How to Improve Your Skin at Any Age
It's never too late to establish high-quality habits.
Every inch of our skin contains about 19 million cells, the better to protect us from the elements, regulate our temperature and facilitate the sensation of touch.
It’s a naturally beautiful system, but with each passing decade, our skin faces new challenges: ultraviolet rays from the sun, fluctuations in hormones and even pollution. To keep our skin youthful over time, Mother Nature needs help.
Starting young gives us a head start. If you’re past your 20s, explore methods to help you catch up. While no one has yet found a way to reverse aging completely, there are products and treatments that can improve skin at any age.
Alas, there is no fountain of youth. But there are ingredients that can help stave off the damage caused by time, the sun and pollution. Here are some ingredients to look for on the label:
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): Glycolic acid, lactic acid and other AHAs work to gently and effectively exfoliate skin, creating smoother skin and a brighter appearance.
Antioxidants: Vitamin C and E, lycopene and resveratrol are among the antioxidants believed to prevent premature aging.
Lipids: You’ll find these listed as natural oils, including coconut and primrose oil. These ceramides or fatty acids help to maintain or restore skin’s youthful plumpness.
Retinol: Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A, and help promote healthy turnover of skin cells, minimizing fine lines.
IN YOUR 20s
By the time we reach our 20s, we should have developed skin-friendly habits. Don’t smoke. Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are strongest. Apply sunscreen daily, even in winter.
“The most important thing women in their 20s should do to protect their skin from aging is to wear a zinc or titanium-based sunscreen as a daily moisturizer,” says Dr. Michelle Parsons of ReNove Integrative Medicine Health Spa in Rehoboth Beach. “It is the zinc and titanium in particular that blocks against the UVA rays as it is the UVA rays that lead to sun damage, cancer and aging.”
Most sunscreens do not contain zinc or titanium so it is important to read labels specifically for at least one of these ingredients, she adds.
It’s also a good time to start mild retinoids, a class of chemical compounds in the vitamin A family. Apply two or three nights a week.
“Vitamin A is liquid gold for the skin,” says Dr. Laurence Chang of Nouveau Cosmetic Center in Hockessin, Newark and Rehoboth. “Retin-A has been shown to reduce fine lines, shrink pores and improve the texture of the skin. It’s also good for breakouts, which many people experience in their 20s.”
Tiffani Leigh Mitchell, founder of La Belle Studio in Wilmington and Middletown, recommends facials to keep skin hydrated. That includes deep exfoliation four times a year—once each season—to remove dead cells that dull the skin.
“In your 20s, you want to get into a regular skin care regimen,” she says. “Wash twice a day, morning and evening.”
Dermaplaning is another regimen that women often begin in their 20s. The technique uses a 10-gauge scalpel to gently scrape off the top layer of dulling dead skin cells to reveal a smoother, brighter complexion. An added benefit: it removes peach fuzz, the downy layer of hair on the face.
“Makeup goes on incredibly smooth,” Mitchell says.
La Belle Studio has locations in Wilmington and Middletown and offers a variety of spa services.//Courtesy of La Belle Studio
IN YOUR 30s
Reagan Keenan//Dennis Degnan Photography
The first signs of aging skin start to show in our 30s as skin appears duller and is less resilient. Cells that turned over every 14 days in childhood now take 28 days or more. Stress and lack of sleep can exacerbate the process.
Good habits we should have developed in our 20s become even more important in our 30s, says Reagan Keenan, a Wilmington-based aesthetician and skin care consultant.
“Exercise, drink eight glasses of water a day, eat cleanly and get at least eight hours of sleep a night,” she advises.
Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is an option for people who have developed thread veins, skin pigmentation due to sun damage and fine lines. Dr. Chang often recommends IPL for what he calls “reds and browns”—broken capillaries and sunspots. Typically, more than one treatment is required, which involves mild “zapping” pain. Results are immediate, meaning you can apply makeup afterward and get on with your day.
“A deeper chemical peel can require a week or two of recovery,” he says. “IPL produces the same results but doesn’t involve downtime.”
To improve texture, large pores, fine lines and sagging skin, an option known as Collagen Induction Therapy (CIT) or Skin Needling combines radiofrequency and micro-needling to create tiny punctures in the top layer of the skin.
“It’s a virtually pain-free treatment for the face, neck and décolletage using only topical numbing agents and no needle injections,” Dr. Chang says. “Radiofrequency energy is delivered through multiple robotic microneedles beneath the skin to stimulate collagen formation.”
These micro channels stay open for 4-6 hours to deliver serums, growth factors, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and platelet-rich plasma, a serum extracted from blood run through a centrifugal device. Expect to commit to several treatments.
Mitchell, who recently turned 30, says many women see changes in their skin in that decade.
