The Ultimate Anti-Aging Guide

From Dr. Nicholas Perricone

To win the war on wrinkles, our goal is to avoid chronic sub-clinical inflammation, which occurs on a cellular level and is highly damaging to the skin.

When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet, sugary, starchy foods, stress, or lack of sleep, we experience a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at a cellular level. And we know that nothing robs your skin of that radiant, youthful glow like chronic, invisible to eye, inflammation.

Once you learn the Seven Deadly Sins of Skin Wrinkling, you will be able to enjoy youthful, radiant and wrinkle-free skin.

Seven Deadly Sins of Skin Wrinkling:

1. Pro-Inflammatory Foods (sugar and starches)

My research has shown that the best strategy for keeping skin smooth, healthy, youthful, radiant and wrinkle-free, is to follow the anti-inflammatory diet, designed to carefully control blood sugar and insulin levels.

Foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Pro-inflammatory foods cause an inflammatory response in the body. This results in the acceleration of the aging process in all organ systems, increasing the risk of degenerative disease. But that’s not all. This inflammation will also promote inflexible, wrinkled, sagging skin, dark under eye circles, loss of tone and firmness, loss of facial contours, and increased pore size and puffiness.

The foods that are pro-inflammatory provoke a “glycemic” response in the body, i.e. cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. This includes all forms of sugary, and/or starchy, processed foods, such as pasta, breads, pastry, baked goods, and snack foods such as rice and corn cakes, chips, pretzels, soda, juices, etc. These foods also cause inflammatory diseases – such as acne – to worsen dramatically.

Following the anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle is the key to health, longevity, mental clarity, well-being and beautiful, wrinkle-free, youthful skin. A simple rule to follow is this: If you choose foods that are unprocessed, such as fresh fish, poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains such as old fashioned oatmeal, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, healthy fats, yogurt, extra virgin coconut oil and olive oil etc. you are basically following the anti-inflammatory diet. Drink 6 – 8 glasses of pure spring water per day and anti-oxidant rich beverages such as green tea.

2. Excessive exposure to the sun 

We need to get some sun to absorb Vitamin D and keep our bones strong and healthy. But baking in the sun will cause loss of elasticity, thinner, translucent-looking skin, wrinkles, dry, rough, leathery skin, broken capillaries, freckles, liver spots, spots or blemishes, and skin cancer. Unfortunately, lying on the beach is not the only source of serious UV damage. The danger lies in tanning, whether from outdoor tanning at the beach or poolside, or an indoor tanning booth. Use a self tanner and/or a tinted moisturizer for a golden glow without the damage or danger of UV radiation.

Hyperpigmentation is just one of the negative effects of chronic overexposure to sunlight, which also plays a role in skin aging and the development of skin cancer. In fact, it is UV radiation that is the main environmental factor that causes human skin aging. Fortunately, a new generation of anti-inflammatory, antioxidants can help counteract these problems. Human skin, like other organs, undergoes chronological aging; however, unlike other organs, our skin is in direct contact with the environment. Even worse, our face and hands are the two areas that do not have protection from clothing, exacerbating the problem. If you don’t want wrinkled, sagging skin, enjoy the sun in moderation. Once again, inflammation is the common denominator when it comes to aging skin. This is because excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation releases pro- inflammatory substances that produce and release collagen-digesting proteins. This results in micro-scarring the part of the skin known as the dermis. The multiple micro-scars lead to macro-scarring and this is known as the ‘birth of a wrinkle.’

