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Genetics can define speed of aging

March 25, 2012
By LESLIE LETUSICK - Copy editor ( , The Herald-Star

Age, more specifically my age, has been an issue for others for years. No one seems to be able to determine it. I have been told that I look younger than I am. Here are a few examples.

First, I went to dinner in Wheeling with a few friends, all of whom were a year, maybe two, older than me. I was the only one carded. The others weren't too happy about that. Second, that guy at amusement parks that tries to guess your age actually incorrectly guesses mine. I won some stupid little trinket. Third, when I worked in retail while in college, one of my fellow co-workers thought she couldn't invite me to a "male revue" because I wasn't old enough. You only have to be 18 to attend one of those shows. I was 20.

Those days are now long behind me.

My mom thinks that my hair color makes me look older, not older just my age. What? If I look my age, that is older since people once thought I was younger than I am. She says my blonde hair made me look younger. Since my hair has "changed" (that's what we'll call it) to brown and occasionally red, she thinks I look my age.

Maybe that's the case. Maybe it is the color of hair. Do I accept it gracefully or buy a bottle of bleach?

While contemplating this thought and staring into the mirror the other night, I noticed crow's feet and laugh lines. NOOO! It was a sad day. Of course, people have told me I'm crazy, but these same people don't stare at my face extremely close up without makeup. They are there, trust me.

With the realization of the aging process hitting me in the face, I started looking for tips to "prevent" aging or if I even have a chance based on my genetics. I stumbled upon an article from The author consulted several dermatologists and came up with a list of seven things that contribute to how you age.

According to experts, while environmental and lifestyle factors no doubt play a major role in how you age, genetic luck is the foundation of the equation. A 2009 study of twins published in the Archives of Dermatology revealed that up to 60 percent of skin aging is due to genetics

However, this fact could work against you if the assumption that you have "good" genetic odds leads you to not care for your skin, says Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban. "Moral of the story: Don't count on your genes to save you from a poor lifestyle. It's genetics and environmental damage to genetic code that determine the speed you age."

First, check out how your parents have aged. First- degree relatives can give you the strongest sense of how you'll age. "We inherit the rate at which our cells turn over, how quickly damage is repaired, and how much collagen is produced," says Shamban. But remember, environmental factors like smoking, sun and lack of exercise are thought to be among the biggest threats to the breakdown of coding, no matter what your genetic background.

Second, do you have a baby face? Experts say it's the round-faced among us who will reap the richest anti-aging benefits.

Scientists refer to a baby face as a "neotenous" facial structure, which is characterized by large round eyes, round cheeks, a large curved forehead, a small jaw, a small, short nose and features that are located lower down the face.

Third, check out your cheekbones. There's a reason great bone structure is beloved; it creates the shape of an upside-down "triangle of youth" that dermatologists often refer to as the greatest subconscious indicator that a person is young. With age, jowls and other features can droop, turning that triangle bottom-heavy and making you look old. However, with high cheekbones supporting your face, that triangle shape won't droop as much, nor as soon.

Fourth, do you have strong bones and teeth? With the passage of time or less-than-auspicious genes, teeth can wear down to a shorter length and move inwards, resulting in a sunken look, thinner lips and more wrinkling around the mouth and cheek area. Straight, square-shaped teeth will maintain a sharper jawline as you age, providing uplifting support for facial features. Strong bones perform the same support structure for the body, with diseases like osteoporosis and anorexia rapidly accelerating age. Experts say to "keep your bones healthy with weight-bearing exercises and eat a calcium-rich diet to look younger longer."

Fifth, check out the thickness of your hair. Flowing, thick locks of hair have long been an evolutionary signal of health, as a well-nourished body and diet rich in nutrients like biotin are necessary to grow a crowning head of hair. People with thin hair, or no hair, tend to look older than people of the same age who have thicker hair.

Sixth, is your face symmetrical? Genetic facial patterns play a role in determining the pattern of aging, says dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger. As babies develop in the womb and through childhood, stressors such as toxins, disease and emotional trauma can affect symmetrical growth. As a result, adults with higher facial symmetry show a strong resistance to stressors they may have encountered growing up. Time and gravity can also cause sagging, pigmentation and wrinkling that emphasizes asymmetries in the face, making the complexion look less and less even with passing years. So if you begin with strong symmetry, the marks of age will take longer to look apparent on your face.

And last but not least, what is your skintone? Olive to darker skintones tend to age less quickly. Why? The greater amount of melanin in deeper skintones can preserve the youth of your skin longer. However, the environment comes in to play here.

While you can't fight genetics (they are either for or against you), you can try to prevent facial aging. offers nine tips to help prevent - not stop (we can only dream) - facial aging.

1. Sleep on your back to avoid pulling on the delicate skin of your face.

2. Stick to a nightly routine of cleansing your face of the dirt, makeup and oil of the day to keep pores small and tight and prevent skin irritation.

3. Be gentle with the delicate skin around your eyes. Always apply makeup and cream in a circular upward motion.

4. Don't smoke as smoking generates a lot of free radicals and can speed the aging process.

5. Be vigilant when it comes to sun exposure. Always use SPF containing makeup and moisturizers. Wear large sunglasses to keep from squinting constantly.

6. Exercise. Exercise increases blood circulation and metabolism. It keeps you young and healthy which in turn will keep your skin looking young and fresh as well.

7. Keep hydrated and eat a balanced diet.

8. Use natural products when you can.

9. Consume antioxidants to help your body eliminate free radicals, which lead to aging.

Unfortunately, aging is a fact of life. From the day we are conceived we begin aging. My son says he gets bigger as every minute of the day passes. He's right. We age with every passing minute. We can either accept that and move on with our lives or dwell on it and make those facial features look even older from the stress. The choice belongs to us as individuals.

I chose to accept it and move on. I am going to enjoy life as it comes and accept everything that comes with it. I'm not saying I will go easily. I'll put up a fight if I can. But I'm not going to stay up nights worrying about it. Besides, I need all the sleep I can get to help slow the aging process, right?

(Letusick, a resident of Rayland, is a copy editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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