We all know the inevitable: Our skin will age. One day, it won't be as smooth, plump, and dewy. The good news: Research shows that when it comes to what you’ll see in the mirror five, ten, twenty (eek!) years from now, genetics may not play as big of a role as once thought. That means it's possible to take control of how your skin ages. Here’s how.
The Good Genes Factor
A study by Olay and Harvard Medical School found that out of hundreds of women studied, those who looked around 10 years younger possessed a specific gene expression fingerprint in their skin cells.
As a result, Olay teamed up with the personal genetics company 23andMe to analyze even more women (155k of them actually) who also looked at least 10 years younger. From the original clinical study, it was clear that each "exceptional ager" had a unique biological fingerprint in their skin cells. What wasn't clear? Why.
PARTICIPANTS WHO HAD AMAZING SKIN ALSO HAD HEALTHY HABITS.
"We wanted to know if it was because they were born with genetic profiles that meant no matter what they did they would look great, or was it their lifestyle choices?” explains Olay Principal Scientist Dr. Frauke Neuser. They discovered that these women had two specific genetic markers in common; however, not everyone possessing these "forever-young" markers had amazing skin. To find the connection, each woman answered a detailed questionnaire to determine possible links between skin that looks significantly younger and lifestyle and environmental factors.
The results were not completely surprising, says Dr. Neuser. Participants who had more youthful-looking skin also had similar healthy habits when it came to skincare, attitude, and their approach to wellness.
How To Control Your Skin Destiny
“The outcome of the study showed that even if you have either one of the two kinds of genetic variations that make you more likely to have younger-looking skin, the effect that they have on how your skin ages is actually pretty small compared to your lifestyle choices,” says Dr. Neuser. “What you put on your skin does make a difference, and that was really exciting.” (Beauty and product lovers rejoice: You have science on your side!) “Genes can only take you so far,” agrees Sejal Shah, a New York City-based dermatologist. “At some point, lifestyle can overtake what your genes are capable of.”
GENES CAN ONLY TAKE YOU SO FAR.
The bottom line: A gorgeous complexion is as much nurture as it is nature. “We cannot change our parents, but we can adjust our skincare routine,” says New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner. “The way we treat our skin has as much of an impact on the way the skin ages as our genetics does.”
Case in point: The women from the study that said they used sunscreen 90 percent of the time had a 78 percent higher likelihood of having skin that looked younger than those who didn't use sunscreen as frequently.
Zeichner agrees that the number-one golden rule to have amazing skin—now and forever—is to use sunscreen every day. (We repeat—every day, rain or shine, office or beach, you get the gist.) “The single biggest factor causing skin aging is ultraviolet light exposure because it causes free radical damage, which harms collagen and leads to hyperpigmentation,” he says.
Zeichner suggests using a face cream with sunscreen daily like Olay Total Effects Whip Fragrance-Free SPF25. “Even low levels of UV light from incidental exposure during the day add up over a lifetime,” he explains.
Dr. Neuser confirms that’s exactly what the study revealed, too. Most of the women that said they used SPF every day—or nearly every day—and didn’t frequently sunbathe had noticeably younger-looking skin than those that had the same genetic markers but didn’t use sunscreen and regularly sunbathed.
Rule number two: Think of antioxidants in your skincare as an insurance policy for your sunscreen—and your skin. Because, Zeichner says, once you hit your 30s, your skin’s natural antioxidant defenses start to decline.
“Antioxidants help neutralize free radical damage caused by UV light that reaches the skin despite our best efforts with sunscreen,” he explains. Look for those proven to be superior defenders, such as niacinamide, a derivative of vitamin B. “Ingredients like niacinamide can be useful in both strengthening skin's foundation and lightening spots—it has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties,” he says.
WHAT YOU PUT ON YOUR SKIN DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Another surprising finding: Your skin texture—meaning your skin overall as well as the super sensitive areas like the skin around your eyes, which is more susceptible to dryness because of lack of oil glands—greatly affects how your skin ages. “We found that dry skin tends to not age as well as hydrated skin,” notes Dr. Neuser. Treat delicate eye skin with proven hydrators such as glycerin, found in Olay Eyes Deep Hydrating Eye Gel; skin-strengthening niacinamide coupled with vitamin C and E in Olay Eyes Brightening Eye Cream helps lessen dark circles. Look for those same ingredients in the products you use on your face, too, to boost moisture from the inside out. For example, Olay Mist Ultimate Hydration Essence with Vitamin C and Bergamot contains glycerin, plus natural extracts in a super-fine mist that instantly hydrates.
And finally, at night, use a face cream that does more than simply hydrate. While you sleep is when your body—including your skin—repairs damage. “Peptides can help stimulate cells to produce collagen optimally,” Zeichner explains. (Try Olay Regenerist Whip Fragrance-Free.)
“Sunscreen is one of the most important things you can do for your face, but it’s not the only part of the puzzle when it comes to having—and maintaining—great skin,” confirms Shah. “You also need to wash your makeup off properly, use a moisturizer and antioxidants daily, and exfoliate regularly, too.” Try a gentle, hydrating cleanser like Olay Daily Facials 5-in-1 Cleansing Cloths, which also lightly exfoliate because of the soft yet ribbed fabric.
Positive Attitude = Amazing Skin
Along with a stellar daily skincare routine, "exceptional agers" had another common denominator: a do-your-mind-and-body-good perspective on life. Many claimed to exercise often, take multivitamins daily, aim to get ample sleep (eight hours or more nightly), and rated their outlook on life as positive.
“The women who said they had a positive outlook on life and aging had a 30 percent higher likelihood to be one of the women with skin that appeared to be 10 years younger,” notes Dr. Neuser. “There's also research on health and aging that shows that people who deal better with stress, people that are optimistic, people that have a can-do attitude tend to age better. If you have good stress coping mechanisms you'll tend to age better, and that shows also on your face and your skin.”
Shah says she witnesses this in real life with her clients all the time. "We know that emotions greatly affect what happens to your skin—we have the knowledge that if you're stressed or sad or depressed, then your skin will be affected negatively,” she explains. “I always ask my patients ‘What's going on?’ and ‘How's life or work or school going?’ Certainly if they have something stressful happening, we can move forward with both a skincare and life plan to help.” See, it's that simple: Use amazing skincare every day, feel good, and yes—science proves you'll look good, too.