Women used to declare lifelong loyalty to a skin care regimen and the products it required. You'd wash your face, moisturize, then put on your makeup — more or less — and, boom, you were done.
Now store aisles are filled with products for cleaning, toning, clearing blemishes, smoothing wrinkles, plumping lips and lifting eyelids. And there are more solutions available at your dermatologist's or aesthetician's office.
With so many advances in skin care, it's not only possible but easy to adapt your routine to address your changing needs through the years. And there will be changes. Some good, many not so good, but almost all with treatments that can help lessen the damage.
"There are things we can do today we couldn't do even 10 or 15 years ago," says Dr. Neil Fenske, professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of South Florida and director of the Cosmetic and Laser Center at USF Health.
"This is why you want to have a good dermatologist who can see you and follow you and adjust your comprehensive skin care based on where you are on the timeline," he says.
And if you haven't been doing anything, start now, Fenske says. "It's never too late."
Here's what to look for — and what you can do about it — as you age:
In your 20s
Don't smoke. Don't tan. Keep your weight steady. Use a product with an SPF of 30 every day. And don't pay attention to your face alone; give your neck and chest their share of the moisturizer and sunscreen.
If you really want to love your future self, heed these words of advice.
Beyond that, this is the time to enjoy your beautiful, youthful skin. Unless it's super-dry, don't ladle on the moisturizer, Fenske says. If you're still experiencing breakouts, talk to your dermatologist about whether your treatment might need tweaking. Find a good broad-spectrum sunscreen and use an antioxidant serum underneath.
And here's the fun part: If you're finally making a little money of your own to spend any way you want, you can take care of a few things you never liked, says Kate Williams, a certified advanced registered nurse practitioner at Faces of South Tampa. You can get unwanted hair lasered off. (No more razor burn on beach days!) You can lift a heavy brow or get lip augmentation. At this age, the treatments aren't about wrinkles so much as enhanced appearance, Williams says.
In your 30s
Um, yeah … sorry. Unless you're one of the lucky few, it's quite possible your skin will start to show some fine lines and wrinkles. Elasticity will start to diminish, and you may begin to see some uneven skin tone — redness or dark spots or both.
It's time to step up your prevention game, Fenske says, so talk to your dermatologist about adding a retinoid and/or alpha hydroxy acid. Those products also can help reverse some of the damage that has already been done. (If you're not ready to go with a prescription-strength product, over-the-counter creams by RoC and Regenerist have retinol, Williams says.)
And you may want to consider Botox and fillers — not because those lines are so deep, but because they aren't … yet. Look ahead, Williams warns: If your mom has a deep line between her eyebrows, or she has lip lines and she didn't smoke, it could happen to you.
Botox prevents you from getting those little creases and laugh lines that you can never reverse, Fenske says. "I can make the big wrinkles go away by Botoxing them, but once you've done it repeatedly, you get those little permanent creases and there will always be telltale signs."
And guys? This all applies to you, too. Those days when a man with a rough countenance was called "rugged" while a woman was called "haggard" are over. Though men of a certain age still aren't using moisturizer, sunscreen or even soap the way they should, Fenske says the greatest percentage increase in business is coming from procedures for men. (According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of cosmetic procedures performed among men has increased by more than 325 percent since 1997, when the ASAPS started its survey.)
In your 40s
The loss of collagen and skin elasticity can cause your skin to sag a bit more in your 40s, so get enough sleep and give it a chance to repair itself. It's also time to add a few more products to the age-fighting arsenal. Exfoliating can help, or you can add a stronger retinoid to help speed skin turnover.
If you've abused your skin, non-invasive Ultherapy is an option, Williams says. The FDA-cleared procedure lifts skin on the neck, eyebrows and under the chin with ultrasound heat, and helps improve lines and wrinkles on the decolletage. Or there's Thermage, which uses a radio frequency to tighten skin around your eyes, jowls or on your body.
Also popular with both men and women is Kybella, which melts fat when injected into the chin and stimulates the skin to retract up. "Everybody loves it," Fenkse says. "It's one of the biggest bangs for bucks that's come out in the last few years in the cosmetic market."
If nobody ever told you to take care of your neck (thank your mom now if she did), there are laser and intense pulse-light treatments that can make that reddish-brown damaged skin look more flesh-colored. IPL treatments also help with rosacea and can reduce some of the redness that comes with menopause and hot flashes. Men, who usually won't cover their flaws with makeup, can use IPL treatments to get rid of the red veins that "maybe make them look like they drink too much," Williams says.
In your 50s and beyond
Don't give up!
Yes, it may seem as though your entire body is turning against you with skin tags and brown spots and peach fuzz, but there's help out there for just about anything, Fenske says.
If you haven't embraced them already, Botox and fillers can lift a droopy brow, put some volume back in a receding chin or help a little with those jowls.
Those skin tags often will fall off on their own, or your doctor can snip, freeze or burn them off. And you can shave off the fine white fuzz on your face yourself, ladies. (Fenske says it won't grow back thicker and blacker.)
Minor brown spots will disappear with a peel, though it may take more than one try. And even the larger, raised spots, called seborrheic keratosis, can be gotten rid of with cryosurgery, electrosurgery or curettage (scraping). These are considered cosmetic procedures, Fenske says, so insurance won't pay for them. But if you don't treat these things, they usually will get worse over time.
Something else to worry about: bone loss. Your chin and nose might seem longer, your lips might be less plump, your eyes might appear a bit sunken. If you're missing the old you in the mirror, you could think about using fillers. "It's like refilling a deflated balloon," Fenske says.
When it comes to taking care of your skin, sooner is better than later. But, Fenske says, later is much better than never.
Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.