Worried about wrinkles, dullness, brown spots, and sagging skin? Stop—it causes lines! Instead, take action by talking to your doctor about in-office treatments that can help you face your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s with confidence.
In Your 20s
For the most part, "this is an incredibly forgiving decade," says David E. Bank, M.D., a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY. But in your late 20s, the skin's natural process of exfoliation starts to slow down. This means that as fewer new cells are produced, dead ones pile up on the surface, creating a thick layer that can make your complexion appear sallow and less radiant.
TRY: A LIGHT CHEMICAL PEEL
What it is: During this 10-minute procedure (sometimes called a "lunchtime peel"), a dermatologist or trained aesthetician applies a solution containing a low concentration of alpha and beta hydroxy acids or milder fruit-based enzymes to dissolve dead cells. The treatment leaves skin softer and brighter; a series of peels fades brown spots, "shrinks" enlarged pores, and, if you're acne-prone, keeps breakouts at bay.
What to expect: You May experience mild stinging and redness, but any tingling or flushing should subside after a few hours. "Your skin will also be more sensitive to ultraviolet rays," says Bank. "So be sure to avoid the sun and slather on an SPF of 30 or higher."
Average cost: $100 to $300 per treatment, but ask about package deals—a plus because monthly visits are often recommended to maintain your results.
In Your 30s
Years of squinting at the computer screen, furrowing your brows when you're angry or puzzled, and laughing with friends and family can create lines on your forehead and around your eyes and mouth. More severe cracks begin to appear when the fat layer that lies beneath your skin starts to break down and separate. "This can cause folds between your nose and mouth, and subtle hollowing along your temples, cheeks, and under your eyes," says David P. Rapaport, M.D., a plastic surgeon in New York City.
TRY: MUSCLE RELAXERS
What they are: Injections of purified botulinum toxin type A, such as Botox Cosmetic and Dysport, temporarily paralyze muscles so they can't contract and create expression lines. Crow's feet, forehead furrows, and bands on the neck will typically soften in seven days or sooner, says Bank. Bonus: With regular treatments, muscles retain themselves to stay relaxed, preventing new wrinkles from forming.
What to expect: The needle used is slightly thinner than a strand of hair, so you'll only feel a mild pinch. If you're a serious pain-phobe, ask your doctor for an ice pack or to apply a numbing cream 30 minutes before getting treated. Results typically last three to four months.
Average cost: $400 or more per treated area.
What they are: "When you're young, your skin contains lots of hyaluronic acid (HA), a sponge-like substance that absorbs moisture to keep it plumped," says Bank. "But as you age, HA production nosedives." To the rescue: regular injections of HA-based gels, such as Restylane, Juvéderm, and Perlane, which instantly add volume to sunken areas around the eyes, mouth, cheeks, and the nasolabial folds.
What to expect: In a word: Ouch! You'll feel the initial prick of the needle and then burning as the thick formula is pushed through it. Ask about newer lidocaine-laced gels, like Juvéderm XC, Restylane-L, and Perlane-L, which hurt less. Pre-icing the area or using a topical numbing cream can also reduce pain. Depending on the injection site and the formula, the rejuvenating effects can last anywhere from three to 12 months. And over time, says Bank, you'll need less filler because the injections promote collagen production.
Average cost: $600 per syringe. (You'll need one to two for your first appointment.)
In Your 40s
You've been taking extra cardio classes to blast body bulges, but by now, you may wish you had more fat from the neck up. Because you've lost some natural padding, you can look gaunt around the eyes and cheeks. Sun damage shows up as brown spots, deeper wrinkles, broken capillaries, and sometimes sagging skin.
TRY: RESURFACING LASERS
What they are: Fractional non-ablative lasers (such as Fraxel re:store or Palomar StarLux) emit very fine beams of light to slightly damage your skin below the surface, triggering new cell growth and collagen production. "They can even out tone, refine pores, and smooth wrinkles," says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Deeper crinkles and darker spots may need to be treated with a more aggressive ablative laser such as Fraxel re:pair or Lumenis DeepFX—devices that usually blast away the surface of the skin.
What to expect: Despite numbing cream, you'll still feel the burn. For more intense ablative treatments, your doctor will likely give you a sedative, numb the area, and send you home with painkillers. Plan to take a week off, since your skin will be very red and swollen.
Average cost: $500 to $1,000 for one non-ablative treatment (three to five are usually needed); $3,000 to $5,000 for an ablative procedure. (Just one is usually recommended.)
TRY: VASCULAR LASERS
What they are: Known as pulsed-dye lasers, devices like the Vbeam zap broken capillaries and reduce al-over ruddiness.
What to expect: The process is tolerable but not exactly pleasant—it feels like a rubber band snapping against your face repeatedly. You could experience swelling for a few days afterward and may need three or more treatments for stubborn blood vessels or red patches.
Average cost: $500 to $750 per visit.
TRY: TIGHTENING DEVICES
What they are: Ultherapy (which relies on focused ultrasound waves), and Thermage or the newer Pellevé (both of which use radio-frequency energy) heat up tissue deep inside the skin, making it contract. Some people experience only subtle changes; for others, there's a more dramatic firming effect. "Patients who are slim throughout the face and neck do best," says Kauvar. But even if you're a good candidate, keep your expectations realistic. "If you like the way you look when you pinch your skin and pull it back, you may be happier with a face-lift," says Rapaport.
What to expect: Doctors suggest taking a sedative to help you endure the burning sensation of Thermage and Ultherapy. You won't need pain meds for Pellevé since its specially designed hand piece makes the process more bearable. Expect results to last six months or longer.
Average cost: $2,000 per treatment.
In Your 50s
Your eyes should reveal your soul—not your age. In your 50s, issues like crow's feet, crepe-y skin, drooping or hooded lids, and puffiness can make you look years older than you are, says Rapaport. You may have also noticed that, like the hair on your head, your lashes aren't as full or fluttery as they were when you were younger.
TRY: A LASH BOOSTER
What it is: Latisse, a serum that contains bimatoprost, is a prescription drug that stimulates the follicle to enter—and remain in—the growing stage. Applied nightly along your lashes like eyeliner, it can result in a longer, lusher fringe.
What to expect: The formula feels cool as you swipe it on; tell your doctor if you experience irritation or stinging. "Other side effects are very rare," says Bank, "but can include skin pigmentation along the lashline, and for women with hazel or green eyes, the iris can change color." You'll notice thickening and lash darkening in about a month, but it takes up to four to reach your maximum batting potential. If you stop using Latisse, your fringe will return to its former state within weeks.
Average cost: $90 to $120 for a one-month supply.
TRY: AN EYE-LIFT
What it is: This surgical procedure can remedy droopy lids and under-eye bags. Your surgeon will remove excess skin and fat and possibly reposition your fat to fill in any hollow areas.
What to expect: The surgery can either be done under general anesthesia or conscious sedation. For the latter, "you will be aware of your surroundings, but won't remember a thing," says Rapaport. You'll probably experience bruising for 10 days to three weeks, and it may take up to 90 days for the swelling to completely subside. Depending on your surgeon's strategy, you may be left with a barely there scar that's hidden in the crease of your lid or just below your lower lashline, or no scar at all.
Average cost: $2,800, not including fees for anesthesia.
Head to aad.org or asps.org to find a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon in your area who can perform these procedures.