If you’re worried about looking older, know that you’re not alone. A 2017 survey reported on in the New York Post found that 28 percent of women under 25, 42 percent of women aged 25 to 34, and 54 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 worried regularly about the physical signs of aging, like wrinkles, age spots, and sagging skin. Men, too, worry about getting older.
While factors such as sun exposure, smoking, and the personal care products you use can have a big impact on the age you appear, diet is another important factor that can age you from the inside out. According to a 2020 paper published in the journal Nutrients, "Skin aging is a complex biological process … and is affected by internal factors and external factors." The study continued, "For diet, as the main way for the body to obtain energy and nutrients, people have gradually realized its importance to the skin." The researchers outlined a number of diet-related mechanisms by which skin ages, including inflammation and oxidative stress from free radicals.
Yes, there are many foods and beverages that can make you look much older — many of which may surprise you.
Milk may be making you look much older
In addition to worsening acne, milk may be prematurely aging your skin by causing inflammation. However, according to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers can’t agree on whether or not milk and other dairy products are inflammatory. As the Arthritis Foundation highlighted, a 2015 study published in The Journal of Nutrition concluded that diary products cause low-grade inflammation. But a 2017 meta-analysis of 52 studies published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that dairy generally has anti-inflammatory effects, except in those allergic to milk.
If milk does indeed cause inflammation, though, that inflammation will contribute to older-looking skin. According to a paper published in the journal Cell Transplantation in 2018, inflammation is a major factor that can speed up the aging process of our skin. The paper’s authors used the term "inflammaging" to describe the negative effects of inflammation on skin and other body systems.
Chronic inflammation triggers an overactive immune response that can cause long-term damage to the dermis (the second layer of skin, below the epidermis) and changes to the dermal extracellular matrix (the network of collagen that gives skin its structure and elasticity).
Cornflakes are making you look much older
The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of how quickly the carbs in a food can be converted into glucose. This allows you to distinguish between slow-burning healthy carbs that provide long-lasting energy and fast-burning unhealthy carbs that cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with a GI of 70 or higher are considered high-glycemic foods, those with a GI of 56 to 69 are considered in the middle, and those with a GI of 55 or less are considered low-glycemic and the healthiest options.
Many people know that white bread (GI of 75) and white rice (GI of 73) aren’t the best choices for blood sugar control, but your breakfast cereal may be spiking your numbers more than you realize. Cornflakes, in particular, have a GI of 81, making it a very high-glycemic food.
The bad news is that blood sugar spikes can make you appear older. A 2013 study published in the journal Age used photographs of participants’ faces along with blood sugar readings to determine how glucose levels affected others’ perception of the participants’ age. The researchers concluded that "perceived age increased 0.40 years … per 1 mmol/L increase in glucose level in non-diabetic subjects."
Orange juice is making you look much older
If you’re washing down your breakfast with a big glass of OJ at breakfast, you may be harming to your skin. Orange juice is surprisingly high in sugar. An 8-ounce glass contains 25.5 grams of carbohydrates, while an entire orange has just 15 grams.
All that sugar is aging your skin in a variety of ways. According to physician Andre Nish at UnityPoint Health, a high intake of sugar can lead to wrinkles, dark spots, sagging skin in the neck and chin area, and slower healing of cuts and scrapes — robbing your skin of its smooth, unblemished appearance.
Sugar can also affect the arrangement of collagen fibers in the skin through a process called cross-linking, leading to a loss of elasticity. To explain the process, Dr. Nish used the analogy of a banana. "If you put a banana out on the counter and [peel] it, what happens in 24-48 hours? It gets brown. What’s happening is the sugars in that banana are reacting with proteins, causing cross-linking and the brown color (browning reaction)." He continued, saying, "The exact same reaction is happening in our bodies. We’re browning from the inside out."
Grilled chicken is making you look much older
Even though it’s a staple of many health-conscious diets, grilled chicken may not be doing your skin any favors. That’s because it contains advanced glycation end products (fittingly abbreviated as AGEs). AGEs form when foods are cooked at a high temperature — as in grilling.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2013, average AGE consumption is about 15,000 kilounits (kU) daily. If you regularly consume significantly more than that per day, you’re setting yourself up for signs of aging. Although chicken has fewer AGEs than beef when cooked the same way, it’s still a heavy hitter. A serving of steak grilled for only four minutes contains approximately 6,674 kU of AGEs, while a serving of chicken breast cooked the same way has 4,364 kU.
