The Bad Habit That's Making Your Hands Age Faster

Aging is something that can't be escaped. Try as you might, aging skin is a guarantee. At some point, time catches up with us all and even all the Botox in the world can't save us. Neither can nipping or tucking.

While we can't stop the hands of time, we can take steps to slow things down a bit. One of the biggest assets when trying to keep yourself looking young and wrinkle-free for as long as possible is always using SPF — a great habit that many of us have included in our daily skincare routine. But while we may be diligent about applying sunscreen to our face, what about our hands? Have you ever stopped to think that your hands, which are just as exposed as your face, should get some daily SPF too? If not, it's time. Your hands are just as susceptible to sun-related damage, wrinkles, and aging as any other part of your body.

"Amazingly, the sun's UV rays can damage unprotected skin in as few as 15 minutes and it can take as long as 12 hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure," Lisa Hageman, RN, MSN told Hartford Healthcare. "That means you may not realize the damage being done until long after you've come in from the sun." In other words, you need to put sunscreen in your arsenal, and you should never be leaving home without protecting your hands from the sun.

How the sun affects the hands

The sun is relentless when it comes to our skin. Even minimal exposure causes the skin's collagen to break down and damages elasticity. Over time, all this havoc adds up and the result is solar elastosis, which is essentially wrinkles and skin that lack the necessary elasticity to keep it looking youthful and healthy, per Mayo Clinic. But that's just the beginning.

"When you're exposed to ultraviolet radiation, there's a repair process that goes on constantly in each one of your exposed cells," Dr. Stephen I. Katz told the National Institutes of Health. But as you get older, the cells struggle to bounce back. Not only does this contribute to solar elastosis, but it also plays a role in the thinning of the skin. Aging, in general, thins the skin, so adding the effects of UV rays to the mix is just exacerbating the problem.

A lifetime of exposure also leads to solar lentigines, also known as age spots (liver spots). Although harmless, these light-to-dark brown spots are the result of melanin production that's been kicked into overdrive because of UV light, according to Cleveland Clinic. So while you may think that those spots on your parents' and/or grandparents' hands just automatically come with age, think again. But know you can take steps to prevent, or at least limit them.

What you can do about it

When it comes to keeping aging as far away as possible from your hands, protection is everything. That means wearing gloves every time you go outside (not exactly ideal in hot weather) or using sunscreen, which is definitely the easier option. "Before heading out, your regular daily sunscreen can be applied to the back of the hands, most importantly to rub it in well throughout for a good base protection," board-certified dermatologist Michael Kassardjian, DO told Healthline. "This base application of sunscreen in the morning will help cover all the areas well before you start your day, but the reapplication is where other recommendations come in for easier use."

As Kassardjian pointed out, your hands see a lot of action during the day, so just as important as the base is making time to reapply the SPF. If you've just washed your hands, then it's time for reapplication. If you've been doing a lot of hands-on work and you think the sunscreen isn't as protective as it was earlier in the day, then you should reapply it.

"Whatever people will be more likely to use (like the feel, easy to carry, etc.), I would recommend. I particularly like the stick sunscreens," said Kassardjian. "The stick application can make it easier, especially for reapplication as you can neatly reapply on the tops of your hands before heading back outside, and they are easy to carry around."

What to know about damage reversal

Although you can't completely undo the damage that the sun has caused your hands, there are treatments to reduce the appearance of it. "For basic freckles and sun spots, I like the Pico laser technology," board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist Orbit Markowitz, MD told Real Simple. "This is a photo acoustic, rapid pulsing laser. There's no heat or thermal damage on the skin and therefore no downtime with very great results."

You can also take steps to restore collagen in your skin. Even if you don't have any sun damage, this is something worth considering because after peak collagen production in your 20s, what's produced drops by 1% every year, according to a 2012 study published in Dermato Endocrinology. After menopause, collagen takes an even steeper drop, plummeting by 30%. Collagen production can be stimulated by supplements, topical creams like hyaluronic acid, and a diet that's rich in things like vitamin C, protein, antioxidants, and other skin-healthy food, per Medical News Today.

More than anything, to slow the aging of your hands, SPF 30+ should be your first line of defense. It doesn't take long to apply, it's far cheaper than treatments, and it's something that after just a few days of daily application, will just naturally become part of your skincare regimen. Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but hands are the window to the mind, so you want them looking fantastic well into old age.