Each year more biological systems move into the slow lane. Jeans feel a little tighter as you naturally start burning fewer calories, and your skin may become sallow (or—eek!—saggy) when its metabolism turns sluggish. You see, the skin’s metabolic rate measures how fast your cells talk to one another, respond, and take action. When functioning efficiently, skin cells self-exfoliate, UV damage gets repaired, and collagen is produced, explains cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer. But with age and exposure to external aggressors (like smoke and sunlight), that system starts to break down, resulting in slower cell communication—and dullness, dark spots, and wrinkles. But the right habits, products, and lifestyle choices can keep your skin’s metabolism stoked, so you look younger.
1. Keep Cells Talking
When the connection between your skin cells fails, it’s as if they’re saying “Can you hear me now?” Smear on the right ingredients and you can start the conversation again.
In the morning: Glycans, sugar molecules found naturally in the body, play a key role in cellular communication, says Anthony Potin, a cosmetic engineer and assistant vice president of the skin-care and sun-care labs at L’Oreal Paris. If skin cells were doors, glycans would be the keys, unlocking the cells so they can receive messages to complete their basic functions. L’Oreal Paris discovered that both the quality and quantity of glycans diminish with age, but applying them topically can improve cell turnover and production. The result? Fewer lines, more radiance.
At night: “Retinoids stimulate circulation and increase cell growth, which speeds up the skin’s regeneration process and ultimately its metabolism,” says David Bank, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Skin will be smoother, firmer, and more even-toned. Before bed, rub on a pea-size amount.
2. Kick Your Butts
Know why smoking causes wrinkles and sallow, saggy skin? Lighting up damages your mitochondria, the workhorses of cells, and this has devastating effects on cellular chatter and metabolism. “Smoking inhibits communication that’s normal and good, and sends out signals to break down existing collagen, which causes wrinkles,” says Jeannette Graf, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Even the occasional smoke reduces blood flow to the skin, which is enough to slow its metabolism. The good news: Once you quit smoking, cells start the repair process immediately.
First up? “Blood circulation to skin improves and so does skin color,” says Graf.
3. Fight Free Radicals
These molecules from the sun and pollution are like kryptonite to your skin’s metabolism. “Free radicals damage DNA—and it’s our DNA that dictates how our cells function,” says Graf. She suggests using a triple threat: a sunscreen that contains SPF 30 and UVA absorbers (such as zinc oxide or avobenzone) to protect against free radicals; antioxidants (such as vitamin C or E) to neutralize the ones that get through; and DNA-repairing enzymes (derived from algae or plankton) to help fix existing cell damage, which helps skin cells do their jobs more efficiently.
4. Put Up a Front
Your skin’s outer barrier functions as a bouncer: Its job is to make sure the party inside (in this case, your skin’s metabolism) isn’t disrupted. To fortify yours, try five-minute showers. “Prolonged exposure to water wears away the skin’s lipid barrier to the point that your skin isn’t able to defend itself against damaging irritants and UV light,” says Graf. She also suggests sudsing up with gentle pH-balanced facial and body cleansers. Your skin’s barrier is strongest when it has a somewhat acidic pH of 5.4, says Graf. Harsh soaps with a high, more alkaline pH will raise the skin’s pH, leaving it dry and more vulnerable.