The Surprising Way You’re Giving Yourself Wrinkles

Korin Miller
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Photo: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

You’re probably not obsessed with wrinkles (we hope), but odds are you do what you can to fight them. You moisturize and wear sunscreen every day and use a retinoid eye cream at night. That’s all well and good, but we have some bad news to share that will completely change the way you think of preventative measures: If you’re a regular soda drinker, you could be sabotaging your efforts to fight signs of premature aging without even knowing it.

According to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, the mere act of drinking sugary sodas can age you. In fact, researchers determined that drinking a 20-ounce soda every day makes you—and your skin—appear nearly five years older, which is similar to the aging effect of a regular smoking habit.

For the study, researchers studied the cells of regular soda drinkers and non-soda drinkers alike. They found that soda drinkers were more likely to have shortening of telomeres, the protective part of a cell’s DNA which directly affects a cell’s ability to replicate. The shortening of the telomeres ultimately causes the cell to die, which results in tissue damage and wrinkles. The more sugary soda people drank, the more rapidly the cell aging occurred. The damage can happen even if you drink less than 20 ounces of soda a day, points out registered dietician Deborah Orlick Levy, nutrition and health consultant for Carrington Farms. “Researchers have found that just one eight ounce serving of sugary soda a day for three years could add almost two years of aging,” she says. “If you drink more than that, aging incrementally increases.”

As it happens, there’s nothing here to blame but sugar—and we already knew just how detrimental the stuff could be. “Soda contains a lot of sugar, and sugar has a negative effect on the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D., author of “Skin Rules.” “When you get a lot of sugar in your bloodstream, your skin’s collagen and elastic get stiffer and cause wrinkles,” she explains. Jaliman recommends switching to seltzer water and adding fresh fruits to it for flavor, like a handful of strawberries or lemon juice. According to Levy, the results are pretty quick: You’ll slow down the telomere shortening process, which will then slow down the aging process. As a result, you’ll look younger and healthier.

Okay, sure—that’s not the best news if you can’t live without your daily Coke, but you don’t have to give it up entirely. While Dr. Jaliman says that a perfect world would see you switching to seltzer water, limiting your soda intake to six ounces a day or every other day is okay too. Just be sure to balance it out with plenty of water to try to flush that extra sugar out of your system.

Read more: 5 Processed Foods That Are Messing with Your Looks

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