Skincare Guide: The ABC's of Anti-Aging

Everything you need to know about fighting wrinkles, saggy skin, dark spots and other signs of aging


Vitamin A
Vitamin A is the source of the anti-aging powerhouse retinol. It's what builds and repairs collagen and elastin, says Dr. Harold Lancer, author of "Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin." "It's also what keeps the color in your skin uniform and protected." Just as important as using a retinol product on your skin at night: boosting the amount of vitamin A in your body by eating a balanced diet rich in leafy greens and other veggies, fruits and lean proteins. And if all else fails, take a multivitamin or supplement.

AHAs
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are often found in cleansers, exfoliating agents and moisturizers. "As you age, cell turnover slows down and you accumulate more dull, dead skin," says Dr. Lancer. When applied directly to your skin, AHAs speed cell turnover, shedding dead cells and revealing new ones.



Beauty sleep
One of the best age fighters happens to be totally free: sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, your body releases more cortisol (the stress hormone that breaks down collagen) and curbs the amount of human growth hormone you produce. "HGH works during the night to repair tissue, restoring skin cells after the wear and tear of the day," says Dr. Lancer. The way you sleep also factors into the aging process. Sleeping face-down puts pressure on your face and increases fine lines.



Chemical peels
Chemical peels utilize concentrated forms of AHAs, which shed and regenerate skin cells quickly. Most peels are derived from fruit acids, and you can find weaker at-home treatments that have a low percentage of acid or stronger treatments at your derm's office. Chemical peels can address problems like sun damage and those subtle, crepe-y lines around the eyes and mouth, says Dr. Lancer.

Ceramides
"Ceramides form a plate-like barrier between our skin cells and help restore the skin's natural barrier," says Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, co-founder of Specific Beauty Skincare. Think of ceramides as the giant padlock that holds in your skin's moisture. As you age and your skin gets drier, topicals containing ceramides can help you achieve dewier, more radiant skin.

Vitamin C
Every day, your skin gets exposed to sun, environmental pollutants and a whole lot of other damaging gunk that causes uneven skin texture, sagging, dryness and fine lines. Vitamin C not only helps reverse free-radical damage, it also boosts collagen production. Look for daytime serums that contain vitamin C and be sure you're getting the maximum recommended daily allowance (90 milligrams) in your diet. (One navel orange contains a whopping 82.7 milligrams of vitamin C.) 


Vitamin D
News flash: Laying in the sun or tanning in a salon are not excusable ways to get your vitamin D intake. This will only age you faster. But vitamin D is important in helping with calcium absorption, which in turn supports healthy cell turnover according to Dr. Lancer. Fish, dairy, fortified cereals and mushrooms are all rich in vitamin D.



Exfoliate
Exfoliating is a crucial step in your anti-aging skin care routine. Dr. Lancer recommends exfoliating with a mechanical or chemical exfoliant once per week at night, then exfoliating more frequently as you learn what your skin can tolerate. (Exfoliate less often if you have sensitive skin or rosacea.) "Chemical exfoliants are topical agents that can contain citric, glycolic or lactic acids," he explains. "Mechanical agents use some sort of grain or bead." But be cautious when using those scrubby exfoliants. Irregular or jagged particles, such as walnuts or apricot pits, can tear the skin.

Exercise
"Moderate exercise, such as Pilates, yoga and stretching, is crucial to skin health," says Dr. Lancer. "It increases circulation, oxygenating the skin and organs and helps to flush toxins out of the skin through our sweat." You can even do facial yoga!


Fire
It's only natural to want to curl up next to a fireplace or scoot a little closer to that heater vent when it's freezing outside, but sitting too close to a heat source can break down collagen, thin the skin, and ultimately cause premature wrinkling similar to the damage done by UV rays. "If you use a small space heater near your desk or chair, change its position so it doesn't continually hit the same part of your skin," says Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu.

Glycolic acid
"Glycolic acid is the most widely used AHA (see A) in skin care products," says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. Dr. Lancer recommends introducing glycolic acid into your skin care routine as a chemical exfoliant gradually, because it can irritate or scar darker skin tones.



Hyaluronic acid
"This is a sugar produced by the body to keep tissues cushioned and lubricated," says Dr. Lancer. As you age, or if you don't maintain a healthy diet (which, let's face it, happens), you lose hyaluronic acid. Look for this in moisturizers to plump the skin for a more youthful appearance.


Ionized water
"Free radicals thrive in acidic environments, which increases cell oxidation, one of the root causes of aging," says Dr. Lancer. Drinking ionized water from a filter or ionizer can help maintain the alkaline pH in your body. Ross Bridgeford, author of "The Alkaline Diet Recipe Book," recommends starting slowly by drinking mild alkaline water for two weeks, slowly increasing the pH level. (The pH of tap water typically ranges from 6.0 to 8.4 pH; ionized water ranges from 8.4 to 9.4 pH.)



Juicing
Adding fresh-pressed juices to your diet can significantly increase your Vitamin C intake (see C). "Higher vitamin C intakes are associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance, whereas increased fat and carbohydrate intakes increase the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance," says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. Not into green juices? Just eat your fruits and veggies.


Kale
Dark green vegetables such as kale contain high levels of vitamins and minerals. "In addition to being a great base for a healthy diet, these vitamins and minerals aid collagen production and help the skin cells to reproduce and repair themselves," says Dr. Lancer.