According to a 2017 paper published in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, AGEs accelerate the aging process on a cellular level. AGEs are a biological waste product that build up throughout the body, including the skin, and cause a "loss of protein function and impaired elasticity of tissues." The paper’s authors concluded that preventing "AGE formation and accumulation in tissues can lead to an increase in lifespan."
Charred meat is making you look much older
You may have heard about a possible link between charred meat and cancer, but your overdone steak may also be bad for your skin. According to the National Institutes of Health, meat cooked at a high temperature contains heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The higher the temperature and the longer the meat is cooked, the more HCAs and PAHs form. Once bioactivated by specific enzymes in the body, these substances can cause DNA damage that may increase cancer risk.
HCAs and PAHs also age your skin because of their inflammatory nature. This inflammation causes a breakdown of the collagen in your skin, leaving it less supple. To minimize your intake of HCAs and PAHs, remove any burnt bits before eating and clean off any stuck-on char from the grill before using it again. Cooking at a lower temperature and avoiding very well-done meat will also reduce your risk.
Vegetable oils may be making you look much older
The polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils may just lead to age-accelerating inflammation. While the American Heart Association considers polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) to be among the healthiest choices, not everyone agrees. In a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers concluded that a high intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. In addition to contributing to many other serious health conditions, this inflammation ages the skin on a cellular level.
As you may have guessed, vegetable oils are high in PUFAs. According to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, PUFAs make up the majority of soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil. For cooking, oils higher in monounsaturated fats (such as avocado, olive, and safflower oils) may be less inflammatory and have less of an aging effect on your skin. High-PUFA vegetable oils also show up frequently on the ingredient lists of packaged foods. The Soy Nutrition Institute, for instance, noted that seven percent of daily calories in the American diet come from soybean oil alone.
Microwave popcorn is making you look much older
You probably already know that trans fats are bad for your health, but did you realize they can also prematurely age your skin? According to a 2014 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, consuming trans fats may make your skin more susceptible to damage caused by UV radiation. In addition to increasing the risk of skin cancer, this damage causes wrinkles and others signs of aging. It’s important to note, however, that this study was conducted with rats, not humans.
Because of their link to many chronic diseases, artificial trans fats have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration. There’s a loophole, however. Products that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving are considered free of trans fats, and thus can be sold. If you see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the ingredient list, there’s at least trace amounts of trans fats in the product.
According to Healthline, some brands of microwave popcorn still use trans fats, and because people tend to overindulge when eating popcorn and may consume many servings at one time, the trans fat can add up quickly. For a more skin-friendly alternative, stick to air-popped popcorn.
Crackers are making you look much older
Crackers are a surprising source of trans fats. In fact, according to research published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology in 2011, 40 percent of trans fats in the diet come from "cakes, cookies, crackers, bread, etc."
In addition to possibly making skin more susceptible to UV damage, trans fats may impair blood flow to the skin. A 2009 study published in the journal Atherosclerosis concluded that "[trans fats] inhibit cyclooxygenase, an enzyme required for the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostacyclin, necessary for the regulation of blood flow." Another study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science, noted that reduction in blood flow to facial skin can cause glyphic wrinkles (the deep grooves that appear on the cheeks).
As such, you may want to carefully read the ingredients list on your favorite box of crackers to ensure there are no hidden trans fats. Or, alternatively, you can make your own crackers — it’s quick, easy, and you can experiment with different herbs and spices.
Your daily coffee drink is making you look much older
Your morning macchiato may be aging your skin as much as the lack of sleep that made you need the coffee in the first place. As New York City dermatologist Deborah Wattenberg explained in an interview with Today that caffeine behave "like a diuretic and prevent[s] you from holding on to water, so your skin looks sort of prune-like. It can get dry and get washed out."
What you add to your coffee can make matters worse. According to survey data published in the HuffPost, Americans drink 146 billion cups of coffee each year, and 72 percent of coffee drinkers add dairy or non-dairy creamer to their coffee. Half-and-half or cream may cause inflammation in those sensitive to dairy and, according to Healthline, some non-dairy creamers may contain skin-ravaging trans fats. And among the 30 percent of survey respondents who sweeten their coffee, those who use high-GI sugar aren’t doing their skin any favors.
If you want to keep your skin from looking older, switching to decaf coffee may be ideal. Avoid loading it up with sugar and coffee creamer, and make decadent coffee drinks like Frappuccinos and lattes a rare treat rather than a daily habit.
