Whether you’re 25 or 65, you want to look your best. But no matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, each day brings tiny changes that chip away at our youth and beauty. Based on my years as a plastic surgeon in New York City, I can tell you this: You can’t stop yourself from getting older, but you can do more to protect and maintain the good looks you have now. Start tonight — all you have to do is wash your face.
1. Wash with soap and water.
This isn’t heresy; it’s common sense. Yes, a few people have skin that’s genuinely irritated by soap and water. If you’re one of them, just make sure you use a “superfatted” facial soap that’s extra moisturizing. Whatever your skin type, the goal is to remove all the oil, grit, cosmetics, and environmental debris that accumulate daily on the surface of your skin — and a rich soap is still the best way to do that.
What kind to use: A bar is fine, or if you prefer, try a cleanser in gel or liquid form. Whatever you choose should be unscented and gentle; it should also lather well in your local water and wash off without leaving residue.
How to wash: For 30 seconds, gently rub the lather over your face and neck. Don’t forget your eyelids.
2. Rinse your face.
Use lots of water — not hot, but warm in order to dilate your veins, thereby increasing blood flow.
3. Lather again.
This time, follow the warm rinse with a refreshing round of cold water. That will close down the blood vessels and help to firm up the skin.
4. Towel-dry your face.
This helps remove heaped-up dead cells and allows healthy young cells to reach the surface. Towel upward, against the pull of gravity. Be brisk but gentle — the towel will do a great job with almost no pressure. Your face may glow briefly from the exfoliation, but don’t worry, you’re helping your skin, not hurting it.
5. Apply protective products.
We all need some combination of moisturizer and antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E, soy or green tea, as each repairs skin and protects it from pollutants and ultraviolet rays). Simplify this part of the application process by choosing a moisturizer with antioxidants. Then, apply one of several “treatment products,” which actually penetrate the skin and make real changes to its surface. The “treatment” is what takes this cleansing regimen beyond the old soap-and-water routine your grandmother might have followed.
Which treatment product to use: Your choice will depend on how serious your skin problems are. And since these products have real effects — for example, they all partially remove at least one layer of skin — you should seek advice from a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon. But here’s an overview.If your problems are minor — a few fine lines, some blotching, enlarged pores — consider an over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizer that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).The next step up among treatment products is a group of vitamin A derivatives that come in various strengths, from OTC to prescription. Which is right for you? If your lines are still fine, try an OTC product with retinol. For more severe wrinkles, talk to your doctor about the prescription drugs Retin-A and the more moisturizing Renova. Both improve skin by stimulating cell turnover and collagen production. There’s also evidence that they can prevent or reverse a certain amount of sun damage. Not everyone’s skin responds well to Retin-A and Renova (both are essentially irritating), but they hold a lot of promise for tolerant skin.
Where to apply: Retin-A and Renova should be used on specific trouble spots, as directed by your doctor. But all other treatments should be applied to your entire face.
Want your face to look smooth and healthy rather than dry and scaly? Then you need to trap as much moisture as possible in that layer of dead cells on the surface of your skin. Natural oils are the best sealants, but if your skin doesn’t produce enough, a moisturizer is the next best thing. If you have used a treatment product, this step is essential. And even if you’ve already applied a moisturizer that contains an AHA, finishing up with a moisturizer will seal in everything else you’ve applied.