Are members of Gen Z aging more rapidly than millennials? It certainly seems that way.
Gen Z TikTokers are going viral for revealing their true age, leaving followers in disbelief as they admit it is up to a decade younger than what people think.
So what is behind their premature wrinkles, gray hair and aged faces? Longevity experts blame a combination of increased stress, more fast and processed foods, sedentary lifestyles and a lack of purpose in life.
People considered to be in Generation Z are those born between 1997 and 2012. They follow Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, and precede Generation Alpha, those born between 2013 and 2024.
But while Gen Zers are between 27 and and 12 years old, they look more like they are in their mid to late 30s, with some even being mistaken as older than their own parents.
What is behind Gen Zers’ premature wrinkles , gray hair and aged faces? Longevity experts blame a combination of increased stress, more fast and processed foods, sedentary lifestyles and a lack of purpose in life.
One popular TikTok influencer shocked his 12 million followers when he revealed he was only 26 years old.
Jordan Howlett’s followers could barely believe his age. ‘Aren’t you like 35!???’ one asked.
‘I’m 34 and I thought you were my age,’ said another.
Howlett said he believes Gen Zers are aging much faster than previous generations.
In the TikTok video, which has garnered over 19 million views, Howlett reacted to a clip from the ‘Staying Up Podcast’ about how Gen Zers often look older than millennials despite being much younger.
The podcast hosts attributed the disparity to Gen Z being ‘chronically online,’ depressed and stressed.
Howlett told Business Insider he thinks people belonging to Gen Z are aging more rapidly due to increased stress linked to the economy, inflation and attempting to maintain income and savings while holding down a 9-to-5 job.
He added: ‘In addition to that, trying to figure out what they want to do for their careers long-term, and feeling the immense amount of pressure of trying to succeed before the age of 30.’
He said he and many of his Gen Z friends look far older than their actual ages and added that strangers sometimes think he is his mother’s older brother.
Dr Suzanne Ferree, senior physician at Vine Medical Associates in Atlanta, admitted that Gen Z aging faster than millennials was not something she had paid attention to, but told DailyMail.com: ‘It makes sense to me.’
‘Gen Z has grown up with social media as part of their entire life, probably from a very young age.
‘There’s the big comparison, I don’t see the stress of comparing yourself to everybody else where.
‘I’m a Gen Xer. We never had those problems when we were younger. I didn’t even have a cell phone until I was 25. So I didn’t even know what that was like.’
Dr Ferree pointed to lifestyle changes that have grown more popular in the last three decades.
‘There’s a lot of vaping that goes on in the Gen Z group, and that is certainly going to at least age your skin faster, if not other parts of your body,’ she said.
As for stress, studies have shown that biological age increases with stress. Exposure to stress causes inflammation and damage to DNA in cells, which can accelerate aging.
Dr Ferree said: ‘Cortisol is the hormone that’s released in our bodies in response to stress. It is what we call a catabolic hormone. Anabolic hormones, like testosterone, cause building or growth of things. Cortisol is a catabolic or breakdown hormone that causes breakdown of things, like building skin, for example.
‘It ages the face and causes the breakdown of collagen in the face. It also causes breakdown of things like brain tissue and intestinal mucosa, which will increase inflammation. It’ll also cause breakdown of pancreatic tissue, which can ultimately result in pancreatitis or particularly diabetes.’
She added: ‘At a younger age, it can be handled a little bit better than it can in an older age, but if the stress level is particularly high, and I would say specifically with having had our big pandemic across the globe, that was never present before in most of our lives. And it particularly hit that generation fairly heavily.’
Dr Robert Friedland, professor of neurology at the University of Louisville, told DailyMail.com: ‘Chronic stress certainly has a bad effect on the brain and the heart and the glucose metabolism and other things.’
Jordan Howlett’s followers were left shocked after learning he was a Gen Zer and only 26 years old
This could be due to job insecurity, he said.
A lack of physical activity is also likely to blame, said Dr Ferree.
She said: ‘Being sedentary is the smoking of this generation. Being more sedentary definitely will [age you prematurely] because your muscle creates these beautiful chemical messengers that tell your body to be useful when you’re exercising and particularly using your muscles.
‘If you’re home, playing video games being more sedentary at a computer, you’re not getting those beautiful youthful signals.’
Higher exposure to blue light through increased screen time may also cause Gen Z to age faster, ‘mostly because it messes up the circadian rhythm,’ Dr Ferree said.
She added: ‘Because of their spending time on screens, they’re affecting their ability to get good nighttime sleep. That blue light turns off the natural production of melatonin and the natural function of the pineal gland in the brain, which is the center of that circadian rhythm, the day-night switch.
‘A lot of that causes aging. That decrease in the day-night differentiation will definitely influence aging or make it more rapid.’
The poorer quality of food will also affect how quickly we age, experts said.
Dr Friedland said there is now ‘more fast food, more processed food, more consumption of sodas and other beverages that are not nutritious.’
‘Fast food has a deleterious effect on the gut bacteria,’ he said.
‘And the gut bacteria are very important for our health and inflammation throughout life.’
The same food is not providing us with the same nutrients, Dr Ferree added, due to an increase in artificial additives and chemicals in people’s diets.
‘You may be eating plenty of spinach, but the food is not as nutrient dense as it used to be,’ she said.
In addition to the physical causes, emotions and mental health can take a toll on the body, speeding up aging.
Dr Ferree told DailyMail.com that Gen Zers who feel they lack purpose in life may prematurely age.
‘I see a lot of Gen Z come through my practice who don’t know what their purpose in life is. Not having a purpose, we know that impacts geriatric patients in a huge way,’ she said.
Compounding the contrast between Millennials and Gen Zers are the healthier diets, better knowledge of skincare and improvement in make-up Millennials have had access to over their lifetimes.
This means people born between 1980 and 1997 appear more youthful than older generations did at the same age.
While millennials learned how to use good skincare techniques in their late teens and 20s, Gen Z may have been overexposed to the techniques and started using products incorrectly, causing them to age prematurely, other experts have said.
Aesthetics experts have explained that getting ‘tweakments’ – small cosmetic procedures – too young are also a reason celebrities and influencers in their late teens and early twenties look older than people their same age did in the past.
‘Overuse or unnecessary application of filler and toxins at a young age may affect the natural facial development, causing younger patients to look older than they are,’ celebrity cosmetics doctor Dr Rasha Rakhshani-Moghadam previously told DailyMail.com.
She added: ‘Millennials generally have a heightened awareness of skincare and diet, compared to previous generations, often incorporating a more holistic approach to well-being. This shift involves a greater emphasis on preventive skincare practices and a focus on balanced diets.’