Like many women, I have trouble with the concept of “anti-aging.” It implies that there is something wrong with growing older, especially for women, and that we should be waging a battle to prevent the inevitable. Society puts a premium on youth and, by extension, so do I—even though I chide myself for my vanity in private (and now in public).
Then I started thinking: anti-aging isn’t all vanity, or growing old and the fear that can come with it. It’s also about taking care of your body. Processed foods, ultraviolet rays searing through our flimsy ozone layer and pollution in the atmosphere wreak havoc on our skin, causing drying, brown spots, acne and fine lines. By developing a skincare routine that has “anti-aging” properties, you’re really just cleaning your skin and protecting it against the negative side effects that are part of living on Earth in 2013. How’s that for a sales pitch?
The Way We Age
According to Dr. Paul Cohen, dermatologist at the Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto, women in their 20s often start to notice fine lines, lines from repeated muscle expression (such as smile and frown lines) and discolouration. “A lot of women get pigmentation problems from using birth control pills or having babies, which is called melasma,” he says. Unprotected exposure to the sun also causes brown spots and redness. In an informal questionnaire posed to women ages 23 to 35, many noticed that their skin no longer bounces back as easily as it used to: “If I’ve had a breakout and make the mistake of trying to deal with it, then I notice scars. When I was younger, I couldn’t tell a difference,” says Amber, 26. “I notice my forehead looks spotty when I’ve been in the sun,” says Caroline, 26. “Between my eyebrows, the squint wrinkle lines don’t disappear as fast as they used to,” says Megan, 30. As a woman gets older, each of these issues will become more pronounced, with the addition of broken blood vessels and drying caused by decreasing estrogen levels.
The #1 Preventative Measure
The most important part of protective and preventative skincare is “[Using sunscreen] during the winter months, cloudy days, all the time,” says Dr. Cohen. It’s key for preventing skin cancer and other sun damage. Surprisingly, of the women surveyed, less than half wear the appropriate level of SPF on a daily basis. For day-to-day at the office or indoors, a teaspoon of broad-spectrum face sunscreen with SPF 30 should be sufficient. Remember: UV rays can penetrate glass windows! If you’re spending the day at the beach, use a shot glass of sunscreen for the whole body with an SPF of 60. Of course, you’ll have to reapply every few hours—especially after swimming. Whether you choose a physical blocker (which sits on the skin and reflects UV rays) or a chemical blocker (which penetrates the skin and converts UV rays into harmless heat) is personal preference. Physical sunscreens are usually appropriate for those with sensitive skin or allergies because they aren’t absorbed.
Develop a Regimen
Though incredibly important, sunscreen is only the final piece of the skincare puzzle. An ideal routine for a woman in her 20s starts with a cleanser that contains glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can also be found in masks and peels. It will mildly exfoliate skin to produce a healthy glow by reducing pigmentation problems, fine lines and acne scarring. Next, apply an antioxidant serum containing Vitamin C, E or green tea, which will help prevent further deterioration. Antioxidants (also found in colourful foods such as pomegranates, blueberries and cantaloupe) neutralize free radicals, which are unstable particles in the skin that damage skin cells. Now, add a face and an eye cream, which is usually a gentler type of moisturizer that may treat eye-specific issues such as blood pooling, dark circles and crow’s feet. Skip creams that are too rich or thick unless you have dry skin because they can block pores and cause breakouts—a legitimate concern for young women. Dr. Cohen says that retinol—known for its ability to stimulate collagen production to help the appearance of fine lines—can also improve pigmentation and help with acne. If the retinol causes drying or irritation, only use it a couple nights a week.
Tria Beauty Skin Perfecting Foam Cleanser, $28, sephora.com. Kate Somerville Total Vitamin Antioxidant Face Serum, $65, katesomerville.com. Eucerin Hyal-Urea Anti-Wrinkle Day Cream, $20, at mass market retailers and pharmacies. Philosophy Miracle Worker Retinoid Eye Repair Cream, $65, sephora.com. Kiss My Face Face Factor SPF 50 for Face and Neck, $12, well.ca.
Change Your Diet
Finally, watch what you eat and drink. Guzzle water: your skin will lose the ability to retain moisture as you age, so hydration is key. Also cut down on dairy, chocolate, carbs and white flour, all of which cause blemishes—even in older women. Your skin (and your 50-year-old self) will thank you.