You probably know by now that I’m on a bit of an anti-aging mission – namely to have a biological age of twenty-five by the time I am forty years old. Yep, you read right.
But my masochistic journey into immersive journalism, self-discovery, trying the latest and greatest hacks out to report back to you, and desire to test my body's own physical and mental capacity…
…combined with my hectic work and travel schedule undoubtedly take a toll (a toll proven by my recent TeloYears telomere test showing my biological age to be two years older than my chronological age) that, up to this point, can only be attenuated by my blend of tapping into both ancestral wisdom and modern longevity-enhancing science.
And I don’t know about you, but I have no problem admitting that I’m a bit vain. I want to look as good as I feel and have my skin's appearance reflect all of the hard work I put into living well and striving for optimal health. The good news is that proper nutrition and balanced lifestyle factors naturally support healthy skin. You probably already know that. The bad news is that years of strenuous exercise, excessive time spent outside in the elements (especially without proper protection), and any other number of suboptimal lifestyle factors such as the low-fat, high-carb nutrition craze of the past (including my own teenage and college year consumption of copious amounts of pizza, beer and beyond), smoking (yep, I used to smoke a few cigars a week), and drinking (ahem – I may or may not still engage in that particular vice) have all likely contributed to a faster rate of skin aging and taken away some of my youthful glow. And I won't even mention the fact that a few Ironman triathlons here and there haven't helped.
How about you?
Fortunately, there are ways you can help reverse skin damage and protect yourself from future skin woes. So in today’s article, I’m going to dish out to you the best biohacks for skin health so that you don’t have to suffer from wrinkly, dull, or sagging skin as a result of any former bad habits and so that you can be “that person” who appears to have truly cracked the code on defying aging.
What Contributes To Skin Damage And Aging?
Aging of the skin happens intrinsically (or from internal factors) and extrinsically (or from external factors). The typical hard-charging, high-achiever is likely inducing both types of skin aging, both of which are caused by inflammation and free radicals.
Intrinsic aging refers to the structural changes of the skin that occur as a natural consequence of aging and is determined mostly by genetics. Extrinsic aging is caused by things like excessive sun exposure, eating too much sugar and processed foods, stress, lack of sleep, chemical or toxin exposure, low protein, fat and vegetable intake, alcohol abuse, smoking, not drinking enough water, and too much exercise. Extrinsic factors also accelerate intrinsic aging for a nasty one-two whammy.
The low-grade inflammation from both intrinsic and extrinsic factors produce free radicals, which pull electrons from other molecules, altering the chemical structures and biological functions of cells. If you’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet, limiting your intense exercise and allowing for ample sleep and recovery, you still need to protect yourself against extrinsic aging factors that many hard-charging, high-achievers, health enthusiasts and hackers neglect in the name of their various different pursuits.
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation – potent UVA and UVB radiation that easily reaches the earth’s surface, and your skin. The UVB radiation is absorbed in the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, by molecules that can be converted into vitamin D in the human body. Adequate vitamin D is important for bone health, mood, immune function, and fertility. Vitamin D deficiency is actually linked to cancer and a whole host of other chronic diseases, including musculoskeletal disorders, hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular disease.
UVB radiation is also responsible for the majority of sunburns, while UVA radiation can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause DNA damage. Too much UV radiation damages the DNA in your skin cells. If you get too much UV radiation exposure, often the cells will be damaged to the point of undergoing apoptosis, or cell death. It is when DNA damage occurs, but cell death doesn’t, that skin cancer can form.
Chronic sun exposure causes dark spots or hyperpigmentation because, when cells called melanocytes, between the epidermis and the dermis, are exposed to UV rays, they produce a dark substance called melanin that acts as natural sun protection that absorbs UV rays.
