by Anthony Youn, MD, FACS

There’s more to turning back the clock than needles and scalpels.

Fifteen years ago, while undergoing my plastic surgery residency, I discovered my interest in aesthetic surgery. Although I loved doing flaps, breast reconstructions, burn care, and pediatric cleft repairs, my true interest lay in cosmetic treatments. Unfortunately, my plastic surgery residency imparted precious little about noninvasive and nonsurgical treatments. Yes, we learned how to perform breast augmentations, facelifts, tummy tucks, and rhinoplasties, but we weren’t schooled in dietary changes patients could make to look younger, creams to turn back time, or the latest noninvasive technologies to reverse the effects of aging.

Since then, I have read dozens of books by prominent plastic surgeons, dermatologists, nutritionists, and even makeup artists to educate myself on a more holistic approach to age reversal. Although actual surgery remains a cornerstone, I strongly believe that the vast majority of people can look years younger (and be happier with their appearance) without going under the knife, which is the idea behind my new book The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How to Really Look Ten Years Younger. It’s a complete guide to turning back the clock, written for patients, and includes my recommendations on hundreds of anti-aging treatments, surgical and nonsurgical.

One key focus of the book is diet. More and more studies are revealing that what we eat can have a dramatic impact on how old we look and how quickly we age. There are three major groups of foods that can cause our skin, and the rest of our bodies, to age prematurely, and these groups are sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods.

Foods rich in sugar, such as sweets but even refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice, can accelerate aging by forming advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs are the result of sugar molecules attaching to collagen and elastin, the building blocks of our skin. These hybrids can deform the internal structure of our skin, causing it to age more quickly. Fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup, is one of the worst substances for creating AGEs. Multiple studies1-2 support the belief that eating large amounts of sugar can cause the skin, and our entire bodies, to age more rapidly.

Saturated fats, especially high-fat meats, also contain AGEs and tend to be inflammatory, which can also affect our skin’s internal structure. A study3 in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who consume a lot of saturated fats have more skin wrinkling than those who do not.

Processed foods also cause our skin to age more quickly. These types of foods, especially fried foods and foods rich in preservatives, can produce skin-damaging free radicals. Free radicals are created by the normal processes of our bodies but can also be accumulated from external sources, such as UV radiation, pollution, and even chemicals in our food. When our body is flooded with free radicals, they can cause irreversible damage to the collagen of our skin.

So, does eating a healthier diet cause us to age more slowly? Yes!

Decreasing sugar intake is the first key to slowing down the aging process. Eating less sugar by avoiding sweets and substituting whole grains for refined grains can lessen the creation of AGEs and slow down the decline of the collagen and elastin in our skin. Adding fiber, protein, or fat to any sugar we do consume (such as putting almond butter on our bagels and adding peanuts to the handful of candy we grab from the office candy jar) is another effective way to slow down the release of sugar into our bloodstream and lessen its negative effects on our bodies.

The recent trend toward eating healthier fats can also help us look and feel younger. Studies have shown that a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (such as those found in avocados, olive oil, and nuts) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (found most often in coldwater fish like salmon and tuna) can decrease the redness and damage associated with UV exposure, calm inflamed and broken-out skin, and even improve the skin’s elasticity, thereby improving the appearance of wrinkles.4

The real food movement calls attention to dietary choices that can cause our bodies to age more slowly, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, rich in free-radical-fighting antioxidants. Vitamin C, one of the most potent of the free-radical-fighting antioxidants, has been proven to reduce wrinkles and dry skin, but it must be consumed each day. Vitamin C degrades quickly after harvest and with cooking, so it is most potent when those fruits and vegetables containing it are eaten extremely fresh, not canned or preserved.5

I have seen this dietary age-reversing phenomenon firsthand in my patients. Eating a healthier diet, with less sugar, more healthy fats, and more antioxidant-rich foods, resulted in a significant improvement in their appearances, even after just a few weeks.

To be realistic, eating the right foods or applying the correct creams cannot make a breast larger, reshape the nose, or remove saggy skin, but I strongly believe it should be the first step for most of our patients who want to look younger. As plastic surgeons, we encourage our patients to quit smoking and avoid excessive sun exposure, if not for their health, then for their vanity. Recommending a healthy diet should be an obvious addition to these suggestions.

youn_anthony Anthony Youn, MD, FACS, is a board-certified plastic surgeon, and chief surgeon at Youn Plastic Surgery in Troy, Michigan.


1. Latrelle J, Kesse-Guyot E, Malvy D, et al. Dietary monosaturated fatty acids intake and risk of skin photoaging. PLos One. 2012;7(9):e44490.

2. Igwemmar NC, Kolawole SA. Effect of heating on Vitamin C content of some selected vegetables. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research. 2013;2(11).

3. Leung CW, Laraia BA, Needham BL, et al. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte temomere length in healthy adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(12):2425-31.

4. Noordam R, Gunn DA, Tomlin CC, et al. High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age. Age (dordr). 2013;35(1):189-95.

5. Purba MB, Kouris-Blazos A, Wattanapenpailboon N, et al. Skin wrinkling: can food make a difference? JAm Coll Nutr. 2001;20(1):71-80.