14 Foods and Drinks That Age Your Skin

Your diet may be making you look older than you are. Here's how to diminish the damage.

Photo: Getty Images

There's a reason why your skin feels a little off after a series of holiday parties, BBQs, or mojito-filled beach days: "What you eat affects your skin—for better or worse," said Ariel Ostad, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. Aspects of your diet can accelerate the aging process of your skin (and teeth) over time. Here are 14 foods to consume in moderation.

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Sugar overload may kick-start a process called glycation, according to a review published in 2015 in Skin Therapy Letter.

The theory: When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, the excess sugar molecules combine with proteins, creating "advanced glycation end products" (appropriately referred to as "AGEs"), explained Dr. Ostad. Ultimately, AGEs may damage your skin's collagen, which is a protein that keeps skin firm and healthy.

Unsurprisingly, too much sweet stuff is also bad for your smile. "Sugar sticks to your teeth, encouraging bacteria, decay, and discoloration," said Brian Kantor, a cosmetic dentist who practices in New York City. If you eat something sweet, swish water around your mouth afterward to remove any buildup.

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A healthy liver means healthy skin. "When your liver is functioning well, toxins that could potentially affect the skin are expelled naturally through your body," said Dr. Ostad. "But if toxins build up in your liver, and aren't broken down properly, your skin can develop a variety of issues, like acne, sallowness, and wrinkles."

Drinking may also increase the risk of rosacea, a skin condition that can make you prone to flushing and redness, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The study suggested that risk goes up based on the amount of alcohol consumed.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting alcohol to two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less for women.

In addition, alcohol is dehydrating and linked to poor sleep quality and duration, according to the Sleep Foundation. In a small study published in 2015 in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology chronic poor sleep quality was associated with diminished skin barrier function and signs of aging.

"Inadequate sleep is linked to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin elasticity," said Dr. Ostad.

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White Wine

White wine falls into its own category because of its potenital for dental damage.

While a glass of red will give you an instant "wine mouth," white wine is more acidic. A study published in 2009 in Nutrition Research that compared the effects of red wine and white wine on extracted teeth found that white wine had higher erosive potential, meaning it may be more likely to damage your enamel if consumed frequently.

Here's what not to do: Brush your teeth immediately after drinking (same goes for any acidic drink). Brushing already acidic teeth can further the erosion of your enamel. "You need to give your teeth time to remineralize after being bathed in an acidic beverage," said Maureen McAndrew, clinical professor at the New York University School of Dentistry. "I'd wait an hour after drinking before lifting a toothbrush."

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Charred Meat

That black char on your burger? It may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which could present a problem since inflammation breaks down the collagen in your skin, explained Dr. Ostad. You don't necessarily need to banish BBQ from your vocab, but at least make sure you scrape off the black stuff, and clean the grill afterward so you don't contaminate your next meal.

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Salty Foods

Your body needs about 500 milligrams (mg) of sodium, or salt, a day for important functions such as contracting and relaxing muscles and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. However, consuming too much salt can lead to serious risks like high blood pressure and heart disease; and it can also cause water retention, which is when your body holds on to excess water.

Less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day is recommended, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

You might not cook with salt, but that doesn't guarantee your intake is low. "Many canned foods are preserved with sodium, which can make you retain water and cause a 'puffy' look," said Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, and dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts.

If you need a quick fix, combat fluid retention with a moisturizer that contains caffeine (it's known for reducing puffiness when applied topically).

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Processed Meats

Think: Deli meat, sausage, and bacon. "Many of these meats have sulfites and other preservatives, which can trigger inflammation in the skin, and accelerate the appearance of aging," said Dr. Ostad. They also tend to be high in salt, which can make you look puffy. Try swapping the deli meat on your sandwich for chicken or turkey. Use less meat, and load up on veggies.

