When it comes to wrinkle prevention, you're on it -- and you have a bathroom counter full of anti-aging products to prove it. But did you know some of your efforts might be in vain -- or worse, make you look even older than you really are? Here's how you might be damaging your skin without realizing it.
Sure, sloughing off dead skin is a good thing. The act gets rid of the dull buildup, revealing fresh, more radiant skin -- all while enabling your other skin care treatments to penetrate better. But do it too often and you can negate all those benefits. "If you over-exfoliate, skin gets red and irritated," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC. "And then you're dealing with a breakdown of collagen from the increased inflammation," she says. Translation: more wrinkles. "It's like taking one step forward and three steps backward."
To prevent irritation, exfoliate only a few times a week. And if you have dry skin, only do the deed once weekly. “I almost never recommend a facial scrub because the crystals and other ingredients are often too harsh,” Tanzi says. “Look for products that contain glycolic acid to help to melt away dead skin layers without all the scrubbing.” Try Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Facial Pads ($13; ulta.com).
If a little is good, a lot must better? Not exactly. When it comes to potent anti-agers, it pays to be on the conservative side with your application, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. A pea-size amount is what the pros recommend when treating the face with an anti-aging topical such as a retinoid, Zeichner says. Apply any more than that and you can risk irritation, redness, and dry, flaky skin. “That’s the amount that has been typically studied and larger amounts have not been shown to be any more effective,” he says.
You've been nursing that same jar of pricey eye cream forever, but it's not doing your skin much good, says Diane Madfes, M.D., consulting dermatologist for Garnier. Over time, products spoil and separate, and active ingredients become less effective. "The shelf life of most products is two-to-three years," she says. But if your creams start to smell different or the color or consistency changes, it's time to toss it. Besides, "a newer version with better ingredients and technology may now be on the market," Madfes says.
Some women think getting a tan is OK -- and even healthy -- as long as they were wearing a low level of SPF when they got it, Tanzi says. "A tan is the skin's reaction to injury," she says. "If you have a tan, you have injured your skin."
Keep applying that sunscreen (ideally SPF 30 or higher), but don't forget to reapply at least every two hours -- sooner if you've been swimming. We like Coppertone Clearly Sheer for Beach and Pool Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ ($11; walgreens.com). And to be sure you're really covered, wear sun-safe clothing and accessories like a wide-brimmed hat, Tanzi says.
Retinoids are proven skin savers, which is why you'll find the OTC version, retinol, popping up in all types of products, including day creams. But should you really wear it around the clock? Zeichner says no. "Retinoids are photosensitive," he says, which means you can end up with a nasty sunburn (and subsequent sun damage) if you wear it during the day. "And it can be inactivated by UV light."
"Morning is a time for prevention while nighttime is when rest and repair occur," Zeichner says. He suggests protective ingredients such as antioxidants during the day and reparative retinoids at night.
For a.m., we like L'Oreal Paris Advanced Suncare Silky Sheer BB Face Lotion SPF 50 ($11; lorealparisusa.com) with antioxidants, vitamin E, and white grape seed; at night, try Philosophy Help Me ($47.50; philosophy.com), a retinol treatment.
"With the first wrinkle or brown spot, some people panic and realize they need to start taking care of their skin," Madfes says. "The problem is they then start to pile on every wrinkle and anti-aging cream they can get their hands on." While some ingredients complement each other and work better as a result (Madfes cites green tea and vitamins C and E as examples), others will lead to irritation, and can even render other ingredients ineffective. Avoid combining acids such as glycolic and salicylic with retinoids. "Both are irritating and should not be applied at the same time because they can cause redness and inflammation," Zeichner says.
You've been using that new wrinkle cream for two whole weeks and those lines still look the same. Before you declare it useless and move onto something new, hang tight. "Formulas take anywhere from four to six weeks to see significant improvements in skin," says Stafford Broumand, M.D., a plastic surgeon in New York City. "Try sticking with them for at least that long, unless of course you are having a bad reaction, then discontinue use right away," he says. "Constantly trying new things and changing products week to week can wreak havoc on the skin."