Is there anyone (over 23) who doesn’t want to look younger than she is…? If so, then I haven’t met them. But fighting the ravages of time doesn’t happen by magic. It requires certain lifestyle steps (and some make-up know-how). Do you admire how Goldie Hawn looks, or Uma Thurman, or Kristen Scott-Thomas…? Diane Keaton? Meryl Streep? Helen Mirren, even? My hunch is they avoid committing these Seven Deadly Sins of Ageing. So: at a time when most of us are making New Year’s Resolutions on the health and beauty front, this is the best place to start.
1) Excessive exposure to the sun. You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again: sun exposure leads to broken capillaries, freckles, age spots, wrinkles, dry and leathery skin, loss of elasticity, uneven skintone… End of. And while I’m a firm believer now that we do need regular sun exposure on our bodies to assist production of vitamin D (so crucial for bone health, but also for prevention of certain cancers), the simple rule is: SPF on the face. Every day. Get your arms and legs out there, for sure (I now try to get 20 minutes of sunshine on my limbs every single day – and take a vitamin D supplement because, well, we live in England and it isn’t always sunny). But an SPF25+ on your face is the best way to prevent that list of beauty woes, above. End. Of. Story.
2) ‘Fading away’. Before Sarah Stacey and I embarked upon The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible, I happened to be travelling on a train opposite a couple of sixty-something women. They had washed-out faces, salt-and-pepper hair, beige clothes. Honestly, they looked like ghosts of their former selves. So an important part of not looking older is to ‘not fade away’… There are actually two make-up sins: overdoing it – but also underdoing it. My tip: regular make-overs at a counter where they specialise in making women look like ‘you, only prettier’ – most particularly Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown and the By Terry counter, which showcases many fabulous products created by a woman of un certain age, Terry de Gunzburg – the genius who we have to thank for YSL Touche Eclat…
3) Excess alcohol intake. According to skin guru Dr. Nicholas Perricone, ‘People think alcohol is bad because it dehydrates the body – and they assume that increasing water will counteract this. Unfortunately, alcohol creates inflammation throughout the body, including the skin, resulting in effects that far outlast dehydration. Alcohol causes small bloody vessels in the skin to widen, allowing more blood to flow close to the skin’s surface. This produces a flushed skin colour and a feeling of warmth, which can lead to broken capillaries on the face. The alcohol-induced dehydration also makes the skin more prone to fine lines and wrinkles. Dullness, enlarged pores, discolouration, sagging and lack of resilience are some of the short- and longer-term effects.’ If that sounds too, too depressing, Dr. Perricone concedes: ‘An occasional glass of red wine can confer some health benefits. But moderation is key.’ My tip? Drink less, but drink better.
4) Getting your hair colour wrong. Statistically, most women want to cover up grey hair – but the results can often look less-than-subtle. Always, always opt for semi-permanent rather than the permanent colourants, at least if you’re a hair colouring novice: what you see on the pack (or even that ‘swatch’ at the fixture) is not always what you get on your particular hair colour. And it’s a fact: professional colourists make much of their income from correcting permanent hair colour disasters. Try never to stray more than two shades from the shade your hair naturally is/was – and steer clear of very dark tones, as these can deliver very ‘wicked witch’ results, when contrasted with a complexion that’s naturally becoming paler/fading away (see above).
5) Not getting enough sleep. Sleep can prove elusive at mid-life (night sweats, 4 a.m. worries, etc.) – but because skin repairs itself at night, there are beauty as well as health repercussions if you don’t get enough zzzzzzs. In addition to the traditional advice from sleep experts – no caffeine after 4 p.m. (or earlier if it really affects you), no watching TV in bed (watching the news, in particular, can make it hard to sleep, troubling us with matters we’ve no control over), having a wee right before we nod off (a full bladder can rouse you at 4 a.m. and make it hard to drift off again), there’s a new ‘no-no’ to add to the list: no iPads or iPhones for several hours before bedtime. The light from the display hits the retina, disrupting the rest cycle. (Try it and you may find it makes a huge difference, as I did.) Meanwhile, if sleep is elusive I wholeheartedly recommend the This Works range, most particularly their Deep Calm Bath and Shower Oil, and Deep Sleep Night Oil, which – with their notes of vetiver, chamomile and lavender – are like knockout drops.
6) Looking too ‘matte’. Might seem a bit minor, wedged here between sleep and stress. But because cell turnover slows down as we age, and dead skin cells hang around longer, one visible sign of ageing is skin that looks flat and dull. Regular face masks, exfoliation (I prefer a muslin cloth to friction scrubs) and a richer moisturiser are all helpful for boosting radiance, but do seek out primers and foundations with light-reflective, skin-illuminating particles in the formulation, to recreate the glow of younger skin. Be conscious that face powder can also make skin appear caked and ‘flat’: use a brush no wider than 2 cm to precision-apply powder where you may be shiny. For heaven’s sake don’t dust it all over with a big, fluffy brush as you did in that carefree way when you were twenty-something, or it’s a fast-track to looking like someone’s great-aunt. (Which you may be, but do you want everyone to know it…?)
7) Stressing out. Can I prescribe a little TLC…? Finding ways of de-compressing and zoning out…? Stress in itself is ageing, triggering the release of the hormone cortisol: high levels cause brain cell-death, damage the immune system, decrease muscle mass and cause thinning of the skin. That accelerates skin wrinkling, and causes blood vessels under skin to be more prominent. The bottom line is: it’s easy to get stressed about ageing. It’s easy to get stressed about life. But it sure beats the alternative – and when you’re sending our cortisol levels soaring because you’re feeling anxious about the ageing process, that might be a good thought to cling to…
If you haven’t already got a copy, find 200+ pages of age-defying advice in the book I co-wrote with Sarah Stacey: The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible.