Play Up Your Peepers
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We’ve all witnessed the phenomenon: that radiant older woman whose cherub skin seems to (unfairly!) defy the hands of time, and the thirty-something who appears haggard and worn beyond her years. What gives, Mother Nature?
While environmental and lifestyle factors no doubt play a major role in how you age, experts say that pure genetic luck is the foundation of the equation. A 2009 study of twins published in the Archives of Dermatology revealed that up to 60 percent of skin aging is due to genetics, says Dr. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
But be forewarned—this fact could work against you if the assumption that you have “good” genetic odds leads you to not care for your skin. “You can have the best genes in the world, but if you smoke or bake in the sun, you’ll look 10 to 15 years older,” says Los Angeles dermatologist, Dr. Ava Shamban. “Moral of the story: Don’t count on your genes to save you from a poor lifestyle. It’s genetics and environmental damage to genetic code that determines the speed you age.“
We asked leading derms to decipher those genetic jackpot clues. If you’re lucky enough to have one or more of the below characteristics and mind your sunscreen and skincare, it’s a good bet you’ll cash in those youthful chips later in life.
Your folks have aged well. That’s right, check out mom and pop. First degree relatives can give you the strongest sense of how you’ll age, since genes direct the cellular functions that have an enormous impact on appearance. “We inherit the rate at which our cells turn over, how quickly damage is repaired, and how much collagen is produced,” says Shamban. More specifically, the sequences of DNA attached to the ends of chromosomes known as telomeres—which allow cells to divide without losing genetic coding—are thought to be inherited. “Recent genetic studies suggest that those with longer telomere sequences live an average of five years longer with healthier-looking skin than those with shorter sequences,” says Shamban. Though take note: Environmental factors like smoking, sun and lack of exercise are thought to be among the biggest threats to the breakdown of telomere coding overtime, no matter what your genetic background.
A baby face. In a society where angular, chiseled features are often glamourized, experts say it’s actually the round-faced among us who will reap the richest anti-aging benefits. Scientists refer to a baby face as a “neotenous” facial structure, which is characterized by large round eyes, round cheeks, a large curved forehead, a small jaw, a small, short nose and features that are located lower down the face. When viewed next to peers in older age, the neotenous-faced will stand out with a fuller, angelic shape reminiscent of childhood. “Folks blessed with this facial type will keep looking young beyond their youth,” says Shamban.
High cheekbones. There’s a reason great bone structure is beloved; it creates the shape of an upside-down “triangle of youth” that dermatologists often refer to as the greatest subconscious indicator that a person is young. With age, jowels and other features can droop, turning that triangle bottom-heavy and making you look old. However, with high cheekbones supporting your face, that triangle shape won’t droop as much, nor as soon. “Look at Sophia Loren, Eartha Kitt, Bo Derek, Linda Evans, Lena Horne and Raquel Welch,” says Montclair, New Jersey derm, Dr. Jeanine Downie. “They’re all great beauties with very high cheekbones who aged so gracefully.” And unlike poreless skin or a tight booty, those cheekbones will stay with you for a lifetime. Color us jealous!
Strong teeth and bones. In the same way that high cheekbones provide solid structure for your face, a set of full teeth and a strong bite can provide age-defying facial support by maintaining the upside-down “triangle of youth” into older age, says Waldorf. With the passage of time or less-than-auspicious genes, teeth can wear down to a shorter length and move inwards, resulting in a sunken look, thinner lips and more wrinkling around the mouth and cheek area. Straight, square-shaped teeth will maintain a sharper jawline as you age, providing uplifting support for facial features. Strong bones perform the same support structure for the body, with diseases like osteoporosis and anorexia rapidly accelerating age. “Keep your bones healthy with weight-bearing exercises and eat a calcium-rich diet to look younger longer,” advises Waldorf.
Thick hair. Flowing, thick locks of hair have long been an evolutionary signal of health, as a well-nourished body and diet rich in nutrients like biotin are necessary to grow a crowning head of hair. And as such, we subconsciously view hair as a signal of vitality, or lack thereof. “People with thinning hair look older than people of the same age who have thicker hair,” observes Downie. And if you look to politics, adds Downie, Americans haven’t voted for a bald candidate since incumbent Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, when he campaigned against fellow bald contender, Adlai Stevenson, perhaps suggesting that too much perceived age can render you unelectable. After all, it was John F. Kennedy— his youthful hairline and dashing tan symbolic of his progressive agenda—who arose from the first televised presidential debate against the more tenured Richard Nixon.
Facial symmetry. “Genetic facial patterns play a huge role in determining the overall pattern of aging,” says Omaha, Nebraska dermatologist, Dr. Joel Schlessinger, who points to even facial portions and features as key to aging more slowly. Facial symmetry has long been identified with standards of beauty, and the reason finds its roots deep in evolutionary psychology. “Left-right symmetry in growing embryos requires very close control on each side to keep them in sync,” says Ian Stewart, Ph.D., author of Why Beauty Is Truth: The History of Symmetry. As babies develop in the womb and through childhood, stressors such as toxins, disease and emotional trauma can affect symmetrical growth. As a result, adults with higher facial symmetry show a strong resistance to stressors they may have encountered growing up. Time and gravity can also cause sagging, pigmentation and wrinkling that emphasizes asymmetries in the face, making the complexion look less and less even with passing years. So if you begin with strong symmetry, the marks of age will take longer to look apparent on your face.
Olive-to-darker skintone. The greater amount of melanin in deeper skintones can preserve the youth of your skin longer– but there’s a catch: “You burn more easily with lighter skin, which can potentially give you more fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage later on,” says Downie. “If you take care of your darker skin, it’s an advantage to you as you age, but if you don’t wear sunscreen, you’re no better off.” This caveat is illustrated by skin cancer statistics in African Americans, which comprise a rare one to two percent of all cancers in this group, yet the death rate is most fatal, since many assume natural protection, and aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late. Today, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the melanoma survival rate for African Americans is 77 percent, as compared to 91 percent for Caucasians.
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