Try as some might, we can’t stop time—and nowhere is this more visibly discerning than on the surface of our largest organ, the skin. Why does skin appear to age so rapidly? As we grow older, skin cells regenerate more slowly, making it difficult for the epidermis to repair itself. We also produce fewer hormones with age, which thins skin, leaving it more vulnerable to damage. What’s more, oil-producing glands become less active, resulting in dry, fragile tissue. These effects are exacerbated by environmental conditions such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which harms skin proteins and accelerates the visible signs of aging, including blemishes, discoloration, sagging, and fine lines.
While these realities can be upsetting, “the best part of the art of living is to know how to grow old gracefully,” said American philosopher Eric Hoffer—and by this, he did not mean fighting aging skin with chemical creams, Botox injections, and other unnatural, invasive treatments. A healthier approach to growing old is to exercise and eat right.
And eating right is even more important to aging right than previously presumed. New research shows that a diet rich in certain nutrients may prevent and reverse skin aging more effectively than expensive treatments. A study of more than 4,000 women found a strong correlation between aging skin and poor dietary habits, such as getting too few vitamins. Women with above-average intakes of vitamin C and linoleic acid—an omega-6 fatty acid found in plant-based oils—who ate fewer fats and carbohydrates were more likely to have healthier, youthful skin.
“I absolutely believe that how we eat affects our skin and how we age,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a Florida-based nutritionist. “A diet full of healthy, whole foods provides important nutrients and antioxidants to slow the effects of aging and enable cell repair.”