27 May 2014

How to have lovely skin in later life

Useful tips and hints for looking and feeling fabulous*

1    In your 50s - what's happening to your skin?

The best thing about this decade is that everything starts to settle down, though we may have a bit of a bumpy start - the average age of a woman's last period is 51 and menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes may continue for a few months.  By this point, oil production is really slowing down and most skins will be getting drier.  The oilier-skinned among us will be at a big advantage now.

The breakdown of collagen and elastin, mainly due to declining oestrogen, means that the structure of the skin becomes looser and we may start to notice dewlaps.  Also the padding of fat over our cheekbones may start slipping, altering the contours of the face: this will be significant for skinnies - a good reason to consider putting on a few pounds.  

Apparently 'a woman of a certain age has to choose her face or her backside'.  Personally I'd opt for plumping the face, as this is seen by rather more people!

Skin is also likely to be thinner and more fragile, primarily due to the decrease in collagen in the dermis.  This makes it more sensitive, particularly to UV radiation and pollutant - and even to skincare that has never upset your complexion before. 

Confusingly, although melanin production declines overall - skin literally fades with age - melanin's more likely to be over-produced sporadically, resulting in pigmented 'age' spots or patches.  The most common trigger is sunlight, so these tend to appear on exposed areas, principally your face and backs of your hands.

TLC for the skin

Give the skin a helping hand, with extra protection, nourishment and hydration.  As sebum (oil) production declines and the skin is also more fragile, it's more important than ever to support the skin barrier by applying oils.

The products it's suggested we use daily for facial skin are

  • a cleanser
  • toner 
  • daytime moisturiser
  • night cream and an oil
  • a day and night eye cream or serum 
  • a gentle exfoliator and mask for weekly use
  • some experts suggest a neck cream but usually taking the moisturiser and night cream from bosom to hairline works well, even for dry skins.

Always use a cream-based cleanser, never soap, as it is too alkaline for drier skins.  Avoid anything that foams on the face, as that usually means it contains a detergent, most likely sodium lauryl sulphate.  Exfoliation is very useful, as it helps to shift the top dead layer of skin cells, leading to visibly fresher, brighter and - crucially - smoother-looking skin.

The key is to keep it gentle!  Don't be tempted by dermabrasion or pot-scouring type buffing pads.  You only need a soft cotton cloth to gently dislodge the dead grey skin cells.  Use this with your cleanser morning and evening, and once a week give the skin a boost with a specific exfoliating treatment.  Choose one with tiny round beads that gently buff the skin (natural jojoba beads or synthetic polyethylene ones), not jagged particules of ground pumice or nut kernels, as these can cause microscopic scratches and irritation.

Follow your weekly facial buff with a generous layer of a moisturising and firming facial mask.  Exfoliate first, so the active ingredients of the mask can penetrate the upper layers of the epidermis.

Choose an intensive nourishing treatment specially formulated to remoisturise: with ingredients such as St John's wort or avocado oil, and GLA (from borage or evening primrose seed oils).

Even dry skin benefits from using a toner, removing any last residue of cleanser and brightening the skin, but avoid any product containing alcohol, which will over dry your complexion.

Many formulations including remoisturising ingredients, such as aloe vera and vitamin E.  Skin toners can also help to calm flushed faces: look for products with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as cucumber, chamomile and calendula.

When choosing a day moisturiser, opt for a formula containing plant oils, such as avocado, apricot or peach kernel.  Make sure it also includes antioxidant vitamins or extracts: look for vitamin E, beta-carotene, green tea, grapeseed and pomegranate extracts.

If you spend time outdoors, layer a sunscreen on top of the moisturiser.  Choose one made with broad-spectrum mineral sun filters (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide), rather than synthetic chemicals (such as cinnamates or benzophenones).

At bedtime, give the skin a generous layer of goodness to feast on over night.  Massage in a few drops of facial oil first - choose a blend of pure plant oils, such as rosehip, argan, evening primrose or borage seed - then turbo-charge with night cream.  At this age, we need to switch to a richer product - the thicker the better; just make sure it has no mineral oil in the formula, as this is occlusive and won't let other ingredients sink into the epidermis.

