Looking younger

Why do some people look younger than others? Can we control how our looks age, or is it all in the genes? This article answers these questions and offers suggestions for how can we help ourselves look younger for longer. 


When and how do our looks start to age? 

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. This study uncovers the first genetic evidence explaining why some people look older for their age than others.

A study into twins suggested that at least 60% of skin-ageing is due to genetic factors, while up to 40% is non-genetic. This means there are factors we may be able to control. Although this study was undertaken in 2009, we have included it because studies in twins are particularly useful for identifying which factors are likely to be genetic and which are not genetically linked.

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.

Skin-ageing is commonly measured using characteristics such as wrinkling, loss of elasticity, and pigmentation changes.

JAMA Dermatology, AMA


How can we help ourselves look younger for longer?

The skin is a complex organ composed of many cell types and structures, which protect the body from different environments. It is constantly under attack, but we can help it by managing our lifestyle choices wisely:

  • Sun and UV exposure
  • What we eat and drink
  • Smoking
  • Exercising
  • Sleeping


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 to the development of freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, a rough and leathery texture, and in extreme cases, to skin cancer.

Sunbeds also age the skin, and according to a systematic review of the evidence published in 2021, they can significantly increase the risk of melanoma (a dangerous skin cancer).

The NHS identifies two main types of skin cancer:

·       Melanoma skin cancer
·       Non-melanoma skin cancer

So, what can we do?

Don’t use sunbeds!

Use sunscreen. According to an Australian study, sunscreen protects the skin and delays skin-ageing. After four and a half years of daily sunscreen application there was no detectable increase in skin-ageing. 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 that filter out both UVA and UVB sun rays offer the best protection against sun damage. Sunscreen Protection Factor (SPF) 15 provides protection if applied thickly enough, although SPF 30 may be safer in practice.

Remember that our bodies still need a small amount of exposure to sunshine, because sunshine 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 one survey, people looked older from eating too much sugar, even when other factors such as smoking, actual age and sun exposure were taken into account.

Meanwhile, drinking too much alcohol dehydrates the body and the skin, and this deprives the body of essential nutrients and vitamins.

So, what can we do?

A 2021 article found that there is a strong relationship between diet, health, and youthful-appearing skin.

Eat herbs and spices, such as oregano, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and garlic. According to a review of research published in 2014, these may also help protect against skin-ageing. However, according to a systematic review from 2019, more evidence is needed on the full impact of herbs and spices on skin-ageing.



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

So what can we do?

Stop smoking! Stopping smoking can actually reverse some of the negative changes to our DNA caused by ‘methylisation’, which can effect skin-ageing.


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

So what can we do?

Exercise! This can reduce how old you look, even if you start exercising later in life. Regular exercise ‘protects against aging and age-related chronic disease because each bout of exercise is, at its essence, an aging mimetic’, according to American research conducted in 2022. Interestingly, this research found that many of the body's responses and adaptations to acute exercise are comparable to ageing. The researchers proposed that these adaptations to acute exercise can also reduce the physiological stress of aging, and thus protect us against age-related chronic disease.



Lack of sleep increases skin-ageing and results in a slower recovery from environmental factors. That’s according to a 2023 article from the Sleep Foundation.  

It is believed that chronic sleeplessness causes your body to release cortisol – a steroid hormone that is released when the body is stressed – which can break down skin collagen. Lack of sleep may also trigger the body to release too little human growth hormone (HGH), resulting in thin, dry skin.

Sleep and Aging Skin, a textbook published in 2015, suggests that the quality of our sleep can also influence skin-ageing. In particular, it recommends getting uninterrupted sleep during the night, in line with our natural body clock.

So what can we do?

Aim to sleep for 7–8 hours continuously per night.

One final tip

Don’t go to sleep wearing makeup. Makeup ‘prevents your skin from breathing and healing, causing your skin to create more free radicals and clog your pores’, while during the nighttime, the skin is able to go into repair mode, regenerating and rebuilding cells and tissues.


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

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

  1. Protect your skin from over exposure to the sun (and to sunbeds).
  2. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices – and less sugar.
  3. Stop smoking, and drink alcohol only in moderation.
  4. Exercise regularly.
  5. Get a good night’s sleep.

Reviewed and updated by Karen Rollins, December 2023. Next Review Date, November 2027.