I find it laughable when female celebrities extoll the virtues of being 40 — I’ve never looked better! I’ve never felt more confident! I’ve never been healthier! It’s almost like, me thinks thou doth protesteth too much.
Well, maybe it’s true for them because by the time they’re in their 40s, they can afford to pay people to make them look better and feel healthier (Gwyneth, I’m looking at you). Because ever since I, your average, very unfamous Jane, turned 40 (and I’m well into my 40s), I’ve had the joy of discovering all sorts of new things happening with my skin and hair, kind of like puberty but worse — thinning hair, age spots and sunspots that just won’t go away, fine lines turning into wrinkles turning into bona fide creases, sagging and drooping that qualitatively changes the way I look. And of course, each of these things seem to happen overnight — one day they’re not there, the next day, where did that come from?
So I’ve taken some steps to help ameliorate, or just slow the worsening of, some of these oh-so-joyful discoveries — steps that may scream “Old Lady,” but are steps worth taking if I don’t really want to look like an old lady. So herewith, my unabashed confession: 5 things I’m not embarrassed to do for my skin and hair now that I’m in my 40s .
1. Cover up and wear a hat in the sun
Yes, I’m that old lady who is covered head-to-toe anytime I’m even near a beach or body of water. But you know what looks worse than being a grandma under the umbrella? Looking like a grandma with sunspots and wrinkles, all day, erry day.
So hats with large brims and oversized sunglasses are now my best friends. I look at it as an excuse to go shopping. Besides, they hide my thinning hair and wrinkles.
2. Get on a retinoid
I’ve been using prescription tretinoin (generic for the retinoid Retin-A) on and off for the past decade, but more consistently now that I’m in my 40s. There are lots of studies showing that retinoids increase collagen, thicken skin, and fight acne and wrinkles, and dermatologists consider them the gold standard in anti-aging. I used to get bothersome redness and peeling, but now that I’m using a lower dose (0.25% as opposed to 0.1 or 0.5%) only every other day, and I avoid my mouth and nostril area, I haven’t had any side effects at all. It’s helped soften the wrinkles around my eyes and mouth, and I haven’t gotten any new sunspots (it’s enough that I’m battling the ones I earned a while ago as a sunbathing teen). I consider tretinoin something I will be using for the rest of my skin care life.
3. Treat my neck and hands like my face
I was surprised a while back when my sister-in-law — the one who simply never ages, never needs makeup and will forever look 20 — pulled out a pair of long gloves as we were about to drive somewhere. It’s something I should be incorporating into my own skin care regimen, which has now extended from my face to my neck and hands. My neck still gets short shrift — if there’s a serum I’m not crazy about, I’ll use it to slather my neck with, but hey, at least I consider my neck a part of my skin care routine now.
My hands I’m less diligent about, but I should be more cognizant, especially since I was born with thin, veiny, old-looking hands (again, thanks Mom). Thankfully, the skin care entrepreneurs out there seem to agree with me, since I’ve been getting a lot more pitches for new hand care products. Hand MD is one of them, a line specifically dedicated to healing, hydrating and protecting our hands from the sun with skin care-worthy ingredients like turmeric, caffeine and niacinamide. They even have hand serum with retinol and peptides.
4. Whiten my teeth
I have crooked teeth, my immigrant parents unaware of the teenage ritual called braces until after it was too late to get braces. And as I get older, my teeth shift and become more crowded, which makes the color of my teeth all the more important. (Experts say discolored teeth are more aging than crooked teeth.)
So a couple years ago, I got them whitened with Zoom Whitening, which only takes about an hour in the dentists’ chair. The zinging and pain afterwards, however, was enough to make me religious about not re-staining my teeth. To that end, I apply Infinitely White on my teeth every morning before my coffee. A thin wax that you rub on your front teeth to prevent coffee and tea stains, it’s one of the dozen beauty products I actually buy again and again. And while nothing will totally prevent my teeth from gradually yellowing again, at least I can delay the process a bit.
5. Boost my hair growth (and cover up grays)
I had heard of Rogaine growing up, always in association with balding men (and usually with snickering involved). So imagine my surprise when I found a press release in my inbox a few years back for Women’s Rogaine, and not only did I not snicker, I jumped at the chance to try it.
You see, I’d been donning a topknot look for the last couple of years — really because I just no longer knew what to do with my hair anymore — and I started to notice two spots along my hairline that looked abnormally sparse. Fearing the worst — my mom has thinning hair — I began applying Women’s Rogaine religiously, right on those two spots.
I have to say, it totally, absolutely works. I got some for my mom, too, that’s how well it worked. The only catch? The new hair growth (and it grows pretty fast) is gray. Which is fine. Because since my hair is overall thinning anyway, I need to dye it on a regular basis to give it some volume. It just gives me an excuse to try different shades.
And in between colorings, I’ve discovered that TouchBack Instant Root Touch-Up in medium brown does a pretty good job of covering up grays. (It’s not an Allure Editors Choice Award winner for nothing.) It’s super easy to use — just lightly swipe the wand on your grays and instantly watch them disappear. It’s transfer resistant, contains no ammonia or peroxide, and simply washes out.
In addition to taking 5,000 mcg of biotin on a regular basis to boost hair growth, I’ve also learned to embrace my changing hair texture. Yes, it no longer grows in smooth, ending in a nice wave. Now it’s kinkier, frizzier, more susceptible to dryness. But after years of fighting the increasing unruliness of my strands, I’ve realized that air drying actually allows my hair to settle into a nice, beachy wave, all with little effort on my part. I add some texture with Living Proof Instant Texture Mist or combat dryness with Drybar Dry Conditioner (both are my go-to hair lines — they’re the closest I’ll get to having an on-call stylist in my bathroom), and I’m pretty much set.
One trick I’ve read about and have yet to try: using brow powder with a fluffy eyeshadow brush to fill in thinning areas along your hairline or part. It’s what they do in Korea to make faces look smaller. Personally, I’m imagining all sorts of mess with this one, but who knows — I may well be tempted to try it one day … when I turn 50.