While you've been slathering anti-aging creams and sunscreen on your face to help stave off lines (and years), the skin on your hands and neck may be telling another story. A recent study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that most people can correctly guess whether a woman is in her 40s, 50s, 60s, or older simply by glancing at her hands. Clues also turn up on the neck, where blotchiness and sagging can stand in stark contrast to a smooth, well-cared-for complexion, says Zoe D. Draelos, M.D., a dermatologist in High Point, NC. But don't stock up on Diane Keaton-style turtlenecks or pants with deep pockets quite yet. Although there may not be a quick fix for every problem, you can get a more youthful look and a smooth, supple feel by giving your hands and neck some much-needed attention.
They're likely the second place people look (after the face) to guess your age. But with these tips, only the clerk at the DMV will know for sure.
Erase Age Spots
As the years add up, skin often produces more pigment, which clusters together in dark patches instead of being evenly distributed, says Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. Doctors aren't sure exactly why this occurs, though they suspect sun exposure is to blame. One theory: A lifetime of UV rays causes mutations in cells' DNA, changing how they function. To see spots disappear:
Dab on hydroquinone. "There's no more effective bleaching agent," says Dr. Baumann, echoing the opinion of many dermatologists. Hydroquinone — which comes in over-the-counter concentrations of up to 2 percent and prescription strengths of 4 percent — blocks the enzyme needed to make melanin (skin's pigment). As surface cells slough off, new, nonpigmented cells replace them. Many doctors recommend you spot-apply hydroquinone with a cotton swab on dark spots only, since it can lighten normal skin, too.
You may have heard rumors about the chemical's safety. It is banned in some European and Asian countries due to links to renal and other cancers (found after rats consumed large doses) and to a rare skin condition called ochronosis. The FDA has been reviewing data on hydroquinone for the past two years, but has yet to make a ruling. But the American Academy of Dermatology (and all the doctors we spoke to) maintains that it's safe. "I have prescribed it for many years and have never seen so much as an allergy to it," says Howard Murad, M.D., a dermatologist in El Segundo, CA. The bottom line: If you want to remove age spots with a topical treatment, it's the most effective option.
Multitask. You'll get faster results using hydroquinone in conjunction with ingredients that slough off dead surface cells, like prescription retinoids (Tri-Luma, for instance, blends a retinoid with hydroquinone, plus a topical steroid), milder over-the-counter retinol, or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) serums, like glycolic acid. They all enhance penetration of the bleaching agent and speed up production of new, nonpigmented cells. AHAs may deactivate retinoids, so apply them separately. In addition to hydroquinone, you'll also find glycolic acid paired with milder lighteners, such as kojic or azelaic acid. Two to try: DDF Fade Gel 4 ($52, Sephora) and Palmer's Skin Success Age Spot Serum ($14, drugstores).