“If you have had oily skin, you might start experiencing drier skin,” she says.
Her personal regimen includes applying a retinol-based product every other night. Mitchell also uses Erase A Line by A Natural Difference, a product that includes glycolic acid and vitamin A. “I struggled with acne in my late teens and early 20s and now I get a lot of compliments on my skin,” she says.
IN YOUR 40s
In our 40s, skin loses more of its natural moisture as hormones start to change and estrogen levels decrease. Collagen and elastin are produced at a slower rate. Crow’s feet become more apparent. So does hyperpigmentation.
“The older we get and the thinner our skin gets, the more susceptible it is to sunspots,” Mitchell says.
She also suggests introducing anti-wrinkle and firming creams, including products that contain vitamin C and Retinoxyl, “which is a little more potent than Erase A Line.” Pump up skin with products that contain hyaluronic acid. “It will bind water to your skin and help it look more plump.”
Quarterly anti-aging peels are an important part of the regimen, she says. Options include cabernet, which is formulated with red wine and antioxidants, but not chemicals.
Be sure to switch up your regimen, tweaking products and treatments. “Your body gets so used to something that you don’t get the same results. Your skin gets complacent,” Mitchell says.
For fine lines, Keenan recommends topical treatments, such as retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids and salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid peels. Microdermabrasion “sands” away mild wrinkles.
“Prescription Retin-A, high dose retinol along with zinc or titanium-based sunscreen will all help reduce and prevent fine lines and wrinkles,” Dr. Parsons says.
If you weren’t ready for micro-needling and radiofrequency in your 30s, now may be the time to take the plunge. Chemical peels are another option for softening laugh lines and wrinkles around the mouth, Dr. Chang notes.
“Think of wrinkles as peaks and valleys,” he says. “We can knock off the peaks with lasers and peels and smooth out the valleys with fillers.”
It’s also a decade in which good habits that have been maintained over the years really pay off.
“I have women in their 40s who come in every three months for Botox and stay out of the sun and there is not a wrinkle on their faces,” he says.
IN YOUR 50s AND BEYOND
Men typically have skin that is 25 percent thicker than women and their collagen diminishes slowly, while women experience a steep decline after age 50.
“With menopause, facial skin renewal will be decreased which also leads to increased sign of aging,” Dr. Parsons says.
Collagen and oil production lag, too, which contribute to sagging skin and reduced volume.
“We lose fat we once had in our face, neck and hands and we start to see sagging and wrinkles,” Keenan notes.
Pimples can be a problem, too.
“Women in their 50s have told me that they are experiencing breakouts for the first time in years,” Mitchell says. “When hormones are changing and you don’t exfoliate, dead skin cells can build up and skin looks dull.”
She recommends alpha hydroxy acid exfoliators over exfoliators that use abrasive materials to remove dead cells.
“Chemical exfoliators go into your skin,” she says. “A scrub is just a scrub.”
This is the time to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Think of it as a barrier against the environment, putting hydration in the skin and keeping pollutants and UV rays out. Look for quality ingredients such as glycerin, natural jojoba and Shea oils, as well as lipids, including ceramides. Also choose products with glycolic acid and lactic acid that will help brighten the skin.
Keep up with the treatments and regimens of previous generations but consider more aggressive peels. Expect to lay low for a few weeks until redness subsides.
Many women can also benefit from treatment for facial hair, which tends to increase during the 50s.
“We can treat that with laser hair removal,” Dr. Chang says. “It’s very effective and the satisfaction rate is very high.”
So how do you decide what to purchase? Here are some products our experts recommend.
CosMedix Clarity is a serum formulated for women with problematic skin, including older women with breakouts. It diminishes oil output, minimizing acne scarring and inflammation. Starting in the mid-$40s.
J.Nicole Overdose Skin Serum combines retinol and lactic acid to address brown spots, breakouts and plump up diminished skin volume. $39.99.
The Purifying Bar, developed by Erica Suppa of Fresh Faced Skin Care in historic New Castle and Chadds Ford, Pa. contains two kinds of clay to absorb oil and fight bacteria that cause breakouts, plus anti-inflammatory ingredients to soothe skin. $10.
Urban Skin Rx Anti-Aging Cleansing Bar relieves dry, rough skin. Mildly antiseptic, soothing hydrating ingredients make it gentle enough for daily use. $13.99 at Target.
USANA’S Hydrating Toner moisturizes and clarifies skin in one easy step by removing any lingering impurities. This moisturizing blend of pure-plant extracts balances the skin’s pH levels and helps combat environmental influences. $15.
The ZO Skin Health line offers medical-grade products and pre-paired regimens, including preventative solutions for creating, maintaining and protecting healthy skin. Prices vary depending on the product and are available through med spas.