A Year of Great Skin: Your Month-By-Month Plan
January: Beat the Winter Skin Blues
The weather outside is frightful...and your skin is looking less than delightful. Counteract the drying effects of cold winter air and indoor heating with an oil-laden facial cleanser. Natural oils like jojoba, macadamia, and cottonseed break down dirt and makeup and quench parched patches. While that may sound like a slippery scenario, grease is not the word when rinsing away these multitaskers. "They're made up of lipids that are deposited onto the skin and absorbed quickly, so you aren’t left with oily residue,” says Shape advisory board member David Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology in Mount Kisco, NY. “These lipids help the skin hold on to water, keeping it hydrated and soft.” Try Garnier Clean+ Nourishing Cleansing Oil for Dry Skin ($8; drugstores) or Shu Uemura High Performance Balancing Cleansing Oil Advanced Formula ($67; shuuemura-usa.com).
Your skin also has its own lipid barrier, and strengthening it is another way to lock in moisture. Slather on Dove DermaSeries Intense Repairing Body Cream ($18; exclusively at Rite Aid). Its proprietary complex of fatty acids and humectants activates proteins in the skin that keep this barrier healthy, making for smoother skin.
Even if you don’t feel particularly dry, your complexion may suddenly seem dull and drab. And it probably is: Dead skin cells build up during the winter, making it harder for fresh new ones to emerge—leaving skin less than glowing. Exfoliating is one way to shed dead cells, or give skin an energy boost from the inside by recharging the mitochondria, which act as the batteries of the cells, suggests Bank. Certain antioxidants, such as vitamin B3, algae extract, and coenzyme Q10, accelerate these power producers, speeding up the rate at which cells naturally turn over so skin looks more radiant. Bonus: Energizing the cells also maximizes their anti-aging performance by helping reduce free radicals, so skin stays firm and tight. Try Olay Regenerist Luminous Dark Circle Correcting Hydraswirl ($25; drugstores) or MitoQ Power Antioxidant Rejuvenation ($119; mitoq.com).
February: Show Your Legs Some Love
There may still be snow on the ground, but start prepping for short-shorts—now. Your legs are likely to be under cover for the next few months, so if you have spider veins, schedule sclerotherapy, the go-to treatment for those unsightly squiggles. During the procedure, a salt solution is injected directly into affected veins, making them collapse and ultimately fade. The treatment stings a bit and you’ll have to wear compression stockings afterward to prevent blood from returning to those areas, says Bank (larger veins may require weeks of compression, while smaller ones need only days). The price tag? Anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the number of injections.
If you’re troubled by chubby knees or fat deposits around your ankles, microsuction—a procedure that uses a cannula the size of pencil lead to remove small pockets of fat—is a fast fix, says New York City plastic surgeon Gerald Imber, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and a Shape advisory board member. The length of the procedure depends on the area treated, but it’s typically fairly quick (less than an hour on average for one or two areas) and done under local anesthesia. Some bruising and swelling are to be expected, though, so allow at least two weeks before the big reveal. Plan to spend between $1,500 and $4,500.
If you need better-looking gams ASAP, hit the bottle. Body lotion is following in the footsteps of today’s popular, do-it-all facial “beauty balms,” aka BB creams. Jergens BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream ($13; drugstores) immediately minimizes imperfections and makes skin appear more luminous with light-reflecting particles and skin-smoothing silicones. And while it’s not a self-tanner, it does contain a drop of dihydroxyacetone, the active ingredient in bottled bronzers, to even out skin tone—plus, a generous serving of shea butter to moisturize and soften.
March: Zap Away Imperfections
Schedule facial rejuvenation with noninvasive fractionated lasers (like Fraxel and Emerge) early in the year, when the sun is less intense, advises Tina S. Alster, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center and the director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC. These lasers don’t remove skin; rather they target thousands of tiny zones with pinpoints of light that stimulate collagen deep under the surface to help smooth wrinkles and fade dark spots. “Using this type of laser is ideal before summer when the sun won’t burn skin or counteract any age-reversing progress,” explains Alster.
