On Saturday, actor Paul Rudd turns 50 years old. Or is it 40? Maybe 30?
Most millennials first met a 26-year-old Rudd when he played a law student in the 1995
comedy “Clueless.” Countless Judd Apatow flicks and one “Ant-Man” movie later, the only
thing more timeless than Rudd’s stardom is his boyish looks. Year after year, role after role,
Rudd has astonished viewers and celebrity gossip pages by keeping his youthful face.
Here’s a picture of Rudd from Clueless:
Paul Rudd in Clueless. Image by Paramount Pictures
So, what’s Rudd’s secret? I have no idea.
But thanks to dermatologists and decades of research, you can likely mimic his healthy skin if
you start early enough.
Scientists have a solid handle on the most potent contributors to skin aging. Major assaults
on the skin can occur through too much sun or cigarette smoking, but new potential threats
continue to emerge, such as blue light from smartphones. Your genetics also control some
aspects of youthful skin.
Many skin care products and medical procedures take their cues from this research, but
because of the onslaught of cosmetics advertising, it can be hard to spot the best remedies.
So, the PBS NewsHour asked three dermatologists for tips on recreating the Paul Rudd effect.
It’s hard to say which of these reasons best explains Rudd’s youthfulness –but Paul, if you
want to hang out and chat about it, feel free to call me.
Until then, here’s a breakdown of some science-backed speculation.
Paul Rudd … took care of his skin from a young age?
We typically judge skin aging by what we can see — fine lines, wrinkles and weird
pigmentation — but those visible signs don’t always reflect our actual age in years.
That’s because those blemishes revolve around the physical integrity of the skin, which in
turn, can be altered by the environment.
Sun exposure is the most common and well-studied example. When ultraviolet sunlight hits
our bodies, it penetrates into the skin’s two primary layers: the epidermis and the dermis. The
epidermis is the outermost layer, while the dermis sits right below it.
The primary layers of the skin (with muscle pictured). Image by Yevhenii/via Adobe Stock
“In a sense, ultraviolet damage is twofold,” said Dr. Patrick Blake, a dermatologist at EllaMD
and a clinical instructor at the University of California San Diego. “There is UV-A and UV-B
Thanks to its longer wavelength, UV-A accounts for most of the ultraviolet radiation that
reaches the Earth’s surface. UV-A travels deeper into the skin. It penetrates the dermis, where
it can directly shatter our skin’s scaffolding — namely by destroying two proteins called
collagen and elastin.
Our skin cells carry their light-based injuries for a lifetime.
Collagen keeps the skin thick, while elastin provides its youthful bounce. Thinner and less
bouncy skin tends to sag and wrinkle.
As we age, our bodies also become less adept at repairing damage to collagen, which comes
in three varieties. As newborns, we start with an abundance of collagen-3, which responds
better to injury, but our dermis gradually switches over to collagen-1 later in life, which is less
Meanwhile, elastin becomes lumpy.
“When you biopsy skin from someone that has had a lot of sun damage, you find a good bit of
elastin but it’s clumped,” Blake said.
For elastin to work effectively, it needs to be able to spread — like a paste — or otherwise,
you lose some degree of elasticity, he added.
UV-B attacks closer to the surface, soaking into your exposed epidermis and harming your
skin cells. These skin cells are themselves stacked in four to five layers within the epidermis
— like pancakes. The innermost stack is constantly multiplying, and its offspring cells
gradually rise through the levels toward your skin’s surface. Those cells age and harden along
the way until you’re left with what you see in the mirror.
The structure of the epidermis. Image by Alila Medical Media/via Adobe Stock
Those overexposed skin cells atrophy and lose some of their ability to heal wounds. They also
collect DNA mutations that increase one’s chances of developing skin cancer.
“UV exposure in the skin is cumulative. The sun exposure that you had as a child, it stays with
you,” said Dr. Chris Adigun of the Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill in North Carolina.
“Your basal cell layer has to replicate — it’s making duplicates of itself. Once there has been
DNA damage to those cells, it’s going to replicate in those cells with that same exact damage
for the rest of their lives. ”
UV-B also causes our cells to create the chemical equivalent of dynamite: free radicals,
otherwise known as oxidative stress. When this happens, the body produces a set of enzymes
— MMPs or matrix metalloproteinases — that also degrade collagen and elastin, Blake said.
Cigarette smoking boosts these degrading enzymes too, hence why the habit advances skin
Dermatologists constantly remind everyone, especially children, about the importance of
using sunblock because our skin cells carry their light-based injuries for a lifetime.
Paul Rudd … doesn’t use his smartphone as much as everyone else?
Most people spend hours a day glued to a screen, whether it is a smartphone, a tablet or
computer, dermatologists are now wondering if all of this blue light exposure is discoloring
“There is so much melasma, a disorder of pigmentation, that I see now. It’s everywhere,” Blake
said. “There is very clear cut data that blue light is involved melasma,” especially those with
fair to dark skin.
That’s unexpected because blue light is sometimes used to treat skin conditions like acne, but
Blake said the nuance might lie in the difference between acute and chronic exposure. Adigun
voiced more caution and called for more research.
“It is truly an interesting area of research. The human population on Earth right now has been
exposed to more blue light in the past five years than it has in the past five million years,
Adigun said. “But often with the effects of exterior factors on the skin, there’s a lag time until
we see what it actually does to us.”
Paul Rudd … knows how to apply sunscreen?
Along those lines, Blake listed a broad spectrum sunscreen — equipped with UV-A and UV-B-
blocking ingredients — as paramount in slowing the skin aging process, and Adigun said you
might as well choose one that blocks the blue light spectrum too.
But Blake said sunscreen only works if applied in the right amount.
“With SPF 30, you need to use a full shot glass of sunscreen for an average-sized person, and
nobody does that,” Blake said. “They either count on reapplying the sunscreen or covering
If you apply half of what you’re supposed to, you’re getting a fourth of the protection.
Sun protective clothing can ward off those hazardous rays, but exposed skin needs a thick
coat of sunscreen to sit for at least 15 minutes to maximize protection.