When it comes to preventing aging in your skin, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The bad news is there’s no way to stop natural aging, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). With time, we all end up with wrinkles. The good news is that do have some control over premature aging — that’s the kind caused by environmental factors and lifestyle.
First, let’s put one thing in perspective: Protecting yourself from the sun is still the top way to prevent premature aging. UV radiation from the sun may be responsible for up to 80% of the visible signs of aging in the skin, so don’t skimp on sunscreen.
But your overall eating pattern can have an effect on your skin’s appearance, too.
One junk food bender isn’t going to leave your face spotted and wrinkled. But if every day is a junk food bender, that’s a different story.
“The cumulative effect of what we eat on a daily basis is what has the impact [on aging],” nutrition expert Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of Eat Clean Stay Lean, told INSIDER.
Here are some foods to watch out for:
1. Foods high in sugar and refined carbs.
That includes candy and soda, of course, but also refined carbs like white flour, pasta, rice, bagels, baked goods, and similar foods, which are quickly broken down into sugars when you eat them.
According to the AAD, diets high in sugar can damage elastin and collagen, two proteins that support the skin’s structure. This can lead to wrinkles and sagging. (In 2015, one pair of researchers cleverly described the effect as “sugar sag.”)
Bazilian noted that sugars and refined carbs can also contribute to chronic inflammation in the body. Some inflammation is a good thing — it’s how your body heals you when you’re sick or injured. But chronic, low-grade inflammation is linked to conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It’s not great for your skin, either.
“Pro-inflammatory foods won’t supply the nutrients to generate good new [skin] cells. You won’t have the A team, you’ll have the C team,” Bazilian said. ” You’ll have slower healing, you may have slower production of new cells, you may have poor elasticity or flexibility in your skin cells.”
And remember that sugar doesn’t just live inside packets and soda cans. It’s in condiments, sauces, cereals, granola bars, and lots of other unexpected places.
2. Foods high in trans fat and saturated fat.
“Foods you want to avoid are those that are high in saturated fat and trans fat. These foods have been shown to increase wrinkling,” dietitian Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen, told INSIDER.
Saturated fat is the kind most prominent in red meat, dairy, and processed meat like bacon and sausage. (Bazilian also added that processed meats, especially, can also contribute to chronic inflammation.) The current recommendation from experts is to get no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat — that amounts to roughly 22 grams if you’re on a 2,000-calorie diet.
“A little is okay, but more than that over time can potentially have negative effects when it comes to aging,” Amidor added.
The rule on trans fat is a lot more definitive. It’s so dangerous to heart health that the FDA recently banned it from the food supply. Starting in 2018, food manufacturers aren’t allowed to use it anymore. Until then, you can spot it by looking at the ingredients list. If you see any “partially hydrogenated” oils, you’ll know there’s trans fat in the food.
The AAD also recommends avoiding excess alcohol as part of an anti-aging skincare plan, saying that it can damage the skin over time.
“Also, when we’re consuming alcohol, we might be consuming less water,” Bazilian said. “Poor hydration is definitely going to age you. It’ll age the skin the fastest.”
Evidence does suggest that alcohol in moderation can have heart health benefits, but the key word (as always) is moderation. That’s a maximum of one drink a day for women, and two for men.
It’s not just about avoiding “bad” stuff — adding in healthier foods is just as important.
Bazilian stressed this above all: It’s not just that foods like sugar have inherently bad qualities that can promote aging. It’s that they lack the good-for-you nutrients that support healthier aging.
What’s that “something”? A diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. This kind of eating pattern will provide the nutrients your skin needs to be its healthiest and best-looking, Bazilian explained, and evidence shows it can promote health in other parts of your body, too. It’s the ultimate win-win.