Lemon water is making you look much older
Is there anything that screams "health" louder than a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning? Surprisingly, this trendy drink is a mixed bag when it comes to its effect on your appearance.
Drinking lemon water can offer many benefits for your skin. It may fight inflammation and the hydration it provides keeps skin looking young and vibrant. The vitamin C in the lemon can stimulate collagen growth, and the citric acid may help fade brown age spots. But what’s good for your skin isn’t necessarily good for your teeth.
Dentist Luke Thorley explained to Cosmopolitan, "Citrus fruits like lemon and lime are very acidic and can erode teeth enamel." He noted that the eroded enamel makes it easier to see through to the layer of yellow dentin underneath the tooth’s surface, giving teeth a yellow appearance. According to WebMD, many factors can lead to yellowing teeth, but perhaps the most inevitable is the regular wear and tear that comes with — you guessed it — advancing age. This is why pearly white teeth are seen as a sign of youth.
White wine is making you look much older
Drinking alcohol can make you look older in a variety of ways. It can dehydrate you, making skin appear dry and scaly and making wrinkles more prominent. It can also prevent absorption of important skin-boosting micronutrients like vitamin A. Excessive alcohol intake can cause liver damage, which in turn may lead to spider telangiectasia, red spiderweb-like lesions under the surface of the skin.
Although white wine may seem like a relatively "light" choice for an adult beverage, your daily glass of pinot grigio or chardonnay may be damaging your teeth and contributing to an older-than-you-really-are appearance. A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that white wine caused a greater release of calcium from teeth than red wine, meaning it had more potential to erode tooth enamel, causing teeth to appear yellow and aged. It’s important to note, however, that this study involved soaking teeth in alcohol for 24 hours, which isn’t exactly how people enjoy their vino.
Still, if you want to keep your skin and teeth looking young, stick to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation of no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Deli meat is making you look much older
Dermatologist Justine Hextall explained to Harper’s Bazaar that well-hydrated skin appears plump and reflects light better, giving it a glowing appearance whereas dehydrated skin is less elastic and appears flat and dull. "If you get dehydrated, your body is going to pull water from your tissues, from your skin to maintain the concentration in your blood," physician Richard Besser told ABC. "When it does that, your eyes are going to look sunken, your skin is going to feel dryer, it’s not going to be as elastic and so you will look a lot older."
In addition to simply not drinking enough water, consuming too much salt can leave you dehydrated. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, but the report also noted that the average American consumes roughly 3,400 mg daily.
Unfortunately, cold cuts in your favorite deli sandwich are one of the biggest sources of excess sodium in your diet. According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.1 percent of the salt Americans eat comes from cold cuts and cured meats. This makes them the second-largest source of sodium, behind bread and rolls (7.4 percent).
Soup is making you look much older
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.3 percent of Americans’ salt intake comes from soup. And, as noted by Healthline, too much sodium can lead to water retention, which in turn causes puffiness in the face and body. According to the publication, "The thin skin around your eyes is at higher risk of getting puffy. This leads to under-eye swelling or the appearance of under-eye ‘bags.’" To help balance out water and electrolyte levels and reduce under-eye bags, choose foods high in potassium instead of sodium, such as bananas, potatoes, and yogurt.
If you’re concerned about looking older than your actual age, you should know that the eyes are usually the first body part to show signs of aging. Under-eye skin is very thin and delicate, making it more prone to damage that causes fine lines and sagging. This skin also lacks most of the underlying fat and muscle that give skin on other areas of the body more strength and durability.
Hot sauce is making you look much older
Your taste buds may love spicy food, but your skin may not. "In menopausal women, spices dilate blood vessels, causing skin to look blotchy and less youthful," according to Health. If you have rosacea, a common skin condition, you should know spicy foods can cause even more trouble. While the exact cause of rosacea is unknown, many factors can trigger a flare-up of symptoms, including sunlight, extreme temperatures, wind, stress, and spicy foods.
When it comes to spicy food, hot sauce may be particularly problematic. A survey conducted by the National Rosacea Foundation found that 66 percent of the participants reacted negatively to hot sauce. Other foods that affected respondents included hot peppers (61 percent), chili (47 percent), salsa (46 percent), and horseradish (32 percent). Fortunately, the survey also found that more than 90 percent of participants were able to avoid spicy foods to help keep their rosacea under control.