Photo: Lisa Shin
Wind back time
The crinkles started innocently enough: I'd smile, and they'd appear at the corners of my eyes. Then, seemingly overnight, they were sticking around long after I had stopped smiling.
Turns out, these changes didn't happen as suddenly as it seemed. "The first sign of aging, believe it or not, happens when you're very young," says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine.
But it is possible to fight back. Read on for a timeline of how your skin ages, plus specific strategiesfrom the simple to more of an undertakingthat will shave off the years.
Aging ETA: Late 20s
What's going on: "As the reality of stress and exhaustion sets in, you'll see the beginning of crow's-feet," says Dr. Gohara. (Sleep deprivation leads to puffy eyes, leaving small lines from the overstretched skin.) Plus, regular facial motions, from squinting in the sun (or at your phone) to smiling, create lines.
Get time on your side: The least invasive fix is an eye cream with caffeine, which temporarily tightens skin to make fine lines less obvious. Try L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Miracle Blur Instant Eye Smoother ($25; at mass retailers). For a more impactful solution, botulinum toxin injections, aka Botox or Dysport, paralyze muscles under the skin for three to six months, so you can't make the motions that exacerbate lines. (Costs $250 to $500 per area.)
Aging ETA: Early to mid-30s
What's going on: You'll start to see what Dr. Gohara calls "dynamic facial wrinkles": lines that are "apparent when your face is in motion, not at rest," she says. That includes glabellar lines (the "11" you get between your brows when you look angry or concerned) and frontalis lines (the horizontal ones you get when you look surprised).
Get time on your side: Sunscreen is an absolute must, as UV rays have been proved to destroy collagen. A retinol night cream can help rebuild collagen under the skin, which over time will help smooth lines on the surface. Try Vichy Liftactiv Retinol HA Advanced concentrate ($55; vichyusa.com). Ready for the big guns? Botox can hide the lines for three to six months. What's more, injections may have a cumulative effect, preventing the wrinkles you've already got from getting deeper.
Aging ETA: Mid-30s
What's going on: The fat in your cheek areacalled malar fat padsbegins to diminish, causing once-plump cheeks to flatten, explains Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and author of Skin Rules.
Get time on your side: Humectants are the name of the game for boosting volume. Skin-care products that contain lactic and hyaluronic acids attract water and help skin retain it for a plumper effect, says Adam Friedman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Lierac Premium Voluptuous cream ($145; lierac-usa.com) has 5 percent hyaluronic acid. You'll get more dramatic results from the filler Voluma, recently approved by the FDA for use in the cheeks. Injected under the muscles, it adds youthful volume that lasts for about six months. (Costs $700 and up.)
Aging ETA: Mid-30s
What's going on: Dark spots are the first age-related changes to show up on your hands. The culprit? Sun damage. The more significant changes occur later, in your 50s and 60s, when collagen and elastin break down and skin thins, making veins appear more prominent.
Get time on your side: Stock up on hand cream that contains SPF. We like (4) Garnier Skin Renew Dark Spot hand treatment ($8; at mass retailers), which contains both SPF 30 to protect skin and vitamin C to brighten it. If you've got pronounced splotches, a dermatologist can remove them by using a gentle peel or a laser treatment. (The latter costs about $500.)
Aging ETA: Late 30s
What's going on: Those vertical lines on lips and around their perimeter become etched from years of kissing, pursing and sipping from a straw. "Actions you do over and over cause collagen to break down faster," Dr. Jaliman notes. You may also see more pronounced nasolabial foldsthe vertical furrows that go from the sides of the nose to the corners of the mouth.
Get time on your side: Keeping lips hydrated with a wax-based balm helps them look and feel smoother. Put lip-contour creams with retinol, peptides or hyaluronic acid on and around lips to soften the skin and increase collagen production, gradually reducing lines. Try Dermelect Smooth Upper Lip & Perioral professional anti-aging treatment ($45; dermelect.com).
Neck and Decolletage
Aging ETA: Mid-40s
What's going on: "This area spans the base of the jaw to the top of the chest," says Arthur Perry, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City and New Jersey and adjunct associate professor of surgery at Columbia University. The first issues you'll notice here are dark spots and crepey skin. You might also see horizontal wrinkles and vertical creases down the chest, often due to sleeping on your side or wearing a push-up bra. The upside? "This area doesn't droop with gravity," says Dr. Perry.
Get time on your side: Nightly application of a retinol cream or one containing licorice can help fade dark spots. (6) Murad Rejuvenating Lift for Neck and Décolleté ($55; murad.com) has both. And the focused ultrasound technology Ulthera can be used on the area to stimulate collagen production and smooth out linessome derms call it a "nonsurgical neck-lift." Results last up to three years. (Costs $2,000 and up.)
Aging ETA: Late 40s to early 50s
What's going on: "As the cheeks begin to sag from the effects of gravity, skin and fat spill over the jawline, causing what we affectionately call 'jowls,'" says Dr. Perry. The results: a sunken look and a more square-shaped jawline.
Get time on your side: Neck creams that contain peptides, hyaluronic acid and hydrators like shea butter can keep skin along the jawline looking supple. Try Origins Plantscription Powerful lifting cream ($60; origins.com). But to really treat jowls, you'll need to see a doctor. Focused ultrasound machines, such as Ulthera, can both lift the skin and obliterate some of the fat underneath. More aggressive and lasting dejowling, however, requires a face-lift, says Dr. Perry, adding that results last up to 10 years. (Costs around $8,000 and up.)
Legs and Feet
Legs are under cover much of the year, so unless you spend your summers at the beach, they're typically not subject to as much collagen-sapping sun damage as our faces and hands. And while feet may grow a size in pregnancy, they don't typically lose fat or suffer repetitive-motion wrinkles like the rest of our bodies. (Though if you've been wearing pointy high heels for decades, we can't vouch for the state of your toes.)