The Ways the Sun is Ageing You

I recently came across a fascinating twin study all about ageing and which genetic and environmental factors have the biggest impact on perceived age. I wanted to know which features skin make you look old, and whether or not we can control them. What I learnt was very interesting…

Lets look at the two skin issues created by sun damage that made women appear older:


This study (and many others) states that “skin wrinkling is one of the main features indicative of the severity of sun-damage present in faces, predominantly when it appears alongside other features typical of sun-damage in exposed body sites”. In other words, you can tell how much sun someone has had simply by looking at the severity of their wrinkles.

Upon looking at the lifestyle data they collected from the participants and ratings from those who viewed their portraits, they concluded that “facial skin wrinkling and wrinkle depth in the crows feet area were significantly and strongly correlated to sun-damage” and that “sun-damage was significantly and strongly correlated to the perceived age”.

They do, however mention that “repeated skin contouring caused by forces external to the skin and by muscle contractions have also been implicated in the development of skin wrinkles.” So we can’t *just* blame the sun.


In terms of skin pigmentation, they found that “there was a significant correlation between the perceived ages of the British subjects and the pigmented spot grading”. This means that the worse the pigmentation on their skin, the older the participant appeared to viewers.

However after adjusting for real age, this correlation is no longer statistically significant. This means that although more pigmentation is related to an older perceived age, it does not have a huge effect on how old you look for your age according to this specific study. They mention that this is something they would be interested in doing further study into, and I can’t wait to read it.

Also, this study found that “the pigmented spot grading had a significant but weak to moderate correlation with wrinkles and sun-damage after adjusting for chronological age”. So many people in the study who had sun-damage and wrinkles also suffered from pigmentation. But there were some people who showed sun damage and wrinkling with *no* pigmentation. They explain this by saying that “although sun-exposure causes an increase in the number of pigmented spots, it does so differentially depending on the skin type of the individual”. This goes to show how different ethnicities and skin types show their sun damage differently. It seems that wrinkling is a more universal indicator of sun damage as opposed to pigmentation issues. In terms of the potential range of pigmentation people have, they mention age spots which are most prevalent in Asian skin as opposed to freckling and melasma which is prevalent in Caucasian skin.

What do these have in common?

In interesting but unsurprising findings, these are all caused by sun damage! In comparing fraternal and identical twins, researchers got an idea of what ageing processes which genetic and which were environmental. They found that 40–59% of skin ageing might be attributable to environment and care! To a certain extent, your natural skin tone and propensity for DNA self-repair enzymes are an unchangeable factor, but those who spend more time in the sun undoubtedly accumulate more DNA damage than those who don’t. This leads them to suffer from all of the above conditions. And as they found, these have an effect on how old you are perceived to be by others.

We are in control of so much of our appearance, and all we have to do is religiously use sunscreen and other protective measures. If this study doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will!

If you’re curious to learn more about the research methodology or other factors that played into perceived age such as lip fullness and hair recession, read the full study here.