No one has completely perfect skin, but you don't need a staff of people or celebrity money to win your battle over blemishes, push back the signs of aging, and feel absolutely gorgeous. Here's how to put your best face (and shoulders and neck) forward.
1. Drink enough water
We know, we know. You've heard this a million times, but staying hydrated remains one of the most significant things you can do to improve your complexion. "This tip is so easy, but it's also the first thing I tell women to do to take better care of their skin," says medical esthetician Peggi Sobota. "Because the skin is one of the last organs to get hydrated when you drink water, it really shows if you have or haven't been drinking enough water."
Conventional wisdom says eight glasses of water a day are plenty, but Sobota recommends a new formula: taking your body weight and dividing that number in half to get the number of ounces of water you should be drinking each day (for example, a 150-pound woman should consume 75 ounces daily). Although you might not see instant results, Sobota says many women see a difference in just a few short days.
2. Microdermabrasion is a truly effective exfoliator-most other scrubs should be trashed.
"When we're young, our skin cells turn over about every 28 days," Sobota explains. "But as we age, cells turn over 35, 40, or even every 50 days. What you need are products and treatments [like microdermabrasion] that prompt skin to turnover and essentially trick it into thinking it is younger."
Microdermabrasion is a skin-buffing treatment that can cost $75 to $200 per session in a reputable medical spa. Even if you're on a budget, one session could give your skin a big boost. However, regular treatments, whether every three weeks or every eight, are best for most people's skin concerns, she says.
"One time will make you feel better," Sobota notes. "But like working out, once is better than nothing, but doing it regularly will make a much bigger impact."
She also suggests steering clear of drugstore facial and body scrubs.
"Apricot seed scrubs can cause microscopic tears and synthetic ball scrubs actually don't do much for your skin. Using these products actually may cause more problems than you already have with your skin. You really can't get comparable exfoliation to microdermabrasion over the counter."
3. You need sunscreen, but not tons of it.
Both dermatologist Dr. Eric Schweiger and Sobota agree that using sunscreen daily is one of the very first changes you should make to improve your skin.
"Those signs of aging many women heading toward 40 see -- little mouth lines, sun spots, crow's feet -- are not things you should biologically see until your 60s. If you see them before that, you did that to yourself. You can't erase the damage that's been done, but you can stop it from progressing rapidly," Sobota points out.
Dr. Schweiger recommends using a moisturizer-sunscreen combination, while Sobota reminds women that they don't need to slather on a ton of sunscreen to get its full effects.
"You only need a shot glass-size amount to cover the entire body, which means the amount that goes on your face is about the size of a quarter," she says.
4. Protect yourself against the sun, even when you're inside.
Even if you're sitting in a cubicle all day, you could be getting exposure to sunlight that can damage and age your skin. "If you sit near a window, UVA rays can come through and take a toll on your skin," Sobota warns. "There's even some evidence that fluorescent lighting can have an impact. Most of us are cautious outside, but you really need to touch up your sunscreen just like you powder your nose."
How do you do this without stripping off your makeup and starting your beauty regimen over or adding goopy sprays over your foundation? Sobota recommends powder sunscreens (like this product she uses) that you can dab on.
5. SPF makeup? It just doesn't cut it.
"It's a nice try, a good buffer, but the amount of SPF in makeup and what you get in sunscreen are not equal," Sobota says.
If you're prone to breakouts during summer months, Dr. Schweiger suggests using a tinted moisturizer-it's a great option for people with sensitive skin or those who want lighter-weight coverage for blemishes or acne scarring because it allows you to use fewer products.
6. Your chest, neck, and back need SPF love, too.
Spectacular skin isn't just about the face. Sobota says you shouldn't stop at your jawline when you're addressing blemishes, wrinkles, dryness, or other issues.
"Whatever sunscreen or moisturizer or cleanser you use on your face, you should use on your neck and chest," she advises. "If you have someone to help, also apply it to your back."
This is especially necessary during warmer months when shoulders are bare, backs are revealed, and necklines plunge a bit.
7. Morning eye puffiness? Here's an easy trick
Dr. Schweiger says the most simple remedy for lightening dark circles and decreasing puffiness under the eyes-two of her patients' most common complaints-is splashing cold water on your face first thing in the morning, which shrinks the blood vessels and decreases eye puffiness.
However, more serious under-eye circles may call for more aggressive treatment. Dark circles can be caused by sun damage or from genetically driven pigmentation; bluish-hued circles can stem from vascular issues. Also, as we age, we lose the fat underneath our eyes, which causes a gaunt or tired appearance. In these cases, Dr. Schweiger says Juvederm and other fillers can help plump up the area and provide a more youthful appearance.
In-office treatment isn't always necessary, however. Dr. Schweiger says there are some very effective lightening creams available at drug stores. The key is in finding a topical cream that is made up of hydroquinone in 2% concentration. He says most people notice an improvement in the skin around their eyes in about two weeks.
8. Apply Retinol carefully-more is actually worse
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that is used to combat acne as well as the signs of aging by spurring skin turnover and increasing collagen. It is available in prescription-strength formulas through a dermatologist, but can also be found in lower concentrations in cosmetics and creams. Although people might be tempted to apply it often, Dr. Schweiger says that will only irritate the skin more.
"People used to think that to get the benefits of Retinol, the skin had to really peel. But really, this is just a side effect of using it too much," he says. "Instead, I recommend to most patients to use it three times a week. They see fewer side effects and might avoid that redness and peeling we associate with it."
9. Workouts don't have to lead to breakouts.
If you're one of those people who feels great about exercising, but not so great about the breakouts you get from excessive sweating, you don't have to sacrifice your time on the treadmill for fabulous skin. Acne-prone exercisers might just find the solution in the gym locker room.
"Right after your workout, shower or wash your face right there at the gym. And since you're already there, take advantage of the gym's steam room for a few minutes. This will open up pores and reduce your chance of breaking out," Dr. Schweiger notes.
10. Get your vitamin C, and not just in your diet.
Eating lots of broccoli or adding orange juice to your morning meal may help your body ward off cardiovascular disease and boost your health, but to really see the benefits of Vitamin C on your skin, you have to apply it topically.
"Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant," Sobota says. "It fights free-radical damage, which makes it wonderful for anti-aging."
Over-the-counter products that contain vitamin C "won't accomplish your goal" of getting more beautiful skin, Sobota says. But prescription-strength products can make a big difference in keeping the skin looking young.
11. You don't need lots of products, you just need the right ones.
"Most patients I see have spent tons of money on a drawer full of insufficient products," Sobota says bluntly. "A visit to the drug store is just not going to cut it for most of us."
If you're really committed to boosting the health and appearance of your skin, you are far more likely to get results from products recommended or prescribed by a dermatologist, esthetician, or other medical skincare professional, she says. Although this might make some penny-pinchers cringe, she insists it will actually save people money in the long run.
"You should be using the correct products with the proper ingredients for your skin, your goals for how you want to look, and your health. Most of us don't need any more than three or four products total for great skin. If you're buying and using lots of things, even if you got them for a much lower price at the drug store, and you're not getting the results you need, then none of it's doing any good. It's a waste!"
Being honest about getting older and "upping the ante"-that is, investing in a few clinical-grade products rather than creams out of the bargain bin-will help older women hold on to a youthful glow. And taking skin protection seriously will help younger people develop healthy habits that could lead to a lifetime of smooth, supple skin.
What's the best advice you've ever gotten for keeping your skin clear and radiant?
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