I've heard it enough times from both friends and strangers that I finally believe it: I look younger than I am.
I'm less than a month away from my 36th birthday, but people often tell me they thought I was much younger — sometimes just a few years, like 32, and sometimes an entire decade. I'd say the average guess is about 29, also known as the age "humorous" 1980s birthday cards will have you believe all women claimed to be once they entered their thirties.
It's quite the opposite from my tween years, when I probably could've gotten into a bar without an ID.
Having people think I look younger is cool, I guess, but apparently I'm supposed to think that it's awesome. I'm not a big fan of the pressure society puts on women (oy, those last six words — cliché, but cliché for a reason) to stay looking as young as possible, but as someone who is pretty inescapably stuck within the confines of society and has worked not only in media but beauty media for years, I'm as susceptible to anti-aging propaganda as the next woman.
So, even though it can feel flattering when someone tells me I look younger, it also feels weird to say "thank you" — it's more of a neutral observation than a compliment. It feels even weirder when, as has happened on a few occasions, I'm asked what I "do" to stay looking young. It just happened the other day, in fact, so since they're so clearly in-demand (four people over the last three years counts as in-demand, right?) I figured I might as well finally share my age-defying secrets with the world.
Here are the disappointingly unglamorous reasons I can pass for a 20-something as I enter pushing-40 territory.
I don't smoke.
I was around second-hand smoke a lot as a kid — my dad quit his Benson & Hedges habit when he had a heart attack the week before my 12th birthday — but other than my failed attempt to share a cigarette with my boyfriend at age 17, I've never smoked.
I'm sure you've heard it all before, but smoking does some pretty noticeable damage to skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking cigarettes speeds up aging in several ways:
- Nicotine narrows blood vessels in the skin's surface, impairing blood flow and therefore limiting the oxygen and nutrients the skin receives.
- A bunch of the chemicals in cigarette smoke wreak havoc on collagen and elastin, which are what your skin relies on to not sag and wrinkle.
- The repeated lip-pursing and even eye-squinting done when smoking speeds up expression lines.
I've also never been a big drinker, nor have I done hard drugs (or most soft drugs, for that matter), which often contribute to that "hard living" look.
It's virtually impossible to undo the damage smoking does, but if you don't like what it's doing to your skin, quitting can help prevent further age acceleration (not to mention help you actually get to an older age).
I avoid prolonged sun exposure.
I'm a huge advocate of wearing sunscreen, but aside from the SPF in my makeup, I manage to forget to wear it sometimes. But then, I'm pretty much a mole person. I spend very little time outside, and I definitely don't sunbathe.
My skin tans pretty easily (perhaps you noticed in the mildly horrifying early-'90s photo above), but after both of my grandmothers had skin-cancer scares, I stopped lying out at pools and beaches. I never enjoyed just baking in the heat anyway. So boring.
But also: so aging. A 2013 study published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that UV rays are responsible for 80% of the visible signs of skin again.
I don't have kids.
Don't get me wrong — there are plenty of age-defying moms. But so many things that come with being a parent are associated with signs of aging: lack of sleep, increased stress, simply not having as much time to focus on yourself, etc. These can all make a person appear older, or at least appear — gasp — their age.
Maintaining my youthfulness is definitely not one of the reasons I'm not interested in having children. However, from what I hear, kids are totally worth the dark circles.
Have you seen the commercials for injectable fillers that promise to add youthful volume to your face? That's because having a little extra face padding can make you look younger.
According to super-smart Harvard Medical School people, as we get older, "fat loses volume, clumps up, and shifts downward, so features that were formerly round may sink, and skin that was smooth and tight gets loose and sags." So a little roundness in areas like the cheeks — like we had as little kids — immediately gives a more youthful impression.
It's actually kind of ironic. One of the main reasons I have face chub is because I have a serious sweet tooth — like, all my teeth are sweet teeth — but excess sugar intake is believed by some in the medical community to make skin look older. It's called glycation, and there a growing number of studies that point to skin-aging as one of its effects.
I often wonder, if I lost weight, would the reversed effects of glycation balance out the fat loss in my face? I smell a study! (Can non-scientists do studies?)
I haven't started going gray.
I love silver and white hair, but I have not a one. It's kind of weird, actually.
I keep my skincare routine simple.
I love, love, love trying out different beauty products, but ultimately, I don't have a complicated skincare routine. I keep my face makeup-free most days; when I do wear makeup, I remove it with a gentle micellar water like Simple's Cleansing Micellar Water; I exfoliate a couple times a week (I'm currently using Own Exfoliating Facial Scrub); I use an eye cream (I've been using Soap & Glory's Make Yourself Youthful Eye Cream lately); and depending on the season, I'll use a hydrating serum or cream.
I switch up the specific products I use out of boredom, and I do occasionally work more intensive ingredients like retinol and alpha-lipoic acid into my routine when I feel like my complexion is looking tired and dull, but for the most part, simply ensuring that my skin is moisturized and constantly turning over new cells is the key to keeping it looking youthful.
More than anything else, I think I can owe my deceptive face to my parents, both of whom have always managed to look a few years younger than they are.
If my immediate family is any indication, I have a few more decades of passing for younger than I am.
So, as you can see, I have no fancypants beauty secrets for looking like you're eternally 29. It's a combination of some lifestyle stuff and some luck, but I can't tell you any one product or treatment or incantation that will definitely make you look younger than you are. I reckon no one can.
And even if they could, would you want to? Despite what virtually every explicit and subliminal message being hurled at you is trying to convince you of, there's nothing intrinsically better about looking younger. I mean, what has it gotten me? NOTHING BUT HEARTACHE.
Okay, not heartache, but not, like, the opposite of heartache either.