Top 5 Causes of Premature Aging: What to Avoid and Treatments That Work

Premature aging can cause a person to look older than they actually are, resulting in facial features of looking tired, heavy wrinkles around the eyes or crow’s feet, or laxity and drooping of the skin.

While some people experience premature aging as early as their 20s, there are concrete ways to avoid it, as well as ways to treat this condition if you’re already experiencing visible signs.

This article takes a look at the top causes of premature aging and how they affect your looks, as well as warning signs of premature aging, how to avoid this accelerated condition, and ways to treat your skin if you’re already seeing the aftermath in the mirror.

We’ve gathered input from four top experts on this subject, including two board-certified plastic surgeons with practices in Southern California, as well as two board-certified dermatologists – one from Yale University and another with three offices in Southern California.

Top Causes of Premature Aging

Dr. Marc Kerner, owner of the Dermatique Medical Center for Advanced Skincare in Southern California, said premature aging is when the skin thins and there is a loss of elasticity and fat that can cause wrinkles.

As a facial plastic surgeon with more than 25 years of experience, he has dealt with thousands of patients regarding premature aging.

The top causes of premature aging, Dr. Kerner said, include environmental damage, which includes sun damage and lifestyle choices, such as poor eating habits, limited exercise, smoking and excessive drinking or drug use.

The aging process as related to the skin involves thinning of the skin, loss of firmness and elasticity, decrease in collagen, increased fragility and susceptibility to injury, explained Dr. Yuly Gorodisky, owner of the West Coast Plastic Surgery Center in Oxnard who is board-certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery.

“When these findings occur in individuals before most other people in the same age group and skin type, that would be considered premature aging,” Dr. Gorodisky said. “Aging is a natural progression of life; it may happen quicker due to exposure to injury, sun radiation, smoke and toxins, poor diet, or damaging chemicals.”

Genetics plays a large role, said Dr. Don Mehrabi, a board-certified dermatologist in Southern California who has offices in Beverly Hills, Encino, and Adventist Health Glendale.

“Certain ethnic groups tend to have skin that seems to age quicker than other ethnicities,” said Dr. Mehrabi, owner of BHSkin Dermatology. “For example, blond hair, blue-eyed persons with fair skin tend to age quicker than pacific islander or Asian skin.”

Dr. Lauren L. Levy, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at Yale University, described premature aging as someone appearing older than their actual age, and having features of looking older or tired earlier than would be expected.

“For example, heavy wrinkles around the eyes or crow’s feet in your twenties,” said Dr. Levy, who further noted the following top five causes of premature aging and how they work:

1. Excessive Ultraviolet Exposure

Excessive ultraviolet exposure including natural sunlight (sunbathing) and tanning beds is the number one cause of premature aging.

“And you thought having a tan makes you youthful and beautiful?” Dr. Levy said. “Excessive tanning and UV exposure cause wrinkling of the skin and loss of collagen which leads to an aged appearance. Additionally, sun exposure leads to unwanted sun spots – their second name is age spots for a reason.”

2. Smoking

Smoking causes vasoconstrictions of blood vessels, which leads to less oxygen to the skin as well as oxidative damage to the skin.

“Smoking also leads to wrinkles by destruction of collagen, elastic fibers, and proteoglcans, which are the building blocks needed for thick youthful skin,” Dr. Levy said.

She noted a study from Case Western Reserve University that used photographs of twins who were different in their smoking preference and found that the smoking twins appeared older than their non-smoking sibling 57% of the time.

3. Excessive Alcohol Consumption

During a hangover, your body is working hard to remove all of the toxins from alcohol.

“Just imagine what your skin is experiencing,” Dr. Levy said. “With repeated and chronic alcohol exposure, the skin can have oxidative stress, which results in damage. Alcohol can lead to dilated blood vessels with facial redness which also contributes to a more aged appearance of the skin.”

4. Lack of Sleep

“Did your mother ever tell you, you look tired?” Dr. Levy hypothesized. “That may have been her nice way of telling you to put some makeup on – at least that’s what it meant in my house.

When you do not get enough pillow-time your eyes may be swollen and discolored – under-eye bags – which takes away from youthful appearance.”

5. Excessive and Restrictive Dieting

During the aging process, facial volume is lost including collagen and bone loss.

“With excessive diets or eating disorders, extreme loss of facial volume can occur which creates a more aged look,” Dr. Levy said.

Now that you’re aware of the top causes of premature aging, the next section offers some warning signs associated with this look so you know what course of action to take.

Warning Signs of Premature Aging

Dr. Levy said that some of these signs include excessive wrinkles around the eyes or mouth, furrows in the eyebrows, or sunspots on the face, neck or hands.

“Sagging skin in the face, and loss of facial volume, are all features of premature aging,” Dr. Levy noted.

Dr. Kerner and Dr. Gorodisky agreed that loss of volume in the face is one of the first warning signs, along with fine lines and wrinkles.

