Why Do Some People Look Much Younger Than Their Age?

It seems as though some people never age - and it's not all about botox, fillers, and plastic surgery.

September 6, 2021 6 minutes read

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Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Lopez... have much more in common than their name – they all look so much younger than their age. Admittedly, they can afford top-notch dermatologists, beauty experts, and skincare. Still, no amount of money can make you look 20 years younger or more.

So, what's their secret? And why do some people simply never seem to age?

Chronological, Biological, and Psychological Age

To answer all these questions, we need to understand the difference between chronological, biological, and psychological age.

But first, let's define what aging is in the first place? Is it just a number, or is there more to it?

Well, according to WHO, aging isn't just about a number:

At the biological level, aging results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity... But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person's age in years. While some 70-year-olds enjoy extremely good health and functioning, other 70-year-olds are frail and require significant help from others.

So, let's find out why that is!

What Is Chronological Age?

Chronological age refers to our age in terms of the amount of time that's passed since our birth until today. This is how we primarily define age, calculating years, months, and days we spent on this planet.

What Is Biological Age?

Contrary to chronological aging that focuses only on numbers, biological age, also known as functional or physiological age, refers to the actual state of the cells in our body, and hence, our real age. To be more precise, our biological age depends largely on the length of our telomeres.

Telomers are DNA segments that are located at the ends of our chromosomes. As we age and our cells divide over and over, telomers become shorter and shorter. At some point, they become so short that the division becomes impossible, resulting in visible signs of aging and deterioration. Numerous factors influence our biological age, such as genetics, lifestyle, diet, exercise, and demographics.

So, our Jennifers, Madonnas, Janet Jacksons, and Jane Fondas don't only look younger, but they actually are younger. Besides genetics and demographics, there are other factors that are within our control that can slow down the process of biological aging. Those include our lifestyle choices, environment, stress, diet, and many more – no worries, we'll cover them all in just a sec.

But, before that, let's explain the concept of psychological aging.

What Is Psychological Age?

Psychological age refers to an individual's mental fitness, including cognitive functioning, memory, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Research suggests that psychologically younger people are generally more satisfied with their lives, resulting in improved well-being and better resilience to stress, cognitive abilities, biological age, and longevity.

There's a number of non-modifiable factors that influence psychological age, such as genetic predisposition, health status, and average life expectancy in the country you live in. On the other hand, there are also other modifiable factors, including environment, work, education, social relationships and support, as well as personal beliefs and attitudes.

So, in essence, we could say that your attitude towards getting older plays an important role in your psychological aging, which in turn impacts your biological age and longevity. So keeping a positive mindset about aging can, in effect, make you feel and look younger for longer. As J Lo herself explained in one interview:

Affirmations are so important. I am youthful and timeless. I tell myself that every day, a few times a day. It sounds like clichéd (nonsense), but it's not: Age is all in your mind.

And finally, we're getting to the reason you're reading this article – What are the crucial factors that influence aging, and can one slow it down?

Factors That Influence Aging

So far, we understand that chronological age, i.e., our years, doesn't really matter that much. What matters most is our biological and psychological age. So let's see what the most important factors that affect these are and why some people's skin doesn't seem ever to wrinkle:

#1: Genetics

Sex and ethnicity are the best evidence of genetic influence on skin aging. For example, Asians tend to show wrinkles and other signs of aging later and less pronounced than Caucasians. These variations happen because of genetic polymorphisms, or SNPs ('snips'), single nucleotide polymorphisms that we inherit from our parents and grandparents. SNPs are responsible for changes in genes, replacing or deleting specific base proteins in single DNA building blocks, hence different genetic variations among people [source].

According to a 2014 study, there are 13 different SNPs that are associated with skin aging. Some of these make changes in genes that are associated with our hair color and skin pigmentation. Others cause mutations in genes responsible for antioxidant response, leading to higher oxidative stress and accelerated skin aging.

#2: Sun Exposure

Besides other external factors, such as pollution, gravity, and stress, too much sun exposure is one of the leading causes of premature skin aging, also called photoaging. According to a 2013 clinical study, UV radiation is responsible for 80% of visible signs of skin aging, including loss of firmness and elasticity, changes in skin texture, and wrinkles.

The harming UV rays, UVA rays to be more specific, cause major damage to the skin. These rays penetrate deeper layers of the skin, causing DNA mutations and chewing up elastic fibers and collagen, the framework in our skin.

#3: Nutrition

Research suggests that a diet rich in fats, like saturated and trans fat, plays a major role in skin aging. A high-fat diet causes oxidative stress in our bodies, leading to inflammatory damage and, eventually, fine lines and wrinkles.

