The secret of looking young is simply to stay out of the sun. A study of hundreds of women has revealed that those who avoided the sun’s rays looked up to 20 years younger than they actually are.
However, other supposed rules for a youthful complexion, from drinking lots of water to sleeping well and exercising regularly, failed to hold back the hands of time. Only keeping out of the sun, and wearing sunscreen when this wasn’t possible, made a difference.
The intriguing finding comes from a study of 231 women of all ages who were quizzed about their lives, including whether they were sun-worshippers.
When researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in the US – commissioned by skincare firm Olay – guessed how old the women were, they found those who took care in the sun tended to have aged more slowly.
A lucky four had so few wrinkles and age spots, and such a glowing complexion, that they appeared to be a full two decades younger than they really were.
Researcher Dr Alexa Kimball, a professor of dermatology, said the popular perception that we drink lots of water to stay healthy is a myth and the body is ‘pretty good’ at judging how much we need.
Previous research by the British Nutrition Foundation reached a similar conclusion.
Experts there said: ‘Just drinking water for the sake of drinking water really has no effect on improving the appearance of skin.’
It isn’t clear why the women who slept well didn’t have younger-looking skin. But it may be that the question they were asked was too narrow and didn’t take into account their long-term sleep patterns.
A second study, also by Olay, suggested that low-level day to day exposure to the sun is more ageing that occasional, intense blasts.
Finally, DNA examination of tiny samples of the women’s skin gave some insight into the damage done by the sun.
A gene called CDKN2A was more active in facial skin that is exposed to the elements than on samples taken from the buttocks.
This gene was also more active in women who said they loved the sun – and in those who looked older.
Dr Kimball said CDKN2A activity is a sign that a cell is ‘tired out’ and urged women should protect their skin year round and not just when on a beach holiday.
She added: ‘It’s not just what you are born with, it’s also what you do with it.’
Dr Frauke Neuser, principal scientist at Olay, which has used the research to develop its latest face creams, said: ‘This research gives us a detailed picture of the effect of sun exposure on skin ageing and illustrate the importance of protection on a daily basis.’
Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: ‘When it comes to skin ageing prevention is more important than a cure, as once damage has occurred it is very hard to hide or reverse it.’
He said that while UV light is a ‘major culprit’, smoking is also very damaging.