Fortunately, there are ways you can avoid premature aging, which we discuss next.

How to Avoid Premature Aging

Dr. Levy recommends cutting back on alcohol intake and discontinuing smoking. Most importantly, she advises taking sun-protective measures by avoiding sunbathing, wearing a broad-spectrum daily sunscreen every day – even in the winter – on the face, neck, and back of hands, and getting enough sleep.

Dr. Gorodisky agreed to avoid smoking, to stay away from damaging sun radiation and to use sunscreen as a regular practice – as well as eat a healthy diet.

Dr. Kerner re-emphasized to “always wear sunscreen to prevent sun damage.” Additionally, take on healthy eating habits, including fresh fruits and vegetables, salmon, and foods that are higher in omega fatty acids.

If you’re already showing signs of premature aging, take heart. There are ways to treat this damage, which we cover in the next section. Keep in mind that this article is not intended as medical advice. Before you decide to undergo a treatment to address premature aging, be sure to talk to your dermatologist or medical provider, first.

Best Ways to Treat Premature Aging

There are numerous natural acid peels and laser procedures that can help fine lines and hyperpigmentation, Dr. Kerner said, and microneedling is also another great treatment that helps treat premature aging of the face.

“One of the latest treatments is the use of PRP or Platelet Rich Plasma,” Dr. Kerner added. “This is made from your own blood where we can concentrate platelets and inject them back into the areas of the face where there is tissue loss.  This can be used alone or in conjunction with fat transfer.  All of these procedures work by stimulating collagen.”

Dr. Kerner added that as far as sunscreens and moisturizers are concerned, he recommends EltaMD sunscreen and Cosmedix skincare products to a patient especially after cosmetic treatment.

At Dr. Gorodisky’s practice, treatments for premature aging involve stimulation of collagen using fractional lasers, radiofrequency, or microneedling treatments; restoring volume using hyaluronic acid or calcium based fillers; or resurfacing the skin using chemical peels and lasers.

Additionally, adding growth factors and stem cells using platelet-rich plasma and fat-derived stem cells can help.

At BHSkin Dermatology, Botox, fillers, laser resurfacing, microneedling, and chemical peels are used to help diminish uneven color or skin tone.

Additionally, “Radiofrequency microneedling may be the newest and hottest way to help rejuvenate skin,” Dr. Mehrabi said. “IPL treatments (photofacials) are an excellent way to treat uneven skin tone and can be used with chemical peels to help make the skin look even and glow.”

Botox injections can also help with the lines around the mouth, Dr. Mehrabi added. “Also, CO2 laser resurfacing can help with the lackluster crepe-like skin by removing the top layer and forcing the skin to regenerate a new healthy dermis and epidermis.”

There is always hope to improve your looks and reverse the hands of time, especially when under the care of a board certified dermatologist, Dr. Levy said.

“Use of broad-spectrum sunscreen, antioxidants like vitamin C moisturizers, retinoids, and lightening creams are simple measures that can be done at home,” Dr. Levy advised.

She agreed that in-office procedures, such as Botox and fillers, can restore a youthful appearance by erasing wrinkling and restoring facial volume.

“Laser resurfacing, microneedling, and chemical peels are in office procedures that can help improve skin pigmentation, skin texture and fine lines and wrinkles which all result in a younger appearance,” Dr. Levy said. “Since there are so many options for various skin problems, it is always a good idea to get a professional opinion.”

Final Thoughts

If you’ve smoked or sunbathed extensively, it’s not too late to improve your skin.

“Damage accumulates and it is more difficult to treat, but it is never too late to stop the damage and achieve some improvement in the signs of aging,” Dr. Gorodisky said.

“There are many ways to help reverse signs of premature aging,” Dr. Gorodisky added. “Maintaining the results and prevention of further damage can help delay the process. For advanced aging my personal favorite is J-plasma skin resurfacing.”

Dr. Kerner advises to stay out of the sun as much as possible, and always wear sunscreen.

“Eat healthy, exercise and stay hydrated,” Dr. Kerner added. “The nature of your skin is very much reflected in your personal care and diet habits.”

If your skin is uneven due to premature aging, Dr. Mehrabi recommends IPL, chemical peels, or CO2/Erbium resurfacing.

“If your skin is wrinkled or crepe-like, consider Botox/Dysport and laser resurfacing,” Dr. Mehrabi added. “You can mix and match any and all of these.” 

Dr. Levy warned that signs of premature skin aging can also mean unwanted growths and skin cancer.

“So be sure to also schedule a full-body skin exam with a dermatologist to evaluate for cancer, in addition to finding out all the ways keep looking youthful and healthy,” she said.

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Alicia Doyle

Alicia Doyle is an award-winning journalist who has covered a wide range of topics about beauty, cosmetic surgery, and procedures. With an affinity for human-interest stories, she has written hundreds of articles about inspirational people and organizations that have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Top 5 Causes of Premature Aging: What to Avoid and Treatments That Work