Face-lifts, collagen injections, skin resurfacing and other procedures can make men and women look more youthful, but they are not the only options available to you. Top plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, MD, FACS, gives the inside scoop on practical no- or low-cost home treatments.
Skin starts to look saggy and wrinkled with age because the body gradually slows down its production of the collagen and elastin fibers that make up the skin’s connective tissue. Skin-cell turnover—the process whereby new skin cells move up toward the surface of the skin as cells on the outer layer die and fall off—also slows down. As a result, the dead cells build up and clump together, causing skin to look dry and dull and making fine lines more noticeable.
Meanwhile, melanin, the pigment that darkens skin in reaction to sun exposure, is produced more irregularly, causing age spots and dark patches. The more time you spend in the sun, the faster and more severe are all of these effects—wrinkles, flaking and discoloration. Note: Men’s skin is thicker than women’s, so men show these signs of aging years later than women.
What to do?
I am enthusiastic about the boost in self-esteem that patients gain from surgery, but I encourage my patients to try preventive measures first and view surgery as a last resort. A number of natural methods can delay or reduce wrinkling and other signs of aging of the face and body with techniques that not only are simple but also inexpensive.
Train your muscles to contract less—without Botox. Repeated contractions of the facial muscles lead to a creased appearance of the skin. I would never advise someone to smile or laugh less often—those lines are evidence of a life well-lived. But there is no reason to go out of your way to make repetitive movements you don’t need. Repeatedly furrowing your brow, for example, etches lines over time.
Instead, do the opposite—train your muscles to contract less. Isolating the small muscles involved in forehead furrows, crow’s feet or frown lines is challenging but gets easier with practice. If you ever learned to roll your tongue or flare your nostrils as a child, you already have experience in the type of concentration needed.
While breathing slowly and gently, imagine the muscles of your face softening and widening, even melting. Do this for one to two minutes at least five times a day and whenever you think of it.
Helpful: Frownies (available at Frownies.com or Amazon.com) are lightweight patches that you wear overnight or while relaxing at home to help smooth wrinkles. You stick the patch gently over the lines on your forehead or around your lips, and it acts as a kind of splint, preventing you from contracting those muscles. It also makes you more aware of what happens when you engage the small muscles, so that after a few weeks, you learn to contract them less, even when you are not wearing the patch. Note: Working out your facial muscles will not stave off sagging and wrinkles. Aging faces droop because they are losing collagen and elastin—two proteins that are the skin’s major building blocks—not from lack of exercise. In fact, overexercising your face can cause more wrinkles.
Sleep on your back. You may have noticed creases on your face the morning after you slept on your stomach or your side. Skin creases are the result of gravity pulling your facial muscles downward as your skin presses against the pillow. Sleep wrinkles are temporary, but over months or years, repeated pressure from your face against the pillow can make these creases permanent, especially as the elastin in your skin diminishes with age, reducing its ability to “bounce back” to shape.
In contrast, when you sleep on your back, gravity works in your favor. If back-sleeping feels awkward, try using a cervical neck pillow to cradle your neck and keep your head gently in place. A memory foam mattress also may help you feel more comfortable by conforming to your body shape and providing extra support. Important: Put a pillow under your knees to prevent lower-back strain.
If you cannot fall asleep on your back, invest in a silk pillowcase. They’re available on Amazon.com for around $25. Silk doesn’t cling to the skin the way cotton or synthetic fabrics do, so you will have less creasing.
An option for side sleepers is the JuveRest pillow, $160 (JuveRest.com). It is designed to reduce skin compression by minimizing contact with the face.
Lower the water temperature. A long, hot shower or bath may feel comforting in the winter, but hot water dries out the skin, whether you are bathing or washing your face. Keep water lukewarm, and don’t stay in too long.
Lighten sunspots with homemade lemon-juice ointment. Dark spots from sun exposure on the hands, face and arms will make anyone look older. To lighten those spots, mix equal parts soy milk, lemon juice and honey. The mixture should have a pasty consistency so that it does not drip when applied to your face and body. Apply the mixture to your skin, and leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse off with lukewarm water. Use daily until you see improvement.
Why it works: Lemon juice contains citric acid, a natural skin lightener, while proteins in soy milk inhibit the skin’s production of the darkening pigment melanin. Honey binds the two ingredients and is a good moisturizer.
Important: Soy milk spoils quickly, so only mix as much of this blend as you will use right away. Start with one teaspoon of each. Note that lemon juice can irritate skin and cause photosensitivity, so wear sunscreen.
Wear sunglasses—even on winter days. You know you should wear sunscreen to protect your skin from premature aging and skin cancer, but your eyes are at risk, too, and the skin around your eyes is too delicate for sunscreen. Protect the area with sunglasses that filter out UVA and UVB rays. By keeping you from squinting, sunglasses—especially those with wraparound frames—also delay and reduce wrinkling.
Smooth out crow’s feet with a mayonnaise mask. For a quick eye-lift, use your fingers or a cotton ball to apply a small amount of mayonnaise to your crow’s feet. After 30 minutes, wash off gently with lukewarm water. Apply in the morning to look better all day.
Why it works: Mayonnaise contains eggs and oil. The albumin in eggs tightens skin almost immediately, and oil moisturizes it. This treatment won’t banish crow’s feet forever, but it will make a noticeable difference for a day or so.
Mix your own chemical peel at home. Chemical peels refresh the skin’s appearance by removing the top layer of dead or dying skin cells and stimulating the body to produce new cells more quickly. Older skin looks duller than younger skin because this natural process of skin-cell turnover simply slows down with age.
Instead of going to the doctor’s office for costly chemical peels, create your own gentle exfoliant by mixing three tablespoons of apple juice, two tablespoons of milk and one egg white. Apply the mixture to your face, and gently rinse off with water after 15 minutes.
Why it works: The malic acid in apple juice and the lactic acid in milk help to remove dead skin. Egg white tightens the skin.
Caution: Exfoliating too often irritates skin and can cause it to age faster, so don’t do it every day. If you have normal skin, you can apply this treatment two or three times a week. If your skin is sensitive or if you notice redness after the treatment, don’t exfoliate more than once a week.
Avoid foods that age you. One of the worst offenders is sugar, including refined starches such as white bread and white rice, which turn to sugar. Sugar molecules bind to collagen and elastin through a process called glycation, making these skin proteins stiffer and leading to premature wrinkles and sagging. Although avoiding sugar can’t reverse damage that has already occurred, it can help slow further aging.
The other major offender is fat—specifically, saturated and trans fats, which increase inflammation. Opt for monosaturated fats, found in olive oil and most nuts, and for omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and other cold-water fish, flaxseed and tofu. Over time, these fats calm inflammation and improve the skin’s elasticity, and they even may reduce the damage from sun exposure. Note: You also can add a collagen supplement to your daily regimen.