While no one has yet figured out how to stop the proverbial clock, its dermatologic effects are getting easier to combat.
In a departure from the harsh treatments of the day -- injections that partially paralyze the muscles in your face, lasers that summarily remove its surface -- a different approach pairs equal parts gentle and natural. As cosmetics companies use botanical extracts to ever greater effect and holistic-minded pros rethink conventional skin-care strategies, options abound.
Whether you're starting to see brown spots, redness, dullness, furrows, sagging, or some combination of these, we'll explain what's going on and what you can do about it.
Using both the latest and time-honored natural solutions, you'll wheedle more than an extra hour's sleep out of Father Time; you may well get years of youthful skin in the bargain.
Why They Happen
The top layer of skin cells becomes sticky from long-term sun exposure.
As a result, "the cells start to stack up on each other instead of exfoliating normally," says David Bank, M.D., a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York. "And because they contain pigment, the color darkens as more layers are added."
Kojic and azelaic acids are the best natural go-to lighteners. Kojic acid, derived from a mushroom, figures in over-the-counter lighteners and in-office peels because it blocks melanin production.
Although it's relatively new on the U.S. beauty scene, kojic acid has been a centuries-old favorite in Japan among women who prize porcelain skin. Dermatologists also use azelaic acid, derived from wheat, barley, or rye, at prescription-strength potency to perform skin-lightening peels.
Many pros abandoned the old standby, the antioxidant hydroquinone, on the grounds of harshness (the EU forbids its use in skin lighteners). And holistic-leaning dermatologists, such as New York City-based Kathleen Davis, M.D., point out that the ingredient isn't usually natural -- while some equally effective counterparts are.
Try Ole Henriksen Sheer Transformation Oil-Free Perfecting Creme on face and hands or Peter Thomas Roth Power Rescue Facial Firming Lift formula.
As for preventing future spots, first protect your skin, particularly your face, hands, and arms, because you expose them to sunlight more frequently. And forget the SPF 15; proceed directly to 30, many dermatologists' new recommended minimum for daily use.
Make sure your product of choice offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection; try Korres SPF 30 Watermelon sunscreen for face and body.
To offset the accumulation of dead skin cells that can still occur no matter how well you protect your skin, use a gentle, natural exfoliant a couple of times a week, suggests Jenny Farrand, director of the new holistic Linden Spa at the Inn at Perry Cabin, in St. Michael's, Maryland.
"Products containing alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids from fruit make good choices," she says. They don't block melanin production as kojic acid does, but they do destroy the bonds that hold cells together. Try Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel to shed that top layer of dead cells.
Why It Happens
Redness results from several issues: inflammation, broken capillaries, and thin skin. As supportive collagen fibers around blood vessels break down over time, capillaries become dilated (or "broken," in common parlance).
Too much sun can accelerate that deterioration and lead to chronic inflammation. Meanwhile, postmenopausal drops in estrogen can thin the skin, "creating an increased translucence that lets you see the red more easily," says Bank.
Davis suggests a three-pronged approach: First, moisturize with formulas that contain anti-inflammatory licorice, calendula, or chamomile to soothe irritated skin. Try Jurlique's new Biodynamic Beauty Night Lotion, made with extracts of all three.
Second, stick to cleansers formulated for sensitive skin. Those containing oat and rice extracts or fermented grains, such as Dr. Hauschka's Cleansing Milk, are a safe bet.
Third, limit the number of products you put on your face, and thus the number of potential skin irritants.
Why It Happens
As we age, our skin produces less natural oil, and our cells' ability to repair themselves and turn over decreases. This slowed exfoliation can cause skin to retain the top layer of cells and grow more opaque.
Combined with a lack of moisturizing sebum, "the skin reflects less light," says Bank, "and looks dull."
Take exfoliation into your own hands. Start with mild scrubs, suggests Davis, who favors those with finely ground almonds, apricot seeds, and other natural sloughers. Try SkinMilk Facial Scrub with almond meal and oat flour. If twice-weekly exfoliation sessions don't do the trick, switch to skin-penetrating alpha-hydroxy acid lotions or peels.
Dull skin also requires extra moisture to restore luster. Any number of natural ingredients can work magic, says organic skin- and hair-care pro John Masters of the eponymous salon in New York. "Look for products with sea algae extract and pomegranate, apricot kernel, rosewood, or borage oils," he says. Pomega5 Revitalizing Nourishing Toner, for one, contains pomegranate seed oil and will balance and revive the skin.
Why They Happen
Smoking ranks as a top cause of those vertical, lipstick-loving lines, and we'll assume that if you ever did light up, you've quit. (Right?)
Habitual lip pursing, regular straw sipping, and chugging from small-mouthed bottles can also cause lines. And even if you don't use straws or smoke, wrinkles around our mouths seem more prominent because lips lose plumpness as we age.
Ease up on the straw habit, drink from wider-mouthed glasses, and try to be mindful of unconsciously pursing your lips.
You may not be able to reverse your skin's collagen loss, but Davis says you can prevent future damage by using antioxidant creams with vitamin C or, even better, coffeeberry, the fruit of the coffee bush that contains the bean. "It has very powerful antioxidants that prevent cell damage," explains Davis. Try RevaleSkin's Day Cream with coffee seed extract. "Apply it under moisturizer or instead of moisturizer," she suggests.
In the short term, plump lips with a rich, natural lubricant: Masters favors the beeswax, shea butter, and olive oil present in his own brand's Lip Calm, a chemical-free favorite.
Why It Happens
Your face naturally loses volume with age because you shed underlying fat and water. That depletion, paired with age-compromised elasticity, equals sag.
Try facial acupuncture, which may help stave off additional sag, and possibly boost collagen and elastin, according to Julie Barsam-Cummings, founder of the Plum Blossom Acupuncture Clinic in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The telltale glow of relaxation after a needle session aside, research has shown that the practice can stimulate the subcutaneous tissue, the deep layers beneath the skin's surface.
Barsam-Cummings adds that sag also results from a lack of blood flow, something acupuncture restores by drawing red and white blood cells to the subcutaneous needling site. "The body should age gracefully," she says, "without bags or wrinkles."
The skin around the eyes becomes especially sag-prone, whether in the form of eyelid droops or under-eye bagginess, because it's so thin and has fewer oil glands. Farrand suggests that when removing makeup or putting in contact lenses, we should try not to scrub or stretch that delicate skin.
Text by Abbie Kozolchyk