UV radiation also damages the collagen and elastin in the skin, leading to accelerated signs of skin aging. Collagen is the principal structural protein that holds skin and any connective tissue together. Elastin is a protein found in any elastic connective tissue and is responsible for a tissue’s ability to bounce back and resume its shape after being stretched. Collagen provides the rigidity and strength of the skin and elastin allows the skin to stretch. UV exposure damages the collagen, making it more cross-linked and rigid, which weakens the skin’s framework. Sun damage also leads to an accelerated loss of collagen, with this study indicating sun-damaged skin having 20% less collagen than non-solar exposed skin. Excessive UV exposure affects elastin too, causing an abnormal accumulation of elastin and the enzyme metalloproteinase. Normally, this enzyme helps sun-damaged skin recover by producing and reforming collagen, but excessive amounts will reduce their effectiveness and actually cause collagen to be broken down, resulting in wrinkles.
Four harmful chemicals you likely come into contact with on a daily basis unless you live on a pristine Himalayan mountaintop include:
1. UV Blockers
In your attempt to protect yourself from the sun damage outlined above, you need to be careful about which sunscreen you use. Many chemical UV blockers (octocrylene, octylmethoxycinnamate, or benzophenone-3) are unstable when exposed to UV radiation and actually cause greater production of reactive oxygen species than what is naturally produced by the unprotected skin when exposed to the same amount of UV illumination. Oxybenzone, or benzophenone-3, is also an endocrine disruptor that has been linked to early puberty, low sperm count, and infertility issues in men and women. PBSA induces DNA damage in human skin cells when exposed to UV rays.
Parabens are preservatives used in makeup, face wash, body wash, lotion, deodorant and shampoo to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen, have been found in breast cancer tissue and may interfere with male reproductive functions.
3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
SLS is a detergent and surfactant, meaning it separates molecules to create a lather and allow better interaction between a product and your body or hair. SLS is a known skin irritant that remains in tissues several days after application. Although it may not be directly linked to cancer, it is manufactured using known carcinogens, trace amounts which may remain in the product, and can combine with other chemicals like triethanolamine to form carcinogens called nitrosamines. These detergents also strip the skin of natural oils needed for protection and moisture.
Fragrances are poorly regulated and the specific compounds used to produce a fragrance often aren’t listed. Many fragrances tested are known to cause allergic contact dermatitis. Phthalates are often added to fragrances and are therefore not listed on labels, even though they are known endocrine disruptors.
Now that you know just a few of the more common ways skin damage can be accelerated and the toxic chemicals to avoid, it’s time to delve into several critical tactics for optimal skin health.
Nutrition And Skin Health
Ketogenic zealots hold your breath…but…glucose is actually a primary fuel source for skin cells. Glucose is also necessary for the extracellular environment of the epidermis (outermost skin layer) where it provides the carbohydrate backbones for proteins and lipids that make up the epidermal barrier. Defects in the regulation of glucose metabolism and insulin signaling (as is seen in diabetes) drastically affect skin structure and may cause blisters, sores, and impaired wound healing. In other words, glucose shouldn't be too high, but you also not be in a state of constant glycogen and carbohydrate depletion. I achieve this with blood sugar controlling tactics like these.
Amino acids from proteins and supplemetns are essential for the production of all skin structures and the epidermal barrier. Individual amino acids and amino acid mixtures have different functions in collagen production and specific supplementation may increase collagen production (which naturally decreases as you age) to help you combat wrinkling and sagging skin. Especially on days where I don't get adequate protein from dietary sources or I'm beating myself up significantly with exercise, I cover most of my more critical bases by taking this essential amino acid supplement.
Lipids (fatty acids) are required for the development of the outermost layer of the skin, for skin cell differentiation, skin cell membranes and for absorbing lipid-soluble nutrients. Essential fatty acid (linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid) deficiency results in scaly skin and increased transepidermal water loss. Therefore, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids are critical to the normal function and appearance of skin and keep your skin hydrated, plumper, and younger looking. I also ensure that I load up with four capsules of this fish oil on just about every day when I'm not planning on mowing down a can of sardines, trout, salmon or beyond.
