Ageing is certainly unavoidable, but for certain reasons, some people age slowly. Why is life so unfair?

I’m writing this in a van travelling from Masar-E Sharif, a town in northeast Afghanistan, heading to the capital, Kabul.

You may be curious as to what I’m doing in this war-torn country. I’m on a two-week exotic holiday, something that really tickles my fancy.

My little adventure started a week ago when I was picked up by my local Afghani guide and personal bodyguard at Kabul International Airport.

I was rather surprised that Abdullah, my 33-year-old guide, did not look a man in his early 30s. In fact, I thought he was about 45 years old. And my 44-year-old security guard Hamdullah easily looked like a man in his late 50s.

Deep wrinkles and lines etched on their faces tell of a life of hardship and hard work.

This made me ponder why some of us age faster than others.

Have you ever stumbled upon a friend you haven’t seen for ages and find him looking exactly the same as all those long years ago?

Ageing is certainly unavoidable, but the rate of ageing differs from person to person.

How and why our bodies age is slowly being unravelled by science.

However, we do know that chronological age may not have a bearing on biological age.

The number of candles you put on your birthday cake is merely a record of your time on earth, but not necessarily a testament to your health.

Ageing is affected by genetics and by environmental factors.

Our genes are not something we can alter at whim, so my article today will focus on environmental and extrinsic factors of ageing, which we can control.

One of the most important factors that contribute significantly to ageing of the skin is excessive exposure to sunlight.

While you may want to get some sun to avoid looking like Edward Cullen of Twilight fame, too much of it will cause your skin to look like a shrivelled prune. Which is why farmers and construction workers usually have tanned, dry and rough skin.

Think of how leather is made. We produce leather by putting animal hide under the hot sun for hours. If you’re going to go out without adequate sun protection, your skin will soon develop the appearance and feel of leather.

Therefore, it is vital for everyone, regardless of age, to use adequate sun protection, such as wearing long-sleeved clothes and a cap or hat, or using an umbrella when out under the hot sun.

Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and above, even if you’re at home or the office most of the time. This is because the ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight can filter in through windows. When you’re driving to work and back, or going out for lunch, you’ll still be exposed to UV rays.

Think twice about sunbathing and tanning booths. You might bask in a glorious tan now, but years down the road, you’ll have to deal with blotchy pigmented skin, and worse still, face the risk of skin cancer.

Besides sunscreen, using a gentle, but good quality, cleanser and moisturiser helps maintain our skin condition.

Many Malaysians, including my father, believe that using an old-fashioned bar of soap is good enough for washing the face.

A good number of my male friends think that using skincare products is only for girls.

Some of my female clients cite lack of time and too much hassle as excuses for not using the most basic of skincare products.

They may go for a facial in a spa, but they need to realise that proper daily care is much more vital than a spa treatment once in a blue moon.

Hydration is another important factor affecting ageing of the skin. One of my closest friends in Kedah regularly survives with drinking just a small bottle of water or two a day.

Needless to say, his skin is parched and very dehydrated. He was recently diagnosed with kidney stones too, by the way.

One should consume at least two litres of water a day, more if we sweat a lot on a hot day or physically exert ourselves. The liquid can be from other sources as well, such as juices or soups. Coffee, tea, carbonated drinks and alcohol are also liquids, but try to avoid too much of these. Plain water is still the best.

Good nutrition will also help make our skin look youthful. A balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables provide the necessary antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

A multivitamin and mineral supplement may be considered if you do not take adequate greens and fruits.

Say no to consuming too much processed foods, fast food and junk food. Preservatives, artificial flavouring and colouring are mostly synthetic factory-made chemicals which are no good for us in the long run.

Bad habits such as smoking will affect our appearance. Besides stained teeth, smokers tend to have fine lines around the mouth.

Smoking narrows the blood vessels, which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrient supply to the skin. This in turn promotes formation of wrinkles on the whole face.

Connective fibres such as elastin and collagen are also damaged by smoking, causing permanent wrinkles.

Another bad habit is excessive alcohol consumption, which dehydrates your skin and depletes it of vital nutrients, making it look dull.

Your body will not thank you when you get spider veins, which are the appearance of fine reddish veins appearing on the face due to permanent blood vessel dilation caused by regular heavy drinking.

Having adequate rest is vital as the body repairs itself when we sleep. At least seven or eight hours of nightly sleep is what we should aim for.

As participants of the rat race and with family and social obligations to boot, many of us don’t have enough shuteye. The dark eye circles and eyebags are telltale signs of lacking enough “zzz’s”….

Besides lack of sleep, having too much stress will also make us look older. Wrinkles and frown lines become permanently etched on our foreheads. Feelings of worry, anger and sadness make us appear much older than we actually are.

Therefore, it is wise to get away from our stressors as much as we can.

An hour of blissful meditation, indulging in a heavenly spa or even a session of Zumba dancing may be just what you need.

Go for a holiday and take a break from work. Now, excuse me while I indulge in a lamb kebab at my roadside lunch stop.

Dr Chen Tai Ho is an experienced aesthetic doctor who chills by the pool sipping espresso latte when he’s not attending to his beloved patients. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.