Despite warnings from wrist-slapping pundits, I never really believed the lifestyle you lead could show on your face. We have wrinkle doctors, Touche Eclat and endless ways to manipulate light for that. It seemed absurd that my monthly benders or daily chocolate bar could make any difference.
But earlier this year, I was forced into a rethink after stumbling upon changemyface.com, a website run by Auriole Prince, a forensic artist specialising
in Age Progression. Trained by the FBI, Prince’s day job is in ageing missing persons and criminals in police investigations. The lifestyle an individual has led, she says, plays a key part in the way she ages their face. Now through her site, people can have their images manipulated in the same way to see how they would look after certain surgery procedures or – if they really wanted it – how they would age after a life spent smoking, drinking or eating too much of the wrong foods.
Staring down the barrel of 42, I’d begun to notice signs that perhaps my lifestyle was making me look older. Morning ‘pillow marks’ took longer to disappear, I needed to see my reflection in ever-lowering light to be able to leave the house with self-esteem intact, only to get a fright when – under the normal wattage of any public toilet mirror – I saw what I really looked like. Shopkeepers always called me ‘madam’. People asked me ‘what’s wrong’ when I was perfectly happy. I had begun to notice the same signs of age in my girlfriends. Even the Botoxed ones.
‘After 40, your body stops forgiving you for your lifestyle,’ said my dermatologist, Dr Nicholas Lowe at London’s Cranley Clinic, coming at me with a syringe containing my bi-annual botulinum toxin top-up. ‘Botox and filler can only do so much,’ he said. ‘But smoking, drinking and eating a diet high in sugar can do irreversible damage.’
Studies on identical twins like these have compared one leading a healthy life with another that has smoked, drank and eaten a diet high in processed food and sugar and seen around 15 years added to the appearance of the skin.
In the past there have been days when I can’t face a deadline without a Galaxy Bar or three. Having smoked sporadically in my 20s – about a pack of 20 every couple of days – I gave it up at 30 though I’m still known to have the odd puff after a few merlots.
Ahh merlot – my friend. Getting older hasn’t mellowed my taste for it. I used to have a glass of red every other night, and every couple of weeks go out and get a little tipsy – well okay, shattered – with my girlfriends. Most women I know drink the same way. Anyone of them will tell you that’s absolutely normal, for any professional, 30 or 40 something with a social life, family and stressful job.
My nights out had even developed their own name. Shout Offs. Feeling ‘let out’ I would get so happy go lucky I’d somehow end up taking unregistered mini-cabs home, screaming in private clubs about the state of the economy and flirting with strange men so that post night out my handbag contained cards from pimply insurance salesmen. The summer before last my husband Kevin, after spotting me clutching my wine glass while watering the garden, began to call me ‘Joanie’ followed by a little hiccup, after a boozing Joan Crawford.
To investigate exactly what lifestyle does to skin, I talked to experts in ageing, dermatology and plastic surgery and asked Auriole Prince to doctor my image using Age Progression techniques showing what I would look like in ten years time as a result of smoking, drinking or eating too much sugar.
NOW AT 42
‘In the photo of Anna as she really is today there’s still a lack of wrinkles and the skin has a plump, smooth texture, evidence of good genes and a reasonably good lifestyle in her 30s,’ says Dr Lowe. ‘In the doctored shots, Anna looks at least ten-15 years older with deep wrinkles, skin redness, bloating and sagging. These photographs show exactly what an unhealthy lifestyle can do to your face.’
AFTER A DECADE OF SMOKING
Deep wrinkles ‘Smoking makes all lines worse by damaging the collagen and elastin in the skin that give it its plumpness,’ says anti-ageing physician Dr Lynette Yong.
Tooth damage ‘Smoking, as well as red wine and orange sugary drinks stain teeth,’ says Harley Street dental surgeon Dr Simon Darfoor. ‘Smoking also leads to gum disease and tooth loss with 42 per cent of smokers aged over 60 having none of their own teeth.’
Sagging brow, eyelids and cheeks ‘With age the muscles, fat and bones under the skin shrink and this can lead to sagging,’ says Dr Yong. ‘Smoking deoxygenates the blood so you get less nutrients going to the skin, dramatically accelerating this sagging’.
