The ever-growing armamentarium of products promising to smooth, tighten and invigorate the skin has the potential to overwhelm even the savviest beauty consumer. Not that that’s stopping anyone from stocking up, of course: Last year Americans shelled out $8.3 billion for facial skin care products, according to Kline & Co. That kind of investment calls for some serious due diligence, particularly this fall, when dozens of new arrivals are hitting stores. We sorted through them all, separating the aluminum zirconium from the alkekengis extract, and canvassed top dermatologists for their take, too. Here, a decade-by-decade guide to the best skin care at any age.
“The 20s are skin heaven,” says dermatologist Jeanette Graf, author of Stop Aging, Start Living. “With any luck, there’s no more acne, and lines and discoloration haven’t set in yet.” To that end, the ideal regimen focuses on gentle maintenance and early prevention. Three new lines geared toward those goals have arrived on shelves this fall. Face Boutique, exclusive to Space NK, offers eight straightforward, plant-derived products created specifically with Gen Y in mind. The Peachy Clean Face Wash, for example, uses basil and geranium oils to balance sebum production, without leaving the skin feeling stripped or tight. Chanel’s Beauté Initiale collection is formulated to defend against the very earliest signs of aging with antioxidant-rich blue ginger, an herb native to Madagascar. The extract is “polyfractionated” (Chanel’s patented ingredient-purifying technique) so it’s superconcentrated. The Beauté Initiale Energizing Multi-Protection Serum is also infused with taurine to help energize skin cells during times of fatigue. (This amino acid, incidentally, is a main ingredient in another favorite twentysomething pick-me-up, Red Bull.) MyBlend by Dr. Olivier Courtin (of Clarins family fame) offers eight formulas of lotions and creams, each calibrated for a specific life stage. Formula 03 combines oil-absorbing micro-spheres with an antiaging peptide blend—ideal for a complexion combating both shine and the first signs of lines. MyBlend has also taken a page from the Jamba Juice school of nourishment and concocted five Boosters to address specific needs. The Soother reduces inflammation with licorice; The Energizer draws on ginseng to impart a luminous glow.
Desquamation (derm-speak for dead-skin-cell-shedding) begins to slow in the 20s, so an exfoliant becomes de rigueur. Estée Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisher helps eliminate dulling surface cells with three times the glucosamine found in the original eight-year-old Idealist. Chestnut extract accelerates the action, and polymers smooth away surface imperfections.
Sun protection, too, is key. There’s no truth to the oft-quoted statement that 80 percent of your lifetime sun damage occurs before you’re 18 (the reality’s closer to 20 percent) so the 20s are prime time for photoaging prevention. Layering a powerful antioxidant serum under sunscreen will enhance protection. MD Skincare Hydra-Pure Antioxidant Firming Serum combines 14 different antioxidants (including green tea, vitamins A, C and E and lycopene) to fight collagen-eroding free radicals and the lines that come along with them.
Because only a lucky few see breakouts disappear completely, a blemish fighter is probably also in order. The experts advise trading the benzoyl peroxide of the Oxy years for the much less drying salicylic acid. Dermadoctor Ain’t Misbehavin Intensive Medicated Blackhead Treatment delivers a two-pronged solution to troubled T-zones: Aluminum zirconium temporarily minimizes the appearance of pores, while a combination of salicylic, glycolic and azelaic acids dissolves blackheads over time. (Bonus: Its exfoliating effects also help reverse sun damage by sloughing away dead skin, says dermatologist Diane Berson.) Another option: Erno Laszlo Beta Mask for Blemish Prone Skin comes in one-dose packets to fight breakouts with salicylic acid, oil-absorbing kaolin clay and sweet-smelling calendula flower extract.
The aging process begins as early as the teens, but changes aren’t usually visible to the naked eye until after 30. The first big difference for thirtysomethings is generally the discoloration that begins dappling the cheeks as old sun damage begins to rise to the skin’s surface. Serious bleaching creams (like hydroquinone) aren’t necessary yet, but gentler options can help. Caudalie’s latest Vinoperfect additions—Day Perfecting Cream SPF 15 and Night Correcting Serum—contain Viniferine, the line’s patented antioxidant derived from grapevine stalks. It has been shown to lighten dark spots by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme that controls melanin production. Sisley Sisleÿa Radiance Anti-Aging Concentrate also takes a botanical approach to spot-reversal: Indian cress flower extract helps reduce tyrosinase, while prickly pear flower extract exfoliates and alkekengis (a Chinese plant) extract fights the free-radical damage that causes collagen to degenerate.