Nutrition’s influence on skin condition has been studied, with varying results. For instance, this study on skin aging in Japanese women found that higher intake of total fat was significantly associated with increased skin elasticity and that a higher intake of saturated fat and green and yellow vegetables was associated with less severe crow’s feet wrinkling. This study on skin wrinkling in the elderly living in sun-exposed locations showed a high intake of vegetables, legumes and olive oil to be protective, whereas a high intake of meat, dairy and butter seemed to be adverse. A study on skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women found higher intakes of linoleic acid and vitamin C and lower intakes of fats and carbohydrates to be associated with better skin appearance. And finally, for those struggling with acne, a low glycemic load diet seems to improve acne with decreased inflammation and reduced size of sebaceous glands.
Most of the information you’ll find on nutrition and skin health focuses on deficiencies, and that's because the proper structure and function of the skin are supported by key proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. This should be important to note for chronic dieters, hard charging people who aren't consuming adequate calories or nutrients, and anyone eating a diet lacking in calories variety, color or nutrient density. There could be a pretty significant aging trade-off for you!
Best Nutrients For Radiant Skin
The type of eating I most often prescribe will definitely do wonders for your skin, but there are several key nutrients that play important roles in keeping your skin healthy. If you have gut or autoimmune issues, getting a handle on those is vitally important for improving skin. But from there, be sure to get the following nutrients.
Vitamin A influences nearly every aspect of skin function. It promotes cell turnover, thickens and stimulates the dermis, inhibits sebaceous gland activity, and suppresses androgen formation, making it effective for both acne and anti-aging. Dry, rough skin is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency. It is an active ingredient in many topical skin care products, but you can also get it from cod liver oil, liver, and pastured cream, butter and eggs.
Omega-3 fatty acids are potent anti-inflammatories, and optimal dietary intake combined with balancing the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is vital for skin health. High omega-3 intake helps reduce sun damage and the anti-inflammatory properties help treat inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and rosacea. Clinical results also show it to improve overall skin condition and alleviate scaling skin. Cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna are your best sources for omega-3, but you can also take a fish oil supplement.
Zinc plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, cell division, wound healing and immune function. Studies show that zinc reduces acne as effectively as commonly prescribed antibiotics and that it also improves wound healing, protects against UV damage and has anti-inflammatory effects. Consume zinc in organ meat, red meat, shellfish, and pumpkin seeds or by supplementing.
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps prevent and treat UV-induced photo damage and high dietary intake is associated with better skin appearance, reduced wrinkling and decreased risk of dry skin. It regulates collagen production and can increase collagen protein synthesis for better skin repair. Topical and dietary Vitamin C supplementation combat oxidative damage to proteins from both UV damage and intrinsic aging. Vitamin C sources include bell peppers, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.
Selenium is an essential trace mineral and a commonly seen deficiency. It is a necessary component for the antioxidant function of glutathione that protects against free radicals and cell damage and some evidence suggest it may be important in reducing skin cancer risk. Selenium also promotes Vitamin E absorption, increasing the antioxidant function of both nutrients and providing cell membrane protection. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, seafood, organ meats and poultry.
Astaxanthin serves as a natural sunscreen in marine plants and is a red pigment carotenoid that can be consumed through wild caught salmon and krill or supplemented. It is a potent antioxidant that is much more powerful than Vitamin E, CoQ10, Vitamin C, and green tea. This protects your cells from damaging oxidation that leads to aging. Studies have found that astaxanthin prevents UVA-induced DNA damage in skin cells, prevents skin sagging from UVA radiation exposure, and 6 mg per day oral supplementation plus 2 ml topical application has been shown to improve skin wrinkles, age spots, elasticity, texture, and moisture content.
Biohacks For More Beautiful Skin
In addition to diet, there are several additional ways to improve your skin’s appearance without relying on nasty chemicals, botox, or surgery.
Facial massage has been shown to reduce anxiety and negative mood status and it may prevent wrinkles by releasing muscle tension that leads to forehead furrow lines between the brows and along the lips. It also improves sinus drainage and stimulates lymphatic vessels.