Dark circles ‘Reduced circulation makes skin appear sluggish and dark circles become more prominent,’ says Dr Yong.
10 YEARS OF BOOZING
Redness ‘Drinking causes enlargement of the blood vessels,’ says Dr Lowe. ‘This causes flushing and if you’re prone to rosacea, could exacerbate it’.
Thread veins ‘After flushing from occasional or moderate drinking, blood vessels usually bounce back,’ says Dr Lowe. ‘But if someone with a tendency towards flushing drinks to excess night after night, in as little as two years the blood vessels lose tone and they can end up with permanent redness and thread veins’.
Faint necklace lines. ‘These go horizontally across the neck and occur at points where the skin attaches to underlying tissue to hold the skin up,’ says Dr Yong. ’These lines are hereditary and little that can be done about them other than surgery though drinking, smoking, sun exposure and a sugary diet can make them worse. Plus, if you have poor neck posture and chronically slump your chin forward, then the tissues over time sag and make these lines more prominent’.
Crow’s feet ‘Big drinkers are chronically deficient in vitamin A which is essential to collagen and elastin formation,’ says plastic surgeon Dr Jonathan Staiano, of Liberate Cosmetic Surgery Group.
Forehead lines ‘Drinking dehydrates the skin leaving which can lead to sallowness, deepening of wrinkles and increased dryness,’ says Dr Yong.
A DECADE’S JUNK AND SUGAR HABIT
Lines and sagging
‘A diet high in sugar and high glycaemic carbohydrates such as breads, rice, starches, potatoes, baked goods, pastas, desserts and soft drinks can lead to glycation in the skin,’ says Dr Nicholas Perricone, dermatologist and the world’s leading authority on diet and ageing. ‘This is where sugar molecules attach to collagen fibres and cause them to lose their strength and flexibility so the skin becomes less elastic and more vulnerable to sun damage, lines and sagging.’ Avoid over-exercise. ’Too much physical exertion in the form of long periods spent on running and other aerobic exercise or hours of weight training can have a detrimental effect on skin and promote ageing,’ says Dr Nicholas Perricone. ’This causes the production of more of the same inflammatory free radicals that a sugary diet produces’.
Waxy, bloated face ‘Too much sugar and white, refined carbohydrates can give skin a soft, doughy look,’ says Dr Perricone. ‘The sharp definition, contoured cheekbones and crisp jaw line become blurred because carbs create an inflammatory response that causes more inflexible skin, puffiness and a loss of radiance.’
Pimples ‘A high sugar diet makes you more prone to infection,’ says Dr Staiano. ‘In the skin this manifests as acne and as bugs feed on sugar, the more you eat the more pimples you may have.’
Grey, thin skin ‘Eating a low protein diet makes the epidermis or outer layer of the skin thin and crepey, leaving it looking grey and sallow,’ says Dr Staiano.
AGE PROGRESSION IMAGE HOW I WILL LOOK ANYWAY
Nothing prepared me for how real these images would look. My husband Kevin was walking past the computer and caught a glimpse as I opened the one after ten years spent eating a high sugar, high junk food diet. I thought I looked like the pre-diet Monica Gellor. But he wasn’t impressed.
‘One word,’ he said. ’Divorce.’ I don’t think he was joking. But then again, he is no Mona Lisa himself. See below.
I couldn’t relate to the images and talked about them in the third person while going through the wrinkle-by-wrinkle damage with the doctors. ‘In the smoking one, she looks saggy…,’ I would say, unable to believe it was me.
Although I am often the delivery girl for many a heart disease or liver cirrhosis warning in print, there has been nothing more powerful than this excursion into the future of my face to drive home the effect of my lifestyle on my face.
Since seeing the images I have thanked God repeatedly that I gave up smoking 12 years ago, virtually given up sugar altogether and cut back dramatically on my drinking even managing one complete night out on mineral water in a wine glass – no one even noticed.
Read more about this and how to control some of the damage in the November issue of UK Marie Claire magazine