Why WINTER makes your eyes look 5 years OLDER!
As cold winds sweep across shivering Britain, scientists have a special weather warning for women — winter can be especially cruel for your looks.
It causes an array of problems such as ageing skin, increased weight, a heightened risk of osteoporosis and cancer, and even having children with birth problems.
According to a study this week, winter can make a woman’s eyes look almost five years older.
Sad eyes: Experts who studied 5,000 women throughout the seasons say circles and bags under the eyes appear significantly darker in the colder months
Experts who studied 5,000 women throughout the seasons say circles and bags under the eyes appear significantly darker in the colder months.
They concluded that this appearance of ageing is caused by a lack of sunlight, which leads to paler skin and emphasises eye bags.
This is made worse by us all feeling more tired and lethargic in winter due to a lower level of vitamin D, which is vital for bone health and is generated by the body when it is exposed to sunlight.
‘Lack of vitamin D has a negative effect on the appearance of dark circles and puffy eyes. It can age a woman by 4.7 years, putting more than 10 per cent on a woman’s age if she is 40,’ says Dr Mark Binette, a skincare expert.
The study, carried out in New York, found that 82 per cent of women had dark circles and puffy eyes in winter as opposed to 38 per cent in summer.
A number of factors can make dark circles look worse. Thinning skin and loss of fat and collagen, the skin’s supportive protein, which are common as we age, can make the reddish-blue blood vessels under the eyes more obvious.
Physical and emotional stress — as well as smoking and drinking — also have a significant effect.
It makes winter bad news as far as our looks are concerned, but the truth is that the cold months — and particularly the lack of sunlight — can wreak all sorts of havoc on our bodies.
Not least of these is the way we pile on the pounds, a condition sometimes called ‘blizzard bloat’.
The eyes have it: A 38-year-old woman”s eyes pictured in the winter with far more prominent dark circles (left) compared to the summer (right)
The winter weight problem stems from the fact that lack of sunlight can make us feel ravenously hungry, because the pituitary gland in our brain is less stimulated.
This sparks off a series of instinctive responses that our ancestors evolved thousands of years ago to survive long, blisteringly cold winters: we feel the urge to build up our bodies’ fat stores by eating whatever is available, in case our food stocks run out.
We are also less keen to exercise, as we feel instinctively drawn to stay inside our warm caves.
In physical terms, lack of sunlight also reduces the effectiveness of the hormone leptin — which tells the brain when the stomach is full — and so we overeat.
The results of this have been shown by an Aberdeen University study of 3,100 women living in the wintry north-east of Scotland, where one in five people is overweight.
It found that the clinically obese people in the study had been getting 10 per cent less vitamin D from sunshine than those of a healthy size.
Some experts (and, indeed, the whole of the vitamin supplement industry) claim we can make up for lack of sunlight simply by taking vitamin D pills.
But there are two problems with this. The first is that having excess vitamin D in your blood may be as dangerous as having too little. American research published last month showed that people with too much of the vitamin are 2 times more likely than those with normal levels to develop atrial fibrillation, a type of heart flutter that can lead to stroke.
SIX WAYS TO REDUCE BAGS UNDER THE EYES
There is no way of curing dark circles, but a few things can help reduce them…
Take a power nap – even if it is just for 15 minutes it can trick your body into thinking you have slept for much longer
Use a cooling compress (or some wet cotton wool) to help temporarily shrink the blood vessels, reducing puffiness
Eye creams that contain vitamin K and retinol can also help
Somedermatologists recommend a hydroquinone solution often mixed in an oil free moisturizer that acts like a skin bleach – slices of raw potato canalso serve the same purpose
Eat less salt, as it encourages fluid retention and may lead to puffy eyes.
If all else fails, make-up can also be used to change the coloration of skin
And a raft of new research points to the fact that, in order to stay healthy, we need proper, full- spectrum sunlight, rather than just vitamin D.
There seem to be specific wavelengths in natural sunshine that our bodies need, says Hector DeLuca, a biochemistry professor at Wisconsin-Madison University. Likewise, vitamin D may not help much towards a range of other diseases where exposure to sunlight is believed to play a preventative role.
Among men, rates of kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer are all lower in those whose jobs keep them out of doors in proper, full- spectrum sun.
Sunshine also appears to protect women from endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the womb. It affects 6,400 British women a year and kills an estimated 1,000. Studies show that in the winter, women in northern countries have a significantly higher risk of developing the disease.
But Swedish university scientists, who studied nearly 30,000 women, reported in the British Journal of Cancer that those who had higher levels of sunlight exposure reduced their risk of developing it in winter by 40 per cent.
The same seems true with that scourge of postmenopausal women, osteoporosis. The bone-thinning condition is also linked to lack of vitamin D.
In September, investigators at Aberdeen University found that the further north a woman lives in Britain, the greater her risk of osteoporosis due to lack of exposure to sunlight during dark winter days.
Worryingly, winter health problems also affect expectant mothers. Scandinavian experts who followed 480,000 women over five years found that in the darker months of winter, pregnant women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal high-blood pressure condition, than in summer.
And once again, lack of sunlight is believed to be the culprit. The investigators believe insufficient levels of naturally derived vitamin D may increase your risk.
Problems can be passed on to newborn children, too. Studies have found that those born in late winter or early spring have a significantly higher chance of developing schizophrenia.
This seasonal effect may account for one in ten of all cases of the mental disorder, according to U.S. psychiatrist Dr Paul Schwartz, of Wright State University in Ohio.
Vitamin D deficiency: Problems can be passed on to newborn children, too. Studies have found that those born in late winter or early spring have a significantly higher chance of developing schizophrenia
He suggests that lack of sunlight can disrupt the levels of the brain chemical called melatonin, which is important to the growth of healthy neurons in the womb.
Laboratory experiments show that shortage of melatonin can harm the development of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is vital for mood control and memory formation.
Similar links have been found with increased levels of food allergies and epilepsy in children born at the end of winter or in early spring.
Scientists are unsure why winter births may increase the incidence of food allergy in children.
But where epilepsy is concerned, experts believe that lack of sunlight results in low levels of the important brain-messenger chemicals serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the baby’s developing brain.
Shortage of these can make people more prone to suffering from fits.
The clear answer to all these problems is to get out into the open air as often as we can right through the year. But unfortunately, many of us have lost the habit — even when the weather is not inclement.
A recent Government survey showed that one in five office workers never takes a break from their desk at lunchtimes.
For the sakes of our health and our looks, as well as our children, it seems crucial that we grab rare winter sunshine whenever it makes a glorious appearance.