Downtime is minimal, but it can leave your face red and swollen for about two to five days. Having a tan can increase the risk of these side effects, so stay out of the sun two weeks prior to treatment. Cost is anywhere from $600 to $2,000 per session, and most people need at least two rounds. The more wallet-friendly, at-home alternative: the new Tria Age-Defying Laser ($495; triabeauty.com), which uses the same fractional technology as the in-office version to improve the appearance of fine lines and discoloration in eight weeks.
Since UV exposure can also counteract the effects of other laser treatments, address stretch marks and scars now—before you expose any skin to the sun, suggests Fredric Brandt, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and Miami and a Shape advisory board member. If new imperfections are red and raised, you’ll benefit from pulsed-dye lasers like Vbeam ($350 to $450 per session), which home in on the blood vessels causing the redness. Consider lasers like Fraxel for older scars and marks that are faded and white; either way, plan to book more than one appointment for the best results.
April: Fight the Fuzz
Spring is also choice season for another laser: the kind that targets unwanted hair. You’ll need a series of sessions, spaced out every three to six weeks, to attack each hair in its active growth stage—so start now and you’ll be silky smooth by the time you have to don a bikini. “It takes three treatments to reduce 50 to 80 percent of hair, and results depend on the area—with thinner skin like the underarms and bikini line being more responsive,” says Alster. Having fair skin and dark hair also ups the odds of more successful results. The average cost of a single session is around $300 to $500, though prices vary depending on where you live and what part of the body you’re zapping.
May: Review Your Routine
As the seasons change, it’s wise to assess your skincare. Think of it as spring-cleaning—an opportunity to start fresh by taking a close look at your regimen. Master the basics first, suggests Alster. “The cornerstone is an antioxidant-rich serum and sunscreen during the day, and a repair treatment at night.”
For extra credit, amp it up with the newest anti-aging standouts: stem cells. In skincare you’ll find either plant stem cells or human stem-cell by-products, which reduce wrinkles by encouraging skin to function as it did when you were younger. These aren’t the same cells up for medical debate, so their effect won’t be as dramatic. But some clinical studies show that plant stem-cell technology in skin cream reduces wrinkle depth when applied twice daily for two weeks. Try Stemology Cell Revive Serum Complete with StemCore-3 ($189; stemologyskincare.com) or Origins Plantscription Youth-Renewing Night Cream ($55; origins.com).
June: Avoid UV Damage
“The most important thing you can do in the summer is protect your skin with an effective sunscreen,” stresses Imber. “You should do it all year, of course, but you need to be particularly cognizant in the summer, when UVB rays—those that cause burning and most types of skin cancer—are strongest.” Look for a broad-spectrum SPF 30 and apply it daily to all exposed skin. If your skin is sensitive, formulas with physical blockers, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, tend to be less irritating.
To step up the assault on sun damage, add a DNA-targeting treatment to your arsenal. “Our cells start to degenerate as we get older and DNA breaks down, giving skin an aged appearance,” explains Brandt. This also happens when you’re exposed to high levels of stress, pollution, and sun. To help combat these DNA-damaging effects, a new class of products touts actives like epidermal growth factors in a delivery system (often peptides) that carries them deeper into the cells.
Once there, they help repair ailing DNA by either decreasing progerin—a toxic protein that interferes with cellular activity and DNA replication—or by preserving telomeres, “the protective bumpers on the ends of DNA,” explains Brandt. Try Philosophy Time in a Bottle for Eyes Daily Age-Defying Eye Serum ($65; philosophy.com), Ronald L. Moy, M.D., DNA EGF Renewal Growth Factor Serum ($125; dnaegfrenewal.com), or Dr. Brandt Do Not Age Transforming Pearl Serum ($150; sephora.com).
July: Think Beyond Products
The midyear mark is a good time to take stock of how your diet, exercise, and sleep habits are affecting your looks. “Having good skin requires a whole-life approach,” says Simple skincare advisory board member Ellie Krieger, R.D., author ofWeeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 minutes or Less. Take your sleep schedule: If you’re averaging fewer than seven hours a night, use the lazy days of summer to clock in a little more shut-eye, suggests Krieger.
