Maybe this sounds familiar: You find a photo taken a decade ago at the bottom of a drawer. It shows you barefaced, grinning, while hiking with family or friends. Back then, you thought that without makeup, eye crinkles clearly visible, this photo made you look old. If only you could get that look back now! Plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and the makers of many face creams will tell you that you can, but their wares can be expensive and invasive. We asked dermatologists what affordable, at-home steps will help restore your more youthful appearance. Here are six moves that research proves can deliver; two are even free!
Step 1: Shun the Sun
Why this works: Repeated sun exposure eventually leads to brown spots, fine wrinkles, deeper creases, and sagging skin. If you need proof, just look at the skin on the underside of your arm where the rays are less likely to reach. Does it look smoother and less blotchy? "What the sun does is fast-forward your aging clock," says Doris Day, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Around age 40, you cross that line — your collagen and elastic tissue have experienced enough damage to really start showing a change. You look in the mirror, and uh-oh, you can no longer ignore it or easily cover it up." Protecting your skin year-round will help prevent you from further accelerating your age.
What to try: To start, make sure you always have broad-spectrum protection with an adequate long-wave UVA shield, says Richard Glogau, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. "Those UVA rays give you the wrinkles and the muddy skin tone that ages you," he says. Dr. Glogau recommends UVA filters like Mexoryl and Helioplex, which provide longer-lasting protection. Try Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunblock SPF 90+ ($9.49, drugstores) or Lancôme UV Expert 20 Sunscreen SPF 20 ($35, department stores). Also use a product — like these — with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect against burns. Get even better coverage by including antioxidants like vitamins C and E and pomegranate extract in your protection. "Antioxidants boost the benefits of sunscreen. They help neutralize the damage caused by UV light," says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a dermatologist at Boston University Medical Center. Try C.O. Bigelow All-in-One Protective Day Lotion SPF 25 ($19.50, Bath & Body Works), which contains vitamins A, C, and E, antioxidant-rich berry extracts, and UV protection. Of course, behavior counts, too: Whenever possible, avoid midday rays. Wear a hat and sunglasses (less squinting). If you want some color, try self-tanner. We like Jergens Natural Glow Health Complexion Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 20 ($9, drugstores). Or go with your own glow. "It will definitely help you look younger," says Dr. Day.
Years younger: 5. Within six months, your sun-protected skin should appear smoother and more even-toned, says Jeffrey Dover, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and coauthor of The Youth Equation. The catch: You have to continue protecting skin daily and avoiding the harsh rays, or you'll redo the damage.