"One of my patients, a TV actress, came into my office the other day pretty upset," recalls Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California. "She is in her early thirties and has noticed that people have suddenly started casting her as a killer. Her face has changed — the corners of her mouth have started turning down just slightly, and it has given her a much harder look."
It's one of life's crueler jokes. Your thirties are supposed to be your best years: You finally have a handle on your relationships, you're on track at work, you've built a respectable shoe collection. In other words, you've gotten your act together. But it's at this exact moment that life throws you for a beauty loop. "Thirty is often the age when you start to see your looks changing ... and not for the better," Shamban says.
Those first deep wrinkles begin to emerge, turning once-charming crinkles into full-on crow's-feet. High school-style acne may decide to make a comeback, or crop up for the very first time. Damage from decades-old summer-camp sunburns can begin to emerge as brown spots and saggy skin. A formerly plush ponytail may become a scrawny shadow of its former self. You get the not-so-pretty picture.
Hormones are one of the main culprits for all these maladies. "The majority of hormone changes start around age 30," explains Beverly Hills endocrinologist Eva Cwynar, M.D. Because we're engineered to have babies in our teens and twenties, our reproductive hormone levels begin to taper off in our thirties, which can result in hair loss and funky skin conditions. Human growth hormone, or HGH, begins to peter out too, which means cells don't turn over as quickly. This puts the brakes on collagen production, giving way to dull, slack skin. "When we're 18, our growth hormone levels may be around 800. By 30, they've dropped to 150. It's normal. It's just how we age," assures Cwynar.
And if you spent your twenties on a beach chair with a glass of chardonnay in one hand and a cigarette in the other, those vices will begin to show, quite literally, on your face. "You start to see the cumulative effects of hard living on your skin in your thirties," says dermatologist Rebecca Giles, M.D., owner of FIX skin clinic in Malibu, California. Everyone is going to see some changes in her thirties due to hormonal shifts, "but for those who have been tanning, drinking, smoking, and eating poorly, the problems are going to be worse."
To keep you looking gorgeous throughout your thirties and way beyond, we asked dermatologists to identify the major skin and hair issues you're bound to encounter during this decade and offer ways to keep problems at bay. If you've already detected some beauty erosion, don't fret. There's still time to undo the damage.
Roughly 85 percent of women have some cellulite, and those first thigh dimples often show up around age 30. A less active lifestyle can lead to a cottage cheese-like appearance. "By their thirties, a lot of people have desk jobs and don't have as much time to work out," Shamban says. Adding to the problem: Collagen production starts to taper off at this age, making the skin thinner and cellulite more noticeable.
Preemptive strike: Add simple weight-training exercises like squats and lunges to your cardio routine three or four times a week to tone up and blast fat, says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., co-author of "No More Cellulite."
Stop yo-yo dieting. Repetitively gaining and losing weight stretches the tissue that connects skin to muscle. When that tissue is stretched, it can have a tough time holding in fat pockets effectively.
Turn back time: There's no magic cure for cellulite. That said, to increase the effectiveness of cellulite creams, Shamban suggests using them in conjunction with over-the-counter retinoid creams like Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Plump Perfect Ultra Lift and Firm Moisture Cream SPF 30 ($68, elizabetharden.com). "Retinoids have been shown to stimulate collagen," Shamban says.
Some experts say that in office or in-spa treatments for cellulite may offer temporary relief. "New devices like the Smooth Shapes cellulite machine — a laser-plus-light treatment with suction action — can be moderately effective," Shamban says ($300 per treatment; a series of eight is recommended).
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Thanks to sluggish cell turnover, everyone sees a little wrinkling in their thirties, but for sun worshippers and smokers," the bell starts tolling earlier and louder," Giles says.
Preemptive strike: "Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is the best thing you can do for your skin," says Giles, who recommends using a physical sunblock like titanium dioxide, which doesn't wear of as quickly as chemical sunscreens. And you need to slather it on every day. "If you can see outside without a flashlight, you need to wear sunscreen. Period," says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., dermatologist in Boston.
