“Age is whatever you think it is,” Muhammad Ali once said. “You are as old as you think you are.” It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? That, with the right mindset, you can just sort of think yourself younger. Lovely.
For those of us not floating like butterflies in the metaphysical realm, however, the first visible signs of ageing can really sting. That first wrinkle, that first grey hair. All these things can have a severely negative impact on your self-esteem in a society that idolises youth so much that we bottle actual breast milk and sell it as an anti-ageing product.
If you, like us, are generally okay with the idea of ageing (one step closer to that pension and all) but always want to look your best, there are ways to mitigate time’s more deleterious effects. From what to do with your beard to, yes, botox, this is your guide to Benjamin Buttoning it.
Groom Your Grey Hair
Whether you consider them a sign of wisdom – or just that you’re starting to become wizened – grey hairs are one of the first signs of ageing, with most men spotting their first in their thirties. Reaching for the bottle, however, shouldn’t be your first reflex.
“Stay well away from the hair dyes,” says Natalie Angold, a barber at Ruffians in Shoreditch. “Skin pigmentation naturally lightens as you get older, and hair pigmentation works with that.” So no matter how subtle the results you’re promised, bottled hair colour won’t bring back your youth. If anything, it’ll only highlight how devastated you are about having lost it.
Instead, make the most of your newly silvered locks. “Try using a silver shampoo once or twice a week to help strip grey hair of any brassy, yellow tones,” adds Angold. A lesson in colour theory: because silver shampoo contains a purple pigment (and because purple is located opposite yellow on the colour wheel), it works by neutralising any yellow undertones in grey hair.
This is also when short hairstyles come into their own. “Because of their slightly rougher texture, grey hairs tend to ‘flick out’ from the scalp, which means shorter hairstyles that are kept neat around the ears and neck work better.”
Sure, you’ve heard it before, and yes we know it’s boring, but sun exposure is the leading cause of visible ageing. Not one of the leading causes, the leading cause. Which means, while smoking definitely isn’t good for your skin, never wearing SPF is probably worse.
Oculoplastic and aesthetic surgeon Dr Maryam Zamani and a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine both found the same thing. “SPF helps prevent UV damage that can increase photoageing,” she says. “It prevents pigmentation, slows the rate of collagen breakdown and wards off fine lines and wrinkles.”
Do you need to wear it every day? The short answer – if you want to look younger than you are – is yes. “I recommend everyone to wear an SPF 30 or greater, and to increase that with frequent application if going to a sunny or ski destination,” she says.
Get More Sleep
We all know sleep is important, if only for the fact that we feel like a bag of smashed crabs when we don’t get enough. But a good night’s kip also plays a key role in keeping you young-looking.
A study at University Hospitals Case Medical Center found that subjects who didn’t sleep well exhibited more signs of skin ageing including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced skin elasticity. That’s because shut-eye helps the skin regenerate and repair itself in a variety of ways, including by promoting human growth hormone (which boosts cell production), reducing inflammation (which can lead to dry skin) and lowering the body’s cortisol levels (which can lead to the breakdown of collagen and fast-track the formation of lines and wrinkles).
How much time between the sheets do you need to stay looking fresh? Between seven and nine hours is best, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We’re willing to listen to them on that.
Tame Your Beard
Not that you need the journal Behavioral Ecology to tell you (although it does) but facial hair ages a man. Why else did so many of us spend our teens begging the beard gods to make our bum fluff grow faster?
A sign of physical maturity, virility and dominance, hair on a man’s face instantly ages him – for better or worse. As with most things in your twenties, you can get away with going wild, but come your thirties, and especially when you hit your forties, big, unruly beards look more Rumpelstiltskin than niche record label executive.
“As you get older, you lose definition in your cheeks and jawline, so keeping your beard neatly groomed will help you look less aged,” says Angold. “A short and tidy style is best, especially if you have grey hairs in your beard, which tend to look denser in longer beards.”
The same goes for your eyebrows, ear and nose hair; all of which, due to hormonal changes, tends to grow faster and thicker once you hit middle age. Arm yourself with the right tools — a beard trimmer, detail set and a bit of oil is a good place to start — to keep it all in check.
Invest In Eye Cream
Your eyes might be known as the windows to the soul, but the skin around them serves a different purpose: letting everyone know how long in the tooth you are. Along with browlines, crow’s feet are the first facial wrinkles to develop, starting to form as early as in your mid-twenties.
