Our society worships the taut bodies and dewy skin of youth. So, naturally, we all want to look 10 (or more) years younger. By now you know that you can’t turn back the clock, or even stop it, but with creativity and motivation you can do a lot to slow it down and develop more youthful looking skin. And, generally, the younger you look, the younger you feel.

There are no miracles or magic potions for looking 20-something again. As we age, we don’t really want to look like a kid again – what we’re aiming for is a mature and natural image that complements the type of person that we’ve become. The trials and tribulations of life do have their effect on the face; however, there are ways to reduce or eliminate the problems that prematurely age the skin, such as overexposure to the sum, lack of proper hygiene, poor diet, and substance abuse.

Our skin: layers of activity

The skin is an organ that covers the entire body and is made up of two basic layers: the underlying dermis and the outer epidermis. These layers are made up of the “germinative layer,” the “stratum apinosum,” the “stratum granulosum,” and the “stratum corneum,” or outer covering that we can see. New skin cells are formed at the germinative layer, starting off round and plump. Then they travel through the next three levels of skin, getting older and flatter as they go.

When they reach the outer, visible layer, these cells are ready to be shed. Many are actually “scraped off,” or “exfoliated” when we scrub our faces.

The skin is a very active organ, not resting for one moment. But as we get older “the transit time” of the new skin cells to the skin’s surface slows down, making our skin look somewhat duller.

The transit time for an 80-year-old woman is four to six weeks, while that of a 20-year-old, is two to three weeks. The longer it takes the skin cells to get to the outer layer, the older and flatter the cells are when they get there. This is the reason that older skin doesn’t have that shining, vibrant glow.

Even as we enter our 30s, cell turnover begins to slow down, making our skin look somewhat duller. Years of exposure to the sun begin to show up as fine furrows “laugh lines.”

As we enter our 40s, our skin begins to thin out slightly, making it more susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun. Gravity starts to pull at the face, and it loses some of its elasticity. We may begin to see some occasional discoloration of our skin as well. The texture becomes drier in midlife, especially in cold, windy, less humid climates.

Protection you can provide

How can you “age-proof” your skin? Here are some sure time-tested suggestions to keep your skin looking 10 years younger:

  • Avoid overexposure to the sun (in any season).
  • Wear a natural, cruelty-free sunscreen; apply it generously and reapply it as often as needed;
  • Wear a broad-rimmed sun hat;
  • Wear protective clothing (including ultraviolet-ray-protection sunglasses);
  • Exercise outdoors primarily in the early morning or evening.
  • Accelerate your skin’s growth transit time.
  • Choose a gentle exfoliation technique, using all-natural exfoliants (many contain oatmeal, ground almonds, or hydroxy acids, like alpha and beta).
  • Moisturize your skin inside and out.
  • Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day;
  • Apply moisturizers to your face in the morning and at night.
  • Avoid tobacco and excess consumption of alcohol.
  • Nourish your skin.
  • Vitamins A, B, C, and E are critical for a youthful appearance; there are many supplements in your natural foods store that are especially formulated to feed, your skin.
  • Get the proper amount of rest.
  • During your seven or eight hours of sleep each night, you secrete certain chemicals, some of which are hormones. These hormones speed up production of collagen, the protein responsible for elasticity and support of skin tissue, as well as contribute to a faster rate of exfoliation.

The damaging effects of the sun

The biggest key to retaining youthful skin is to keep it out of direct sunlight as much as possible. The price for sun worshipping isn’t paid until years later, when wrinkled skin and liver spots become visible.

Loss of smoothness on the skin’s surface is only one consequence of sun damage. Sunlight affects all the skin’s layers. Overexposure to it also produces wrinkling and sagging. Its damage is cumulative, permanent, and progressive. As much as 80 percent of the visible signs of aging are due to sun exposure.

If you must venture out into the sun (in any season), then avoid the most sun-intense part of the day, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m; and please don’t forget your sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat.

Here are some sunscreen essentials:

  • You should apply your sun-screen a half hour prior to exposure, unless you’re using a physical sunscreen such as zinc oxide (which you can put on just before you go outside).
  • Don’t be stingy with any sun screen product. The predetermined sun protection factors (SPFs) are based on liberal application. If you’re swimming or perspiring, reapply more frequently.
  • You need to keep your skin extremely protected if you are spending a lot of time in or on the water; you’re at the beach near the equator; you’re at a high altitude; it’s summertime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; or there’s enough snow on the ground to reflect the sun.

Eye protection

Don’t forget to protect your eyes. As we age, they become increasingly susceptible to the harmful rays of the sun. Over time you may develop wrinkles around the eyes caused by squinting. If you’re out in the sun a lot, driving or exercising, you should always wear sunglasses that protect you from both UVB and UVA waves.

Wrinkle relief

Alpha hydroxy acids (along with beta hydroxy and glycolic acids), which come in the forms of creams and lotions, should be applied to the skin twice daily. They’re primarily used as all-natural, gentle skin peels, ones which help to smooth out fine lines and roughness.

AHAs are found in many all-natural products since these acids are derived from fruits and milk. The smallest of the AHA molecules penetrate easily and deeply into the skin, and act as an antioxidant to limit prevent further, permanent sun damage.

When we think of a healthy diet, we usually think of all the wonderful things it does for us internally; however, a nutrient-rich diet does wonders for our external health, namely our skin, too.