Layer an antioxidant serum under your sunblock. "Research shows that vitamin C in particular can help make sunscreen more effective," Giles says. Try Neutrogena Ageless Restoratives Antioxidant Booster Serum ($19, ulta.com).
Cut down on processed foods, don't drink excessively, and good grief, quit smoking already! "These habits all contribute to the premature signs of aging, " Hirsch says.
Turn back time: Thirty isn't too young to start using heavy-duty prescription retinoids, especially the superhero of the bunch, tretinoin. It exfoliates cells to reveal smoother skin and also prevents sagging. Apply a pea-size amount to clean skin a couple of nights a week at first (more than that can cause redness and irritation).
If you've been a maximum sun offender, a small dose of Botox — yes, even at 30 — may be in order. When used in conservative amount, it may keep "dynamic" wrinkles (lines that show up only when you frown or smile) from turning into "static" wrinkles (which hang around no matter what your expression). "I'll see some 30-year-old patients for Botox two or three times a year," Giles says. "It doesn't take much to make a big difference."
A chest full of brown spots
Consider these sun spots souvenirs from all those irresponsible spring breaks spent sitting around the pool sans sunscreen. Like wrinkles, they begin making an appearance when you hit the big 3-0.
Preemptive strike: Daily dedicated use of broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher prevents sun spots from forming and keeps existing ones from becoming darker.
Turn back time: Studies show that retinoids, those all-powerful skin rejuvenators, can zap sun spots. "Your skin regimen for your face can be modified for your chest, which is more sensitive," says Doris Day, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. "Try applying an OTC retinol product with a moisturizer to clean skin a few nights a week."
"I've had great success removing brown spots with the new AcuTip laser and the Nd:YAG laser," says Beverly Hills dermatologist Peter Kopelson, M.D. Laser treatments can set you back $500 to $2,000, "but if you address these brown spots now, at age 30, you're likely to have fewer issues later on if you continue to wear sunscreen and stay out of the sun," says Kopelson.
Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy can also lift sun-damage spots from the chest or face. It's an in-office treatment that delivers intense blasts of broadband light therapy deep into the epidermis to kill pigmented cells, which then slough off after a week or two. It's slightly less expensive than lasers (around $500 per treatment), but several sessions may be required to see maximum results.
It can be downright freaky when you start seeing clumps of hair swimming around your shower drain and some thinning (thinning!) around your temples. This is largely due to the 30-something hormonal shift, which is genetically determined, but big-time thinning can be triggered by stress, a vitamin deficiency, an excess of mercury, or giving birth (moms experience temporary hair loss about two months after popping out a baby as their hormones readjust). More serious causes include hypothyroidism, which often manifests itself in your thirties, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is most often seen in women ages 30 to 40.
Preemptive strike: Eat a well-balanced diet that's rich in B vitamins, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, and keep mercury levels in check by sticking to low-mercury fish like tilapia and herring, and eating it just twice a week.
Take a daily multivitamin with hair-and nail-strengthening biotin and zinc, Day says.
Turn back time: If the root cause of hair loss is a thyroid condition, a regular dose of synthetic hormones like Synthroid, prescribed by an endocrinologist, can put your body back on track.
For PCOS sufferers, switching to a low-glycemic (low sugar, low carbohydrate) diet can reduce overall body fat and reset your blood insulin levels. If it doesn't, your doctor may prescribe Metformin, a drug for diabetics that controls blood-sugar levels.
If your doctor rules out a thyroid condition and PCOS, she may recommend a prescription drug called Aldactone (the generic name is spironolactone). "It's a testosterone inhibitor that works like a key in a lock; it takes up space that extra testosterone would," Cwynar says.
