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6 common causes of premature wrinkles (and what you can do about it)



Believe it or not, you can see fine lines as early as in your mid-20s. You can partially blame genetics for this, but the other half of the equation lies in your daily routine.

That’s right: You may already be doing things that age you faster than your biological age, and you don’t even know it.

I wish I listened to my mom earlier before now. She’s 50 and at best, she looks like she’s in her late 30s. Ever since I grew up as a teenager, she’s been instilling upon me her stay-young secrets, but I never really listened. After all, who cares about wrinkles in their 20s?

It’s so easy to feel that you’re immune to the signs of aging while you’re young and vibrant and heals from skin issues within weeks, and I blame myself for thinking that everything she suggested me to do, I can always start when I’m at her age. Guess what, by that time, it might’ve already been too late.

Eye bags from little sleep have always disappeared within days, but now they don’t seem to disappear. Dry patches seem to go away by the time my ovulation period comes around, but now they just seem to stay put. Worst: I may not produce as much sebum anymore, but even when I limit my face wash to just once a day, it seems to stay dry.

I drink lots of water, exercise regularly, and eat healthy. So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s #3 and #4. They’re probably the most surprising causes of aging prematurely, but read on to find out all the other common culprits:


1. Sun

Blame the UV rays: They destroy your skin permanently1 . Contrary to popular belief, a golden sun-tanned skin is anything but radiant – it’s a sign of damaged skin2. With repeated UV exposure (they’re present in tanning beds and everyday bright fluorescent lights too), you’ll break down the skin’s main structure, collagen, and write yourself some lines before sagging your skin early. This is because once you’ve soaked up all the vitamin D you need for the day (usually around 10-20 minutes), UV rays start to penetrate deep into your skin and wear down its elastic fibers. This process stretches and tears the skin’s connective tissues, causing you to wrinkle3. And what’s worse, this damaging effect of UV rays only increases as you age.

What you can do now: Buy a large opaque hat (no straws), put on your biggest UV-shielding sunglasses, and slab lots and lots of sunscreen of minimum SPF 30. Limit your unprotected sun exposure to 15 minutes a day, and for the rest of the day, stay out of bright lights and flash photographs whenever possible.

It’s the desert. Even dressing like this gets you sunburned.

I used to just nod my head and never do it whenever my mom’s yakking on these hardcore protocols, but it’s that hard to prevent photoaging these days, now that the planet’s own protective layers are thinning. If you really want that tanned look, I highly suggest buying this bronzing lotion from Victoria’s Secret. It’s way more “healthier” than the sun because it’s got shimmer.


2. Smoking

We’re all bound to have wrinkles with time, but smokers tend to have deeper wrinkles than non-smokers4. Thing is, if you start smoking as early as when you’re a teenager, you’ll actually have wrinkles by the time you hit your 20s. You just don’t see it in the mirror yet, but scientists can spot these “superficial wrinkling” easily under a microscope, according to this study published in the International Journal of Dematology. In addition to depriving your body of oxygen while smoking, the act of puckering your lips on a cigarette also leads to actual etching in the skin, especially the area above your lips. Even if you’re a non-smoker, drinking from a straw and posing a duckface will have the same effect5.

What you can do now: Stop it, now. Vanity is a valid reason to quit. This coming from someone who’s never smoked a cigarette in her life (and never will), it’s so easy for me to say. But the next time you’re tempted to flick the lighter, remember that you’ll be sporting wrinkles on your face way, way sooner than you thought.


3. Sleeping position

I am sooo guilty for this. I’m so comfortable sleeping on my sides that I realized my face shape is turning really thin and flat. It used to be quite plump of baby fat no matter how much I weigh, but now it’s just flat, thin, and dry – sometimes I even wake up with sleep lines6 that won’t go away for days. It’s beginning to scare me … and turns out they do eventually etch long-term lines into your cheeks7. No matter how soft they are, our pillows still put pressure on your face because gravity. Whether you sleep on your left or right or you bury your head in the pillow, your lines depend on how you tend to rest your face on them.

What you can do now: It’s pretty straightforward – start sleeping on your back. In my case, it took a while to get comfortable with it. Every night, it took a conscious effort to refrain myself from turning to the side, so I just distract myself with thoughts that make me look up to the ceiling, like writing haikus in my head and stuff. You can always invest in silk or satin pillow cases for less friction, but the pressure from gravity is still pulling your face down regardless. So just sleep on your back and look up. It’s the healthiest sleeping position anyway8.


4. Y u no moisturize?

I used to skip the moisturizer when I was entering my early 20s, because I was born with oily skin. I’ve always felt it’ll only exacerbate the shine – sometimes I’m practically an oil tank at the end of the day. So I went on about a month or so totally forgoing the moisturizer and went only with cleanser and toner, then acne treatment. It got worse: Dry patches start to appear randomly, and the whole complexion just turned dull. Now that I’m including moisturizers in my regimen again, it’s starting to get back to normal. As I get used to the routine, I found that moisturizing is the single most essential step in your regimen that controls oil production over time.

What you can do now: Invest in a good moisturizer that’s safe for your skin and your health. Look for those with the ingredients vitamins E, C, and A in it, and glycerin too. If possible, splurge on facial oils to condition the skin even more and to lock in the moisture longer. Even if you have super oily skin or acne-prone to begin with, oil works wonders for your skin. In fact, it’s little sebum or the lack thereof that causes the visible signs of aging9. I’ve used Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate for a while and it works fine, but now prefers using 100% pure oils because they’re more effective.