Less liquor
A happy hour cocktail or glass of wine here and there won't do extreme damage to your skin, but regular consumption can speed up the signs of aging. Alcohol dehydrates your skin, dilating pores and causing inflammation. Booze also depletes your body of vitamin A, which is vital to the cell turnover process that keeps your skin looking young.


Moisturize
A daily moisturizer is a must for all skin types. Your daytime moisturizer should have broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Dr. Heidi Waldorf, a New York-based dermatologist, says the most effective sunscreens contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or avobenzone. And don't neglect often-overlooked areas like the backs of your of hands and your neck and elbows.


No frowning
Most of us spend back-to-back hours frowning or squinting at a computer screen every day. These repetitive facial expressions end up carving lines into our faces between the eyebrows and along the mouth (aka marionette lines). To break up the repetition, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, focus on a location 20 feet away for 20 seconds to relax your face and eyes.


Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important essential fatty acids (see E) for regulating moisture in your skin. "When cells are plump and hydrated, skin is softer, less wrinkled and has a healthy glow," says Dr. Lancer. Add these to your diet by eating more fish or taking daily fish oil supplements.


Polyphenols
Studies show that foods rich in polyphenols, the antioxidants found in green tea, berries and dark chocolate, can reverse or slow free radical damage. More chocolate? Yes, please.

Peptides
When collagen begins to break down in your skin as you age, your body produces specific types of peptides that trigger the production of more collagen. Research suggests that you can "trick" your body into producing more collagen by applying peptide-rich products directly to the skin.


Quit smoking
So, you slather yourself in SPF 50 sunscreen religiously and use the best anti-aging creams money can buy, but you're still lighting up? Every cigarette robs your skin of oxygen and vitamin C, and contributes to the formation of those telltale wrinkles that form around your mouth. P.S. Have you seen the price of a pack of smokes lately? According to DailyFinance.com, the average smoker spends about $1,500 a year on cigarettes. Replace that expensive habit with a healthier one: monthly facials!


Retinol
There are no magic bullets in anti-aging, but if you're looking for the oldest, most trusted and heavily researched anti-aging ingredient in skin care, you can find it in retinol. Retinol is basically any vitamin A derivative found in skin care products, and helps you shed dead skin cells more rapidly. Dr. Lancer recommends using retinol in varying intensities depending on your age and need, but warns that you should only apply at night as it makes your skin extra sensitive to sunlight. After age 40, it's generally safe to work up to using retinol up to four days a week.


Smile
You may achieve the soft, radiant skin of a newborn with a great skin care regimen, but a set of coffee- and red-wine-stained teeth can age your appearance in an instant. You can whiten your teeth at home, but in-office whitening treatments from the dentist can give you pearly whites in about an hour, rather than several weeks.


Be tender
When applying skin care products, particularly eye creams, don't rub or smear the product into your skin. With your pinky or ring finger (they deliver the lightest touch) dot and pat the product around the treatment areas. Tension and pulling around the eyes can decrease elasticity, says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd.



UVA/UVB
Read the label on your sunscreen as if the life of your skin depends on it -- because it does. "Not every sunscreen offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays," says Dr. Lancer. UVB rays are the ones most likely to cause sunburn, but UVA rays are known to contribute heavily to photo aging and the development of skin cancer, so it's important to protect your skin from both. You know the drill: Apply a sunscreen SPF 30 or higher 30 minutes before you go outside, and reapply every three hours. To maximize your sun protection regimen, Dr. Lancer recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 20 or higher on lips, and wearing sunglasses to cut back on squinting, which causes crow's feet and frown lines.


Volume
As you age, you lose some of the fat from your face, which can result in hollows under the eyes and a thinner upper lip. Cosmetic fillers add volume where fat has been lost. Remember: Botox is not a filler. A filler fills the wrinkle with product, which adds volume, whereas Botox relaxes the muscle that's creating the wrinkle, says dermatologist Derek Jones, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at UCLA.


Walnuts
Start sneaking walnuts into your yogurt, salads and other dishes. These nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids (see O), and also contain anti-inflammatory powers that can help eczema sufferers. "Half a cup of walnuts provide enough omega-3 for a daily requirement of four grams," says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd.


Xtra relaxation
Chill out. Meditate. Play violin. Read a great American novel. Whatever you do for serious, relaxing downtime, do it and do it more often. "Stress causes the production of the hormone cortisol in our bodies," says Dr. Lancer. "Over time, this thins and dries out the skin, breaks down collagen and leads to sagging, fine lines and wrinkles." Stress also affects the quality of sleep (see B).



Youth-preserving serum
Good face serums can contain truckloads of beneficial ingredients including hyaluronic acid, kojic acid, vitamin C -- anti-aging elements that smooth fine lines, help your skin retain moisture and fight free radical damage. Apply serums after spot treatments and before moisturizers. For specific details about how (and when) to apply specific products.


Zap
In-office anti-aging treatments have evolved far beyond surgery. Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments use a bright light to burn off dark spots and decrease redness. According to Dr. Woolery-Lloyd, you can see results from IPL in as little as two or three treatments. Another treatment option is a fractional laser. "They burn columns of skin leaving healthy, normal skin in between," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says. These laser procedures can improve fine lines and wrinkles in as little as two treatments spaced six weeks apart.




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