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Spicy Food

Spicy food aggravates rosacea-prone skin, but it can also do damage during menopause. "It's believed that the blood vessels in the skin are more reactive then," said Dr. Ostad. Since spicy food dilates your blood vessels, people going through menopause people may find their skin looking blotchy during this time. Don't worry about indulging in the occasional spicy curry, but regular flare-ups could lead to spider veins, puffiness, and/or permanent redness, said Dr. Ostad. Order your food mild when possible.

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Red Meat

"Fatty meat generates free radicals," said Dr. Ostad. Free radicals are unstable molecules that may trigger a process that can lead to cell damage, according to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

This damage may ultimately affect your skin's ability to protect itself and generate collagen.

You may want to consider limiting how often you eat red meat. "You're better off with leaner meats, like a turkey burger or chicken," said Dr. Ostad.

And remember to load up on antioxidants, which are substances that may prevent or delay certain types of cell damage, per the NCCIH. Fill your fridge with fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of antioxidants, and look for serums that have vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid). "Antioxidant-rich foods and serums help combat age-promoting free radicals," said Dr. Ostad.

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All citrus wears away your enamel, but lemons may be the worst of the worst: Preliminary research on bovine teeth published in 2015 in the journal PLoS One suggested that lemon juice is more erosive than orange juice. The study also found lemon juice to be more erosive than Coca-Cola and Red Bull.

"Add the sugar in lemonade to the equation, and you have enamel wear from the acid, plus plaque buildup from the sugar, creating stains and decay," said Kantor. As with energy drinks, sip from a straw if you must.

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If you are prone to acne, you may want to limit how much cow's milk you drink. Some studies suggest a link between drinking milk and acne breakouts, yet the potential reason why is poorly understood, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

One theory is that some of the hormones in milk cause inflammation in the body that may clog your pores.

Yogurt and cheese may be better dairy options since there's no evidence that these may increase your risk of breakouts, per the AAD.

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Trans Fats

In addition to raising LDL (bad) cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, trans fats may also be bad for your skin. Most trans fats are made in a manufacturing process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid, and in 2015 the FDA deemed artificial trans fats as no longer "generally recognized as safe."

"Trans fats promote inflammation," said Dr. Ostad. (Inflammation is also bad news for your collagen.) Don't be fooled by a label that says "0 g trans fat," as it can still contain under 0.5 g of the artificial fat. Make sure to avoid products that list a partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient label, too.

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Fried Foods

Another common source of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) and inflammation that may damage skin: fried foods.

A marker for AGEs can increase 200-fold by increasing the temperature and conditions of cooking, such as when frying, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

In addition, if you are eating fried foods from commercial fryers, such as French fries, they may also contain harmful trans fats.

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Coffee, Soda, and Energy Drinks

Coffee, soda, and energy drinks are all acidic beverages that are hard on your teeth. "Acidic beverages can create microscopic pores on the surface of the enamel, causing erosion overtime," said McAndrew.

A study published in 2021 in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentristry examined blocks of human enamel that were immersed in energy drinks or in Coca-Cola for 30 minutes. All drinks were erosive to enamel, but the energy drinks caused the most damage.

If you really need your energy drink fix, sip from a straw: "The less contact with your teeth, the better," said Kantor.

Not ready to give up your coffee? (You don't have to: Research shows drinking coffee has several health benefits, including a possible link between coffee/caffeine and a reduced risk of non-melanona skin cancers, according to 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.)

Just follow with a glass of water: "Water has a neutral pH, which washes away the acid," said McAndrew. "Sugar-free gum can also reduce discoloration since it boosts your saliva production, and saliva remineralizes your teeth." (Remineralization helps protect your enamel.)

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Black Tea

Thanks to the high tannin content, tea drinkers don't get off stain-free, either. Tannins are plant compounds that are responsible for the astringency and color of black tea.

Black tea is a common culprit in tooth stains (along with coffee and red wine), according to the a 2020 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Good news, though: A study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene found that the casein in milk reduced tea-induced tooth stains. Make tea au lait (with milk) your go-to, and pass on the lemon: Much like the acid in coffee, citric acid makes your enamel more porous, and thus more susceptible to stains, said McAndrew.

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