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Ask the expert Wrinkles
Last updated July 9, 2020. 4 minute read

How to reverse aging: things you can do today

Dr. Michele S. Green is a board-certified dermatologist who runs her own practice in New York City. Dr. Green is a graduate from Yale University with an MD from Mount Sinai Medical School in NYC and treats a wide range of cosmetic dermatological issues ranging from premature skin aging to hyperpigmentation, rosacea, acne, skin cancer, and hair loss.

Dr Michele Green Photo 2 1

Dr. Michele Green, MD

Michele Green, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. In 2019, she was included in Castle Connolly Top Doctors and New York magazine's list of the city's best dermatologists.

Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Although concerns about aging are always normal in my patients, they’re more common than ever since the coronavirus pandemic started. Now that I can see some patients safely in-person, the first thing they all say is, “I feel like I look old.” Aging can be caused by a wide range of physical and psychological sources—like worrying about the economy for three months straight—but the underlying aging process is the same: Our body is made up of millions of cells. These cells get replaced constantly as old cells die. They continue to multiply over and over again. However, a cell has a set amount of times it can multiply before it dies. So, throughout the body, as more cells get damaged, you begin showing signs of aging.

At a young age, your body is able to repair damaged cells. However, as you get older, the repair system is not as efficient as it once was. Our organs are made up of different tissue groups, so the same concept applies to our organs. Cells are the building blocks of our bodies and our tissues. So again, as we age, our cells stop dividing and die, and, because of this, our tissues start to change, and so do our organs. They start to age and slowly lose their functions and show the effects of aging. A good example is your skin cells: the fewer skin cells you have, the thinner your skin will get, and the less elastin you will have, which causes wrinkles to appear. 

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Cosmetically, wrinkles, and fine lines aren’t the only signs of aging, so anti-aging treatments or tactics should address more than just those. These other cosmetic markers of aging of the skin include hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sunspots, and uneven texture and tone. All of these can make one look older, and it’s important to address all skin concerns equally if you’re trying to look younger.

Is it possible to reverse aging?

It’s not possible to completely reverse aging; it’s the process of life. However, you can slow it down and help prevent age-related diseases by living a healthy lifestyle as you get older and using treatments that help slow the physical signs of aging. That includes healthy habits such as maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding the sun to prevent sun damage (or wearing sunscreen when it’s unavoidable), and exercising—which will help with building muscle mass that can fill out loose skin and make it look tighter and perkier. All of these things can help slow down aging and create a more youthful appearance. Internally, these healthy habits can also ensure your biological age, how old your body seems, paces behind your chronological age, or how many years you’ve been alive.

There are also cosmetic procedures that can slow down aging that people may refer to when they talk about how to reverse aging. Many anti-aging skincare products can help reduce the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Products that include retinol, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C are all wonderful ingredients that help your skin look more youthful and healthier. As you age, a couple of things happen to your skin: you can get discoloration (dark spots) from sun exposure, wrinkles, and fine lines may form, and your skin can lose volume from a lack of collagen. These products address those concerns. Hyaluronic acid, for instance, helps your skin cells hold onto more water, which creates a plump, dewy complexion that looks younger. Vitamin C can brighten dark spots, and retinol is known for its ability to soften fine lines and wrinkles. These are all easy interventions you can start early for prevention and do from home.

But if you want a stronger approach, there are also procedures that can be done by a dermatologist that more aggressively address these skin issues at the cellular level. Even better, some of these procedures help you address not only current skin issues but also prevent future ones. These include:

  • Thermage. This treatment uses radiofrequency technology to safely heat the inner layers of your skin. Thermage is a wonderful procedure because it tightens the skin by promoting new collagen growth. The heat tightens the existing collagen, giving you some immediate firming results while encouraging your body to produce more of its own collagen, which means the results keep coming long after you’ve left the office. There’s no downtime, and most people get it done every year and a half, making it easy to maintain.
  • Fraxel. Fraxel is a non-invasive laser treatment that has two settings: one for hyperpigmentation from sun damage and another for acne scars and wrinkles. As the skin repairs tiny injuries made by the laser, it also works to grow new skin cells and heal the older damage visible from sun exposure and other problems. I call this one “the magic eraser” because of its dramatic results.
  • Dermal fillers. These treatments address the gaunt, sunken look that sometimes happens as we get older. As we age, our collagen—which gives parts of our body structure, like our cheeks and lips—breaks down. There are many different types of fillers that can plump these areas again, making them look more youthful. It doesn’t reverse the process, but it does create the appearance of it.
  • Neuromodulators. Although Botox is the best known, there’s also Dysport and Xeomin. These injections create a youthful appearance by smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles. But they can also help prevent signs of aging in the future. Because these treatments prevent muscle movement, they can stop future lines from forming.

But you should also play defense

The flip side of the coin is that certain habits can speed up aging. You want to avoid all the different ways you could have bad eating habits. Not having enough antioxidants, for example, will lead to skin cells being damaged due to free radicals. Another thing to avoid is smoking and drinking, which can cause drastic effects to your health and appearance. Smoking can cause fine lines and wrinkles; it’ll make your skin look dull and less youthful and, overall, make you look older than you already are. Avoid going into the sun without sunscreen; excessive exposure to the sun can lead to sun damage, which results in wrinkles, sunspots, and poor skin texture.

Non-cosmetic ways to reverse aging

Aging is an internal and external process. That means that cosmetic procedures to address external signs of aging aren’t your only options if you’re thinking holistically about reversing aging. Intermittent fasting may be one tool you can use, for example. It can increase the body’s metabolic activity resulting in an overall improvement in health—and skin as well. But it’s also important to remember that you need to strike a healthy balance, even with these anti-aging strategies. If the fasting becomes extensive to the point at which it negatively affects nourishment, the signs will be evident on the skin. It’s important to find a proper balance so that you don’t cause any harm to your skin and, most importantly, your health.