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Causes: Mostly sun exposure, though repeated use of muscles -- to pucker, squint or frown -- are also responsible.
Beauty Fix: "Exfoliation softens skin, making superficial lines less noticeable," says Maritza Perez, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City. For the most dramatic results possible without a prescription, Perez recommends a cream that contains retinol, a derivative of vitamin A that stimulates production of collagen, the fiber that keeps skin smooth and firm. To improve penetration of the retinol, the latest products contain gentle exfoliating ingredients. Two to try: Olay Total Effects Intensive Restoration Treatment with VitaNiacin and Pond's Dramatic Results Active Face & Neck Moisturizer with glycolic acid. For faster results (about 12 to 16 weeks) try Renova, a prescription retinoid cream.
Health Saver: If you do nothing else, wear sunscreen every day, and your skin will begin to repair crinkling and wrinkling. Choose an SPF 15 or greater formula that will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Try Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 30 Daily Moisturizer .
Causes: Dead cells and sebum accumulate in pores. Over time, a buildup of this gunk causes pore openings to stretch.
Beauty Fix: While pores can't be "shrunk," regular use of retinoids and alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids can help purge pores of trapped debris -- and return them to their smallest natural circumference. Try an at-home peel such as Dr. Dennis Gross M.D. Skincare Alpha-Beta Peel Home Facial System (to order, call 888-830-7546).
Health Saver: Good skin-care habits, like removing makeup nightly, can help prevent pores from getting plugged. Also, UV rays can contribute to pore dilation, so be sure to protect skin from the sun.
Causes: Sun exposure, which causes the cells that produce melanin, the skin's natural pigment, to shift into overdrive.
Beauty Fix: The speediest solution is laser therapy, in which a focused beam of light erases splotches. While the laser's energy doesn't affect surrounding skin, the treatment's aftereffects -- including redness and scabbing -- can take a few weeks to go away. Twenty spots can be zapped in one 15-minute session. Cost: about $300. A much slower alternative (several months), albeit one that requires no downtime, is retinoids and/or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) combined with bleaching agents (such as hydroquinone and kojic acid), which inhibit the formation of melanin. Retinoids or AHAs alone could take up to six months to produce noticeable improvement, according to Amy B. Lewis, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery at Downstate Medical Center, in New York City. A twofer dermatologic favorite is the prescription cream Alustra, which contains retinol and a 4 percent concentration of hydroquinone. Cost: about $70 for one ounce; lasts one to two months.
Health Saver: Products with antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C and green tea, can help prevent brown spots by squelching the production of free radicals -- destructive molecules that can contribute to discoloration. Smoothing on a broad-spectrum sunscreen such as L'Oreal Ombrelle Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 every day is also a must.
Causes: Stress or hormonal flares, both of which can step up sebum production. (That's why you may break out when you're under pressure.) If your pores can't handle the increased oil supply, bacteria thrives and the stage is set for an outbreak.
Beauty Fix: Mild to moderate cases of acne (less than seven pimples a month) can be treated with over-the-counter products, including those containing glycolic acid or retinol (which unclog pores) and benzoyl peroxide (an antibacterial agent). One ingredient that's particularly effective is salicylic acid, an efficient exfoliator that dissolves skin oil. (To try: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Blemish Cream, which boasts both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.) If breakouts are more severe, see a dermatologist, who will likely prescribe an oral and/or topical antibiotic, as well as a prescription retinoid, like Retin-A, Avita, Tazorac or Differin. Or, to speed clearing of both pimples and the pigmentation that can linger for months after a blemish heals, dermatologists may prescribe Azelex.
Health Saver: If acne flares around ovulation or during your period, birth control pills may help; your gynecologist can prescribe one that contains skin-friendly hormones. Be sure, too, to get enough sleep, advises David Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, in Mt. Kisco, New York. "When your body is literally fighting to stay awake, it will secrete a slew of stress hormones."
Causes: Most likely rosacea, a chronic condition that first appears as a flushing or subtle redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. Rosacea progresses from intermittent mild redness to persistent ruddiness and permanent, dilated blood vessels and acne-like bumps.
Beauty Fix: Rosacea responds well to treatment, but is not curable. Treatment includes prescription topical and oral antibiotics, which help prevent pimples and redness. In severe cases, Accutane may also be prescribed. Pulsed-dye lasers such as the Vbeam (cost, $500) can treat broken capillaries and may decrease the need for topical medication. Gentle, hypoallergenic products are also in order. B. Kamins, Chemist Booster Blue Rosacea Treatment (888-252-6467), which neutralizes redness with its light blue hue, contains calming ingredients.
Health Saver: To prevent redness, identify -- and then try to avoid -- what triggers your episodes of intense flushing and blushing. Common triggers are spicy or piping-hot foods, caffeine, alcohol, stress, heat, sun, wind, exercise and anything -- including facial steaming, massage and hot water -- that brings blood to the face. Switch to physical sunblocks. They're less likely to irritate skin since they contain ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that reflect UV rays and aren't absorbed into skin. To ensure complete protection from UVB rays, Maritza Perez advises one with octyl methoxycinnamate, which, she says, is the most hypoallergenic.
Causes: Beginning around age 30, your skin's natural ability to slough off dead cells from the surface slows down. As the dry, dead cells build up, skin looks dull.
Beauty Fix: Regular exfoliation brings fresh, translucent cells to the surface. Try creams or lotions with alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (which dissolve the "glue" that keeps dead cells attached to skin) or retinoids (forms of vitamin A, including retinol and Renova, that speed up cell renewal). One choice: Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Defining Skin Brightener with light-reflective particles for instant radiance. At night, cleanse with a facial scrub made with rounded microbeads to gently wash away the dead cells loosened by AHAs and retinoids. Try Aveeno Skin Brightening Daily Scrub.
Health Saver: Moist cells slough off more easily than hard, dry cells, so keep skin moisturized. Choose products made with both occlusive ingredients (such as petrolatum and dimethicone, which trap water in the skin) and humectants (such as hyaluronic acid, urea and lactic acid, which bind water to the skin). --Karyn Repinski