Why do some people look younger than others? Can we control how our looks age, or is it all in the genes?

When and how do our looks start to age?

From our 20s our skin tends to become thinner, drier and more wrinkled. From our mid-30s our hair can start to grey. And from our 50s we are more likely to develop varicose veins and spider veins.

Is it all in the genes?

  • A 2016 study of several thousand people in Europe found that one form of a particular gene seemed to result in people looking up to two years older than people with a different form of the same gene.
  • A study into twins suggested that at least 60% of skin ageing is due to genetic factors – but up to 40% is non-genetic. This means there are factors we may be able to control. Although this study was undertaken some years ago we have included it because studies in twins are particularly useful for identifying which factors are likely to be genetic and which aren't. 

A review of research published in 2012 suggested that the speed and symptoms of skin ageing can also vary from one ethnic group to another.

So, how can we help ourselves look younger for longer?The skin is a complex organ composed of many cells types and structures, which protects the body from different environments. It is constantly under attack but we can help it.

Sun and UV exposure

Photoaging is caused by too much unprotected exposure to the sun’s rays. Daily exposure to the sun over the years can lead the skin to develop freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, a rough and leathery texture, and in extreme cases, skin cancer. Sunbeds also age the skin – and significantly increase the risk of melanoma (a dangerous skin cancer), according to a review of the evidence published in the BMJ in 2012.

So what can we do?

  • Use sunscreen. This protects the skin and delays skin ageing, according to an Australian study. After 4.5 years of daily sunscreen application there was no detectable increase in skin aging. Sunscreen may even help reverse the visible signs of ageing due to the sun (as well as protecting against further sun damage). That was the verdict of a small study published in 2016, which studied 32 people for a year. Sun lotions which contains both UVA and UVB are the best protection.15 SPF provides adequate protection if applied thickly enough – but 30SPF may be safer in practice.   
  • Don’t use sun beds

Remember that our bodies need a small amount of exposure to sunshine, as this is the main natural source of Vitamin D.

What we eat and drink

Poor diet,including high sugar levels may accelerate skin ageing. According to a survey, people looked older from excess sugar consumption, even when smoking, actual age and sun exposure were taken into account. Meanwhile drinking alcohol excessively dehydrates the body and skin, which deprives the body of essential nutrients and vitamins.

So what can we do?

  • A 2012 review of published research concluded that, as regards diet, fruit and vegetables consumption may represent the most healthy and safe method in order to maintain a youthful appearing skin.
  • Eat herbs and spices, such as oregano, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and garlic. These may also help protect against skin ageing, according to a review of research published in 2014. 


Smoking could be an underlying cause of premature skin ageing, as it changes skin temperature and oxygen content in the facial skin. The biochemical changes that smoking causes in our bodies, causes facial wrinkling and a yellowish hue in the skin.

So what can we do?


Regular exercise increases the blood flow, which helps to deliver nutrients to the skin, while also detoxifying the body. However, there’s no conclusive evidence that facial exercises help.

So what can we do?

  • Exercise! This can reduce how old you look, even if you start exercising later in life. The initial findings from this Canadian research suggests that skin can look 20 to 30 years younger, with regular exercise – at least under a microscope.


Lack of sleep increased skin ageing and resulted in a slower recovery from environmental factors. That’s according to a study in 2013 commissioned by Estee Lauder. 

It is believed that chronic sleeplessness causes your body to release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, which can break down skin collagen. Lack of sleep may also lead the body to release too little human growth hormone (HGH), which helps to thicken the skin

A textbook of Skin Aging, published in 2015, suggested that quality of sleep can influence skin ageing, in particular getting uninterrupted sleep during the night, in line with our natural body clock. 

So what can we do?

One final tip

Don’t go to sleep wearing makeup


Our genes have a big influence on how quickly we start to visibly age.

However, there are five things we can do to stay looking younger, longer:

  • Protect our skin from over exposure to the sun (and sunbeds)
  • Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices – and less sugar
  • Don’t smoke - and drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get a good night’s sleep

Reviewed and updated by Emma Juhasz September May 2017. Next Review Date, April 2021