To give yourself a facial massage, put a dime-sized portion of a good facial oil on your palm and rub between your hands to evenly distribute it among your palms and fingers. You can also include a facial serum to increase its absorption and enhance the benefits. Begin at your forehead, pressing your fingers between your brows and sliding up and outward along your forehead, repeating several times using gentle, but firm pressure. Then move to your cheeks, gliding fingers from the center of your face out toward your ears. Begin the outward motions just below your under eyes and repeat several times before working your way down your cheeks to your jawline. End with your neck, massaging with vertical upward strokes from your collarbones to your jawline.
Or, if you really want to take things to the next level, use my own personal biohack: attack your entire face with a Myobuddy massage therapy buffer.
There are approximately fifty muscles in your face, and exercising them on a regular basis will give you the same firming and toning benefits as exercising your body muscles, while also helping to tighten sagging skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Forehead and Eye Exercises:
These strengthen the muscles around your forehead and eyes to smooth wrinkles and produce a more awake look
- Put your index fingers about a centimeter above your eyebrows, above the middle of your eyes, and apply gentle pressure. Close your eyes while trying to raise your eyebrows up against your fingers. Repeat 10 times.
- Make peace signs using your index and middle fingers and place your middle fingers where your eyebrows start above your nose and your pointer fingers at the end of your brows. Gently push your fingers up and down while flexing your facial muscles to move your brows up and down, simultaneously. Do 3 sets of 10.
- Close your eyes and with your eyelids relaxed, lift your brows with your index fingers. Keep your eyes closed while lifting, stretching and strengthening your eyelids, and hold for ten seconds. Repeat ten times.
These will strengthen the muscles around your mouth and jaw and give you better control of facial movements.
- Smile big and press your fingers against your cheeks to hold it in place. Close your lips halfway and hold for ten seconds, then close lips fully and hold for ten seconds, using your fingers to resist each movement.
- Hold your mouth, teeth and lips tightly closed, then separate your teeth as much as you can while keeping lips closed. Slowly move your lower jaw forward as far as you can and hold for five seconds. Return jaw to the original position and repeat five times.
Listen to my interview with the computer programmer who designed the software Iris, which pops up on your computer monitor and reminds you to do these type of activities each day.
Dry Skin Brushing
Dry skin brushing naturally exfoliates the skin to remove dead skin cells and clear oil, dirt and residue from pores that contribute to dull, dry, congested skin. The gentle pressure and movement of the bristles may also help stimulate lymph flow to gently detoxify the body. Dry skin brushing proponents also claim that it helps reduce cellulite by improving blood flow to the skin.
To dry skin brush, begin at your feet and brush upwards with long, smooth strokes, always brushing toward the center of your body. Do this along with your arms, then gently brush your stomach and back. You can also use the Myobuddy I mentioned above to achieve the same effect, with a pleasant vibrating sensation.
Red and near-infrared light therapy stimulates the healthier growth of new skin cells, protects against skin damage, helps heal a variety of skin problems like acne, boosts collagen, smooths wrinkles, enhances tone, fades scars and stretch marks and helps treat skin conditions like psoriasis and herpes. I use the Joovv light daily when at home for full body light therapy using LED light in the optimal therapeutic range.
GHK-Cu is a naturally occurring tri-peptide that decreases significantly with age. It has many biological functions, including collagen synthesis and breakdown, attracting immune cells to wound sites, activation of wound healing, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and blood vessel growth. When used in cosmetic products, it has been found to improve skin elasticity and firmness, reduce wrinkles, decrease skin inflammation, and reduce photo damage and hyperpigmentation. You can use GHK-Cu as I describe in this extensive anti-aging peptides article.
Theoretically, cryotherapy works by constricting blood vessels and pushing out excess fluid that can contribute to pain and inflammation. Then, when the session is over, your body redistributes blood, oxygen and nutrients which may accelerate cellular regeneration and healing. This may reduce inflammation, clear up skin issues and increase collagen production to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite. The best way to start? The world famous cold shower.
