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Want younger-looking skin? Here’s the catch

In her new book "The Mind-Beauty Connection," Dr. Amy Wechsler writes about what contributes to aging skin and how to fight it. In this excerpt, she explains why many anti-aging potions are more about packaging than product.
/ Source: TODAY

In her new book “The Mind-Beauty Connection,” Dr. Amy Wechsler, who is board-certified in both dermatology and psychiatry, writes about what contributes to aging skin and how to fight it. In this excerpt, she discusses stress and lack of sleep, the most common causes of aging skin. She also explains why many anti-aging potions are more about packaging than product. An excerpt.

Getting started with revitalizing your looks: Skin-care essentialsMeet Clarissa, a 35-year-old mother with a skin age of at least 39. On some days, it’s more like 42. Like so many other working moms trying to have — and do — it all, Clarissa doesn’t get enough sleep at night (between five and six hours). The product manager for a large company in San Diego sets her alarm for 6:15 every morning so she can get her two young twins dressed and fed before dropping them off at preschool on her way to work. She’s at her desk by 9:00 a.m. to do a job that has become even more demanding due to a recent promotion. She’s usually back home around 7:00 p.m.

Her husband — whose workday starts and ends much earlier than hers — is the family chef. He’s fed the twins by the time Clarissa walks in, and while he pulls together some food for her, Clarissa does bath time with the kids. After that, the parents usually grab a half hour together while the kids wind down. They head to bed around nine and Dad’s close behind them, as he’s up at four. After they gone to bed Clarissa starts the Internet part of her night, catching up with friends via e-mail, checking the news, surfing her fave sites, and often doing some work. It pushes her bedtime into the wee hours.

The sleep deficit, caused in part by her stimulating, late-night Internet addiction as she catches up with friends on e-mail and surfs the net, has begun to show up on her face in the form of crinkles and a dullish skin tone, making her look older than her 35 years. “No one calls me, even by mistake, ‘young lady’ anymore,” she says, laughing. She also has dry white patches on her cheeks, a few horizontal lines on her forehead, and some sun spots that, she emphasizes, are not from the recent past. “Whenever I go for a half-hour run, I always wear a hat to cover my face and big sunglasses. Living in San Diego, I see a lot of sun damage, and I’m terrified of it.” To prove it, she brandishes a bottle of Shiseido sunscreen with an SPF of 55. “I love this and use it every morning, rain or shine,” she says.

I gave Clarissa a big thumbs-up to this healthy habit during her first appointment. Like most of my patients, she asked for a low-maintenance skin regimen, explaining, “I barely have time to brush my hair in the morning.” After taking her history (no blistering sunburns as a child but some secondhand smoke from her dad), I decided that topical tretinoin (under the trade name Renova .02) would be an easy fix for Clarissa’s fine lines, wrinkles, and brown spots, if she used it regularly every night. To treat the dry white patches, I gave her a product sample of hydrocortisone, which cleared them immediately.

Filling a prescription for Renova was the easiest of the antiaging tasks. I wanted Clarissa to go much further in addressing underlying stress. Clarissa’s life had become a treadmill of working and taking care of the kids, and I knew that from being a mom myself, having 3-year-old twins wasn’t easy. I encouraged her to sleep more, and take more time-outs without the kids so she could focus more on the happiness factor with her husband. I recommended that she hire a babysitter and go out at least every other weekend.

Six months later, Clarissa reported great results. Her skin, and her lifestyle, had improved measurably. Her skin tone evened out, and her sun spots faded. “My skin feels firmer, and the texture is so smooth that it looks like I’m wearing powder, though I’m not. I haven’t needed it since about a month or so after I started on the Renova.” She did have a few trouble spots — dry areas around her chin and jawline — but I instructed her to avoid applying the Renova to that area for about a week and it worked brilliantly.

Through trial and error, Clarissa also found a doable nightly skin routine she likes and has down pat: washing her face during her evening shower with her favorite Kiehl’s cleanser, then applying Renova, and last a hydrating moisturizer from Lancôme. (Mornings involve just a quick cleanse and a slathering of Shiseido sunscreen.) The evening self-care adds a bit of constancy to her busy life, a bit of me time that she finds therapeutic. “By being more diligent about my skin-care regimen, I feel proactive, like I’m actually helping improve the health of my skin. And knowing that I’m making my skin look and act younger makes me feel better.”

Getting more help has been good, too. Clarissa’s sister-in-law babysits for the couple two weekends a month so they can have some quality time together. This self-described workaholic known to bring her job home has also managed to shave a few hours off her workweek. While she is trying to go to bed earlier — for her, that means 11 — Clarissa admits to falling off the wagon at times. “I’m probably averaging about six and one-half to seven hours of sleep a night, which is more than I used to get,” she says. “But sometimes I toss and turn. Some people can just go to sleep when their head hits the pillow — my husband, for one; he’s lucky that way, but not me. My mind starts to race.”

