If you didn’t know better, you might think the secret to looking your best is buried deep within a jar of pricey products. Not so.
Little things you do every day can do as much, sometimes more, to “give your skin all the fuel it needs" to recharge, repair, and withstand life's daily stresses, says Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Get started today with these six healthy habits that will leave you looking your best.
1. Sleep on it.
All you have to do is check the mirror after a night of tossing and turning to understand just how much your skin needs shut-eye.
Research backs that up. A 2013 study in the journal Sleep found that people who were sleep-deprived had puffy, blood-shot eyes, dark under-eye circles, more wrinkles, and droopier eyelids than well-rested folks.
The culprit? The stress hormone cortisol.
“It’s at its lowest during sleep, so if you’re not sleeping enough, your levels of cortisol go up and that results in a loss of collagen,” says dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection. “You can see it after even a single sleepless night.” Aim for 7.5 to 8 hours of shut-eye every night.
2. Break a sweat.
Talk about motivation to move more: People over 40 who exercise regularly have the skin of people half their age, according to a 2014 study at McMaster University in Ontario.
Even better, you don’t have to run marathons or spend your life in yoga class to reap the rewards. People in the study who exercised at a moderate pace -- they jogged or cycled for half an hour twice a week -- also saw benefits.
The key? Sticking with it. Pick an activity you like (walk the dog, bicycle with your kids) and then mark it on your calendar.
3. Stick to the shady side of the street.
That sunscreen you wear every day helps, but don’t count on it alone. For one thing, it wears off as the day goes on.
To make sure you’re fully protected against the sun’s UV rays, wear sunglasses, cover up, and seek out the shade when you’re outdoors, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That's when burning and cancer-causing UVB rays are at their most intense. We’re talking year-round, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces like snow and ice, where you can get double the UV dose.
“There is nothing more aging than ultraviolet rays,” Wechsler says. “Over time, they break down collagen, thin out the skin, and create sunspots and extra blood vessels.”
4. Stay hydrated.
Check the ingredients on your favorite moisturizer, and chances are you’ll see one called “hyaluronic acid.” It’s found naturally in your skin, and it’s a moisture magnet, holding on to the water you get from food and drinks, making your skin firmer and fuller.
But “if you’re dehydrated, the water goes to your [other] organs instead,” Day says.
A quick trick to know if your skin is thirsty: Pinch the back of your hand or lower arm. If the skin doesn’t snap back quickly, you’re running low on H2O.
Not a fan of plain water? Fruits and veggies that naturally are loaded with water - such as cucumbers, cauliflower, tomatoes, grapefruit, and celery -- are just as effective.
5. Less worry, more happy.
When you’re stressed, cortisol -- that familiar foe -- goes up, doing a number on collagen and causing dry skin and wrinkles, Wechsler says. No wonder men in a 2013 study published in Biology Letters found women with high levels of stress hormones to be less attractive.
Meditation is a proven stress zapper, but it’s not the only one. Treat yourself to a massage or a mani-pedi. Working out also torches stress. And you’ll handle it better if you’re well-rested. Win-win!
6. Exfoliate regularly.
Skin cells turn over constantly, but as you get older, and depending on the environment, sometimes they need help to fully slough off. Give your skin an assist and exfoliate once or twice a week.
Try Day’s all-natural DIY recipe: Combine salt, sugar, and enough honey and coconut oil to form a paste. Make it thicker and coarser if you have oily skin, she says.