Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/03/2021
Aging sucks. That’s what we’re told, and as we get older, it’s what we find out for ourselves. We all want to preserve ourselves at a particular peak age, and have an image of maturity without decay in mind. But sadly, nature doesn’t have the same plans.
We’re all in a fight against nature to prevent the signs, symptoms and effects of aging every day.
From brain-training smartphone games to supplements and treatments, there are billions of dollars of products on the market designed to help you fight off the effects of aging in whatever way you desire.
But like playing poker against the casino, there’s a simple rule: the house always wins.
Aging is an unavoidable part of life. As we get older, the processes that once happened normally can begin to break down, causing our skin, joints, organs and even memories to begin to function less efficiently and show signs of degradation.
If you’re lucky enough to live to 100 or beyond, you’re going to see this every day as you walk slower, heal slower and feel the creaking and training of muscles and joints that used to move effortlessly.
And most people who live to 100 are happy to take the side effects to get to see those later years.
But premature aging isn’t part of the agreement. It’s not part of the plan to experience these things early, so when it happens in your 40s or even 30s, you can become particularly disheartened by the sudden appearance of those signals.
But premature aging doesn’t always have to be something you accept. If you’re experiencing premature aging symptoms, learning about the potential causes, symptoms and treatments available can help you take control back, and potentially push those symptoms down the road to a time when they’re more acceptable — or stop them altogether.
As you might suspect, the signs of premature aging are largely like the signs of normal aging. They just happen earlier than expected.
Things like sunspots, wrinkles, hair loss and early graying are all signs of aging. These are all largely due to changes in the efficiency of your body’s production of key proteins like collagen, hormones like DHT and processes like cellular regeneration and repair.
When you’re younger and everything is working well, your body is able to produce the right proteins and manage the right responses.
Your skin won’t age because it has healthy mechanisms for repair and hydration, so it won’t become thin and gaunt. It will also continue to heal acute sun damage with healthy cellular turnover.
But over time, a variety of factors can cause collagen production to slow, and damage to compounds. When this happens, things like sun spots, wrinkles and inflammation that once occurred rarely will begin to multiply, and intensify.
Read more about cell turnover and its impact on aging here.
Officially known as androgenic alopecia, male pattern baldness is caused by a variety of factors, but the central issues is the over-production of a hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can dramatically slow the process of regrowing hair follicles, and make the ones currently growing appear weaker and thinner.
It’s common in men in their 50s, but earlier hair loss can come as early as a man’s teens. Read more here.
Related read: Causes of White Hair
There are a variety of factors that could be causing you to look older than your age. We’ve broken them into a few categories, including genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
There are plenty of environmental factors that can cause damage, stress and ultimately signs of aging for your skin from an early age. Air pollution, sunlight and things like stretching your facial skin by sleeping in the wrong position can cause acne and signs of aging.
The biggest environmental factor by far, though, can be sunlight. Sunlight batters your skin, which saps your supply of Vitamin C. Because vitamin C acts as the primary antioxidant to fight free radicals caused by UV rays, it’s a necessary compound to keep you from drying up in the sun.
With reduced levels of vitamin C, your skin is left without the necessary tools to deal with the free radicals created by radiation, which can keep your skin cells from reproducing properly, or at the correct frequency.
The same damage can be done by air pollution, which can settle on your skin and ravage antioxidant supplies in the same way.
There are certain lifestyle choices and behaviors that can lead to premature aging, including habits like drinking and smoking, which can damage skin and tax the normal regeneration processes by creating additional stress.
Studies have shown that smoking’s adverse effects on the health of your skin can cause everything from premature aging to slower wound healing — not to mention psoriasis, cancers and hair loss.
Poor diet and insufficient water intake can also rob cells and tissues of needed nutrients and supplies.
Pretty much every regular bodily function necessitates hydration, and skin health is no different.
Studies have shown a correlation between dysfunctional dermal tissue (everything from inflammation to premature aging) and insufficient water intake.
There are genetic conditions, also referred to as progerin conditions, that can cause extreme versions of premature aging — the sort of conditions that are caused by genetically spurred DNA damage and mutations of cell lines.
They can cause an individual to show aging symptoms as early as birth, and typically lead to lifespans of only 20 years or so, or experience onset of symptoms at puberty.
Typically these diseases are caused by nuclear protein malfunctions — proteins that assist in proper cell division, maintenance and repair are important to your body’s healthy, youthful appearance, and when they’re genetically compromised, the result is that your tissues, skin and other organs will show the same results of aging that typically come from decades of natural deterioration.
They are extremely rare, but two prominent examples are Werner syndrome and Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome.
Werner syndrome typically manifests in puberty, at which point DNA repair can go off the rails, and a normal individual will suddenly and rapidly manifest symptoms of aging such as graying hair and hair loss and thin hardened skin.