“Sleep is when skin can repair itself, so aim for seven to nine hours.” If that seems unattainable, take baby steps. “Even bumping it up a half hour helps,” she says.
Consider minor tweaks to your diet too. Because blood sugar fluctuations are linked with skin flare-ups like breakouts, aim to cut back on sugar and foods with a high glycemic index (think refined, processed carbs like white bread and cookies) to keep blood sugar steady, says Krieger. “The benefits of these types of small changes can have a ripple effect, like throwing a pebble in the pond.”
August: Go Loco for Lycopene
Krieger’s top produce pick for a pretty complexion? Tomatoes, which are in season now. “They contain lycopene and vitamins C and A, all of which are beneficial to skin.” Lycopene is a potent antioxidant that reduces wrinkle-inducing inflammation. Studies also show it lessens sun damage and amps up UV protection. Follow Krieger’s example and pile diced tomatoes onto whole-grain toast drizzled with olive oil for a trifecta of benefits: The bread has a low glycemic index, so you’ll stay full longer, while the oil is a heart-healthy fat. Not a tomato fan? Try using products that contain lycopene, like Yes to Tomatoes Daily Balancing Moisturizer ($15; target.com).
September: Perfect with Peels
Hello, beauti-fall! It’s time to undo any damage the sun has done to your face, neck, chest, and hands. Consider a professional glycolic peel to slough away the top layer of skin—along with dark spots and dullness. “A single treatment will remove some of the surface pigmentation, and two or three will really make a difference,” says Alster. For sensitive skin, milder lactic acid peels may be a better option. “They’ll brighten without irritation,” explains Bank. Expect to pay between $100 and $250 per peel, depending on the strength.
October: Tone Back Time
As the weather gets cooler and drier, it’s wise to swap your lightweight serums, lotions, and cleansers for heavier versions. (You can switch back in May or June.) If the seasonal shift still has you feeling dry, try adding a toner to your routine. Yes, toner. Unlike the skin-stripping astringents of yore, “today’s formulas are more like water-based treatments,” explains Brandt, who notes that they hydrate (with ingredients like hyaluronic acid), as well as fight fine lines and pigmentation with antioxidants like vitamin C.
Try Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Instant Infusion Treatment Toner ($55; sephora .com), Kate Somerville KateCeuticals Replenishing Toner ($58; katesomerville.com), or Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Turbo Line Smoothing Toning Lotion ($38; peterthomasroth.com). Swipe on post-cleansing, and wait for the solution to absorb before applying moisturizer or sunscreen.
November: Fight Fine Lines
Address wrinkles now so you’ll look picture-perfect in holiday snaps. Book appointments for injectables like Botox and fillers (around $400 and $600, respectively) to smooth furrows and give you a perky boost. News flash: Juvéderm Voluma XC, a hyaluronic acid filler, which Brandt says “lasts longer and gives more lift than others,” is now available. Though FDA-approved only to plump cheeks, he says it can be used in other places, like along the jawline, to address sagging and loss of volume.
For a needle-free pick-me-up, consider transdermal patches. The Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist 24 Pure Retinol Express Smoothing Eye Mask ($63; shiseido.com) delivers a concentrated dose of moisture and retinol (a wrinkle-fighting vitamin-A derivative) after 15 minutes. “Covering skin increases the penetration of the ingredient, so you get it in a much higher concentration than by rubbing on a cream,” explains Bank. A single application will leave skin hydrated for hours; wear patches two to three times weekly to reap retinol’s long-term benefits.
December: Get Velvety-Smooth Skin
To prepare for the onslaught of holiday soirées, take your cue from television makeup artists. Their need to hide imperfections visible on HD TV generated a new category of lightweight silicone-based creams and powders that help erase flaws—on camera and in real life. “Silicone acts like spackle, filling in uneven texture,” says Brandt, making these complexion perfectors ideal for minimizing the look of pores, scars, and fine lines. Try CoverGirl TruMagic Skin Perfector ($9; drugstores) or Make Up For Ever HD Pressed Powder ($36; sephora.com). You can use them over makeup, so they’re perfect for touch-ups. Just dab on and voilà, flawless skin. Happy holidays, indeed!