These eight habits can speed up the aging process or increase your chances of deadly skin cancer.
It is normal for skin to change with age: it becomes thinner, loses its smoothness, and wrinkles and age spots may appear. While you can’t turn back the clock, you can take action now to protect your skin and help restore that youthful glow.
“Your skin can repair itself at any age,” says Dr. Lauren Ploch, a board-certified dermatologist in Augusta, Georgia, and Aiken, South Carolina. “It’s those little things that people don’t imagine that can make a big difference in two, five or ten years.”
Taking care of your skin will not only give you a more youthful appearance, but it could also save your life. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it’s estimated that about one in five people will get it at some point in their lives, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. In addition, the number of cases of melanoma — the deadliest type of skin cancer — among older adults has increased in recent years.
Bad habit number 1: skipping a daily dose of sunscreen
It doesn’t matter if the only time you go out is to get the mail. According to dermatologists, it’s still important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your face, neck, décolletage, and hands (all exposed skin areas) every day. Most of the damage from sunlight that a person experiences in life occur during everyday activities, such as driving to work, picking up the newspaper, and walking the dog, explains Dr. John Wolf Jr., chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine.
“It’s not all about playing golf, tennis, sunbathing and skiing,” says Wolf. “Remember that the sun’s rays penetrate through the windshield of the car and through the windows” of your home and your workplace.
Dermatologists recommend using sunscreens with mineral ingredients that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block the sun, and not those that contain chemicals that can irritate the skin. If you spend time outdoors, remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, daily use of sunscreen SPF 15 or higher reduces the risk of getting melanoma by 50%. And if fear of skin cancer isn’t enough to convince you to wear sunscreen, consider the effect it can have on your appearance: A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that women who used a Broad-spectrum sunscreen every day showed no increase in skin aging after four and a half years, compared to those who used it only occasionally.
“I keep my sunscreen next to my toothpaste, so I automatically see it and put it on every day,” explains Wolf.
Bad habit number 2: Smoking
Add this to the endless list of reasons to quit smoking: There is plenty of research showing that smoking accelerates premature skin aging. Over time, smokers are more likely to experience dry skin, uneven pigmentation, sunken eyes, a sagging jawline, and deep facial wrinkles and furrows. “The skin of 40-year-old smokers has been observed to resemble that of 70-year-old non-smoking adults,” the authors of a published analysis wrote.
Smoking also slows the body’s ability to heal itself and increases the chance of skin infection and generalized inflammation throughout the body, warns Dr. Heather Holahan, a dermatologist at UNC Health and an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina. at Chapel Hill.
At the same time, the carcinogens in cigarette smoke markedly increase the risk of various types of cancer, including skin cancer.
Bad habit number 3: over-exfoliate
Moderate exfoliation can be a good thing for your skin, removing dry, dead skin cells to reveal radiant, youthful skin. However, dermatologists say many people rub too hard or exfoliate too often, which can break down the body’s protective barrier.
Excessive exfoliation leads to inflammation, dryness, irritation, and small cracks in the skin say, Holahan. It can also contribute to breakouts. Also, as the skin thickens in the face of trauma, over-exfoliation can lead to dullness and flaking over time.
If you exfoliate regularly and your skin isn’t getting better, limit the frequency of these treatments to once a week and decrease the intensity of the exfoliation, advises Holahan. You can also try a chemical exfoliant that contains ingredients like alpha and beta hydroxy acids, which gently dissolve dead skin cells.
Bad habit number 4: buy products with fragrances and dyes
Many people prefer strongly scented soaps and lotions, but the products they used when they were younger can start to cause rashes and irritation with age as skin becomes thinner and more sensitive. Fragrances, dyes, and other artificial chemicals also add to dryness, according to Holahan.
If you tend to have dry skin, opt for fragrance-free soaps or cleansers that are meant for sensitive skin, and also use detergents and dishwashers without additives or irritants. To lock in moisture, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer or lotion every time you wash your hands or face.
Bad habit number 5: drinking alcohol
Alcohol dehydrates the skin, which makes wrinkles more visible. In addition, it has been linked to the formation of bags under the eyes, loss of volume in the central area of the face, and increased blush or redness. Alcohol use also increases the risk of acne and rosacea, and research shows it may even increase susceptibility to skin cancer.
For example, a study (in English) published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that consuming more than one drink a day increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma by 20%, and this risk increases if more is consumed. Researchers believe that alcohol increases the body’s sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation and reduces its immune response to sun damage.
Bad habit number 6: pinching and scratching the skin
Scratching and picking at bug bites, scabs, pimples, and other skin bumps is natural, but it can lead to infection or permanent scarring, dermatologists say.
This habit also makes it difficult for a doctor to diagnose when problems arise. “If you pinch something and there’s a thick scab of blood, I’ll have to take a much deeper sample to send to the pathologist, and you’ll end up with a bigger scar,” explains Ploch.
Whether you pick often or just can’t resist scratching an itchy mosquito bite, Ploch says the solution is simple: Cover the area with a Band-Aid for a few days. “In reality, the skin does not breathe. It doesn’t need to be aired or dried, so cover anything you can pinch,” he notes.
Bad habit number 7: ignoring changes in a mole
Skin cancer is highly treatable if caught early, so regular skin checks are essential, says Wolf. If you have a mole or other blemish that grows, itches, bleeds, or changes in any way, make an appointment with a dermatologist right away, advises Wolf. A change in a mole or the appearance of a new mole is often an indication of melanoma.
The most worrisome are very dark, patchy in color, uneven in shape, or fast growing. Remember that melanomas can appear even in places that do not get much exposure to the sun. Ploch has observed them in the groin area, on the buttocks, and in the crease behind the ears.
“I want people to go to the doctor whenever there is something that worries them,” he says. “Some people repeatedly tell themselves it’s not a serious problem until it’s too late.”
Bad habit number 8: taking hot showers and baths
Many older adults experience dry, cracked skin in the winter. Taking a hot shower or steam bath may seem therapeutic, but it can also aggravate the problem. “You feel fine in the moment, but in the long run, the heat dries out the skin and makes it more itchy,” explains Wolf.
Take a quick, warm shower instead, and be sure to use a gentle, fragrance-free soap or body cleanser, suggests Wolf. If you have extremely dry skin, consider using soap only in skin folds and other areas that tend to give off an odor and not all over your body.
After your shower or bath, while your skin is still damp, apply a good quality cream or lotion to help your skin lock in moisture.
Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance topics for some of the nation’s top consumer publications. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.