Nothing can stop time, but you don't have to resort to extreme plastic surgery to fend off its effects. It turns out that simple, daily, face-friendly habits can have a big impact. But we're not talking about a major overhaul. Just some basics -- five ideas for day, five for night. "Bottom line, make sure no 12-hour period passes without doing something positive for your skin," says Boston-based dermatologist Jeffrey Dover.
Do This During the Day:
- Use sunscreen and antioxidants. Applying sunscreen is as essential as brushing your teeth -- summer or winter, rain or shine, 365 days a year. "If you're stepping out the door, this is the absolute most important thing you can do to keep from looking older and to protect yourself against skin cancer," Dover says, However, SPF alone isn't enough. Recent studies have shown that topical antioxidants, the gold medalists of anti-agers, enhance the efficacy of sunscreen. There are tons of antioxidants out there (and new ones touted daily!), including vitamins C and E, coffeeberry, green tea, and fruits such as acai, blueberries, and pomegranate. (And yes, you can eat your fill, too, though applying them topically offers the most immediate benefit for skin.)
- Wear sunglasses. Less squinting equals fewer fine lines and crow's-feet (and less risk of cataracts, too). Choose a pair with 99 percent UVA and UVB protection, and use them all year long. Remember, snow reflects 80 percent of UV rays, nearly doubling overall exposure.
- Exfoliate selectively. Do it -- but don't overdo it. Exfoliation sloughs away dead skin cells, smooths fine lines, and improves skin texture and tone. But FDA studies have shown that overusing chemical exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) found in glycolic or lactic acids, increases sensitivity to UV rays. Limit chemical exfoliants to twice a week. For manual exfoliation, try a gentle microbead scrub.
- Feed your face. Good skin care starts from the inside out. Eat healthfully: Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and walnuts fight wrinkle-causing inflammation; citrus fruits and spinach enhance collagen production; and lycopene, found in tomatoes and pink grapefruit, protects against sun damage. What to avoid? Sugar. Heightened levels in the bloodstream cause a process called glycation -- one of the principal causes of cellular aging (and wrinkles).
- Stress less. Easier said than done, we know, but stress not only affects your sanity -- it affects your face. A 2004 study by the University of California at San Francisco found that chronic stress affects your body at the cellular level, speeding deterioration. And frowns and knitted brows cause creases all their own. So take up yoga or try deep breathing exercises, and at least an hour before bedtime, hit the "off" switch on everything that has one. Your epidermis will thank you.
Try These Skin-Care Tricks Before Bed
- Wash up. Never skip cleansing your face before you nod off. "It's the cardinal sin of skin care," says New York City-based dermatologist Macrene Alexiades. "This is the skin's time to repair and rejuvenate."
- Use a cream with benefits. What was good enough in your mother's day just doesn't cut it anymore. For a night cream that's more than moisture, retinoids are a sure bet. With over 40 years of clinical research behind them, retinoids have been proven to reduce brown spots and reverse sun damage, increase exfoliation and collagen production, and even treat acne (all while you snooze). Over-the-counter retinols (less potent vitamin A derivatives) have the same anti-aging benefits and are less irritating, although they take longer to delive results.
- Treat beyond your face. Don't stop facial care at your jawline. Take it down a notch -- directly to the delicate skin of your neck and décolleté. The same cleansers, sunscreens, serums, and night creams you apply to your face can also treat those areas.
- Blot out spots. Fine lines aren't the only age giveaways. A 2006 study linked sun spots and discoloration directly to age perception¿so even without telltale wrinkles, brown-speckled women were thought to look older. New research shows that inhibiting the production of melanin (age spots and freckles are formed from this chemical found in the skin) may help prevent new spotting, and that creams containing natural lighteners like soy, licorice extract, or kojic acid are helpful. At the doctor's office, combat spots with a prescription for hydroquinone, the only FDA-approved ingredient for skin lightening.
- Sleep smarter. Which side do you sleep on? Your dermatologist can tell just by looking at the side of your face where the wrinkles are the deepest. To avoid compression wrinkles, train yourself to sleep on your back. Bonus: no pillow creases to rub away before you dash out the door!