The eye area also needs TLC sooner rather than later. “The skin there is the thinnest on the body, so it’s going to be the first place on the face to start noticeably aging,” says dermatologist Debra Jaliman. Kiehl’s Line-Reducing Eye Brightening Concentrate contains vitamin C to smooth away the first hint of crow’s feet. Dark circles usually become more pronounced in the 30s, as bluish-black hemoglobin leaks from the capillaries just under the skin. The Kiehl’s product uses haloxyl, a tetrapeptide, said to help thicken the delicate skin under the eyes so the discoloration isn’t as visible.
Moisture levels fall off after age 30 as the stratum corneum, the skin’s protective barrier, begins to thin, making it less able to hold on to hydration. Oil production has not yet slowed dramatically, so slathering on a superrich cream every day is overkill (and could bring on breakouts); a weekly moisture mask, on the other hand, is advisable. Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Masque is a spin-off of the brand’s cult-favorite Hydrating B5 Gel. The leave-on mask includes double the dose of hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5. It’s a winning ingredient duo for this age group. “Hyaluronic acid provides lots of moisture, but won’t block pores, and B vitamins help reverse discoloration,” says Jaliman.
Collagen breakdown can begin as early as the 30s, so it’s a good time to invest in a true “antiaging” moisturizer. L’Oréal Skin Genesis Daily Moisturizer SPF 15 Lotion draws on the company’s Pro-Xylane, a patented sugar-derived molecule from the beechwood plant that has been found to stimulate the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs, sugar molecules that fortify the skin by acting as a cushion for collagen and elastin fibers. Guerlain Success Future also targets collagen degeneration; the serum, day cream and night cream contain amber extract to help boost the production of the neurotransmitters that spur fibroblasts to create new collagen.
As the desquamation process further slows (by age 40, skin cells in the outermost layer of the epidermis may turn over only every 40 days, as opposed to the optimal 28-day cycle), slight dullness can turn into tangible roughness. Regular use of an at-home exfoliating system, like Dior Capture R60/80 Wrinkle Eraser Kit, jump-starts the skin’s renewal process so it’s once again smooth to the touch. This set comes with Capture R60/80 Finish UV with SPF 35 (skin will be more sun-sensitive after it’s exfoliated) and a travel size of Capture R60/80 Rich Crème to smooth rough spots on the run.
The skin’s natural lipids, often called the “mortar” that holds together the cells of the stratum corneum, are beginning to dissipate, creating cracks in this crucial skin barrier. Pollutants and other environmental aggressors can now get under the skin—literally—and cause irritation. Redness and blotchiness increase, and women predisposed to rosacea often see its first rumblings in their 40s. A rich, moisturizing mask is an effective way to boost the lipid levels in the skin and shore up that barrier. Each Origins Make a Difference Skin Rejuvenating Sheet Mask is steeped in yeast extract and clary sage to stimulate the skin’s own lipid production, plus cupuacu butter and buriti oil to seal in moisture.
Two new creams address the collagen degeneration that accelerates in the 40s. The oligo-peptides in Lancôme Rénergie Microlift R.A.R.E. Superior Lifting Cream increase the production of a collagen-bundling protein called lumican, and in turn give the skin a fuller appearance. Pores also begin to expand as the collagen fibers in the walls around them diminish, so this cream contains a combination of silica and soy proteins to temporarily tighten them. B. Kamins Diamond-Radiance duo includes the Therapeutic Cellular Matrix Fortifier, which also offers both long-term and immediate benefits. Its peptides stimulate collagen production over time, while a sheer tint evens tone and micronized diamond particles refract light to cast a soft-focus lens on lines.
