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Beauty Basics: Great Skin for Life

Body+Soul, 2007

Forget what you've heard about great skin. A radiant glow isn't the exclusive right of those with good genes, nor is it locked in a jar of pricey wrinkle cream. In reality, beautiful skin is a full-body experience-one that anyone can cultivate.

In other words, it expresses what's going on in your body, and it needs support from the inside out.

With that in mind, we've created a holistic, decade-by-decade skin-care guide featuring advice on what to eat, which supplements to take, and how to spot a moisturizer that suits you.

The Decade: 20s
The Skin You're In
Your skin is probably at its peak vitality, with good texture, a nice luster, and few discolorations. Many in their twenties have combination or oily skin, but "while you may still have acne outbreaks left over from adolescence, on the whole your skin is typically low-maintenance," says Leslie Lucchina, M.D., a dermatologist based in Boston.

Essential Steps
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Twice a day, use a skin-type-appropriate gentle cleanser and toner, followed by a light moisturizer.

+ Protect your skin every day with a sunblock containing broad-spectrum protection (shielding against both UVA and UVB rays), either in your moisturizer or as an added step.

+ For occasional breakouts, opt for a gentle acne fighter, such as a product with 1 to 2 percent salicylic acid. Harsher treatments, like benzoyl peroxide, can wreak havoc on sensitive skin.

Thinking Ahead
"I call this the decade of awareness," says dermatologist Neal B. Schultz, M.D. "It's important to understand that long-term issues like sun damage have already begun, and that more damage is coming down the pike." You'll be doing yourself a big favor if you don't smoke, adds Lucchina. In addition to the obvious health risks, smoking causes free-radical formation and damages collagen and elastic tissue, she notes -- a combination you'll regret later.

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Holistic nutritionist Lisa Petty, author of "Living Beauty", advises upping your intake of essential fatty acids (like omega-3s, found in flax, walnuts, and wild salmon) to balance oil production and promote clear skin. Vitamins A and B6, taken in a multivitamin or B complex, can help. Opt for hormone-free meat and dairy, since hormones can exacerbate acne.

The Decade: 30s
The Skin You're In
"The major issue of your thirties is texture," says Schultz. Since dead skin cells don't turn over as rapidly as they did in your twenties, your face may look dull and uneven. You might also experience some brown blotchiness (caused by hormone fluctuations from pregnancy or birth-control pills), as well as early sunspots. Due to work and family stress, some thirtysomethings still have acne, as stress can release hormones that cause breakouts.

Essential Steps
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Continue to cleanse, tone, and moisturize, using sunscreen during the day.

+ To improve skin tone and speed cell turnover, use a gentle chemical exfoliant like glycolic acid or an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), advises Welch. They're easier on the skin than physical exfoliants (like crushed seeds). Either switch your basic products to ones that contain them, or do a weekly AHA or glycolic mask or peel.

+ Consider using a product with retinol (a vitamin-A derivative), which helps thicken and strengthen skin.

Thinking Ahead
Your skin will thin and develop fine lines as you head into the next decade, so make sure to get your Z's, says Valori Treloar, M.D., a holistic dermatologist. "Your skin heals during sleep," she explains. "Seven to eight uninterrupted hours are optimal, but if that's impossible, nap when you can." Don't forget sunscreen on your neck and chest, warns Lucchina: "People start to hate their neck in their forties. It doesn't dawn on them to protect those areas as well as their face."

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To help delay the onset of lines and wrinkles, up your antioxidants: vitamins A, C, and E. Drinking green tea and red wine and eating antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies (like berries and dark leafy greens) can also boost your skin's resilience to environmental damage, Petty says. Dietary silicon and zinc aid in skin repair and may improve skin's overall texture.

The Decade: 40s
The Skin You're In
Your skin is losing some of its elasticity and firmness now. Many of the changes you're seeing are due to a decrease in estrogen that naturally occurs as you get closer to menopause, Welch explains, and chronic ultraviolet exposure that finally catches up with you. Typically drier, your skin will have larger pores, some age spots, and some fine lines around the eyes and mouth.

Essential Steps
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The rules of cleansing and toning stay the same, although you should opt for a heavier moisturizer. If you use a light, water-based facial lotion, try switching to an oil-based product or a cream formula.

+ If you didn't start using an exfoliant or vitamin A in your thirties, start now. Other ingredients to add to your arsenal include green tea and soy extracts, topical vitamin C and E, and coenzyme Q10, all of which protect skin from damage.

Thinking Ahead
Menopause is coming, which means your skin will get drier -- so don't skip the moisturizer. As estrogen levels drop, fatigue and nutritional gaps will take a greater toll, Treloar points out. "This is when adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and relaxation exercises become really important," she says. And don't slack on the sunscreen -- keeping sun damage at bay is as crucial as ever.

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Petty's prescription for dry skin includes increasing your vitamin B2 (as part of a multivitamin or B-complex supplement) and taking borage oil supplements, which supply the body with gamma linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid. And drinking eight glasses of water a day will promote skin hydration from within.

The Decade: 50s and beyond
The Skin You're In
You'll notice even more of a change in your skin tone after menopause, says Lucchina. "It has even less elasticity," she explains. When you toss in cumulative sun damage, texture and color issues suddenly become more apparent. You'll also see more significant lines around the eyes, mouth, and across the forehead.

Essential Steps:
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Watch for signs of skin cancer, says Welch. Enlarged moles, dry spots that don't go away, and pimples that bleed and don't heal should be examined.

+ To prevent moisture loss, use a creamy cleanser, an alcohol-free toner, and a rich hydrator every morning and night.

+ Cell turnover slows in your fifties, so consider switching to an abrasive exfoliant like ground almonds or apricot seeds.

Thinking Ahead
It's never too late to prevent skin damage from occurring in the future, emphasizes Schultz. "It's terrible to think people are writing their skin off," he says. "Your skin is still constantly renewing itself and can actually be very forgiving. It just needs help to improve." You'll be surprised at the difference proper moisturization and exfoliation can make.
 
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Age spots indicate an accumulation of free radicals, Petty explains. Prevent further damage by getting enough vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and selenium -- all potent antioxidants. Petty also suggests drinking milk-thistle tea to support the liver and aid in the elimination of toxins.

Freelance writer Sharon Goldman covers health and beauty issues for Body + Soul.