It's also the right time to add a good eye cream or serum, specifically formalated to help fill outlines around the eyes.   perhaps hyaluronic acid (often called sodium hyaluronate), a naturally moisturising skin sugar, which helps plump out facial lines. 

Also it's important to see high levels of essential fatty acids included, including GLA and omega-3s.  Use these products along any crevices to subtly fill them.  It's a myth that eye creams clog the skin: they can be used anywhere.

Bodywise, a good moisturiser is essential.  Make sure this is based on pure plant oils and doesn't contain mineral oils - they are less efficient and may clog pores.  Treat yourself to a body cream, as this has a higher lipid content than lotions, and will keep skin softer for longer.  Be lavish from chin to toe, after every bath or shower to help rehydrate the skin, rubbing a little extra into parched areas such as elbows, knees and heels.

Look for products containing moisturising and nourishing plant butters, such as cocoa and shea butter.  Dry skin brushing will improve the condition of skin immeasurably and help to prevent cellulite.

Hands and face will welcome as much daily TLC as the face.  Hands give away our age at a glance - just look at those of any botoxed beauty over the age of 50.  So make sure your hand cream contains plenty of antioxidants - vitamin E is especially useful to help fade pigmentation spots, though it will take time - and always put on sun protection: easiest to rub on a dot of the face product.  

In general, rub a little of whatever you're putting on your face on the back of y our hands.  Whenever you apply a mask to your face, treat your hands, too.  Slipping on a pair of gloves is a great hand-saver: use rubber gloves for indoor chores, gardening gloves when outside.

Facial massage will help increase blood circulation to the face.  Some experts say that the extreme movements of facial exercise can slacken the skin over time.  However, a few specific moves are useful to help keep the underlying facial muscles toned and tauter.  

Here are some exercises to do twice a day, perhaps after brushing the teeth:
  1. Push your chin out and lift your bottom lip over the top one, hold for a count of five, release, then repeat ten times.
  2. Pull the corners of the mouth downwards in a fiercely exaggerated grimace, stretching and tightening the muscles which run down the neck and into the collarbones, hold and repeat ten times.
Making up
  • In general go for softer shades.  Swap black mascara for dark brown, use a softer, more natural lip shade - in sheer rather than matt - and the same with blusher.
  • A favourite base for this age is slightly richer and more covering than most, but with a sheer, natural finish on the skin.  Skin brighteners perk up dull skin, helping to give it a little extra glow.
  • Women with good skin who like a lighter look may prefer a tinted moisturiser to even out skin tone, plus concealer or foundation only where it's really needed.  Dust on translucent golden powder for evenings.
  • Eyebrows may well become thinner and paler during this decade: opt for a light taupey shade of eyebrow pencil, rather than anything dark or with red in it.
  • For thinning eyelashes, try supplementing with individual lashes (the shortest are the most natural looking).  They are excellent for filling out sparse patches, best to apply to the outer corners of the upper lashes.
  • Also consider the semi-permanent individual lash extension, which are quite expensive, but can work very well.  They are a useful option for holidays or perhaps a special occasion.
Nutritional needs
  • Calcium and magnesium supplements are crucial from now onwards, as bone degradation may already be occurring.
  • Add in hyaluronic acid to help lubricate skin and joints.
  • Vitamin D, in the form of supplements or regularly going out and enjoying the sunshine.

2   Your 60s  and beyond

What's happening

From now on, there's unlikely to be anything new as - at last - your skin stops being subject to the vagaries of hormones.  What's more, the incidence of sensitive skin appears to fall with age and your face can even benefit from the ageing process: if you had a plump round face, you may find you have a more defined bone structure and the winged cheekbones you always longed for.

The down side is that the skin barrier declines as we get older, so more water gets out (tans-epidermal water loss), increasing the problem of skin dryness.  This is where plant oils really come into their own, as they provide the lipids necessary to strengthen the barrier. 

The skin may also look paler, as the number of blood vessels reaching the dermis decreases: this can be helped greatly by exercising - and a bit of lipstick and blusher!  Erratic overprodction of melanin may have contributed to dark circles under eyes, age spots and uneven colour.

