In 2012, consumers spent about 250 billion dollars on anti-aging lotions, creams, and cosmetics. Unfortunately, the majority of these products yield little to no actual benefit in reversing the aging process — they often just mask the effects of aging at a superficial level. Anti-aging cleansers, moisturizers, and creams work to artificially tighten and (temporarily) improve the appearance of fine lines, but they don't replenish or improve the skin from a foundational level.
The first step in obtaining youthful skin is to understand how skin functions. Up close, skin resembles a thin sponge with a protective waterproof barrier on one side. The tough outer layer is called the epidermis. It contains thin flat cells stacked on top of one another, similar to a deck of cards. The inner spongy layer (called the dermis) contains interlacing strands of collagen and a network of blood vessels that provide support to the epidermis.
What most people don’t know is that your overall skin health is disproportionately determined by your inner layer of skin (dermis), as opposed to the outer layer. And even the outward conditions of the skin (such as wrinkling, drying, and thinning) are a direct result of the destruction and collapse of collagen strands and blood vessels in the dermis. Most topical skin care products only affect the the outer layer of skin and do not penetrate into the dermis — including topical products that contain collagen.
So what are the best ways to get beautiful skin from the inside out? The best strategy for radiant, youthful skin is to avoid these 5 “collagen crunchers”:
1. Harmful rays
Sunlight is the most notorious collagen cruncher, but what's surprising to most people is that sunscreens do not offer as much protection as you might think. Sunscreens only protect you from UV light, but 80% of sunlight is from the infrared and visible spectrum. Infrared and visible light particles penetrate the epidermis and strike other molecules, creating free radicals which directly damages collagen. Always wear sunscreen (be aware that some products contain chemicals that become carcinogens when exposed to sunlight!), but also wear protective clothing and eyewear that shields you from harmful rays.
Your best protection from aging, aside from covering up your skin with clothing, is choosing foods and supplements that contain therapeutic amounts of the most important skin-protecting antioxidants. Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and collards, as well as yellow-orange vegetables like carrots and peppers, contain potent antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin.
Other similar antioxidants are found in blueberries and blackberries. Look for supplements with high concentrations of lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, french maritime pine bark, and berry extracts. These important antioxidants accumulate in skin layers and directly protect against the damaging effects of free radicals.
The free radicals generated by toxic chemicals, especially those coming from cigarette smoke, are extremely damaging to collagen. While it’s nearly impossible to avoid toxins altogether, make a point to become “toxin aware.” Avoid first and second hand smoke at ALL costs, and always choose filtered water, organic foods, and natural cleaning solutions.
3. Sugar and starch
Glucose molecules, found in starch and sugar products, attach themselves to collagen strands and causes them to collapse. If you make a habit of consuming high carb, processed foods, plan on accelerated skin aging and wrinkling at almost double the normal rate!
Ever seen a before and after photo of US president, both before and after his four-year term? It's well documented that chronic emotional stress is linked with increased risk of physical disease, but stress also contributes to accelerated physical aging. Chronic stress speeds cellular division, which contributes to skin cells dying at a more rapid rate. If you find yourself under chronic stress, make a point to practice breathing exercises, meditation, or try natural substances known to have calming effects like L-theanine and ashwagandha.
5. Excessive alcohol consumption
Consuming alcohol in moderation may have benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health. But it's no surprise that excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to accelerated aging. Alcohol itself is a toxin that dehydrates our skin cells, negatively impacts Vitamin A levels (which are important for collagen production), and reduces the body’s ability to filter toxins. Enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but keep alcohol intake to a reasonable amount and your skin will thank you.