Anti-aging skin products are all the rage these days, and I get it—who doesn’t want healthy, glowing skin when they’re older? Many skin changes don’t really show when we’re younger but become more obvious and persistent with age.
While some skin changes are a normal part of the aging process, there are some things you can do to help prevent them and lessen their appearance.
The foundations of healthy skin
So, what can we do to prevent or lessen the impact of wrinkles, spots and other signs of aging? The simple answer is first and foremost, sun protection. And second, giving your skin what it needs. Here’s what I mean by that.
Stick to the basics of sun protection. You’ve heard them before, but they really can’t be overstated:
- Stay out of the midday sun.
- Use sunscreen regularly.
- Reapply every two hours and after getting out of the water.
- If you don’t like sunscreen, invest in protective clothing.
Protective clothing is a great way to not have to worry about sun protection while you are out and about. Many companies make UPF clothing these days that will protect the covered areas all day long. Look for the UPF sign on the tag and don’t forget to wear a hat and sunglasses.
I like to keep things easy and simple: wash your face daily, followed by a moisturizer. As we talked about before, our skin loses moisture with age, which can make wrinkles more pronounced.
Many patients ask me about what brand to use, and I have to say I don’t have a favorite brand. My usual answer is to “shop around” and find a moisturizer that feels good on your skin. Everyone’s skin is different and has different needs. Keep in mind that an expensive product does not guarantee satisfaction or a better outcome than a less expensive product.
For many, plain old petroleum jelly is a great moisturizer, especially during the drier wintertime. Hyaluronic acid is a great add-on moisturizer as well. It is often sold in a serum form as an anti-wrinkle product.
A topical retinoid is also a great tool for anyone who wants to combat early sun damage, unwanted dark spots and fine wrinkles.
How early to start using anti-aging products
So, when should you start protecting your skin against age? Honestly, right now! In most cases, it is not too early to start with a topical retinoid, even if you’re young. In teenagers and young adults, this is actually a common treatment for acne.
And let’s face it—the aging process of the skin starts much earlier than we think. Topical retinoids can be found in many anti-aging creams. I usually recommend you either get a prescription retinoid or an over-the-counter retinoid (you can find it in the acne section), rather than combination creams.
If you’re already dealing with pigment changes on your face, topical retinoids can help with so-called dyspigmentation or dark mottled spots. Other substances that can be beneficial are vitamin C, kojic acid and azelaic acid. These can be found in many over-the-counter “lightening” products. Using these acids helps exfoliate the superficial skin layers.
Most common skin issues as we age
So, what can you do when you start to notice your skin showing its age? The top skin complaints that we see with age are wrinkles, seborrheic keratoses, skin tags, melasma or pigment changes, and solar lentigines.
Let’s talk about what each of these looks like and what you can do to treat them.
One common complaint with age is new “bumps” on the skin. Most often these are seborrheic keratoses. They look like a stuck-on brown, scaly spot that can present anywhere on the body. These happen later in life and are often hereditary. They are harmless, but you may think they’re unsightly.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great treatment for seborrheic keratosis. Lactic acid-based lotions can make seborrheic keratoses less apparent but will not remove them. In-office treatments can work, but they might not be covered by insurance since removal of these lesions is often considered cosmetic.
Skin tags are harmless skin growths that are more common in older adults. They seem to develop more frequently in areas of friction, which is why you might notice more around the neck and armpits. Acrochordons (their fancy medical name) can be associated with pregnancy, obesity and diabetes.
Sometimes, harmless spots like skin tags can be the most difficult to treat. No great treatment exists for skin tags. If they’re small, they can be snipped off at home with a clean pair of nail scissors. Ask your dermatologist if you have questions.
This is likely one of the first things that come to mind when you think about aging skin. Wrinkles are simply lines and creases on our skin that are part of the normal aging process.
The cause is multifactorial—as we age, our skin becomes thinner, less elastic and drier. Our skin cells divide more slowly, the elastic and collagen fibers become looser and the skin is not able to retain as much moisture (water and oil) as it used to.
Other environmental factors can accelerate the process, especially smoking and excessive sun damage.
Melasma or pigment changes (aka “dark spots”)
Melasma is more common in women and most prominent in sun-exposed areas of the skin such as around the eyes and mouth, cheeks and forehead. Hormonal changes like pregnancy and hormonal treatments (including oral birth control pills) can be triggers. Most people notice worsening during the summer months or with increased sun exposure, and lightening in the wintertime.
Solar lentigines (aka “sun spots”)
Also known as age spots or liver spots, these are harmless pigmented lesions that most commonly present in fair-skinned individuals. As the name implies, they are due to sun exposure and usually develop later in life.
When to see a dermatologist
To sum up, now is a good time to get back into a healthy skin regimen. Even though our skin needs more care with age and everyone’s skin is a little different, the pillars of care are the same for all skin—young and old.
If you’ve tried all the over-the-counter products and still want a little more effectiveness, in-office procedures like chemical peels and laser treatments can be a helpful option.
Ready to take your skin care to the next level? Find a dermatologist near you.
About the author
Kirstin Altman, MD, is a dermatologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.