There was a time when people referred to your 40th birthday as shorthand for being "over the hill." Now, this idea is obviously as outdated as, well, being "over the hill." This is the prime decade to take a proactive-and-protect approach to your skin.
"In your 40s, signs of sun damage may show up more prominently with decreased skin elasticity and enlarged pores," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. "Hormones may be shifting, which means more dryness, irritation, and acne breakouts." Here, some best practices:
Understand your basics.
By now, you likely have a skin care routine in place—even if it's just cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF. And perhaps you've incorporated some more tailored steps, like a brightening serum or a weekly exfoliation treatment. Regardless, your 40s are a time when you can and should really start investing in your skin care routine, as the measures you take now really will affect your skin for the next few decades.
What does this mean for your basic routines? Start getting smart about the sort of products and actives you are using: Really research ingredients and their primary function so you can target your specific needs. Think about why you are taking each step of the routine: Does it make sense for you, or is it just something you've always done? Your 40s are about homing in on how you can best tend to your specific skin.
Get to know bakuchiol.
Traditionally, dermatologists have recommended incorporating retinoids, like Retin-A, into your routine in order to smooth fine lines and improve skin texture. And in many cases, it works like no other. However, retinol can lead to photosensitivity, redness, and peeling, which creates a messy situation for sensitive skin types. Instead? Reach for bakuchiol, which is an antioxidant derived from the babchi plant. A recent study found that the phytochemical "is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve photoaging and is better tolerated," the study noted. Try Beautycounter Countertime Antioxidant Soft Cream.
Make "mask on the W's" a thing.
"When people ask me, 'What is the one thing I can add to my regimen that will help my skin?' I always say, masking twice a week. Masks deeply penetrate the skin to soothe, hydrate, and restore its luminous glow. This is especially true if your skin is feeling tight, dry; is red, rough, and patchy; or you have fine lines; [you can] build your skin's natural moisture barrier with regular masking," says holistic esthetician Elle Feldman.
But as we get older, and responsibilities start to pile up, perhaps extra skin care treatments start to feel like an indulgent afterthought. Don't let that happen: At every age and every decade, be sure to make self-care a priority. Feldman recommends this as a reminder: "Mask on the W's is how we remember to mask twice a week. Do it on Wednesday nights and weekends."
Take a smart supplement.*
While mindbodygreen recommends smart supplements at any age, it becomes even more critical come your 40s. "Focusing on ways to preserve and boost collagen as well as hydrate and soothe the skin is key," says Barr, noting you should look for antioxidant and botanical supplements that aid in overall skin health.*
Antioxidants also help your body's ability to neutralize oxidative stress.* If you don't know, oxidative stress is what happens inside the body when you're exposed to internal or external aggressors, and it wreaks havoc on all parts of your body. For the skin, it depletes our natural levels of collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and just generally contributes to premature cell aging. If you are better able to combat oxidative stress in the body, you'll fare out better long term.
mindbodygreen's cellular beauty+ contains four science-backed cosmeceutical ingredients:* astaxanthin, phytoceramides, ubiquinol CoQ10, and pomegranate whole fruit extract. These ingredients are clinically shown to support skin hydration, elasticity, smoothness, barrier function, wrinkle reduction, and cellular rejuvenation.*
Astaxanthin, a highly potent carotenoid, helps skin deal with photodamage, while phytoceramides help support natural skin hydration and skin barrier function.* Bioactive ubiquinol CoQ10 and whole fruit pomegranate extract promote cellular rejuvenation, increase active CoQ10 levels (which decline with age), and deliver key antioxidants to combat oxidative stress.*
You can get more serious about chemical exfoliation.
As you age, your skin cell renewal cycle slows down. This is just part of the natural aging process, in the same way we start to lose collagen, elastin, and so on. However, when your skin renewal process slows down, it translates to dullness: "Dewiness is really light reflecting off of the skin tissue because some of the dead layer on top is gone," says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D.
She recommends adding a glycolic treatment to swipe over to help the sloughing process and brighten the skin. Not only that, but research shows that glycolic acid can promote collagen production in the skin by triggering a mild healing response. Do this every so often (once or twice a week) in the evenings, as AHAs can make your skin sun-sensitive. It's important, though, that you don't overdo it. We like this version from Halo Aesthetics because it incorporates kojic acid.
This is an age when you are more likely to notice changes in your metabolism. "Exercise helps the blood to circulate in a way that removes toxins and free radicals, stimulates collagen production, eliminates acne, and reduces the appearance of cellulite," says Feldman. "Sweating for 15 to 20 minutes a day is enough. Sweating helps propel impurities, oils, and dirt out of your pores."
Do keep in mind that fluctuations in weight can show up on your face (for example, rapidly losing weight can cause sagging skin). Do your best to maintain a healthy average and avoid the yo-yo effect that gaining and losing pounds can have on your skin as well as overall health.
Invest in a good moisturizer.
Your skin dries out with age, due to the loss of many of the structural components that keep your skin strong—things like collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid, and so forth. When your skin's structural components start to break down, so does your skin barrier function. A weak barrier creates more opportunities for transepidermal water loss. So what should you do? Topically, you'll want to help the skin trap in the moisture with a thicker, more occlusive moisturizer. An occlusive moisturizer or oil acts as a superficial seal over the skin throughout the day and night so you're better able to keep hydrated.
Your 40s are a time when you can and should really start investing in your skin care routine, as the measures you take now really will affect your skin for the next few decades. And when we say investing, we don't mean you need to upgrade to a higher price point; we mean you need to invest time and thought into your skin. Take time out of your week for a treatment, find a thicker moisturizer you can't wait to slather on in the evening, get your body moving. All of these things are an investment—in a happier you in the long run.
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Erin Flaherty is a beauty expert who has worked for publications such as Allure, Jane, Marie Claire, V, and Harper’s Bazaar. She received her B.A. in english literature from The College Of Santa Fe. She has traveled the world discovering indigenous ingredients and both traditional and modern beauty and wellness rituals. She lives in Woodstock, NY with her husband and two dogs.