The 3 Skin Care Items You Really Need
With each passing decade, our skin shows some of the most visible changes that come with aging. It tends to become drier, less elastic and more spotted as we age. What’s more, the effects of fat loss and facial bone thinning cause skin to sag.
“After age 30, we lose 10 percent per decade in the middle layer of the skin called the dermis,” explains Donna Tepper, M.D., FACS, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital. “We lose strength in the dermis and the supporting structure of the skin.” More concerning than just the appearance of skin, you may begin noticing rough, scaly patches called actinic keratoses (AKs). These scaly spots are more than a cosmetic concern; they’re often precursors to cancer.
Of course, the skin care industry is happy to step in, offering countless products that promise to obliterate unsightly blemishes, make you look like an airbrushed ad-campaign beauty and protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Trouble is, whether you opt for a $5 drug store product or spend a small fortune at an upscale department store, the sheer volume of options can be paralyzing.
While you may not be able to turn back the clock, it’s true that you can combat some of the skin changes that come with age. Here are Dr. Tepper’s three must-have items (plus a bonus tip) to help you preserve and protect the skin you’re in:
- Sunscreen – Sun exposure causes up to 90 percent of skin damage, including wrinkles, fine lines, age spots and cancer. To minimize the toll, Dr. Tepper recommends applying at least a teaspoon of broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) every day — even when you don’t plan to be outside. Sunscreen in makeup or moisturizers often does not provide the adequate protection that comes with a separately applied sunscreen product.
- Antioxidants – Antioxidants are natural compounds that help neutralize rogue chemicals in our bodies called free radicals. While these chemicals occur naturally, they attack the fats, protein and DNA in our cells, which can accelerate the aging process. Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, act as free radical “scavengers,” preventing and repairing free radical damage while improving skin tone and increasing collagen production. “Many antioxidants are unstable in a serum solution and as such are suspended in a lotion for stability,” Dr. Tepper says. “Products sold through a physician’s office have the needed potency for maximal benefit.” There’s a bonus, too: Your skin is much better equipped to absorb vitamin C than your digestive tract.
- Tretinoin or Retinoic Acid (Retin A) — Decades of research support using retinoids (derivatives of Vitamin A) to minimize skin imperfections ranging from wrinkles and fine lines to sagging and age spots. The most effective formulations require a prescription, and redness and peeling is a common side effect, so speak with your skin care specialist, Dr. Tepper advises. “I usually tell patients to start slow, applying a small amount every other night and gradually increasing to nightly application,” she says. Do not use products containing retinol or Retin-A if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Dr. Tepper also recommends a bonus product — alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs). Your skin cells are constantly regenerating, even in your senior years. Products containing natural exfoliators like AHAs encourage the regeneration process, helping slough away dead skin cells, clear up acne and stimulate collagen production. AHAs also help brighten the skin and diminish the dull, sallow appearance that sometimes comes with aging. Choose an emollient cream for dry skin, a lotion for moderately oily skin and an alcohol-based product for oil-prone skin.
Even the best products can’t guarantee safety from skin lesions, cancer or age-related changes. Be aware of blemishes that don’t heal, bumps that bleed easily and rough, scaly patches, Dr. Tepper cautions. These may turn into cancer but are easily treated if caught early. Also, pay attention to the A-B-C-D warning signs of melanoma in your skin’s freckles, moles or spots: A for asymmetrical, B for irregular borders, C for abnormal color and D for diameter (larger than a pencil eraser). “These skin changes need to be checked out by a professional,” Dr. Tepper says.
To make an appointment with a skin care professional, call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) or visit henryford.com.
Dr. Donna Tepper is a Senior Staff Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon with Henry Ford Health System, who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe Farms and Novi.