“Anti-aging” has become a loaded term. It is often used across the beauty industry, the health and wellness industry, and even in medicine. But aging is a natural, healthy part of the lifecycle and to “anti” age arguably sends a negative message as it suggests that the inevitable aging process is something we should actively avoid.
I prefer the term graceful aging. Graceful aging involves supporting the health of your body, mind and spirit in order to achieve optimal health throughout your lifespan and greater longevity. When we are focused on promoting our health, we ultimately end up with a wonderful side effect: we look better.
There are several practices I advocate for to support the graceful aging process of the skin in particular: prioritizing sleep, tending to gut health, choosing the right skincare, staying hydrated, practicing facial massage, limiting exposure to toxins, and managing stress.
The term “beauty sleep” exists for a reason. Without good sleep, all of those skincare and “anti-aging” practices will not be useful. Sleep is the time when the body regenerates and heals itself, and without adequate sleep, cellular turnover is not as efficient. This not only applies to our skin, but to all of our other organs as well. The more time these organs have to rest, heal and recalibrate, the better. I suggest seven to nine hours of sleep per night, with consistent wake times daily.
We are what we eat, assimilate and excrete. The skin and gut are intimately connected and imbalances within the gut are often reflected in the skin, particularly in the ways it ages. Even if you are eating a diet rich in all of the right ingredients (see below for details), if you are not properly absorbing these nutrients and excreting waste, your skin will not be its best. Do you have at least one good quality bowel movement daily? Do you suffer from unusual gas or bloating regularly? Do you have good energy upon waking and throughout your day? Is your skin free from acne, rosacea, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis? If you answered no to any of these questions, talk to a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine doctor to address the root cause.
Choose the Right Skincare
The beauty and skincare industries are the Wild West. Claims are made about products that may or may not be regulated, and often individuals use several products at once from various brands that have never been studied together. The result can be very grim. Harsh ingredients like exfoliative acids, certain retinoids, abrasive exfoliators, and other chemicals can wreak havoc on your skin. Some skincare products can leave the skin in a worse state than when it started and subsequently, age the skin more quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, there may be a time and place for some of the ingredients I mentioned, especially when used under the supervision of a professional, however I tend to advocate for a gentle and simplified skincare regime. Start your morning by rinsing the skin with cool water and only use a cleanser once at nighttime. Avoid cleansers that foam as these often strip the skin’s delicate and protective skin barrier. Limit the use of toners or serums that contain acids or other exfoliative ingredients. Some ingredients to look for that can help keep the skin healthy and more youthful are beta glucans, algae (e.g. plankton), and lipids like ceramides, cholesterol and other fatty acids.
Last but not least, do not forget sun protection. Adequately protecting the skin from the sun is important to limit free radical damage. For more details, see my previous article for Sporty and Rich Wellness here:
Drinking water may seem obvious because after all, hydrated skin appears plumper, smoother, and has fewer fine lines and wrinkles. But hydration involves more than drinking two litres of water each day. Consider the foods you are consuming. Foods rich in water not only naturally hydrate the skin, but provide essential vitamins and minerals to help your system stay healthy and actually utilize the water present in the cellular matrix of these foods. Fruits and vegetables are naturally hydrating and support the graceful aging of the cells. Healthy fat consumption is also important to help maintain hydration. Two tablespoons of coconut oil or two tablespoons of high quality extra virgin olive oil, seeds and their butters, and avocado are all great options.
This practice can be done by anyone using just their hands. You can perform facial massage while cleansing or applying serums, moisturizers, or oils. A simple but effective practice is to gently massage the skin in circular motions for five minutes. Start at the center of the face and move outward, from the nose and center of the chin to the ears and brows, to your hairline. Finish by doing the same motion from the jawline down the neck, covering the entirety of the neck. You can change up your facial massage by using a Gua Sha to further promote blood flow and lymphatic drainage, and to relax and tone facial muscles. Whichever practice you choose, consistency is key. In general, massage helps to stimulate circulation and when fresh blood and lymph are delivered to the cells, they provide essential nutrients and oxygen and help to remove waste.
Limit Alcohol and Recreational Drugs
This one is simple. These stress the system in many ways and the less you use them, the more gracefully you will age.
Protein is incredibly important to support the health and graceful aging of the skin. Some individuals like to use collagen powders which may be useful, but are not necessary. Focusing on consuming at least 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight is a great way to support your system. For reference, this would mean a person who weighs 150lbs would require approximately 55g of protein, and 100g chicken breast yields approximately 30g of protein. Keep in mind, if you exercise regularly or vigorously, this number may need to be increased to properly support your system.
Stress creates free radicals at a cellular level, which are damaging molecules that the body needs to work hard to “clean up”. In short, they are “pro-aging”. Stress takes many different forms, from emotional stress (e.g work, social, relationship, familial, financial), to over or under exercising, environmental chemicals, lack of sleep, and processed foods. Some stress is normal and may actually be beneficial but chronic stress can age our systems quicker. Stress management looks different to everyone and finding what works for you is key. Some of my patient’s favorite de-stressing activities include walks in nature, cuddling with a partner, visiting with or calling a supportive friend, taking a bath without screens or distractions, or breathing deeply for a few minutes each morning. These practices will help reduce stress on the system and ultimately help to slow down the aging process.
As always, consult a trusted health care provider if you are looking for tailored treatments that fit your body’s needs. Be mindful of the word “anti-aging” and the companies selling products with this promise. Lastly, focus on supporting your body in a way that promotes health, because this is ultimately the best way to cultivate radiance and age gracefully.