Clarissa is not alone with her sleep issues. The same tips I gave her for achieving better, more restful sleep at night I’ll be giving you a bit later. One fact that Clarissa’s story points out is that skin care doesn’t have to be an expensive, time-consuming proposition. Whatever your age, and no matter how many kids or daily dramas you juggle, you can look younger — now and later — if you adopt a few stress-busters that really work for you, know which skin products actually do something (and which aren’t worth a dime), develop healthy sun habits, and learn how to deal with adult acne if that’s a problem for you. Sure, starting early and being consistent are ideal but it’s never too late to trade so-so habits for super ones.

Many women overdo it with their skin: overclean, overtreat, overeverything. So we’re going to go all the way back to basics during this program. Give your skin a rest by doing the absolute minimum. Imagine doing less, but seeing greater results.

In this chapter I’m going to cover beauty basics — what I think every woman should do regularly no matter what kind of skin she has. I’ll also share my own personal everyday skin-care routine, which can set the foundation for your new skin-care regimen. To start, let’s explore some of the general products currently available on the market — virtually all of them touting something related to youth, beauty, and antiaging. I’m going to show you how to save yourself money, headaches, wrinkles, and regrets.

The must-haves for optimum skin beauty

  • A gentle daily cleanser
  • Two good moisturizers — one for day use with sunscreen (SPF 30+) and another for night use
  • If necessary: antiacne washes and formulas, exfoliants, antioxidant serums, retinoid/retinol formulas.

Antiaging products: What really works
In 2005, American women dropped a cool $664 million on antiaging creams and potions, and that was just in department stores. Today, that figure has jumped to nearly $2 billion. We’re shelling out big bucks for ingredients like oil from the seeds of hand-harvested arctic cranberries and Koishimaru silk extracted from delicate cocoons. And if you add cosmetics in general that we buy to spruce up our natural looks (or cover up those blemishes and uneven skin tones) then the number skyrockets well into the billions.

Maddeningly, much of that money is being spent on products that have little effect on skin’s aging process, because to halt the march of fine lines, sag, and pigmentation changes, you have to change skin’s deeper layers. And if any of the bazillion department and drugstore products that claim to erase age’s treadmarks could actually do that — say, by increasing cell turnover in the dermis — the FDA would classify them as drugs. A few do exist, but you can only buy them with a doctor’s prescription (see the section on retinoids).

Why are so many cosmetic claims so convincing? Five reasons:

Paying for pearls, but seeing the same old skin
When Forbes magazine reviewed the world’s most expensive age-defying facial products, they found that the average price of the top ten products on their list cost $402 per ounce. That’s 7,500 percent more than the price of products sold at most drug and grocery stores. What makes these products so expensive? Other than hype and heavy marketing (that you pay for!), many include exotic (read: expensive) ingredients like caviar, crushed pearls, and extracts from rare plants from remote terrain. Antioxidants like grape-seed extract, chamomile oils, and alpha lipoic acid — all of which are touted to fight the free radicals that ravage skin tissue — also drive up the price. Add to that the customized cell messenger proteins, which allegedly stimulate cell growth and which I think are bogus, and you’ve got yourself a spendy package.That said, earlier this year scientists put a price on happiness. You know what I mean — how much we enjoy paying for something really really expensive once in a while. I personally think it goes a little deeper than retail therapy. Who doesn’t get a tad more satisfaction from designer brands, be it a purse or a lotion, than from cheaper versions, even if they are exactly the same? Sounds ridiculous, but I think every woman can agree. And now, it has been proven: The more we believe an item is worth, the happier we are with our purchase (at least for a short time). In a study that I wish I had participated in because it sounds like so much fun, participants were hooked up to brain-scan machines and told to take a sip from five glasses of wine, which ranged from five dollars to ninety dollars per bottle. When they were told they were drinking a glass of wine from a ninety-dollar bottle, brain scans showed increased activity in the medial orbital frontal cortex, the area of the brain that registers pleasure. The hilarious part is that these people’s pleasure spots activated in the brain even when they were fooled to think they were drinking a $90 bottle when, in fact, they were swilling cheap vino that retails for around five dollars!

It’s practically instinctual to believe that when you pay more, you get more — that a higher price commands a higher quality. The kicker here is that if you believe something better is happening to you (like you’re getting to drink fine wine, or, in the case of cosmetics, indulge yourself with uberluxurious product lines sworn by by the celebrities in haute-couture fashion magazines), you essentially affect the way your brain handles the experience. By the way, the researchers in this latest study discovered that this effect happens across all types of purchases, and is not isolated to wine-tasting circles. Granted, some people can confuse an item’s worth with their own self-worth (as in, “Will this make me happy?”), but that’s another can of worms. Suffice it to say that I give you permission to splurge when you feel it’s appropriate ... and really want to. The occasional splurge can knock your stress down a notch or two. Just don’t start thinking that happiness is only a purchase away. You know the old cliché: You can’t buy happiness.

Excerpted from “The Mind-Beauty Connection” by Amy Wechsler, MD. Copyright © 2008 by RealAge Corporation. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.