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We can see it, touch it, and feel its every shift. In fact, our skin is such a part of us that it's easy to forget that it's the largest organ in our body and its top job is to literally protect us from harm. Yet, like every other organ, the passage of time affects the skin's basic functioning, which in turn affects its appearance (yes, that little thing called aging).
For instance, in our childhood, our skin recovers from bumps and bruises and keeps itself sufficiently hydrated. Throughout our teenage years and even into our late 20s, we may contend with acne, but our skin tends to be smooth, firm and wrinkle-free, all thanks to abundant levels of collagen and elastin. As we enter our 30s, however, our skin's natural defense mechanisms start to break down, making it more vulnerable to routine stresses -- sunlight, pollution, emotional strain and occasional sleeplessness. These stressors manifest themselves in the appearance of fine lines and a rougher texture on our cheeks and forehead. Years of facial expressions, meanwhile, also contribute to wrinkling; think of it as a piece of paper that is constantly folded and unfolded. After a while those creases tend to stick. Finally -- and perhaps most significantly, because we can control this -- unhealthy habits, such as smoking and not using sun protection, also affect our skin's functioning. The final factor? Genetics, which plays a starring role in how we will age -- so take a look at Mom or even Grandma for a peek into your skin-care future.
Now for the good news: Experts agree that the last five years have brought huge advances in anti-aging skincare technology. What that means for you is a younger-looking, healthier, more radiant complexion than you had ever dreamed possible. Come on, it's time to reclaim your skin!
Whether they are just cropping up now or have been around for a while, wrinkles are primarily a result of decreased collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep our skin smooth and firm. As we age, we produce less and less of these precious fibers, and our supply is further compromised by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Also, our skin's ability to rebuild and protect itself diminishes over time. Mix in a lifetime of smiles, grimaces, and every other emotion, and it's easy to see why wrinkles are hard to smooth away.
Skin Saver: It's simple: To fight wrinkles, use sunscreen -- experts are unanimous on this point! Many skincare products, including foundations, have an SPF of at least 15, so this really isn't as time-consuming as it sounds (although SPF 30 is actually seen as de rigueur by many skin experts). Also, it's important to upgrade to a moisturizer formulated with collagen-boosting ingredients.Wanted: That Pretty Glow
Skin dulls and roughens because it doesn't shed as quickly as it used to -- another result of aging. Prolonged exposure to sunlight, meanwhile, causes additional uneven pigmentation.
Skin Saver: First, remove that rough layer with an acid-based exfoliant; glycolic acid is still one of the best choices and is found in many skincare products. Second, make sure to include an antioxidant-rich product that will zap away free radicals, those annoying, age-promoting particles. Finally, lessen brown spots with skin brighteners.Wanted: A Moisture Boost
Tight skin looks dry and feels uncomfortable. The culprit: the skin's diminished ability to hold and retain moisture, both from outside and within. Nearly every skin type becomes more dehydrated as it ages -- even oily complexions.
Skin Saver: A gentle cleanser will help preserve your skin's moisture levels. Also, look for hydrating serums that are chock-full of humectants and emollients. Rich, creamy moisturizers, meanwhile, are great for extremely dry skin types.
Anti-aging beauty tip: Ilana Harkavi, celebrity makeup artist and founder of IL-Makiage makeup, suggests ditching heavy foundation and using a tinted moisturizer instead. Top it with bronzer and peach blush for more a youthful coverage.
Like the skin on your face, the skin around your lips suffers from the loss of collagen and elastin. Unlike the rest of your face, however, the skin over the lips is very thin and fragile and therefore even more vulnerable to losing volume. As a result, you might start to see tiny lines appear around the border of your lips. If you smoke, the wrinkles will be more pronounced, as the constant puckering contributes to lines developing even faster.
Skin Saver: Look for lip creams that contain collagen-boosting ingredients (peptides are the most common). Also, volumizing products are can deliver results after just a few weeks.
Anti-aging beauty tip: Go darker! Rich lipstick shades in the berry family, for example, make your lips look fuller than neutral tones, Harkavi says.
You've probably heard that most women show their age around their eyes and this is true for several reasons. "You can actually see how thin-skinned this area is," says Dr. Diana Howard, PhD, of the International Dermal Institute, based in Carson, California. "These muscles also move constantly, which contributes to wrinkling. The limited number of oil glands in this area makes any wrinkles more prominent, too."
Skin Saver: The same anti-aging ingredients for your face can work wonders around your eyes, as well. Just be sure to use products specially formulated to avoid irritation.Wanted: Less-Noticeable Circles
Although genes do play a role in whether you'll inherit dark circles, aging definitely accentuates them. Lifestyle plays a role, too. Excessive stress, for instance, darkens the blood that flows in that area, making eyes appear even more shadowy.
Skin Saver: Age-related darkening can be overcome with eye creams that thicken the skin, making the circles less visible.Wanted: Puff-Free and Pretty
Puffy eyes are typically due a result of water buildup, but they're also brought on by aging, as the fat pads under our eyes start to change shape.
Skin Savers: Reach for gel-based eye products, which don't trap moisture like a heavy cream. Also, look for ingredients that are full of soothing antioxidants, such as green tea extract.
Anti-aging beauty tip: "Never put concealer directly over any puffiness because this will only call attention to that area," advises Harkavi. Instead, dab on a light coat underneath to camouflage it.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, January 2006.