How to Avoid 'Recession Wrinkles' and Frown Lines

Economic woes threaten to age your face faster. Here's what to do.

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Here's a little insight into how I come up with blog ideas. I was reading a New York Times article about Obama's new press secretary, Robert Gibbs, and was stopped short by this sentence: "Gibbs is about to start a job that, like the presidency, seems to age its occupants disproportionately to the years they spend in the job," writes reporter Mark Leibovich.

Is that the case with Bush's current press secretary, Dana Perino, who's been in the office just 16 months? I wondered. I looked at some before and after photos of the strikingly attractive Perino—"Dana Perino hot" is a popular Google search term, yielding 159,000 hits—and had to admit that Leibovich was right. Check out this photo of her from 2006 (left), a year before she took the helm as press secretary, and now (right): 

"The average president ages two years for every year he's in office, and the same goes for press secretaries," says Michael Roizen, a physician who heads the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and coauthor of You, Being Beautiful. By that calculation, Perino—who's two years behind me chronologically—is now about my age.

Turns out, chronic stress is the greatest aging accelerator of all, Roizen tells me. And far too many of us are probably speeding up our aging clocks as we sweat it out over this recession or depression (choose the term you prefer). Women, it seems, are particularly vulnerable, since we're more worried than men over financial issues and (at the moment) finding money for holiday gifts.

Like Perino, we may see the toll that stress takes written on our faces. For one thing, we frown more when we're anxious, and these muscle movements bend the skin like cardboard. "If you bend it often enough," Roizen says, "you're going to put a crease in it." What's worse, chronic stress damages the inner lining of the arteries, causing the vessels to constrict; this, in turn, makes the skin shrivel, creating wrinkles. "Think how great you look right after sex when your vessels dilate, smoothing out your wrinkles and leaving you flushed and glowing," he adds. Now flip that, and you've got the ravages of stress.

So what can you do?

All those things that reduce stress—coffee with friends, yoga, meditation, running—certainly can help protect your arteries and keep your skin supple. Wearing sunscreen with zinc oxide and avoiding smoking are also key to guarding against wrinkle-producing inflammation caused by too much sun or by tobacco. And getting adequate sleep stimulates growth hormone, promoting the production of collagen and elastin to keep your skin taut.

Beyond that, basic skin care is crucial, particularly when you're going through a rough patch. Roizen recommends a two-step approach. Exfoliate with a mild scrub at least once a week to slough off dead skin cells and promote the production of new ones. Use a protective face cream at night to help stimulate your skin's production of collagen and elastin fibers. Roizen says there are only eight examples of skin cream ingredients that have solid scientific backing. These include:

  • Vitamin A (retinoids)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin or nicotinamide)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid, panthenol)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E* Alpha-hydroxy acids
  • Ubiquinone or coenzyme Q10
  • Ferulic acid (small molecule antioxidant)
  • He also leaves me with a bit of good news. Stress-induced accelerated aging "can be reversible," Roizen says, after you return to a calmer state. "Just look at Bill Clinton. He looks much better today than when he first left office." I'll bet Dee Dee Myers does, too.