By Liza Finlay
20s The Problem: In a word, denial. This is the “it will never happen to me” era. It’s a decade of blissful oblivion that is rife with skin sin: Unprotected sun exposure, alcohol, cigarettes, and late nights without adequate sleep all take a toll, catalyzing the activities of scavenging free radical cells.
“Just wait” is Vancouver, B.C.-based dermatologist Jean Carruthers’ sage prediction. “For this age group, the main problem is lack of foresight.
Beginning a good skin-care regime now – one that includes daily use of a sunblock – can save their skin down the road.” Women in their early 20s may also still be suffering from the acne that plagued them through their teen years, while those in their late 20s could start seeing the beginnings of adult acne.
The Program: Creating sensible skin-care habits is critical now, Carruthers advises. That means getting to know your skin type – dry, sensitive, normal, oily (and maybe acne-prone) or combination. It also means making friends with a good, non-irritating cleanser and a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type – preferably one containing sun protection. (For those with oily skin, avoid creams in favour of water- or alcohol- based lotions.) Products packed with antioxidant – vitamins A, C and E, co-enzyme Q10 and green tea – will also help stave off the damaging effects of pollution, alcohol and cigarettes. And this is a good time to start practicing daily exfoliation or using alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). AHAs speed up the natural exfoliation process, bestowing a lustrous sheen. “Besides, keeping skin nicely sloughed is a good way to combat acne,” Carruthers says.
The Products: Good choices for 20-something skin include cleansers and moisturizers that speed up the skin’s natural sloughing process. We like gritty cleansers like Dove Essential Nutrients Daily Exfoliating Cleanser ($9, at drugstores) and moisturizers with glycolic acid, such as NeoStrata Matifying Renewal Fluid ($28, at drugstores). Another good bet is Neutrogena Healthy Skin Multi-Vitamin Face Lotion ($15, at drugstores) with antioxidants and sun protection to help ward off future damage.
30s The Problem: The cavalier “it will never happen to me” attitude you had in your 20s is replaced with the more cautionary “uh-oh, it’s happening.” “It” is the beginning of superficial lines around the eyes and across the forehead. That’s because production of collagen – a vital part of the skin’s support structure – is starting to wane. “Skin just doesn’t bounce back the way it once did,” Carruthers says. The result: You now have “character lines.” Most 30-something women will also start to see the beginnings of skin splotches – “those patchy discoloured areas that mostly come from earlier sun exposure,” Carruthers says. And since these are prime child-bearing years, some 30-year olds will also struggle with the hormonal changes that result in dark patches called pregnancy mask (melasma).
The Program: Maintaining cellular collagen is your mission. To do that, there are a couple of options, depending on your skin type. For those with oily or combination skin, vitamin A derivatives are a good bet (see “40s” for more). But for those with sensitive, normal or dry skin, another option is the milder vitamin C-based products. “They enhance slightly the amount of collagen being produced in the skin, but they’re not as irritating as the retinoids,” Carruthers says. Vitamin C also has anti-oxidative powers, preventing rogue free radicals from damaging more collagen. (Don’t forget the area around your eyes. A good eye cream, one that’s rich with humectants and collagen-enhancing vitamin-C, should become a key part of your anti-aging arsenal.) And if you didn’t start using alphahydroxy acids in your 20s, start now. AHAs speed up the natural sloughing of dead skin cells and that’s still the best way to even out skin texture. For pregnancy mask, Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto dermatologist, recommends post-pregnancy use of bleaching creams, like NeoStrata HQ, containing hydroquinone. “If that doesn’t work, a stronger formulation can be ordered by your dermatologist,” she says. “Or, if more expedient results are required, then a laser can be used.”
The Products: For collagen-boosting, we suggest mild, vitamin C-based formulations – like Cellex-C High Potency Serum, ($93, at The Anti-aging Shop in Toronto or 416-869-1199) – for normal, dry or sensitive skins. Stronger, retinol-based products-like NeoStrata Wrinkle Defense (#34, at drugstores) – are recommended for oily or combination types. And look for eye creams rich in humectants and wrinkle-busters. Try Lancôme Résolution D-Contraxol, ($82, at department stores), or Eucerin Q10 Active Eye Cream, ($22, at drugstores).
40s The Problem: “Oh no! I’ve become my mother!” That’s the lament of many of Carruthers’ 40-something patients. Four decades of constant muscle contraction, along with now rapidly-declining collagen production, have taken their toll on your skin. Wrinkles – they have become as inescapable, and as disheartening, as prime-time model searches and high school reunions. Women in their 40s may also find their skin produces more or less sebum, requiring them to rethink skin-care purchases. If you were once blessed with normal skin, you may find you are now either more oily (with a return to acne) or much drier. Forty-somethings with fair skin may also suffer the dilation of surface blood vessels that leads to the ruddy cheeks and nose of rosacea.
The Program: If maintaining collagen was the mandate in your 30s, now, you’ll want to light a fire under those collagen-producing cells – a big fire. That means vitamin A derivatives (prescription tretino in or retinol). “I like prescription vitamin-A products because they’re stronger,” Carruthers says. “Tazorac (a vitamin A-like drug sometimes used to treat psoriasis) is a really good one – it stimulates collagen and decreases pigment in the skin.” In cosmetic products look for those containing the maximum amount of vitamin A, or retinol, allowable without a prescription. If you suspect you have rosecea, avoiding triggers like spicy food, alcohol, coffee and stress is helpful, but not a little impractical. A better bet is to consult a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon for a metronidazole-based product like Metro Cream. Pulsed light laser is also effective at closing the dilated blood vessels that cause flushing.
The Products: Keep skin nourished with moisturizing products like Ole Henriksen Pure Perfection Anti-Aging Crème ($69, at pircosmetics.com). 40-something women need to kick-start collagen by upping the retinol in their skin-care routine. Look for treatments like RoC Retin-Ol Correxion Intensive, ($42, at drugstores). And don’t forget the eye area: We recommend a rich formula like Guerlain Issima Happylogy Eye Glowing Eye Care ($75, at department stores).
50s+ The Problem: By the time you reach your fifth decade, you are likely well-armed in the battle against diminishing collagen; now you’ll need to address the effects of drought setting in on the dermis. Hyaluronic acid is a critical component in sub-dermal skin tissue, drawing and trapping moisture. At age 47, most women have 300 micrograms of hyaluronic acid per gram of skin; by age 60, you can expect to have less than 70 micrograms. Maintaining moisture and plumpness in parched 50-plus skin is key, particularly when the declining estrogen levels that flag the start of menopause contribute added dehydration and inelasticity.
The Program: Find yourself a rich moisturizer. “Most humectants work on the skin for about an hour-and-a-half,” Carruthers says. “Then the moisture in them evaporates and you lose that plumpness.” She tells her 50-plus patients to use a moisturizing product packed with vitamin A-acid or vitamin C to help strengthen the collagen cells that buttress the skin and ensnare humectants. “Even after the moisturizing effect wears off, you’re still getting the benefit of all that other good stuff,” Carruthers says.
The Products: Gentle cleansers that don’t strip skin of natural oils are a must for women in their 50s. Try Lancaster Comforting Cleansing Milk ($38, at select Bay stores and Shoppers Drugmart). Keeping 50-plus skin moisturized is critical so look for products packed with nourishing oils, and humectants – like La Prairie Cellular Time Release Moisture Intensive ($180 at Holt Renfrew) and La Mer The Lifting Face Serum and The Lifting Intensifier ($390, at Holt Renfrew).