The first line of offence? Eye creams. While they won’t work miracles, they can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as make your skin look fresher.
“Look for ingredients that lock in moisture such as ceramides, peptides and hyaluronic acid,” says Zamani, who has the backing of The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, which found that creams with hyaluronic acid reduced the depth of wrinkles by up to 40 per cent. “Ingredients such as caffeine and bark extract can also help detoxify the eyes and reduce puffiness, making them appear brighter and more youthful.”
Deploy The Retinoids
Not an army from a science-fiction novel, but a powerful class of anti-ageing compounds, retinoids are the secret weapon in the fight against time’s ravages.
Originally developed to treat acne, retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that have been proven in the journal Clinical Interventions In Aging to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and brown spots by boosting collagen production and increasing cell turnover. Given how potent these creams and serums are, most are only available by prescription and can also cause skin to become red, dry and flaky.
Retinoids’ less strong, but still effective, cousin is retinol. Available over the counter, retinol is generally used in products in a concentration of 0.05 to 1 per cent, so it’s gentler on skin. That said, any retinol product should be used sparingly at first, in order to allow the skin time to adjust. Start with a pea-sized amount every other day for the first few weeks and, provided your skin doesn’t react adversely, consider upping the frequency for a furrow-free face.
Kick The Habits
Sugar, staying up late, sun-tanning. If it seems only the fun things in life kickstart the ageing process, then that’s because they do. All of them. Including smoking and drinking alcohol. Sorry.
As well as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, the Department of Geriatric and Environmental Dermatology at Nagoya City University concluded that cigarettes also cause skin to age prematurely, gradually breaking down both the elasticity and collagen your skin needs to stay looking its best. Booze, meanwhile, not only does the same when consumed in excess, but also dehydrates your body, dilates the blood vessels in your face (hello, rosacea) and leads to a poor night’s sleep.
So, if you want to give your genes their best shot, bin the death sticks and limit your boozing to no more than two drinks per day. No one said this was going to be easy.
Stand To Attention
Poor posture is a bad look no matter how many candles are on your cake. However, with age, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand up straight, as cartilage between the vertebrae of your spine begins to stiffen and shrink. While you can’t stop the process, there are moves that’ll help allay its effects.
“Keep Mr Burns’ back at bay by strengthening your core, glutes, and hamstrings – all the major muscles that hold you upright,” says Luke Worthington, a personal trainer at London gym chain Third Space. Exercises such as planks, squats and Romanian deadlifts all target the muscles that help keep you correctly aligned.
Strength training also offers other body-preserving benefits, not just according to gym bunnies, but also the reliably named journal Age and Ageing. “Lifting weights three times per week can help mitigate the effects of age-related muscle wasting, a process that unfortunately begins at 30,” adds Worthington.
“Weight training has also been shown to increase testosterone levels in men, and given that this vital hormone decreases by approximately one per cent a year from 30 onwards – and plays a key role in self-confidence, mood, sex drive and muscle development – anything you can do to offset this loss will be a huge help.” Time to renew that membership.
Freeze Your Face
Once the preserve of Beverly Hills housewives, botox is now one of the most common cosmetic procedures undertaken by men – in fact, of all botox (or ‘brotox’) treatments performed in the US, men account for some 10 per cent according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
“Once established, lines and wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes need something stronger than creams,” says Dr Zamani, who, much like The Journal of Clinical And Diagnostic Research, is yet to find a better fix for mosaic-like faces. “It works by temporarily paralysing the lines and wrinkles responsible for wrinkles, giving a smoother, more youthful appearance that lasts anywhere from three to five months.”
It’s a big step, with real risks, so don’t write off anti-aging moisturisers until you’ve sought professional advice. But if you want to reset your mileage, this is how to do it. But be warned: IRL Instagram filters don’t come cheap.
Avoid Refined Sugar
You’ve heard of how refined sugars can lead to obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol, but now there’s another reason to think twice about mainlining cans of the fizzy stuff on a Sunday morning. The Department of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School has also linked refined sugars, such as glucose and fructose, to you looking more shrivelled prune than spring chicken.
Commonly found in carbonated drinks, sauces and other processed foods, refined sugars are thought to be responsible for a process known as glycation, whereby collagen fibres become tangled together and therefore more difficult to repair.
In non-science speak, that means more lines, wrinkles and age spots younger. Glycated skin cells age at a faster rate than non-glycated skin cells, which means you may well have to choose between youth and your sweet tooth.