3. Stress 

Stress is a highly destructive, pro-inflammatory and pro-aging force. In fact, stress is one of the greatest age-accelerating precipitator there is. As a dermatologist, I can also unequivocally state that stress is also the cause of a great many skin problems; in fact, these problems often have their very roots in the psyche. This can include skin conditions ranging from acne and eczema, to rosacea and psoriasis. Unfortunately, stress also accelerates the rate at which cells age, affecting all organ systems including skin. Stress causes hormonal changes, altering cellular function in vital organs, including the skin. And, it’s an established fact that stress triggers the release of the hormone known as cortisol, which, after circulating in our system for prolonged periods of time, is toxic. Our brain cells are extremely sensitive to the effects of cortisol. When cortisol is circulating at a high level, it causes brain cells to die. That is why brain shrinkage is associated with senility in old age.

High levels of cortisol increase body fat, thin the skin, cause depression of the immune system, elevate blood sugar, and cause bone loss. Cortisol raises blood sugar, which in turn raises insulin, resulting in the storage of fat in the abdominal region. This fat, which physicians identify as visceral fat, leads to a higher risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. When it comes to wrinkles, cortisol thins the skin, accelerating skin wrinkling and causing the blood vessels under the skin to be more prominent.

My favorite way to reduce stress is to spend time with my dogs Peanut and Remy. I suggest to many of my patients that if they want to lower stress and stay youthful, adopt a loving animal companion.

4. Smoking cigarettes/exposure to second hand smoke

As a dermatologist, I can attest that smoking leads to deep wrinkles. If you are a smoker, middle-age will start in your early thirties as the tell-tale wrinkles around the mouth and eyes begin to appear. But, once you stop smoking the circulation will begin to immediately improve, and as the blood flow returns, your complexion will begin to lose the gray pallor of the smoker.

Cigarette smoke is highly damaging and aging to skin. When we inhale just one puff, over a trillion free radicals are produced in our lungs. This triggers an inflammatory response in all organs including skin. White blood cells, which line our arteries, are activated, predisposing us to heart disease.

Cigarette smoking depletes skin of oxygen and vital nutrients. Tobacco also acts as a vasoconstrictor, (constrictor of blood vessels), reducing blood flow to an area, and temporarily raising blood pressure. Reduced blood flow to the skin results in a gray, pallid, lifeless and unhealthy-looking complexion. Smoking also causes dry, leathery looking skin, premature deep lines, wrinkles and loss of radiance.

5. Excess Alcohol

People think that alcohol is bad for us because it dehydrates the body. They assume that increasing their water intake will counteract this. Unfortunately, alcohol creates inflammation throughout the body including the skin, resulting in effects that far outlast dehydration.

I have been asked many times about the effects of drinking and inflammation. I do not have any problem with my patients having an occasional glass of red wine with their meal, because red wine can provide some very important antioxidants called polyphenols that do help protect the body.

I suggest, however, that we drink our glass of wine with our meal, rather than before. This will prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar, which as you know by now, causes a burst of inflammation throughout the body.

Drinking hard liquor as opposed to that glass of wine with dinner causes many inflammation-related problems. Alcohol is detoxified by the liver. When we drink hard liquor, the alcohol content is very high. The metabolites of alcohol are highly destructive molecules known as aldehydes, which cause damage to the body on a cellular level. Alcohol causes small blood vessels in the skin to widen, allowing more blood to flow close to the skin’s surface. This produces a flushed skin color and a feeling of warmth, which can lead to broken capillaries on the face. The alcohol-induced dehydration also makes the skin more prone to fine lines and wrinkles.

Dullness, enlarged pores, discoloration, sagging and lack of resilience are some of the short and long term effects. Because alcohol alters blood flow to the skin, it will create an unhealthy appearance that lasts for days. An occasional glass of red wine can confer some health benefits. But moderation is key.

To help prevent negative effects from alcohol, be sure that you never drink alcohol on an empty stomach and that you stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Since sleep is so important to rejuvenation of the skin and the entire body, it is essential that we do whatever we can to enhance the sleep experience. A few alcoholic beverages in the evening may initially make us drowsy, but very soon the alcohol precipitates a burst of norepinephrine in the system, a hormone that increases as a result of excitement or stress. This will result in a very poor nights sleep—and will leave your skin looking mottled and dull the next day.