Collagen isn’t the only thing that’s disappearing in the 40s. “The body’s levels of the hormone DHEA are decreasing, which causes sebaceous glands to shrink and oil production to go way down,” says Graf. To keep the skin supple, dermatologists recommend doubling up on hydration by always layering a serum under moisturizer, day and night. RéVive Intensité Fluide Superbe combines the line’s trademark epidermal growth factors (bioengineered proteins that stimulate cell regeneration) with smoothing meadowfoam and inflammation-inhibiting linoleic acid. All three actives are combined in a highly moisturizing olive oil base (very similar in texture to the skin’s own lipid barrier and thus more easily absorbed). Clarins Generation 6 Double Serum nourishes and softens the skin with everything from omega-rich Inca peanuts to soothing African marula fruit. And antioxidants are still crucial to staving off photodamage. Amorepacific Time Response Pure Essence Skin Renewal Serum contains green tea flower essential oil (the company says this is a skin care first—the leaves and stems are usually the only parts mined for their antioxidant powers).
Any skin care regimen will benefit from Shiseido Bio-Performance Intensive Skin Corrective Program. The two-week, two-part system is kind of a deep-conditioning treatment for the face, formulated to repair skin whose protective function has been compromised by aging, stress and UV rays. A lightweight serum is infused with calcium and magnesium ions that draw lipids up from the lower layers of the skin to fortify its barrier; hyaluronic acid and cherry leaf extract replenish moisture on the surface. The serum is sealed in with a rich balm (packaged in individual doses) said to ensure its active ingredients remain in effect for hours.
Menopause begins, on average, at age 51. The loss of estrogen leads to increasing dryness, which causes the epidermal barrier to further deteriorate and allow more water to escape the skin. This is the time for the heaviest moisturizers. Dermatologists recommend products that contain ceramides, rich lipids naturally found in the surface layer of the skin, to help maintain the integrity of the skin’s barrier. Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Gold Ultra Restorative Capsules are a powerful update on its Ceramide Time Complex Capsules first introduced in 1991; this new version contains additional lipids, as well as essential fatty acids. The silky texture is hydrating, but light enough to layer under a thicker moisturizer—like Olay Total Effects Mature Skin Therapy Cream, which contains more moisturizers than any of Olay’s other face products. It also boasts the highest concentration to date of Olay’s VitaNiacin complex, which contains niacinamide, a B vitamin complex that dermatologists praise for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Collagen degeneration is a continued concern, and La Roche-Posay Substiane uses an even more powerful dose of the Pro-Xylane complex contained in L’Oréal’s Skin Genesis. The oil-in-water emulsion combines the GAG-stimulating, collagen-rebuilding ingredient with arginine and serine, moisturizing amino acids that relieve tightness and irritation. Shea butter, beeswax and apricot oil offer extra smoothing. Clinique Zero Gravity Repairwear Lift contains retinol, the vitamin A derivative widely considered the gold-standard collagen fortifier, as part of a powerful cocktail that also includes whey protein for firming and antioxidant vitamins E and C for free-radical protection.
Two new serums take their own innovative approaches. Avon Anew Ultimate Age Repair Elixir is designed to stimulate the skin’s production of proteins called sirtuins, which have been proven to extend the life span of living organisms. The serum is also formulated to activate the skin’s “remodeling” proteins, which help rebuild firmness and elasticity. Cellex-C aims to enhance the structure of the skin with its Age-Less 15 Skin Signaling Serum. The company claims that decades of cellular damage can cause a communication breakdown in the skin; cells are no longer able to signal each other efficiently, which reduces collagen production. Age-Less contains glycosaminoglycans to improve those lines of communication, as well as proteoglucans to enhance elasticity and polysaccharides to refine texture.
The under-eye circles that first appeared in the 30s will be become increasingly visible in the 50s, as volume loss causes the orbital ridge to become more pronounced and create shadows. N.V. Perricone M.D. Cosmeceuticals Advanced Eye Area Therapy blends vitamin K, 18B-glcyrrhetinic acid and vitamin C to brighten. Vitamin B-3 and DMAE help lift and tone. The skin above the eyes can also start to sag, says Graf, so dab the cream underneath the brow as well for optimum efficacy.