Here’s the thing – glycation is a fact of life. It’s happening right now – sugars are attaching themselves with the protein and fat molecules in your body, and when they do, they form this thing called the advanced glycation end-products, otherwise known as AGEs10. As we age, AGEs accumulate. AGEs basically butcher the connective tissues in your body, including collagen and elastin, making these supporting fibers stiff and malformed. This process is never going to stop for the rest of your life because our brain functions mainly on glucose, and even if you’re eating no carbs, no proteins, and all fat (all carbs essentially contain sugars, proteins tend to contain glycogen that can be converted to glucose, and fats, well, they’re just going to be fats until you run out of glycogen stores), you’re still going to have glucose running in your body.

The problem comes when there’s excess sugars in your system: Blood glucose levels elevate (basically hyperglycemia), AGEs increase and develop even faster, and they destroy even more collagen fibers. As a result, your skin loses its radiance, its springy quality, and its suppleness and becomes weak, brittle and more prone to breakage. Based on studies on diabetics, people who suffer from diabetes have up to 50 times the number of AGEs in their skin as those who don’t have diabetes.11

What you can do now: Limit your intake of added sugars to a maximum of 25g/100 calories/6 teaspoons per day12. Whenever possible, avoid them all together (unless you’re really craving for those chocolate chip muffins). Read your labels before buying snacks, drinks, and other processed foods (here’s how to do it), and always choose foods that are low on the glycemic index (like the ones on this list). Consider collagen supplements and collagen-boosting skincare products, and eat your blueberries, pomegranate, and vitamin C13. Vitamin C is usually high in fruits and veggies.



Fad and yo-yo diets – frequent loss and gain of weight – are believed to be a culprit1415. A lot of people try to lose weight fast, only to gain them all back quickly, and then some more. Keep going down and up, and down again and then up – guess what’s happening all the while? Yes, you’re stretching your skin like you do with an elastic band.

But the human skin isn’t as pliable as the material – it adapts to how much or how little you treat it and the amount of stress you give it day by day. Each time you go down and up rapidly, you’re essentially accelerating the natural aging process into quick spurts. Over years, it gets harder for the skin to regenerate itself if you’re constantly on unstable weight cycles. The stretch you’ve pushed and pulled from crash dieting one day and gobbling on a buffet meal the next damages the elastic structure that gives your skin its firm, supple, and youthful tone. Although stress also plays a big part of weight loss/weight gain, there are just things in life beyond your control.



What you can do now: Stop dieting. Stop stressing yourself. Don’t buy into fad diets, and don’t starve yourself. Pray before doing anything, relax more, learn good stress management strategies, have everything in moderation, and help yourself with lots of fats. Fats are your friend, never your enemy. They constitute a macronutrient essential for maintaining the integrity of every cell in your body, particularly the brain, and having more of them running in your bloodstream make your skin plump16.

Eat lots of oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, and butter. If you must, take fish oil supplements. And no, fats don’t make you fat if you’re smart about the fats you’re putting into your mouth. In fact, they stabilize everything from your blood sugars to your cholesterol to your actual weight17. Bottom line: Just stop associating healthy eating with the word ‘diet’, and save 10 years off your face.


Think about it: At our age, we may still have 2-3 decades to go until those fine lines start to deepen and linger. But isn’t that why now is precisely the best time to foster the habits of aging gracefully?

No human has ever been immune to wrinkles, but you can always look young for your age ;)


P.S. Be in the know and save your skin: Geek out on this with NYTimes’ in-depth report on wrinkles. LifeExtension also provides a broad perspective for us to better understand skin aging.



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  1. Sun-Damaged Skin Guide from Drugs.com []
  2. Sun Tan from U.S. Food & Drug Administration []
  3. Aging Skin: What You Need To Know by Christiane Northrup, M.D. []
  4. Surprising Ways Smoking Affects Your Looks And Life from WebMD []
  5. American Associated of Retired Persons publication: Take 10 Years Off Your Face by Jeffrey Dover []
  6. A New Phenomenon: “Sleep Lines” On the Face. Scandinavian Journal of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery & Hand Surgery in 2004 []
  7. The Influence of the Sleeping On the Formation of Facial Wrinkles, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy in 2012 []
  8. CNN: Which Sleeping Position is the Healthiest? []
  9. Dry Skin Guide on Drugs.com []
  10. How Sugar Accelerates Aging by Dr. Mercola []
  11. Prevention: How Sugar Ages Your Skin []
  12. Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. Published on the journal Circulation in 2009 []
  13. LifeExtension: Prevent Glycation-Induced Skin Aging with Topical Nutrients []
  14. How Your Face Reveals the Traumas You’ve Been Though – By Aging Faster. The Daily Mail, 2010. []
  15. The Secret of Aging Gracefully. The Telegraph, 2009. []
  16. Association of Dietary Fat, Vegetables and Antioxidant Micronutrients with Skin Aging in Japanese Women, British Journal of Nutrition, 2010 []
  17. Role of Fat Oxidation in the Long-Term Stabilization of Body Weight in Obese Women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1992 []
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