The Best Anti-Aging Skin Care
How to protect against dryness, irritation, and more as the years pass
L ike bones, skin often becomes more fragile with age. It may seem more delicate and prone to tears and irritation than it once did, and feel drier and itchier.
“Many factors—including loss of collagen, changes in blood vessels, sun exposure, and medications—combine to affect how well skin does its job,” says Sarina Elmariah, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
What's Causing Those Skin Changes
Your skin is composed of several layers. Each one becomes thinner over time. All the layers contain collagen—the protein that provides structure, keeping skin thick and firm.
With age and sun exposure, collagen production declines, often causing sagging, wrinkles, and slower healing. In fact, wounds may last up to four times longer in older adults than in younger people.
In addition to the forces of aging and environment, several other factors can contribute to thinning skin. Menopause can make it more difficult for skin to retain moisture, leaving it almost papery. Many common medications can also thin skin or cause it to bruise more easily, including oral steroids (such as prednisone), topical steroids (such as hydrocortisone), and some blood thinners (including aspirin).
Skin doesn’t just get thinner as you age; it also gets drier. Up to 85 percent of older adults have extremely dry skin (dubbed xerosis).
But it’s not inevitable: When the outermost layer of the skin is functioning at its best, it keeps moisture in and protects the skin from external assaults (such as chemicals, smoke, and other irritants). Improving this layer’s strength will help your skin feel less dry and irritated, and look better.
Update Your Skin-Care Habits
“Taking proper care of your skin becomes even more important as you age,” says Shari Lipner, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. “And that may mean changing some of your skin-care products and habits.”
Forgo long, hot showers and baths; both can dry out and irritate the skin—especially during cold, dry weather. “Limit your showers and baths to 5 or 10 minutes in tepid—not hot—water,” Elmariah says.
You’ll also want to re-evaluate some of the products in your bathroom. Toss out any harsh scrubs, for instance. If you want to exfoliate the dead, dry skin, try rubbing a soft washcloth over wet skin, suggests David E. Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Look for a gentle soap—bar or liquid—that’s fragrance-free, because fragrances may irritate sensitive skin and dry it out. And as soon as you towel off, be sure to moisturize from head to toe.
“If you layer your moisturizer on top of still-damp skin, it helps lock in the moisture,” Lipner says. Creams are richer and more hydrating than lotions; ointments (such as petroleum jelly) are best at sealing the barrier and retaining water.
A review of 33 studies, published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2013, found that a combination of ingredients that hold moisture in the skin (such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid) and those that contain fatty ingredients to smooth it (such as cocoa butter, lanolin, and petrolatum) are best at improving dryness and reinforcing this critical barrier. The best skin-care strategy uses ingredients from both groups.
Care for Wounds the Right Way
Thin, fragile skin is more prone to cuts and scrapes than healthy skin. But beware of adhesive bandages, which can irritate or cut the skin, Bank says. Look for labels that say “sensitive skin,” or cover the wound with a nonstick pad and use paper tape or an elastic wrap (like an Ace bandage) to keep it in place.
In people with diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and some other health issues, wounds can become chronic—generally defined as not healing within three months. Talk to your doctor if a cut is not healing normally.