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Your skin's worst enemies

Stress, pollution, tobacco... take note of the factors that speed the rate at which your skin will age

23 SEPTEMBER 2010

Internal and external, personal and social, a range of factors affects how your skin ages. But many of these factors are lifestyle choices and in at least some of the cases you can take control:

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  • The sun. It can't be said too often, the sun is one of the greatest enemies of unprotected skin. The effects? Loss of elasticity, irregular texture, wrinkles, blemishes, discolouration, dullness... Remember that most of this is avoidable by simply using sun cream.
  • Tobacco. Smokers are much more likely to have skin that tends to become dehydrated and suffers a chronic deficiency of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C. As capilliary bloodflow is lower, the skin appears dull and lifeless. Each cigarette attacks the skin on three sides: it generates free radicals, decreases the oxygen supply to cells, and causes deep wrinkles around the lips as you pucker up to inhale. And that's surely three good reasons to quit, don't you think?
  • Poor diet. This is another basic lifestyle factor that is clearly reflected in our skin. The consumption of too much animal fat or an unbalanced or irregular diet causes an increase in free radicals and disturbs microcirculation. On the other hand, vitamins are the skin's natural allies, and  following a natural diet rich in fruit and vegetables provides the body with vitality, health and beauty.
  • Pollution. Car exhaust fumes and other air pollution can accelerate the production of free radicals, one of the main causes of aging. What's more, they also slow down cell renewal and can produce skin irritation.
  • Stress. There is no doubt that a period of stress can affect the skin. The eyes may be a window into the soul, but skin and hair are good indicators of general physical and emotional health and well-being. You may not be able to solve the problems you're facing, but you can at least be aware that your skin may need a little extra pampering in times of stress.
  • Too little sleep. Whatever the reason, whether it's stress, overwork, or too hectic a social life, if you aren't getting enough sleep, it's going to be reflected in the condition of your skin. The old saying that you need your beauty sleep is close to the truth: while you're sleeping, the level of free radical production is reduced to a minimum, and your body has a chance to eliminate or neutralise the free radicals produced during the day.
  • Dehydration. Again, it can't be said too often: your body needs water. You should aim to drink at least a litre and a half daily. Your skin will appreciate it and you should find it reflects in your general health, too.
  • Alcohol. A little wine with meals or an occasional drink won't damage your skin, but regular alcohol intake can lead to dehydration and will have a negative effect on the skin's elastin and collagen. It can also exacerbate the problems of sensitive skin and result in the condition known as couperose, where the weakened capilliaries are unable to return to their normal size once dilated and the skin retains a permanent pink tinge.

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