Are Ultra-Processed Foods Associated With Faster Aging?

woman eats processed foods that may lead to premature aging

Maintaining a youthful look is our area of expertise here at Hess Plastic Surgery, and in our work interacting with patients, we see a wide range in how people age. While visible aging will depend on your genetics and sun exposure levels, what you put into your body also plays a part. According to a recent study by Maira Bes-Rastrollo, PhD, ultra-processed foods may be accelerating your skin’s aging process.

What are ultra-processed foods?

Unlike whole and minimally-processed foods, ultra-processed foods typically have many added ingredients to make them taste good and last longer. They are often full of sugar, salt, fat, and/or artificial colors and preservatives. Common types of ultra-processed foods are:

  • Frozen meals
  • Soda
  • Hot dogs and deli meat
  • Fast food
  • Shelf-stable pastries and sweets
  • Chips

While an occasional indulgence isn’t likely to accelerate your aging process, if your diet is largely based on the above foods, consider starting to make swaps, lessening your intake of more processed choices in favor of simpler, whole foods.

Take care of your telomeres

Health experts found that eating ultra-processed foods can shorten the length of your DNA’s telomeres, making your skin cells more vulnerable to aging. An Experimental Dermatology study reported that lab mice with shortened telomeres were more likely to experience slow wound healing, skin ulcers, and even premature hair greying and hair loss.

If you’re eating a diet rich in ultra-processed foods, chances are your skin (and waist line) is showing it.

According to Dr. Bes-Rastrollo, common causes of telomere atrophy include oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are associated with dehydration—and ultra-processed foods. Oxidative stress results in an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in your body, with a variety of results including impairing your immune system and making your skin look older.

Furthermore, when you eat too much sugar (or sugar-like substances including alcohol or white flour), your body enters a state of glycation in which sugar molecules bind themselves to protein and fat molecules like collagen and create free radical by-products called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). The older you get, the less able your skin is to produce collagen and the more these AGEs can decrease your skin’s elasticity, making it appear loose.

In addition to making your skin look older, eating ultra-processed foods—especially those high in sugar—can also stimulate oil production in the skin, causing acne breakouts.

What you can do to avoid skin damage and promote skin health

Aside from avoiding ultra-processed foods, what can you do to improve your skin’s health?

  • Diet. Remember, your skin is affected by what you put inside your body as well as by what it’s exposed to. One major way to help nourish your skin from the inside is by eating foods rich in antioxidants. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that subjects who ate vegetables, olive oil, fish, and legumes were less likely to experience skin wrinkling when exposed to extended periods of time in the sun than those who ate notable amounts of dairy, margarine, and sugar.
  • Hydration. We mentioned earlier that dehydration can be associated with shortened telomeres, meaning duller skin. Dry skin is flaky and more prone to wrinkling. Your skin cells need water just like all other cells in your body, so drink up.
  • Sun protection. If you know you’re going to be spending time in the sun, apply a high-SPF sunscreen. We also advocate for daily sunscreen use; there are now light, sophisticated formulas you won’t mind wearing. Also consider using a sun hat and wearing long layers to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Ways to refresh your skin from the outside

If your skin is already showing signs of aging that you’d like to repair, consider looking into a skin resurfacing treatment. These treatments are a quick and easy way to make your skin look younger and more radiant. At Hess Plastic Surgery, we offer a number of skin renewal options to help your skin look its best:

  • The Vi Peel® is a chemical peel that is effective for treatment of unwanted pigment changes caused by acne scarring and sun damage. We often recommend this peel for patients with age spots, freckles, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (when your skin darkens after it’s been damaged). A Vi Peel® can tighten your pores, improve your skin’s texture, and smooth out uneven complexions.
  • Microdermabrasion is a process of mechanically exfoliating the skin. At our office, this is performed using a device consisting of a diamond tip on a wand attached to a vacuum. The tip is passed over the skin and the vacuum removes the exfoliated skin cells, leaving you with fresher-looking skin.
  • Chemical peels—also called chemexfoliations or derma peels—are acids that penetrate the skin at different depths, damaging old skin. The skin cells are no longer able to adhere to each other, causing the skin to peel. This stimulates the growth of new skin cells and collagen, leading to healthy new skin.

Schedule a consultation with our expert Fairfax, Virginia aesthetician today

While making healthy lifestyle choices will support your skin’s health and appearance, it’s perfectly understandable to want to look your best now, and we’re here to help. Contact us online or call 703-752-6608 to learn more about how we can increase your skin’s natural glow.

See Pricing & Financing703.752.6608