Tightness, fine lines, itching, and flaking. If you want to avoid these symptoms of dry skin and aging, the time to act is now.
What Makes Skin Dry as We Age?
Fewer natural oils, sun damage, and decreased cell renewal all can lead to dry, rougher skin as we get older, says Sonia Badreshie-Bansal, MD, a dermatologist practicing in California.
Loss of hormones can also lead to drier skin as we age, says Carolyn Jacob, MD, a Chicago dermatologist. “The skin doesn’t produce as much natural moisturizing factor as it used to, and the top layers of skin become dry.”
So what can you do today, to help keep skin supple tomorrow? Here are tips from top dermatologists.
Smooth on the Sunblock to Prevent Dry, Aged Skin
Sun damage is the major cause of unwanted changes to the skin as we age, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Reflection of the sun’s rays can be as intense in winter as in summer. The damage those UVA and UVB rays cause not only speeds up the skin’s aging process, it can also lead to spider veins, age spots, wrinkles, and melanomas.
To protect your skin every day and all year, use a sunscreen containing a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater, suggests Leslie Baumann, MD, director of the Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute at the University of Miami. Reach for a broad-spectrum sunblock — one that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Be sure to reapply generously and often, at least every two hours you’re outside.
And don’t forget your lips, says the AAD. “Lips get sunburned too, so apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.”
Finally, stay out of the sun when it’s at its most intense, which is usually between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
To Prevent Dry, Aged Skin, Vitamin A Is Vital
Vitamin A is another weapon in your fight against prematurely aging.
To help keep skin looking its best, “a vitamin A cream is very important,” says Badreshie-Bansal. That’s because creams enhanced with vitamin A can help prevent wrinkles and pigmentation, Badreshie-Bansal says.
Florida dermatologist Andrea Lynn Cambio, MD, FAAD agrees. She considers vitamin A derivatives like retinoids the most important nutrient in maintaining smooth, healthy skin.
Chemically related to vitamin A, retinoids such as retinol, Atralin, Differin, Retin A, and Tazarac slow down collagen breakdown, says Jacob. Collagen, along with elastin, is a fibrous protein vital in keeping skin firm, elastic, and youthful-looking.
“Adding a topical retinoid (over the counter or by prescription) is a great way to undo some sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles, and give a brighter, healthier glow,” Cambio tells WebMD.
You can also give your diet a vitamin A boost by eating foods such as low-fat milk and cheese, eggs, leafy greens, oranges, carrots, and cantaloupe.
To Prevent Dry, Aged Skin, Amp Up the Antioxidants and Healthy Oils
Antioxidants are important to great skin because they slow down — and may prevent — the harm done to your body by free radicals. Free radical damage is one reason behind signs of aging, like wrinkles and dry skin.
Some powerhouse antioxidants that can help skin stay healthy include vitamins C and E, selenium, and coenzyme Q10 (also called CoQ10).
You can find antioxidants in all kinds of good foods, including produce such as tangerines, sweet potatoes, papayas, peppers, citrus fruits, cherries, spinach, olives, and grapes, as well as through light canned tuna in oil, cooked beef, whole wheat pasta, green tea, and sardines.
To replenish your skin’s natural protective oils, be sure to get essential fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s in your diet. A few foods packed with essential fatty acids include olive and canola oils, salmon, mackerel, walnuts, and flax. These essential fatty acids encourage smoother skin and may help clear blemishes.
When looking for antioxidants in skin care creams, reach for products with green tea, caffeine, and grape seed extract, suggests Baumann, author of The Skin Type Solution. The AAD suggests adding antioxidant-enriched sunscreens to your arsenal too, because antioxidants also have sun-protection properties.
To Prevent Dry, Aged Skin, Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
To decrease the look of fine lines and wrinkles, you want to moisturize skin well.
Jacob gives a thumbs up to moisturizers with glycolic acid, but you don’t need to get too stuck on specific types of moisturizers. Many products help trap in moisture and keep skin supple. Petroleum jelly, mineral oil, aloe vera, and glycerin can do the job.
For best results, apply your preferred lotion, cream, or ointment two or three minutes after bathing. First pat skin dry with a towel (don’t rub), then smooth on your moisturizer.
Beware: Moisturizers often contain chemicals meant to help your skin hold water, such as urea, alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid, or ammonium lactate, says the AAD. Some of these can cause irritation. Talk to a dermatologist before buying creams with these chemicals if you already have troubled skin.
To Prevent Dry, Aged Skin: Get Smart About How You Clean
The bad news: Long, hot showers should be a thing of the past if you’re eager to discourage dry skin.
The good news: Shorter, warm showers don’t strip your skin of its natural oil barrier like piping hot showers do. Your body can retain more of the moisture your skin needs to look smooth and fresh.
Also, to maintain your skin’s vital oil barrier, wash with non-scented, soap-free cleansers. Lather only the spots that really need cleansing, such as the armpits, groin, face, and back. A simple water-wash is all you usually need for the rest of your body.
Finally, be careful with exfoliants, which can irritate dry skin, says Badreshie-Bansal. Though they can help remove dead skin cells, exfoliants should be used sparingly if your skin is dry or during winter months.When you do exfoliate, Jacob recommends exfoliating moisturizers.
Whole-Body Benefits of Dry Skin Care
Taking good care of your skin has a great side benefit: It usually means you’re taking great care of the rest of your body, too.
Wearing sunscreen and eating a balanced diet rich in natural antioxidants and essential fatty acids will help you stay strong, healthy, and looking good.