In general this is a time for intensive cherishing and daily maintenance: a little bit of TLC will reap radiance in the complexion.  The motto for choosing products at this stage? Rich is good.  Not necessarily money-wise (no need to spend a great deal) but with regard to ingredients - and also how much is put on.  The lavish - from head to toe.

Older women may not have the skin they had in their youth - but they won't have the spots either.  And mature faces have a depth which can be immeasurably attractive.  Your face is the sum of your life - so make sure it's as full of joy and humour as possible.

TCL for the skin

For face and body it's a good idea to continue with the skincare routine given for women in their 50s.  A valuable addition, however, is body oil, which will boost moisturisation in a way that a body cream alone can't quite achieve.  Simply pour a dessertspoonful of almond, peach kernel or grapeseed oil into a saucer of the palm of the hand, add a scoop of body cream and mix.  Apply from chin to toe after bathing.  It's also a good idea to add a little of one of these oils to moisturiser or night cream.

Incorporating massage techniques as moisturiser is applied gives a free facial.  Massage is particularly important during the winter, when the skin responds to the cold by closing down the small blood vessels in the dermis, which bring a glow to the skin.  This helps to prevent the body losing heat bu leaves your skin looking dull, pale and somewhat lifeless. Be sure to stay warm, too: it will help keep the skin soft and lubricated by preventing excessive water loss.

If your eyes feel dry - which is normal, as mucus dries up - treat them to regular eye masks. Use cucumber slices, warm squeezed-out teabags (chamomile are particular effective) or grated raw potato.  Out and about, take soy-based drops.

Look after your teeth:  gums slowly recede with time, but you don't want to add to the problem with gum disease, which can cause the lower half of the face to appear sunken.  So floss twice a day, visit the dentist regularly and avoid sugar.

Facial hair can be a problem: the easiest solution is to tweeze or wax away.  All-over down (common lower cheeks and chin) or moustaches also respond well to threading.

When you go near the sun keep putting on the sunblock everywhere that's exposed and keep on eating as well as you possibly can: it makes a big difference.

Making up

The less make-up the better at this age.  Colour is essential because as we grow older skin and hair colour get lighter, so it's important to bring back that brightness with soft pretty colours and light textures - avoid hard lines and dark lips.  Aim for sheen, grooming and style, as well as femininity.    Aim to look like the most graceful and alluring lady in town, with subtle makeup, well kept nails, a great haircut and colour.

So what do you need, cosmetic-wise?  The lightest base or tinted moisturiser, a radiant blush, a dusting of bronzing powder and a gorgeous lipstick in a soft but vibrant shade (rose, fuchsia, nutmeg or cinnamon, depending on colouring) and a fabulous long-lash mascara.  

Remember that applying a double coat of mascara on the outside lashes is more becoming than loading on black eyeliner.  Just stroke a whisper of colour on the lids.

Do get your brows professionally shaped if you can and if you need to use a brow pencil, choose a light taupe, rather than anything darker.

Nutritional needs

If you're not already taking a green plant food such as cholorella (see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/wellbeing/6028408/Chlorella-the-superfood-that-helps-fight-disease.html), consider starting now.  Packed with good nutrients chlorella (and its other algae relatives) are foods, rather than supplements.  It's one of the most ancient water-grown organisms and, among other skin-nourishing properties, alkalinises the body - in other words, de-acidifies the gut.  

Regular users have noticed that their faces appear plumper and less elongated, something to do with meridians which run down the face which are related to the health of the gut.   If the gut is alkaline, the meridians become relaxed, giving an effect which has been called 'a mini-facelift'.

Carry on with the supplements.  And if your digestion is dodgy (bloating, wind etc) consider digestive enzymes.  Such a supplement should also help with maintaining regularity.  

So it's not all bad news as here are plenty of ideas to help us look after ourselves in later life.

*This interesting article is taken from Liz Earle's book Skin Secrets.

Also see: http://www.natureandhealth.com.au/news/ladies-choice

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