It’s well understood that our beauty and wellness needs drastically change as we age. Weeknight margaritas get swapped for green juices and spicy acne solutions are replaced with sensitive skin formulas. As anti-aging products dominate global skin care shelves and Botox reigns as the most popular non-surgical procedure amongst all age groups, the industry leads us to believe a near obsession with wrinkles is the only direction in which to steer your routine. Despite what the average beauty advertisement may tell you, caring for an over-40 complexion doesn’t have to revolve around fine lines at all.
“Wrinkles are a late sign of aging when collagen loss is severe and elasticity is depleted, so those in their 40s don’t typically have a ton of wrinkles,” reassures Dr. Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Zenovia Skincare. “More commonly, 40-year-olds start to worry about other signs of aging, such as brown spots, blotchiness, overall dullness, dehydration, or even adult acne.”
Around 40 years of age, the body undergoes various changes that influence the skin’s structural integrity and surface appearance. “[My patients at this age] are seeing a lot of flattening or volume loss,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lily Talakoub, M.D. “What happens when they come to me — they're not saying I want to get rid of a wrinkle. They're saying to me, ‘Why do I look tired?’” Loss of facial fat and bone, depleting estrogen levels, and long-term UV exposure are the main culprits for duller, dryer, and flatter skin. Instead of reaching strictly for wrinkle-erasing products, a routine that reintroduces moisture and protects against environmental damage will put your skin in the best place to continue aging gracefully.
Ahead, a dermatologist-approved skin care routine that side-steps the wrinkle talk and hits the important beauty pain points for people in their 40s.
Step #1: A Milky, Hydrating Cleanser
As we age, the skin produces fewer natural moisturizing elements and becomes more fragile. Hydrating cleansers formulated for sensitivity are key for keeping moisture levels up and inflammation down. In addition to a preference for creamy, non-lathering cleansers, Talakoub also tells her 40-and-up patients to cut down on cleansing frequency. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is over-cleansing their face,” she says. “Eventually, you're never going to be able to replace that moisture in your skin if you are constantly stripping it.” In addition to your morning skin care routine, committing to a thorough, nightly skin care routine can help you retain more moisture every morning.
Step #2: An Occasional Acne Cleanser
“As hormone levels drop during perimenopause and menopause, some women develop hormonal acne,” says Gabriel. “It is important to remember that your skin is thinner, so using acne products formulated for teens may be too harsh.” Cleansers have less contact with the skin, decreasing the risk of irritation when looking to reap the benefits of effective and highly active ingredients. Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is ideal for killing acne-causing bacteria but can dry things out when used daily or in a leave-on product. Incorporating a BPO cleanser a few times weekly gives you an acne-fighting boost without the side effects.
Step #3: A Hydrating Serum
“I always say hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, because that’s what’s going to prevent wrinkles later on,” says Talakoub. “It’s what will make your skin look like it’s glowing.” Mature skin naturally becomes drier and loses the “bounce” effect. Restoring water levels helps the skin look plumper, firmer, and aids in normal functioning that benefits the skin’s overall health. While internal water intake is important for our bodies, intentional hydration through topical serums will do the most good for your complexion. For even more moisture, try spritzing a water-based, hydrating toner on your skin before and after applying your hydrating serum.
Step #4: Antioxidants In Any Form
Long-term sun exposure and pollution, as well as the inherent process of aging, increase the presence of unbalanced molecules in our skin that can set off damaging chain reactions. Antioxidants neutralize these threats and help prevent irritation, uneven skin tone, loss of radiance, and, of course, wrinkles. Vitamin C, vitamin E, retinoids, arbutin, niacinamide, resveratrol, and various plant extracts all contain different amounts and types of antioxidant abilities that you should pack into your routine in abundance.
Step #5: A Solid Retinoid
Retinoids are the poster children for treating and preventing wrinkles, but the multi-tasking ingredient provides a host of other benefits. “Retinols and retinoids are skin care hero ingredients, as they drive collagen production and increase skin cell turnover, which evens skin tone and improves skin’s texture and overall health,” says double board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tiffany Libby, M.D. Retinoids are among the all-powerful antioxidants and are also effective for treating hyperpigmentation and acne — making them a home run regardless of your major concern. If you’re new to retinoids, start with gentler forms like retinyl esters or retinol complexes and look for formulas that also contain skin soothers.
Step #6: Eye Cream
Many flock to undereye filler at the first sign of change in their skin. However, Talakoub explains that unless you’re suffering from true fat loss, the risky treatment is likely not for you. Topical products can be effective against hyperpigmentation, thinning, and puffiness under the eyes. “If there’s darkness, that’s pigment. You can use [a brightener] like vitamin C,” she says. “If you have dark veins that look blue, that can look like hollowing. [Here] you want to resurface the skin to thicken and build collagen [with retinol].” Talakoub advises that puffiness can be temporarily alleviated by eye products that contain caffeine or by using cooling tools.
Step #7: A Reinforcing Moisturizer
“The key thing that we notice in estrogen-depleted skin is a loss in hydration. In the dermatology world, we call this trans-epidermal water loss, or TEWL,” explains Gabriel. TEWL is coupled with a weakened moisture barrier that leaves skin drier and prone to irritation. Thicker moisturizers containing ceramides and lipids mimic the moisture barrier and create a seal on the skin’s surface to lock in hydration and “patch up” damage.
Step #8: Sunscreen
No routine is complete without sunscreen. If you weren’t diligent with SPF before, now’s the time to make it an unbreakable habit. Proper and consistent SPF use is the key to preventing damage to our skin cells’ DNA and the visible signs of aging. Reach for SPF 30 or 50 and select whichever formula you’re most likely to wear every day. After your first application of sunscreen, swipe an additional layer under the eyes for added protection in this hyper-delicate area.