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Through the Decades: How Skin Ages

Beauty is but a flower, Which wrinkles will devour. — Writer Thomas Nashe, 1600

It's almost automatic until puberty, but your all-clear, wrinkle-free complexion can hit some bumps in the road as early as adolescence, in the form of dreaded pimples. And as you age, skin becomes less and less stable, with genetic changes and sun damage taking their combined toll. You can't control certain factors of natural aging, but today we know that the sun — not our genes — is mostly to blame for our baby-fresh faces turning blemished and wrinkled. Besides limiting sun exposure and wearing protection from damaging UV rays, focus on these other changes you can make to keep bad elements at bay: Don't smoke. Limit your alcohol intake. And choose a skin care regimen that makes you feel comfortable in your skin.

Here's how skin ages through the years, and what you can do at each life stage to keep it looking splendorous.

  • First Signs of Trouble In Your Teens. As early as puberty, hormonal changes can turn your fresh-faced complexion into an acne-prone one.
    • Saving Face at This Age: In addition to using simple over-the-counter washes and pimple remedies, or consulting a dermatologist if a more potent treatment is needed, wearing an SPF 15+ daily is the best thing you can do to save your skin.
  • Some Wear-and-Tear In Your 20s. Expression lines will begin to form from talking, laughing and frowning. The collagen and elastin that have kept your skin supple begin to break down.
    • Saving Face at This Age: Wearing sun protection remains your best bet for controlling the amount of damage.
  • Early Environmental Damage In Your 30s. Sun-induced wrinkles are starting to form. Good news is, they're hardly seen so there's time to to start wearing an SPF 15. The skin's collagen and elastin are losing still more of their spring.
    • Saving Face at This Age: A cosmetic or doctor-prescribed alpha hydroxy acid cream can return your skin's youthful radiance.
  • Skin Irregularities In Your 40s. It can be the decade of dry skin. More dead skin cells are sticking around, darker patches may appear, and expression lines can become entrenched.
    • Saving Face at This Age: If you're dealing with dry skin, make a moisturizer a regular part of your successful skin care routine.
  • The Sun's Damaging Effects Can Become Evident In Your 50s. Expect that some damage has already been done if you haven't been a loyal wearer of sun protection. Wrinkles, age spots and spider veins are bound to be developing, and skin can be dryer than ever these days.
    • Saving Face at This Age: It's not too late to start using a daily SPF 15 cream — you can still reap some rewards in terms of slowing down sun damage and perhaps even repairing some of it.
  • Starting in Your 60s, a Lifetime of Skin Protection Pays Off. Skin should be pretty stable these days, with women having survived the menopause-induced hormonal imbalances. Wrinkles, red veins and dark spots are common, but are probably less pronounced if you made a habit of protecting your skin from the sun.

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    • Saving Face at This Age: If basic skin care isn't cutting it anymore, ask your dermatologist or a plastic surgeon about microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser procedures, facelifts and other options that might make just the dramatic difference you're searching for. It's true that some wrinkles might be inevitable as we age. But healthy habits — most of all wearing sunscreen every day — can go far to preserve the pretty bloom of youth.