30-Something Skincare: What You Need to Know
OK, I’ll admit it. I didn’t tan myself to a crisp in my teens and early 20s—but I didn’t wear SPF as religiously as I should have. And as I neared 30, I started noticing a little “character” around my eyes and mouth. Vanity isn’t a sin that I’ve ever been afraid to cop to, so I headed to the store to investigate some new anti-aging skincare products.
As I stood under the fluorescents trying to decipher labels of the 100 (or so) products on the shelf, a woman roughly my age walked up and seemed to be having the same bewildering experience. Is the $50 or $10 cream better? Should I go for coffee berry or green tea? What about toner? Wait—what is toner? The last time I’d actively shopped for skin care was eighth grade, when I slapped on some Clearasil and called it a day (those were the very dark pre-ProActiv days).
What I needed was a skincare fairy godmother—someone to simplify the science and show me how to shop. I tracked down Polly Loveton-Vallone, a physician’s assistant specializing in cosmetic dermatology in Newport Beach, California, and she had answers—so I just had to share. Together, we’ll try to save you some grief (and green) at the skin care counter.
Pick a Product That Works: Know Your Retin As and Vitamin Cs
Here’s the deal: As you approach your third decade, some interesting things start happening to your skin. Your production of collagen and elastin (the proteins responsible for skin’s structure and flexibility) decrease and the effects of genetics, smoking, and sun-worshipping start to show.
To fight back, the wrinkle-reducing superstar you want to look for is tretinoin (a.k.a. Retin A). “Retin A is a great stimulator of collagen,” says Loveton-Vallone. “Nightly use exfoliates skin, imparting a healthy glow, and smoothes fine lines—it can actually reverse skin damage with years of consistent use.”
The most potent forms of Retin A require a prescription, but a milder form, called retinol, is available over the counter. “The Olay Pro-X and Olay Regenerist products have generated good buzz, as well as the retinols by RoC,” says Loveton-Vallone.
A conversation about collagen wouldn’t be complete without an aside on antioxidants. Sun, smoking, and pollution generate collagen-attacking free radicals, but antioxidants like vitamin C, coffee berry, coenzyme Q10, and idebenone (the active ingredient in Prevage) can fight back, and are all good ingredients to look for.
Copper peptide also warrants a mention for its antioxidant and collagen/elastin building properties, as do hydroxy acids (like glycolic and lactic) for their ability to exfoliate skin and stimulate collagen production.
“I like Obagi's Professional-C Serum 20%. It has a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid (a fancy word for Vitamin C) in serum form that allows skin penetration,” says Loveton-Vallone. “Other products claim high concentrations but are in the wrong form. If it can't get in—what good is it?”
And while you’re scanning the label for ingredients, bring a critical eye. Just like you’re probably used to scrutinizing food labels—checking for sneaky trans-fat in snacks or if your oatmeal is organic—you should also have a bit of healthy suspicion when scanning skincare labels. “If you listen to commercials on TV, you can hear “May improve the look of discoloration and wrinkles—not improve discoloration and wrinkles,” says Loveton-Vallone. Needless to say, you want stuff that really works.
Choosing the Right Product for You
That said, Loveton-Vallone emphasizes that what works for your friend may not work for you—the “right” product is patient- and skin-dependent. So, how do you decide which of those hundreds of bottles is the perfect pick?
The trick is to talk to someone—and we don’t mean marching into Sephora on a busy Saturday demanding service. Slow down, pick a salesperson or skincare professional with plenty of time, and be specific about your skin and your expectations. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends identifying your “#1 concern” (be it adult acne or anti-aging) and choosing only products that are designed to treat that. Starting too many products simultaneously (especially anti-aging ones like Retin A/retinol products and hydroxy acids) can irritate your skin.
Asking questions and experimenting are necessary to find the magic skin care mix. “And, I like a good return policy—Rite Aid lets you return a product if you aren’t happy,” Loveton-Vallone says.
How long should you wait before deciding it needs to go back? Retin A and retinol products can take up to three months to work, while antioxidants like Vitamin C and coffee berry one to three. And it may take an entire month of use to show if the product causes acne or breakouts. (That said, stop the medication if you’re not tolerating the side effects or you experience extreme irritation, skin cracking, or bleeding.)
Finally, if untangling the intricacies of cleanser (cleanses skin of makeup, dirt, and bacteria), toner (aims to pick up what cleanser left behind and rebalance your skin’s pH—but isn’t really necessary, according to experts), moisturizer (holds in hydration and can improve the look of wrinkles but doesn’t treat or prevent them), anti-aging serums, and sunscreen isn’t for you, skip the skincare store altogether and head to the doc. Your local dermatologist can dream up a specifically tailored plan (and save you from battling tweens buying eye shadow).
Use as Directed
You may have heard horror stories about redness, flaking, and peeling associated with Retin A and retinol products, and while all of these things can happen (especially at first as your skin adjusts), most can tolerate the drug by following the mantra “less is more.”
“A pea-size amount should cover the entire face and [start with] every second or third night,” advises Loveton-Vallone. “And if your skin tolerates it (it’s not too dry or flaky), work up to nightly use.”
Finally, don’t forget a daily moisturizer and sunscreen—Retin A and retinol products increase sun sensitivity and dryness. Not to beat a (sunburned) horse, but you should be slapping on a daily sun protector anyway—make sure it’s at least 30 SPF and covers UVA/UVB rays.
Because the best anti-aging weapon for your skin of all? Protecting it in the first place.
Photo courtesy of Nico Paix.
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