Although the above hacks will work wonders for your skin, a daily skin care routine – the next step I'll outline – will lay the foundation for your skin's health and keep your skin clean, nourished, and hydrated. And yes, I'm talking you fellas too.
The Components Of A Daily Skin Care Routine
In addition to all of the ways in which you can support and improve skin health and appearance, it’s vitally important to maintain a daily skin care routine that uses high-quality and natural ingredients.
Ladies: washing any makeup off before a workout will ensure any pore-clogging substances don’t penetrate deep into your skin leading to irritation and breakouts as you run sweat off your face and cleansing afterward removes the irritating sweat, bacteria, and environmental toxins that may have accumulated on your skin’s surface. This will reduce skin irritation and breakouts.
Guys: Cleansing is something you can do after shaving or in the morning or evening after a shower. Of course, it's important to look for products that are free from harmful chemicals, such as those containing parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate or phthalates and fragrances.
Because your skin is constantly exposed to the elements, providing it with nutrients and antioxidants will help combat aging. There are many potent herbal extracts and serums that will do this. Look for blends that specifically address your individual skin care needs. More on that below.
After washing, you’ll want to balance the skin and replenish any of the oils and moisturizing compounds that may have been washed away. Antioxidant-rich seed oils soothe and condition the skin without clogging pores and causing breakouts.
Skin Care Products To Use
Finding skin care products that include high-quality, nourishing ingredients that address your specific skin care needs with targeted nutrients and formulations, and that don’t contain a bunch of nasty chemicals can be a difficult task. Heck, a few years ago I was so fed up that I actually created my own anti-aging skin serum. But that serum is just one component of a well-rounded skin care routine.
If you’re looking for a complete skin care system that meets all of the above criteria of cleansing, nourishing and hydrating, I recommend checking out Annmarie Gianni skin care products, a recent discovery of mine.
Annmarie Gianni (wife of a very cool author and friend of mine named Kevin Gianni, who wrote a fantastic book called “Kale & Coffee“) makes wildcrafted, organic, and effective products that don't contain any toxic chemicals. I've personally been using and loving her unique products so much that I've twisted her arm to create a special offer for you.
Annmarie has put together a trial package where you can try any of her three special sample kits that include some of her best-selling products. You can choose any sample kit you'd like based on your skin type – normal, oily, or dry.
These kits are just $10 each and when you order one (or more) you’ll receive a $10 off coupon that you can use for any future purchase. Annmarie is, out of the kindness of her heart, also offering free shipping for these kits – anywhere in the world.
Also, when you get a sample kit today, you'll get her newly updated Toxic Free Home Guide. This is an in-depth guide that exposes the worst and most common chemicals you can find throughout your house – in cleaning products, toiletries, even your couch – and shows you safe alternatives to use. It’s also chock full of tips for creating a beautifully natural home, with plenty of helpful product recommendations and DIY recipes for everything from deodorant to drain cleaning solution.
Finally, as an extra added bonus, if you’re one of the first 100 folks to order after reading this post, Annmarie will send you a travel size Anti-Aging Serum (an $18 value) to you for free. If you're one of the first to buy, this bonus gift will not show up on your online receipt but will be included in your order.
Geez. That's a full sample kit for nourishing, cleansing and hydrating, a toxic free home guide, free shipping, and if you decide to not lollygag too long, some extra anti-aging skin serum. Quite generous, eh? Get your sample kit and bonuses here today!
There are definitely a lot of variables to consider when addressing the state of your skin’s health and appearance, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
In summary keys to beautiful skin are:
- Avoiding excessive sun exposure or using proper sun protection (not the chemical-laden kind)
- Avoiding harmful chemicals and toxins
- Eating a balanced diet filled with key nutrients and antioxidants
- Incorporating more advanced skin biohacks as often as you can (review those above in this article for my best picks)
- Maintaining a skin care routine with well-formulated, high-quality, all-natural ingredients
What are your secrets for radiant, youthful skin? Anything important you think I missed? Let me know in the comments below, and don't forget to scroll up and take advantage of Annmarie's quite generous offer!