screen-compatible gloves, but that doesn't mean we're saying you should constantly be looking down at your phone. Excessive device use can lead to the development of those annoying "tech neck" wrinkles, which are a visible sign of overindulgence in screen time. The constant downward tilt of the head when using smartphones, tablets, or laptops negatively affects the delicate skin of the neck, resulting in your neck looking older. If you're in that position frequently, the formation of horizontal lines, often referred to as "tech neck" wrinkles, is inevitable.


"The horizontal creases on the neck have a lot to do with positioning," dermatologist Dr. Jeanette Graf told Elle. "The more movement, the more you're going to reinforce the way those lines are falling. If you're going to always be on your phone, it's best to bring it to eye level, rather than looking downward." These wrinkles, once established, can be challenging to diminish. Taking regular breaks, adjusting your screen to reduce the need for downward head tilting, and practicing good posture can help prevent "tech neck" wrinkles from forming. Additionally, incorporating neck-specific skincare into your routine, such as moisturizing and applying sunscreen, can help maintain the skin's elasticity and delay the development of these wrinkles.