As an avid runner, I have been dismayed to discover the term “runner’s face” is all too real when it comes to the effects on facial ageing. The loss of fat and facial volume is unfortunately a normal sign of ageing, and one that contributes to the formation of fine lines, wrinkles and even those very deep lines. Biostimulatory treatments, injectable skincare, dermal fillers and lasers have all become increasingly popular over the last decade as a result, and there most certainly are ways to slow the natural pace of ageing (and without looking weird too, if you go to the right person). However, it does strike me as a bit unfair (and alarming, considering my love of running) that exercising regularly, and basically taking care of yourself could paradoxically increase the rate at which you appear to be ageing.
So although there are ways to gently turn back the hands of time, as always, my focus is on what can be done to reduce or prevent the decline in the first place. Personally I think a lot of what typically constitutes “runner’s face” is actually sun damage, so the first two steps to prevention are chosen accordingly.
1. Sunscreen – SPF 30-50, with some element of physical sunscreen during the summer. Sunscreen can be both chemical and physical. The really thick, gloopy white stuff that gives you an Adam’s family glare is usually purely physical, while your moisturiser or make up tends to contain chemical sunscreen, which doesn’t affect appearance too much. When running in the summer months, I use a slightly thicker one, that is a combination of physical and chemical – so I (hopefully) don’t appear sickly pale, but get the benefit of strong protection.
2. Wear a hat. I wear a peaked hat pretty much anytime I step out for a run, in winter, at 5am, when it’s cloudy etc. it’s just become a habit. Sunscreen is good, but it sweats off and as I tend to get a bit of hyper pigmentation (darker patch of skin) on my forehead, this helps prevent it becoming more obvious.
3. Eat fat. Yes, running is a great way of keeping fit and can help you lose a few excess pounds if that’s your aim, but the low-fat diet that tends to accompany frequent running is doing anything but reducing the appearance of ageing. A very interesting study published in the Lancet medical journal last year showed that a higher intake of fat was associated with a lower risk of mortality (risk of death – uplifting, I know) and that saturated fat was actually linked to a lower risk of stroke. Higher carbohydrate intake (NB sugar!) was linked to a higher risk of mortality. What all of that basically means is that the proverbial “fat makes you fat” is not only untrue, but it may be the opposite. Good fats are extremely important to maintain healthy skin, and you need some amount of fat on your face to appear youthful. I have increased the amount of fat I eat over the last year, and find it easy to add in macadamia nuts, flaxseed oil and avocados (I love avocados – a bowl of guacamole in place of dinner happens occasionally, I’m not going to lie). Bulletproof coffee for breakfast is another way I up my intake, which I’ve written about here.
4. Watch out for sugar – sports drinks, Gatorade, gels…they do give you a sometimes much needed boost during a race. However the sugar content in some (if not all) of those products can be crazily high. An excessive intake of sugar has been linked to a variety of health issues, but it can also contribute to premature ageing of the skin itself. When there is an excess of sugar in the body (Hi there, festive season, and your diet that consisted solely of sugar), protein molecules can cross-link with sugar molecules, resulting in things called advanced glycation end products (AGEs, very appropriately). AGEs cause an increase in inflammation (not good) and tend to like hanging out with the elastin and collagen in your skin (once again, not so good). The more sugar you eat, the more of these AGEs you produce, and the faster your collagen breaks down, and your skin ages.
5. Find other ways to reduce stress – I have relied on running so much for stress relief over the last 10 years, so the more stress, the more pounding the pavement. I once even gave myself stress fractures from over doing it, and all I wanted to do when I was put on enforced rest was run. Stress itself can age the skin (along with countless other detrimental effects on your entire body) but we all need whatever stress reliever works best for us. Sometimes, however, what used to work, eventually burns out, or stops working (most notably the aforementioned stress fractures). A hot bath, meditation and losing myself in a good book all serve the same purpose, and do not tend to cause stress fractures no matter how frequently I use them. Sweating and focusing on something other than whatever my brain would chose to taunt me with tends to be a winning combination, so discovering Bikram yoga nearby my apartment has been a lifesaver. No stress fractures, no running face, and plenty of sweating and stress relief. You may find there is something else out there that suits you just as much as running, and may even help you decompress more.
Obviously, the way you look is hardly the most important aspect of your life. Life is there to be lived, and would best be tackled as an adventure, with an effort to experience all that you possibly can. On a daily basis, however, I meet people that are doing their very very best to take care of themselves, their health, and their appearance…and are doing all the wrong things to achieve their particular goals. Extremely low-calorie diets have messed with their metabolism, sugary “healthy” juices have wreaked havoc with their teeth, excessive use of the wrong skincare has contributed to acne, scarring and rock-bottom confidence, and they are focusing all their energy on efforts that are exacerbating their original complaint. Excessive anything nearly always has some sort of disadvantage, not least that it may not create a healthy mindset, and running (never thought I’d say this) is no different.