I had a business trip to Texas recently and on the plane, I sat next to a guy, we’ll call him Jed, who made a statement that was rather surprising to me.
How it all started. Jed couldn’t help but notice I had a vegan meal during our flight, so he politely asked if I was vegan and here our conversation about veganism started. He had a bunch of questions which I gladly answered and told him about my vegan journey.
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During our conversation, Jed opened an interesting topic by saying: “A friend of mine is also vegan, and he looks much older than his actual age.” I admit, this kind of surprised me because I always thought vegans look younger due to the high volume of fruit and vegetables in their diet. I then asked him; how old does he think I am. He replied: “You look like you’re in your late twenties.”
Let me say that I have a beard which some people say, makes me look older.
Even with my beard, Jed thought I was still in my twenties and he was surprised to learn I am actually 43.
That conversation got me thinking though. My assumption about vegans looking younger might be too biased. Then I started thinking why do some vegans look older? Or for that matter, why do certain people (vegan or non-vegan) look older than they are? How does veganism relate to aging?
Doing a Simple Survey
To find out what people think about this topic, I made an online survey and shared it among my friends who helped me spread the word and get 472 people to participate, of which 112 were vegans and 360 were omnivores.
I asked people: “Do vegans look old (older than their age)?” I also asked them if they were vegan or omnivore themselves.
Here are the results. From 472 people, 248 (53%) agreed that vegans look old (older than their age) and 224 (47%) answered the opposite.
Which group gave which answer? 93 (83%) vegans answered that vegans don’t look old. No surprise there. It was more interesting to see 131 (36%) omnivores also answered that vegans don’t look older than their age.
This is by no means any scientific experiment with strong proof, but it was still interesting to see the results, from which one might conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some people tend to look older and some younger than their real age.
But what does the science say on this matter? Why do vegans look old? Or to generalize for the population as a whole: Why do some people look old, and others don’t?
There are many factors that affect how a person ages and this article would be too long if I went through all of them in depth, so I will just stick to the most important ones.
External Factors That Affect Skin Aging
We all know the myth of the fountain of youth. Whether we admit it or not, today it is fashionable to be beautiful and young. The way we age is most visible in our largest organ – the skin, which accounts for 15% of our body weight.
In our quest to look youthful and beautiful, we resort to various surgical and non-surgical procedures, external preparations, vitamins, and nutrients. But does it all help?
Our skin ages due to biological factors. There is a biological clock built into every cell of our body that ticks mercilessly and cannot be stopped. However, external factors, such as UV rays or smoking, influence biological aging, or what we might call internally controlled aging.
Excessive Sun Exposure
To see how the skin ages when it ages only due to biological factors and when it ages mainly due to prolonged sun exposure, compare the skin on the buttocks, which has always been protected from the sun’s rays, with the skin on the face in a 60-year-old person. The skin on the buttocks will be drier, paler, with fine lines and reduced elasticity.
On the face, there will be deep wrinkles, thinning of the skin, fine veins, brown spots and possibly various rough redness, which may represent pre-cancerous lesions. Thus, the skin on the buttocks of a 60-year-old person is only 20 years old compared to the skin on the face.
That goes for vegans and meat-eaters. While eating a cup of antioxidant loaded blueberries every day might be very beneficial for your body, it will not save you from the damage the sun can do to your skin.
Experts say the degree of photo-exposure is proportional to the total amount of sunlight we have received during our lifetime. Doctors use several terms for prolonged exposure to the sun as synonyms for photoaging.
A good example of photoaging are sailors and farmers who are exposed to sun much more than other people.
Another external factor that accelerates skin aging and should not be neglected is smoking.
Nicotine constricts the blood vessels in the outer layers of the skin, reducing the skin’s supply of oxygen and nutrients.
Nicotine is also thought to inhibit the production of collagen, which otherwise gives the skin its firmness and elasticity.
Smokers also have a slightly greyish appearance, which further worsens the appearance of the skin. Not to mention all the 4000 harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke, 40 of which are carcinogenic.