If you need to rejuvenate your skin from the ravages of alcoholic beverages, follow the anti-inflammatory diet and always eat your protein first. Wild Alaskan salmon is an excellent protein choice because it is also rich in essential fatty acids, which will help keep skin well nourished and supple. Also, enjoy brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, dark green leafy lettuce dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Avoid sugary or starchy foods, which age the skin. Enjoy your wine (preferably red) with the meal but make sure to eat some protein before taking that first sip.

Coffee is not an antidote to alcohol and in fact will leave you feeling even worse!

6. Lack of sleep

The interaction and synergy between diet, lifestyle and our health, well-being, and longevity holds the key to how well or how poorly we age. Our lifestyle and dietary choices impact all areas of our physical and mental health. Now there is new genetic evidence that physiological outputs of the biological clock, like sleep and appetite, are interconnected at the molecular and behavioral levels. Staying up too late, snacking throughout the day, and skipping meals, all upset the genes that control daily rhythms in the brain and throughout the body.

When we deliberately deprive ourselves of much needed sleep, we are actively disrupting both our glucose metabolism and our neuroendocrine system.

You might be wondering what this has to do with wrinkles. Laboratory studies of healthy young adults subjected to sleep deprivation revealed marked alterations in glucose metabolism, including decreased glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. The neuroendocrine system, which regulates appetite, was also adversely affected—leading to food cravings of foods high in both fat and carbohydrates, resulting in subsequent weight gain and the inflammatory response that exacerbates skin wrinkling.

This gives new meaning to the term “beauty sleep,” as we have long known that our cells repair themselves during sleep, resulting in smoother, more radiant skin. When we are sleep-deprived, our skin takes on a pasty, puffy and more wrinkled appearance and our formerly svelte figures begin to resemble that famous “dough boy” of baking fame.

A good night’s sleep will ensure that we awake refreshed, looking radiant and youthful. Adequate sleep is vital to avoid eye area puffiness and maintain skin vibrancy. Sleep turns down the negative effects of cortisol and the “bad” neurotransmitters, like epinephrine and norepinephrine that can be elevated during stress. Growth hormone, the youth hormone is released during sleep. The hormone melatonin is also released, which has a positive effect on both the immune system and the skin. Sleep rebuilds energy reserves and regenerates the body as our cells undergo repair.

People who exercise enjoy improved sleep quality. They fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, awaken less often, and sleep longer.

The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep.

7. Lack of Exercise

Exercise is vital for your health and beauty. Exercise is unsurpassed at lowering our blood sugar, and a vital step in wrinkle prevention. There are mountains of studies proving that exercise can take off pounds, reduce incidence of heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve mood, solve sleep problems, and even cut risks of certain cancers. Exercise will also ensure that you have beautiful skin. Studies have indicated that exercise benefits the skin in much the same way it improves bone and muscle quality. Without regular activity, bones become fragile and muscles atrophy. When the skin of those who exercise regularly is examined under a microscope, the impact of their high fitness levels is clearly apparent. The skin is thicker and has more and healthier collagen, the fibers that give the skin its strength and flexibility. Exercise increases circulation and gives the skin a healthy and radiant glow. As long as we use moderation and don’t overdo it, exercise of almost any kind has a powerful, positive, and anti-inflammatory effect on all our cells.

For too many people, exercise is a chore, a long, painful, or rigorous process. This does not have to be true. Simple exercise, like a brisk walk each day, can make a tremendous difference in overall health and beauty. The benefits of exercise—the raised level of “feel good” endorphins in particular—can be addictive. In our stress-filled lives, exercise is a wonderful tension reliever. All of this contributes to a sense of well-being, a higher metabolism, radiant skin, and increased strength. Once you begin a regular exercise program, you won’t know how you lived without it.

Written by Dr. Nicholas Perricone. Check out skin tips from a French woman.