Ever look in the mirror and think you actually look older than you did yesterday? Us, too. But if you fear that your skin is ageing faster than you are, the culprit may be hidden in plain sight. Everything from what you eat to your stress levels affects your skin, so the key to a vibrant complexion is identifying and stopping bad habits. We asked nutritionist and cognitive behavioural therapist Dana James, to identify some of the sneakiest skin agers and how to outsmart them naturally. "If you want beautiful skin," says James, "it's about creating the environment for that to happen within the body and mind."
Skin Ager: Rampant, runaway stress
Stress is a natural part of life, but too much robs you of nutrients that are essential for healthy skin. "When we're stressed, the body uses up various nutrients, including magnesium and vitamin C, to create stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline so you can cope," says James. But magnesium and vitamin C are also vital for the synthesis of collagen.
Natural Solution: If you're stressed, James recommends taking 1,000 to 2,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 mg of magnesium, and a B complex vitamin daily.
Skin Ager: Hormones gone wild
Whether you're dealing with PMS or menopause, if you're constantly turning to refined carbs and sugar for a boost in mood and energy, you're triggering surges in the hormone insulin. At the very least, this kicks up inflammation in the body and produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, which leads to more lines on your skin, notes James. This eating pattern can also throw oestrogen and testosterone levels out of whack.
Natural Solution: Steering clear of added sugars and starches should be your first move if you want to restore hormonal balance. This also makes room for fresh whole foods that truly nourish you. To deal with sugar and starch cravings, James is all about the nonfood solution. "If you want radiant, bright skin, when you've got a sugar craving, opt for something that makes you feel joyful outside of food," she says. Love music? "Listen to your favourite song and dance around like wild for 3 minutes…I guarantee your sugar craving will be gone."
Skin Ager: Restless, disrupted sleep
Cellular rejuvenation does its best work during sleep. "When you have insufficient sleep, or sleep isn't deep, you disrupt that process," says James. You also increase production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. "We know that if you don't sleep more than 6½ hours, ghrelin will increase, and you're going to wake up hungrier." Ghrelin also triggers cravings for carbohydrate-based foods, she adds.
Natural Solution: James recommends this bedtime ritual to set you up for a good night's rest: Meditate for 10 minutes to quiet your mind and take 400 mg of magnesium. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that when older adults with insomnia took a daily dose of magnesium, they feel asleep faster and slept longer.
Skin Ager: Too many glasses of punch
As the holiday party season approaches, keep in mind that alcohol dehydrates the body and depletes your stores of B vitamins and magnesium, which you need for good skin, says James. "It also interferes with GABA, a neurotransmitter that gets you to sleep."
Natural Solution: On your next big night out (or in), keep it to two drinks, and separate them with a glass of water. "Then before you go to bed, take a B vitamin to help metabolise the alcohol, plus magnesium," she says.
Skin Ager: Skimping on fats and oils
Not every woman needs more fat in her diet. But if your skin is dry and flaky and you're a fat avoider, there could be a connection. "Our cell membranes, including our skin cells, are all made from saturated fat," says James. "And we know the omega-6s and the omega-3s are essential."
Natural Solution: James recommends getting familiar with three minimally processed fat sources: coconut oil, chia, and hemp seed. "Coconut oil will give you a non-oxidised, good form of saturated fat," says James. Blend a teaspoon into your morning smoothie. Hemp seed and chia seed offer a healthy dose of omega-3s and omega-6s, plus a good amount of protein and (in the case of chia) fibre. "Add hemp seed to a salad and put chia seed into a pudding for a healthy snack," James says. Or simply soak 3 tablespoons of chia seed in 1 cup of almond milk, top with cinnamon and raspberries, and enjoy.