"When water evaporates from skin, it shrinks. And like a grape, it can go from plump to shriveled," says Ellen Marmur, MD, chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
To see if dryness is magnifying your creases, take this simple test: Apply a moisture mask like Dermalogica Intensive Moisture Masque ($40; dermalogica.com), and leave it on for the recommended time. When you rinse it off, how does your skin look? Fresher? Fuller? Smoother? That means your skin was dehydrated. If it doesnt look any different, your lines are age-related. Sneak some wrinkle-fighting retinol, peptides, or antioxidants into your daily routine. We like RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum ($22; Walgreens).
Do you really have sensitive skin?
More than 40% of Americans believe they dobut not all self-diagnoses prove correct. Derms check for the condition, in part, by asking a series of questions:
Does your skin typically turn red and blotchy when irritated?
Is it prone to allergic reactions?
Does your skin sunburn and windburn easily?
Does it flush from changes in temperatureboth hot and cold?
Is it dry, delicate, and thin?
At home, studying your face in a magnifying mirror can reveal another clue to sensitivity. "The pores of sensitive skin tend to look pink due to inflammation," says Dennis Gross, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. If you do have sensitive skin, avoid gritty scrubs and harsh ingredients like alcohol, acids, and benzoyl peroxide; use calming cleansers and lotions containing natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants.
Got sun damage?
Pinch the top of your cheekthe fleshiest partand hold it for five seconds. When you release, see how quickly the skin flattens. "If it doesnt bounce back immediately, start using a cream with retinol or peptides to build new collagen," says Jeannette Graf, MD, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York.
Collagen is the protein that keeps skin strong, plump, and prettyand UV rays are its kryptonite. "When the sun weakens our collagen and elastic tissue, wrinkles form and skin starts to sag," Dr. Graf says. "But what many women dont realize is that newly enlarged pores on the nose and cheeks, particularly in dry skin, are also a sign of poor elasticity. As the skin starts to hang, pores stretch out."
In addition to revving up collagen production, make your pores look smaller by keeping them clean with a weekly grime-extracting mud mask, such as AHAVA Purifying Mud Mask ($30; ahavaus.com).
Whats your skin type?
If your skin glistens with oil or flakes like crazy, the answer to this question is hardly a mystery. But many of us
Heres the test: Wash your face with a mild cleanser, like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($5; drugstores), and leave it bare. After 15 minutes, lightly press a single-ply tissue over your full face, then remove and inspect it. "If you see greasy, translucent splotches on the tissue, youre oily. If theres no oil on the tissue, and your skin is taut, youre dry," says David Bank, MD, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco, New York. "If only your forehead and nose transfer oil, you have combination skin. And if you see tiny traces of oil all over the tissue, your skin is normal."
For oily complexions, "gel cleansers with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid fight zits and absorb excess oil," Dr. Bank says. Try Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser ($8; drugstores). Follow with an oil-free moisturizer. Because dry skin is easily irritated, creamy cleansers with added soothers like chamomile are ideal. "And washing only at night should do," Dr. Bank says. "In the morning, a splash of lukewarm water is all you need to remove excess oils." Use a sunscreen-infused moisturizer for day and a rich cream at night. Both normal and combination types do well with basic cleansers and lightweight lotions. For those with combo skin, a water-and-glycerin-based toner helps keep oil in check without stripping dry areas; Burts Bees Rosewater and Glycerin Toner ($12; burtsbees.com) works well.
Would a derm visit help your skin?
Considering getting Botox? First, try this test: While looking at yourself in a mirror, furrow your brow. "If you can create a groove or number 11 between your eyebrowsbut dont see the line or lines otherwiseyou may be a good candidate for Botox, because it helps prevent wrinkles caused by movement," says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a dermatologist in Boston. If your creases are visible at rest, usually on the lower part of your face, fillers like Radiesse or Juvederm are likely a better bet.
Is your skin as radiant as it could be?
Luminous skin always looks fresh and healthyeven if it bears a few little lines. But if you dont exfoliate well, dead cells can pile up and snuff out your natural glow. To see if you slough enough, youll need clean skin (that hasnt been washed or moisturized in two hours) and Scotch tape.
Place a piece of tape on your forehead, the apple of each cheek, and your upper lip; carefully peel them off. "If the tape is covered with flakes, your skin is very dull due to an accumulation of dry skin," says Dr. Graf, who recommends using a fruit-enzyme mask, like Ren F10 Smooth and Renew Peel Mask($37; renskincare.com), twice a week to dissolve dulling surface cells and reveal the healthy skin underneath.