So, no matter if you are vegan or meat-eater, if you are a chain smoker, you might look older than your non-smoking peers.
Mechanical Factors Affecting Skin Aging
Frequent Facial Movements
Mechanical factors, or frequent facial movements that cause wrinkles, also contribute to ageing. We also age when we gain or lose weight very quickly.
And let’s not forget the increasingly polluted air, adverse weather conditions such as windy and humid weather, to which the skin reacts either by drying out or by increasing the production of sweat and sebum.
Get Your Beauty Sleep
Adequate sleep (at least 7 hours a day, in complete darkness) is essential to give our bodies time to detoxify, regenerate and rebalance hormones.
A sufficient amount of sleep will have a beneficial effect on our skin and lymph (we will wake up less puffy, and might reduce the amount of acne).
Do Vegans Age Better Than Meat-eaters?
Vegans might age better than meat-eaters, but the fact is, diet is not the only factor that influences how we age. Things that need to be taken in consideration are exposure to sun, smoking, stress, sleep, and repetitive facial movements.
When we take all of these in consideration, we might find that meat-eater that doesn’t excessively expose his skin to the sun, doesn’t smoke, and lives a relaxed lifestyle, looks way younger than a stressed out, smoking vegan.
Why Do Some People Look 10 Years Older?
As I mentioned, sunbathing, smoking and poor diet have been known to have a negative effect on our appearance. This is not a myth anymore, now scientists have shown how strong their influence is and how many years a disordered lifestyle can age us.
A study of 585 women from the UK, China and Spain has revealed the biggest contributors to accelerated skin aging. The researchers found that these negative factors affect every skin type, regardless of skin type or color.
Sunbathing, smoking, insufficient fruit consumption and inadequate body care can age the skin by as much as ten years, according to a report in the UK’s Daily Mail.
Study lead by Dr. Andrew Mayes took eight years to complete. The participants were women aged 45 to 75 in the UK, women aged 30 to 70 in Spain and women aged 25 to 70 in China.
In this study, women answered questions about their lifestyle: whether they smoked, how often they sunbathed, whether they ate regularly, how they cared for their bodies, whether they regularly maintained their oral hygiene, etc.
They also took photos at the start of the study to compare how they looked before and whether they looked older than they are.
The results showed that women with unhealthy lifestyles look 10.4 years older than those who take care of their health. The researchers conclude that the most important thing for looking younger is to live a lifestyle free from smoking, unhealthy diets and other habits that compromise health and accelerate aging.
How to Keep Your Skin Looking Youthful?
The best way to keep your skin looking its best is to stay out of the sun or use sunscreens with UVA and UVB filters.
It is also worth buying good quality sunglasses that protect the area around the eyes.
However, moderate sun exposure also has positive effects, such as stimulating the synthesis of vitamin D which vegans cannot get from food. Just 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day is enough to achieve this.
Darker skin tones are still considered fashionable and visually beautiful in some countries, which is why many people still visit sunbeds, despite the warnings. Thus, the effects of overexposure to the sun are cumulative. Our skin does not forgive us for our indiscretions and quickly becomes wrinkled, unevenly colored and rough.
You can also do a lot for your skin if you stop smoking. So much has been said about the harmfulness of smoking that it is really worth making the effort to cure yourself of this really very harmful habit or addiction.
We can also help our skin to look better by taking the right care for our skin type (normal, combination, dry and oily), not forgetting a balanced diet, regular exercise and enough beauty sleep.
While being vegan has its benefits, it is not the only thing that affects how we look.
Some vegans look old due to their lifestyle and the same thing goes for meat-eaters. Diet plays an important role in the way we age but there are external factors like excessive sun exposure, stress, smoking and lack of sleep that can make us look old.
Many scientists agree that excessive sun exposure is one of the most important factors in aging. You can do a lot to look younger yourself by taking the right sun protection, stopping smoking, getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet and, of course, living as stress-free a life as possible.