Similarly, sugary foods and deep-fried foods are all associated with the accumulation of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). AGEs are glycotoxins – toxic compounds that occur when proteins and lipids become glycated when exposed to sugars. Over time these toxins accumulate in our bodies, resulting in skin aging.

And while nutritional needs vary from individual to individual, saturated fats, sugar, and fried food are generally harming not only your skin but your overall health. So if you want healthy and youthful skin, focus on foods that are rich in healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids), fibers, minerals, and vitamins (especially vitamin C) that support and preserve healthy collagen in the skin.

#4: Smoking

Unhealthy lifestyle choices and habits, like smoking, are related to skin aging. Besides being the lead cause of cancer and other systemic diseases, smoking is also associated with several skin conditions, including hair loss, poor wound healing, melanoma, skin cancer, oral cancer, psoriasis, acne, and premature skin aging [source].

This is because tobacco smoke impairs collagen production and increases the production of MMP (matrix metalloproteinases, also called matrixes), enzymes that degrade collagen and elastic fibers and induce premature aging.

#5: Exercise

Aging skin is associated with the decreased activation of AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), an enzyme that plays a significant role in cellular energy homeostasis. With age, these enzymes are less and less active, resulting in a deterioration of skin structure, among other things.

A 2015 study has found that regular endurance exercise increases the activity of AMPK and regulates skin mitochondrial metabolism, thus slowing down skin deterioration and aging. Apart from the anti-aging effect, regular exercise alerts the whole body's metabolism and is essential for the proper functioning of the heart and other organs – your overall health.

#6: Skin Type and Thickness

Research shows that people with predominantly oily skin are less prone to skin wrinkling compared to people with dry skin, in part because they also have a much higher skin elasticity. People with oily skin generally have smoother skin and fewer forehead lines because having more sebaceous glands is linked with a thicker inner layer of the skin, the dermis.

On the downside, skin oiliness has nothing to do with the development of crow's feet and wrinkles around the eyes. There are no sebaceous glands in this region, and the skin around the eyes is the most delicate. Likewise, the first signs of aging will usually show on the skin of our neck and the skin on the back of our hands, no matter the skin type.

#7: Skin Tone

If you have pale skin with a lot of freckles, you're more vulnerable to UV damage and, therefore, skin aging. This is due to the significant difference in the amount of melanin in your skin. Studies suggest that people of color and darker skin overall have better dispersed and larger melanosomes containing more melanin than people with a lighter complexion.

In effect, a larger amount of melanin means your skin is better protected from the harmful effects of UV radiation, which means less photodamage and signs of skin aging.

#8: Skincare

We can't neglect the importance of skincare and its effects on skin aging. Throughout the day, we're exposed to numerous environmental stressors, including pollutants, dirt, and sunlight, that cause the accumulation of free radicals and skin damage. So taking care of your skin and having at least a basic skincare routine, which involves regular cleansing, moisturizing, and sunscreen, can protect you from these and, effectively, postpone skin aging.

Regular cleansing will remove the dirt and pollutants from your skin, while moisturizing will help prevent water loss from your skin and maintain its healthy hydration levels. But most importantly, sunscreen will protect your skin from the damaging UV rays, the leading cause of skin aging. That's why wearing sunscreen daily should be the staple in any anti-aging routine.

And while at it, don't forget about the skin on the back of your hands as it's usually the thinnest and will show the first signs of aging, like sunspots and wrinkling.

#9: Estrogen

Studies show that estrogen deficiency, usually followed by menopause, results in acceleration of skin aging. Estrogen plays a major role in skin physiology, modulating melanocytes, fibroblasts, sebaceous glands, and wound healing. Less estrogen usually means decreased defense against free radicals and oxidative stress, as well as thinner skin with less collagen and decreased elasticity.

As a result, estrogen deficiency makes the skin more vulnerable to various external and internal stressors and, therefore, more prone to aging. However, according to a 2013 study, estrogen deficiency can be mitigated with estrogen replacement therapy, significantly delaying skin aging.

#10: Water Intake

Believe it or not, drinking enough water has a significant impact on our overall health, including the health of our skin and, therefore, skin aging. Since water is the primary constituent of all the cells in our body, it's essential for the normal functioning of the cells and keeping the skin plump, soft, and smooth [source].

Some Final Thoughts

And there you go – 10 factors backed by science that explain why some people look younger than they actually are. In essence, years are just a number, and our chronological age doesn't always necessarily match our biological age.

Hopefully, now you understand why some of your peers seem to defy aging, or you might be one of those people yourself. In that case, lucky you!

All in all, some of these factors are written in your genes and can't be changed, while others can and maybe should. However, this doesn't mean you should rush to your doctor to prescribe you a hormone replacement therapy. But rather an incentive to embrace some healthy lifestyle habits for the sake of your overall health and the health of your skin.

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