These Simple Changes Make You Look Younger

Compare the faces of two people in your life. Person One is happy, relaxed and pleased with life. Person Two is overworked, stressed and harried. Guess which face appears younger and more attractive?

Stress can add years to your looks. When you’re stressed, your body churns out cortisol, the hormone that primes you for action. Some cortisol is helpful (and motivating), but too much triggers inflammation, which affects every organ in your body, including the skin.

Experts have coined a term for the link between emotions and the skin—psychodermatology. This new field is based on research that shows that chronic stress and other psychological issues can trigger or exacerbate skin changes. But you can reverse those changes using emotional strategies and other lifestyle changes.

Example: Critically ill children who were given relaxing massages showed improvements in itching, redness and other skin conditions, according to ­researchers at the Touch Research ­Institute at University of Miami.

You can spend a fortune on anti­aging products and cosmetic procedures, but unless you manage stress at the same time, you’ll still look older than you should.

What Stress Does to Skin

Stress can cause blotches, itching, redness and acne. The cortisol-driven rise in inflammation damages tissues and capillaries that are readily apparent in the mirror. Stress also causes…

Dryness. The constant ­bombardment of cortisol in women with chronic stress can mean a drop in estrogen that’s been called mini-menopause. Estrogen is largely responsible for the differences in appearance between young women and older ones. Women who are frequently stressed tend to develop dryness and a loss of skin elasticity.

While women need estrogen more than men and are more impacted on a monthly basis by its regulation, hormonal imbalance also happens in men with the excess secretion of the stress hormone androgen, as well as glucocorticoids. This can cause a loss of estrogen leading to dryness in both men and women and an overproduction of sebum (an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands), which can trigger acne and razor bumps.

Wrinkles. There’s a reason that forehead furrows, between-the-eye creases and other wrinkles are known as “frown lines,” “worry lines” or even “battle lines.” Repeated expressions can etch themselves permanently in your face.

Circles under the eyes. They make you look tired and can age your appearance even more than wrinkles. Some people are genetically prone to under-eye circles. They also can be caused by sun exposure, a lack of sleep or allergic skin conditions, along with stress.

What happens: Stress increases blood flow, and the tiny capillaries under the eyes become engorged. Those dark circles really are blood vessels that are visible through the skin.

Under-eye bags. Like circles under the eyes, these puffy areas are partly due to genetics. But they’re also common in people whose stress keeps them up at night. A lack of sleep causes fluids to accumulate under the eyes and makes your face appear puffy and tired.

What To Do

Take “mini-vacations.” Almost everyone can benefit from frequent “mini-vacations” that provide a break from stress. These can be as simple as a lunchtime walk…admiring a piece of art…or listening to a favorite song.

Eat an estrogen-enhancing diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, salmon and whole grains. These ­antioxidant-rich foods fight inflammation. Fruits and vegetables also are naturally rich in phytoestrogens, plant compounds that mimic the effects of ­estrogen in the body. Estrogen “plumps” the skin and gives women and men a healthy glow.

Avoid excess sugar in all forms, including refined carbohydrates, alcohol and highly processed foods, such as cake and cookies. These cause the body to produce advanced glycation end-products, toxins that trigger inflammation in the skin. The sugars in carbohydrates attach to certain proteins and can break down skin collagen, causing a loss of elasticity and the plumpness we associate with young skin.

Drink more water. People who stay hydrated tend to have plumper, younger-looking skin. Also, water can flush excess salt from the body, which reduces under-eye puffiness. If you don’t care for regular water, try coconut water. It is a natural source of ­electrolytes that help to keep you hydrated.

Relax your face. You’re probably not aware of your facial expressions, but you can learn to relax your face. When you’re feeling stressed, remind yourself not to squint or frown. Be mindful of your expressions. Eventually, not frowning will become a habit. If you find yourself frowning, make it a habit to smooth your hand over your forehead and think happy, tranquil thoughts until your face naturally relaxes to a resting state.

Get a good night’s sleep. Even if you find that you can’t log a full eight hours, at least make sure that the sleep you get is quality sleep. Relax for an hour before going to bed. Turn off the TV and computers. This puts your mind into the “sleep mode” so that it starts to shut down or cool off in preparation for bedtime. Pull the blinds or curtains so that your room is dark. If you can’t fall asleep in 15 or 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing, such as gazing out the window or holding a yoga pose. You want to stay within yourself instead of engaging with electronics or the outside world until you’re tired enough to try again. If you find yourself becoming anxious about all the things you have to do, make a list of what needs to be done. You’ll feel like you accomplished something and are in control of your tasks. And you won’t be worried about forgetting them the next day.

Sleep with your head slightly elevated—a thick pillow will do it. The increased pull of gravity will help fluids drain away from your eyes.

Exercise. Exercise relieves stress. You’ll almost instantly see a difference when you attend a yoga class or go for a power walk. Your face will look smoother and younger.