Are You Prematurely Aging? 3 Things to Know to Protect Your Skin

Just like spotting your first gray hair, discovering your first wrinkle or expression line is a rite of passage that we all go through at some point. It's natural, and there's no avoiding it.

Right now, though, many people are dealing with skin issues that dermatologists and skin professionals describe as "premature aging." No, this does not mean you can get wrinkles at sixteen. But it is a problem.

Premature aging is exactly what it sounds like — showing signs of growing older before you're old enough to show those signs — and dermatologists now group myriad skin conditions under this banner. “Premature aging could be anything from skin redness [to] loss of elasticity and hyperpigmentation in your 20's and 30's,” says New York aesthetician Andrea De Simone. “A new onslaught of freckles, appearance of sun spots or change in skin tone are also counted.”

Why is this happening? There are a few reasons:

You’re Probably Overdoing It

“Misusing your skincare products is one of the biggest reasons your skin might look like it is aging,” says De Simone. She regularly sees patients who are over-cleansing and over-exfoliating, leading to a disruption of the moisture balance on their skin’s surface. Cleansers and scrubs offer instant gratification in the form of tight, clean, squeaky-smooth skin, she says, but overdoing it ultimately compromises your skin’s barrier function, which keeps bad bacteria out and skin moisturized. Excessive dryness is a red flag that you need to take it easy with the washing and scrubbing.

“The same thing occurs when people go for a lot of facials but only get microdermabraision, laser or a peel,” she explains. “Or when you use a vibrating skin cleansing device like Clarisonic twice a day and wonder why your skin feels tight, chapped and red, and gets aggravated when you apply product to it.”

Of course, you have to cleanse your skin skin, scrub away dead skin cells, and undergo facial treatments when there's a need, but De Simone stresses the importance of moderation. “Only cleanse once a day, in the evening with a gentle cleanser that’s not loaded with harsh chemicals, parabens, and fragrances.” Try using a washcloth and warm water in the mornings and limiting exfoliation to once or twice a week.

Some of It Is Outside Your Control

Outside factors like stress and pollution also play a huge role in premature aging. “Living in New York City is not ideal!” De Simone says. “The energy level is through the roof, stress levels are high, and the pollution is terrible.” Some of these factors you can’t control, but you can protect yourself. She is all about feeding your skin at night with a nourishing serum (the antioxidant-based ones in her Milkseed line contain different blends of oils to suit seasonal needs and conditions) and in the daytime focusing on protection — layering up with an SPF and hydrating moisturizer.

“At the end of the day, go home and wash all of the pollutants and free radicals away, and then feed your skin while you are sleeping with more active ingredients,” she says.

And then, of course, there’s there are other factors that are, again, all you: “I truly believe you can maintain gorgeous skin in big cities, but you need to be eating well, exercising regularly and keeping your stress levels down,” says De Simone.

Beware Your Phone

Your smart phone use could also be prematurely aging your skin, as could simply enjoying a Diet Coke. Ongoing squinting at your iPhone or drinking through a straw could be contributing to lines forming at the corners of your eyes and mouth, respectively, says De Simone. “It’s repetitive movement — when we put our faces into a certain position regularly,” we increase our chances of developing lines in those areas. Turn your font size up on your phone if you catch yourself squinting at it regularly. Always straining while working on your laptop? It maybe time for glasses.

If you do see lines popping up in other places on your face, though, De Simone says they may just be superficial lines, caused by dehydration. “Cure that with an essential fatty acid supplement, such as fish oil tablets, which plump up the cells from the inside out.”

Overall, a multitude of factors make your skin age more quickly than it should. “When someone comes in to see me, I try and play detective and see what arena they are being affected by — because it’s often not just one thing,” De Simone says. “It’s a combination of things that contribute to premature aging, but give yourself some credit that you are the best judge of your face. Read your own skin.”