It's a raw deal that when your hair starts to fall out of your head, it starts to pop up in less-than-ideal places, like your chin, nipples, and abdomen. The reason: The ratio of androgens (male hormones) to estrogen may change in your thirties, which can turn a soft, fine hair into a (gasp!) whisker.
Preemptive strike: Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there's not much you can do.
Turn back time: Traditional hair-removal methods like tweezing, waxing, and electrolysis work, and laser treatments have proved to be highly effective too. "There's also a prescription cream called Vaniqa that can help prevent hair from regrowing, with varying degrees of success," Day says.
You may associate zits with first dates and SATs, "but it's a myth that acne ends in your teens," says Heidi Waldorf, M.D., director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "In fact, lots of people see it for the first time at 30." The causes? A natural decline in estrogen levels, switching birth-control pills (which can create a temporary hormonal imbalance), and stress. The adult responsibilities of your thirties (a big-shot job, a kid, or both) may make cortisol levels spike, resulting in a case of adolescent-like acne.
Preemptive strike: Daily cleansing and weekly exfoliation will help keep your pores clear and fend off acne. Waldorf recommends the Neutrogena Wave ($13, at drugstores), a device that uses a salicylic acid cleaning pad to remove dead skin cells. If exfoliating seems tedious or if your skin is very oily, you can simply apply a salicylic acid product daily (try Murad Anti-Aging Acne & Wrinkle Reducer, $58, sephora.com, or Philosophy Oil-Free Acne Treatment Gel, $22, sephora.com). "These exfoliate the skin and penetrate pores to disrupt oil production," Hirsch says.
Turn back time: Wrinkle-fighting retinoids also have a way with pimples. If prescription-strength products are too strong for your sensitive skin (or your wallet), try Olay Total Effects with Pro-Retinol ($23, drugstore.com), which is gentle and nearly as effective. Apply it at night to clean skin.
Ask your dermatologist about in-office peels (a custom blend of peeling agents like salicylic acid or alpha-hydroxy acid that's left on the skin for several minutes, which may result in peeling a few days later). Both are proven zit erasers.
Red bumps around your nose and mouth
Notice a constellation of tiny, painless red bumps on the lower half of your face? Chances are, you've got a case of perioral dermatitis, which is most common among women in their thirties.
Preemptive strike: Quit touching your face! "While the cause of perioral dermatitis is unknown, picking and prodding can trigger it by introducing all sorts of bacteria to your skin," Giles says.
Turn back time: "Nothing is available over the counter to treat this," Giles says. "If you notice these tiny bumps, and they don't appear to be acne-related, see a dermatologist, who will likely prescribe an antibiotic in a pill or lotion form to reduce inflammation."
Brown spots on your face
Big blotchy patches on the upper lip, cheeks, and forehead are called melasma. While typically considered one of those annoying estrogen-related pregnancy symptoms, they can occur in 30-something women who have never been preggers. "Sometimes oral contraceptives can cause these patches, but sometimes they pop up for no particular reason at all, and even just a few minutes in the sun makes them worse," Day says.
Preemptive strike: According to Day, nothing can prevent melasma entirely, but slathering on Neutrogena's new Spectrum+ Sunblock Lotion SPF 55 ($12, at drugstores), which protects skin from UVA and UVB rays, as well as certain wavelengths of infrared light, can stop patches from getting darker. "The latest research indicates that infrared rays and heat play a role, and traditional sunscreen doesn't shield the skin from them."
Turn back time: Melasma can be tough to treat, but light chemical peels such as the Vi peel, a combination of ingredients like salicylic acid, retinoic acid, and vitamins, can be effective in lifting the pigment from your skin.
Don't have the bucks (or the pain threshold) for a peel? "Using a topical lightening cream with kojic acid or hydroquinone can lessen the appearance of melasma," Kopelson says. Apply SkinCeuticals Pigment Regulator ($85, skinceuticals.com) every other night, building up to every night.
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