You may not give aging much thought—until someone says you look tired when you feel perfectly rested. As I approach my 40s, I notice that my face doesn’t always reflect my inner state—the faint lines, subtle age spots, and occasional under-eye puffiness make me look older than I feel. In those moments, I wonder about all the lotions and potions (and procedures) that promise to turn back the clock.
These musings took an interesting turn when I visited my 96-year-old grandmother a few weeks ago. I had brought her an antiaging moisturizer as a gift, and after reading the words on the box she asked earnestly, “This won’t make me look too young, will it?” I thought about the cream’s tantalizing promises: Take 10 years off now; look younger instantly. And I thought about what would happen if I actually erased 10 years. There would be no husband, no children, no writing career, no professional accolades— none of the experiences I’ve had that define who I am today. And I realized I didn’t really want my youth back.
But I didn’t want my puffy eyes or tired skin, either—so I stopped at a department store and picked up a few items that could calm my eyes and brighten my skin. As I’ve discovered, you don’t need to take drastic steps to keep your face looking young. There are dozens of products designed to target common age-related skin problems from crows’ feet to lackluster lips. Just pick what you need, and soon your mirror will reflect the youthful and energetic person inside.
brighten your smile
Nothing turns back time like a brighter smile. “Teeth get yellow and darker as you age,” says Glen Graffeo, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist in New York City. “They accumulate a lifetime of staining from things like berries, soy sauce, red wine, coffee, and tea.” Plus, after years of brushing, eating, and contact with the natural acids in your mouth, the enamel wears off and the darker inner layer, called dentin, shows through. You can whiten teeth (but not crowns, caps, fillings, or veneers) with white strips or bleaching agents, which may cause temporary sensitivity. To help that, use a toothpaste like Sensodyne for at least one week before whitening.
WHAT TO DO
- Light-activated bleaching is done at your dentist’s office, costs $500 to $1,000, and lasts one to five years.
- White strips, pieces of thin plastic covered with a lightening agent, can be used at home. Your smile will noticeably brighten in a week or two.
- Trays with a lightening agent can also be used at home and take 20 minutes to four hours, depending on the product. Custom-made mouth guards ($400–$1,000) are more precise—and pricier—than drugstore kits (about $25–$35).
- Taking good care of your lips will really show off your smile. Use a washcloth or lip exfoliator to remove flaky skin and slather on an anti-aging lip balm before bed.
“Collagen and elastin, the skin’s support structures, decrease as you age, as does the amount of fat,” explains Alan Dattner, M.D., a holistic dermatologist in New York City and a Natural Health advisory board member. Lots of time spent in the sun breaks down collagen and elastin even more. The result: lines and wrinkles on your face, décolleté, neck, and hands.
WHAT TO DO
- Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every day to prevent future damage. Just make sure the cream you choose contains avobenzone, mexoryl, or zinc oxide; they’re the only sunscreens that block UVA light, the wavelength that is associated with aging.
- Choose products with retinol (vitamin A), a milder, over-the-counter version of prescription Retin-A. “Years of scientific data prove retinoids improve wrinkles by turning over the top layers of skin and building collagen,” says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., vice president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Use retinol at night (sunlight can cause it to break down) and always wear sunscreen (retinoids can make skin more sun sensitive). Start out with a low strength every other day and slowly increase.
- Peptides (groups of amino acids) are believed to boost collagen production. “They also inhibit the enzymesprevent future wrinkles,” says Dattner.
- Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E; green tea; grapeseed extract; and soy are believed to absorb line-causing free radicals, which crop up when your skin is exposed to sun and pollution. Vitamin C and soy can also increase collagen production.
- Keep skin hydrated. Moisturizing can temporarily plump wrinkles up so they look less noticeable. For best results, always apply lotion or cream to damp skin, which will help seal in moisture and keep wrinkles at bay.
plump your complexion
Skin gets drier as we age—especially around menopause, when estrogen levels drop. “Plus, when we age our oil glands—which naturally lubricate and soften skin—slow down production,” says Neal B. Schultz, M.D., a Manhattan-based dermatologist and author of It’s Not Just About Wrinkles (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006). It’s worse in winter due to cold weather, dry air, and indoor heating.
WHAT TO DO
- Wash your face with a gentle, soap-free cleanser (soap, which strips oils from skin, can be drying).
- Gently exfoliate skin to help speed the rate at which dry cells slough off skin (something that slows as you age). Use either a granular scrub or a chemical one that contains alpha hydroxy acids.
- After washing, blot your face dry so it’s damp when you apply moisturizer. “The skin’s topmost layer can absorb large amounts of moisture when exposed to water, so immediately applying cream seals in moisture,” says Francesca Fusco, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
- Look for super-hydrating ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which, Fusco says, holds moisture not only in the top layer of the skin but a little bit deeper. Other great hydrators include shea butter, oils like jojoba or wheat germ, vitamin E, and lipids.
- In winter months, use a humidifier to add moisture to your environment, especially while you sleep. “This helps reduce the amount of moisture lost from the skin through evaporation,” says Schultz.