The skin is one of the organs “fed” by nutrients in the blood-stream. A well-balanced diet is insurance for healthy skin.

Here are some simple suggestions of do’s and don’ts s for helping you to maintain healthier skin:

  • Cut down or eliminate refined, processed sugars and salt.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
  • Use only vegetable-source fats (any fats should be used sparingly).
  • Drink as much mineral/spring water as possible. This detoxifies the system by flushing out impurities. Dehydration is one of the main causes of facial lines.

You can also protect your skin by supplementing with a variety of vitamins, or, when appropriate, applying them directly to your face.

Skin-care vitamins

Vitamin A: Beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, is found in yellow-orange and green vegetables and fruits, such as spinach, kale, carrots, and man-goes, and is essential to the good health of our skin cells. Without it our skin becomes dry and scaly.

Pre-formed vitamin A is found in animal sources, such as fish liver oil, milk, cheese, eggs, and all meats, except for cream and butter, which may contain pre-formed vitamin A and beta-carotene.

Vitamin E: This vitamin will keep the skin in good condition because of its antioxidant qualities. As we get older, we are more subject to the activity of free radicals, the wild chemical reactants that race through the body damaging tissue. These free radicals can be kept in check by antioxidants, and vitamin E is a crucial one for the skin.

Good food sources of vitamin E include natural vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean, and safflower, with smaller amounts found in whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

This vitamin can also be applied directly to the skin and is found in most all-natural creams and lotions.

Vitamin C: This well-known antioxidant provides many benefits to your skin, one of the primary ones being the maintenance of the structural integrity of your blood vessels. Since the skin is so sensitive to the blood supply directly underneath it, it only makes sense to reason that vitamin C is necessary to keep you looking younger.

The “B” vitamins: In the absence of the B vitamins, the skin may crack and peel. Dry cracks may appear at the corners of the mouth, and a scaly rash may develop on the face. Deficiency of vitamin B-12 can result in extreme paleness of the skin. Vitamin B2 or riboflavin is especially beneficial to skin health, too.

To protect your skin, a B-complex vitamin should be part of your daily vitamin-mineral regimen. Good food sources include whole, unrefined grains, green leafy vegetables, eggs, nuts, beans, meats, and poultry.

One-third (70 percent) of the body’s connective tissue in the dermis (the sensitive layer of skin below the epidermis, the outer, protective layer of skin) is made of collagen, explains Aubrey Hampton in her book, What’s in Your Cosmetics? And gerontologists, she explains, have discovered that in the collagen is where the aging process of the skin takes place.

The role of collagen

Collagen gives the skin resiliency and elasticity. The body’s production of new collagen slows down with aging, and, as skin ages, the connective tissue slowly loses its ability to absorb moisture and becomes tight, dry, wrinkled, and aged, says Hampton.

Oranges are excellent for your skin because they’re 80 percent water and contain vitamin C that is essential to collagen production. Vitamin C, one of the least expensive, and easy-to-find, anti-aging remedies, helps to build and maintain collagen and elastin.

“Physical fitness” for the skin

Stimulating the skin by gentle massage activates the collagen fibers below the epidermis layers. Wrinkles occur when the fibers lose their flexibility. On a cleansed face, apply a nourishing cream or oil. Use the pads of the fingers to gently make continuous one-inch circles over the surface of the face and throat, but not in the eye area. Try doing this in the shower or bath. The warmth of the steam will cause the skin to absorb the moisture that helps to minimize facial lines.

Facial exercises, which dilate the vascular system and bring blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the skin’s surface, benefit skin tone and texture.

Here are some other basic facial exercises to follow:

  • Cleanse, then moisturize, the face with an all-natural, cruelty-free cream. Apply the cream with the pads of the fingers using upward strokes.
  • Squeeze and expand the muscles in the area you wish to tone and firm up.
  • For the eye area, first apply a moisturizing eye cream (especially made for the eye area), using the pads of the index fingers, the weakest in strength. Open eyes wide and then squeeze them tightly closed.
  • Stretch and relax all areas of your face wherever you wish to decrease lines. Do this daily for two weeks and watch the results. Just as constant flow keeps mountain streams pure, so does exercise stimulate the flow of blood throughout the body to keep it powerful.

The largest organ of the body, the skin, develops a healthy hue and produces more collagen when the body is vigorously exercised. The increased circulation brings in more nutrients to the cells and organs and helps retard aging of the skin.

The increased oxygen intake also aids the production of new cells. You just can’t go wrong with an aerobic exercise routine as part of your healthful lifestyle.

Healthy skin through the ages

Here are some guidelines for “age-proofing, your skin at every decade mark:

* Age 30: Cell turnover begins to slow down, skin may start to appear somewhat duller. Avoid over-exposure to the sun and use broad-spectrum sunscreens.

* Age 40. Skin may begin to show discoloring or moles. It also thins out slightly. Crow’s feet may develop around the eyes. Now is a good time to develop a skin care plan with hydroxy-acid-containing products.

* Age 50. Wrinkling becomes more prominent. Use hydroxy-acid products and scrubs that speed up the rate of exfoliation.

* Age 60. Fat pockets may form under eyes. Facial skin becomes slack and wrinkling increases. Maintain your alpha hydroxy skin care routine and be especially careful in the sun.

* Age 70 and beyond: Continue to practice the good skin care habits you’ve developed over the years, and continue to keep your skin clean and moisturized. Most importantly, keep smiling and stay active.