Their features may become distorted (thin arms and legs, and birdlike features) due to abnormal fat deposits.
Individuals suffering from Werner syndrome will typically develop cataracts, skin ulcers, osteoporosis and other diseases commonly experienced in old age much earlier. Lifespan for people suffering from Werner syndrome is typically in the 40-50 year range.
Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome is a similar condition of rapid aging, except unlike Werner syndrome, the effects begin as early as birth.
Hutchinson-Gilford can cause joint abnormalities, alopecia, fat loss and characteristic facial appearances also characterized as “birdlike.”
It’s worth noting that Werner Syndrome also may result in “birdlike” facial appearances.
Because Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome causes abnormally early hardening of the arteries, it increases the likelihood of stroke or heart attack early on, which can be life threatening.
Like Werner syndrome, Hutchinson-Gilford is caused by mutations in a gene (LMNA) which produces a protein called lamin A. Lamin A is essential in nucleus formation in the cell, and when it mutates, the result is a cell more likely to die prematurely.
Luckily, the likelihood is rare; one in four million newborns are affected worldwide.
Thankfully, for as many reasons as there are for you to show premature aging symptoms, there are treatments to be considered.
Genetic conditions may require a multitude of treatments, and only a fraction of the symptoms of rare aging conditions can be effectively treated currently, so if you or your children are suffering from one of these conditions, it’s really best that you consult a medical professional immediately.
But other causes can be treated with a variety of topicals, supplements and lifestyle changes. Basically, it boils down to a few key strategies: limiting oxidative stress, replenishing important nutrients in the skin organ and other organs, and treating the symptoms properly.
Skin needs love, care, nutrition and protection, so a variety of treatments are needed to secure all of these vulnerabilities. Here are the things you can do to ward off premature aging of your skin:
Drink water. Water is the essence of wetness, and water is also the foundation of good skin. Higher water intake was shown to positively impact the efficiency and quality of skin, especially in individuals with lower daily water intake.
It’s not enough on its own, but it will help other treatments flourish, and it’s necessary for everything else your body does, anyway.
Clean your skin. A cleanser as part of your skincare routine can help diminish the impact of environmental pollutants by removing them before they cause damage.
And if you want to take preventative steps, a simple facial cream can act as a barrier to keep them out in the first place.
Quit smoking. Yes it may be harder than it sounds, but there are resources available to help you make this important choice for your skin health.
There are many ways to stop smoking, and we’ve gathered more information if you’re ready to quit.
Get more vitamin C. Vitamin C will help you lessen the impact of skin damage from the sun, but it takes more than having a screwdriver poolside for brunch.
Research is ongoing about the most efficient way to get vitamin C into your system, but you need it every few days at the least.
Supplements might help, but one solution might be a serum like our daily Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum, which can be applied topically for brightening dull skin.
Exfoliate. No seriously. Exfoliating is a simple solution to the signs of premature aging, as it can remove dull and dead skin cells and help your body to reduce fine lines by exposing newer cells at the surface.
And consider using a chemical exfoliant like a vitamin A compound (also called a retinoid) which will have the added anti-aging benefit of stimulating faster regrowth.
One example would be the chemical tretinoin, which has been shown to improve the synthesis of collagen. Learn more about tretinoin here, and see if it’s right for you.
Signs of premature aging on the hairline typically involve a specific type of hair loss called androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.
This is the most common type of hair loss in men (and women, for that matter) and is typically linked to the over-abundance of a hormone called DHT.
Many of the same lifestyle changes (quit smoking, drink more water, better diet) can help with hair loss, but one of the most effective treatments is to use a medication to block DHT.
Two of the most common are finasteride (an oral medication) and minoxidil (a topical medication).
Taking finasteride on a daily basis reduces DHT levels by about 70 percent, which is enough to either stop or slow down the effects of male pattern baldness.
And studies show that use of minoxidil over a 48 week period results in a 12.7 percent to 18.6 percent increase in total hair count.
Your healthcare provider might also suggest taking both simultaneously.
To learn more about these treatments and whether they’re right for you, see our guide here.
If you suspect you or a loved one has a genetic condition resulting in extreme premature aging, consult a healthcare provider immediately.
Treatments are available, but a medical professional will be most qualified to determine the most effective next steps.
For the rest of us, fighting off premature aging is a frustrating hassle that may require you to take a serious look at how you’re treating your body, or accept some of its limitations.
Either way, premature aging is a treatable condition, and in some cases the effects are largely reversible.
If you’re suffering from wrinkles, sun spots, thinning or disappearing hair, whether or not they’re happening early, you should consult a medical professional.
Regardless of whether you’re beginning to see symptoms at 20 or 80, there are steps that can be taken and medications that can be used to reduce the impact of these signs of aging.
With the right treatment, you may even be able to bring your Benjamin Button issues full circle, and look a bit younger at an older age.