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Facing The Big 3-0

Hitting panic as she enters a new decade, Ying Chu considers the art of aging with just a little help.

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And it’s no wonder women account for 92 percent of that aesthetic tweaking. For us, there’s a physiological tug-of-war between youth and beauty. The same delicate skin that allows women to be more characteristically feminine and expressive is the reason that we crease earlier than men, explains Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “How that plays out for an individual depends on your genetics” — how dense and resilient your collagen is — “how you’ve protected your skin from sun and pollution, and your habits with facial expressions.”

As I try not to furrow my brow, I recount my past sun sins: tanning in my teens; running, biking, and skiing in my 20s without reapplying SPF. Not horrible, but I decide that I need a more thorough analysis.

At my request, Sobel examines my 30-year-old mug — through his intimidating magnifying glasses, while I sit under a megawatt examination lamp the size of a golf umbrella — and concludes that while I am indeed a young 30, I have a laundry list of “compromised” issues typical of women my age. This includes telangiectasia (aka spider veins) cropping up around my nose; a sprinkling of brown sunspots across the tops of my apples; and deflating cheeks, which are causing slight nasal labial folds to form around my mouth. (And I had always thought of my cheeks as too chubby.) He also offers up Botox right then and there for my developing crow’s-feet, “11” lines, and peau d’orange chin. (Apparently, when I purse my bottom lip and crinkle my chin when feeling inquisitive, my skin resembles an orange peel, something I’d never considered . . . until now.) Total bill? About $3750, with touch-ups every four months.

I consider this for about a nanosecond, then realize that not only would I be flat broke, but with my face newly peeled, frozen, and inflated, I’d no longer be able to express my despair. Have we really reached the moment where aging is a complete no-no, to be stalled, or even reversed, at all costs?

Probably sensing my panic, Sobel concedes that there are many less extreme and much less costly over-the-counter options to soften most of my issues — except the one affecting my chin, for which he still suggests Botox. After I politely pass on any needle-based intervention, he sends me away with antioxidants (“the more, the better to help prevent the collagen breakdown”), gentle peels, sunblock, and this insight: “I don’t tell anyone they need lasers or injectables, but you have to decide if you’re OK with aging.”

At home, I try to re-create the stark conditions of Sobel’s exam room with 100-watt bulbs and my boyfriend’s shaving mirror. Yep, those “11’s” are still prominent, and my eyes do crinkle when I smile, but would anyone — besides my dentist — encounter me like this? I think of my skincare-obsessed mother who, enhancement-free at 61, looks reassuringly youthful yet wise — a quality that only comes with age.

Originally published on: April 18, 2008

Brush Up on Beauty

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