Have Firmer Skin Forever
"I have thus far refused to get any Botox or plastic surgery," writes Tina Fey in her autobiography, Bossypants. "Although I do wear a clear elastic chin strap that I hook around my ears and pin under my day wig."
If only it were that easy. Science has delivered plenty of breakthrough treatments to battle early signs of aging, such as wrinkles and brown spots. But keeping skin firm and toned is a whole different challenge. "Most women love the way their faces look when they're 30, because they've lost a bit of roundness and have a little more contouring," says Los Angeles dermatologist Karyn Grossman, MD. "Then comes the tricky part—how to keep it all from going south."
The most important step in preventing aging is to stimulate your genes to keep making collagen and slow its breakdown. Collagen starts to deteriorate in your 30s, along with elastin—the fibers that give young skin its resilience and bounce. At the same time, the support structures of the face, including muscles and bone, begin to atrophy ever so slowly. Certain areas lose their plumpness faster than others. "The reason we sag is in large part due to a loss of volume," says New York City dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD.
To counteract these effects without surgery, dermatologists offer a whole new bag of tricks. Yet there are plenty of easy and effective things you can do at home to defy gravity, at a fraction of the cost.
Sag-proof your skin
Start with the basics
Slather on SPF 30 every day and reapply throughout the day. Then use a topical antioxidant to quench harmful free radicals.
Mind the don'ts
"Smoking cuts off oxygen to the skin, wrecks collagen and elastin, and lowers your levels of estrogen, which are essential for keeping skin firm," says New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. If you consume alcohol, limit drinking to one or two drinks only once or twice a week, Dr. Zeichner adds. "Alcohol increases insulin levels, which creates low-grade inflammation and can hasten sagging."
Use retinoids and peptides at night
"They're both proven collagen boosters and will accelerate cell renewal," Dr. Grossman says. "Go with the strongest retinoid you can tolerate, whether it's prescription-strength or over-the-counter." Rx formulas come in different intensities but generally move up in strength from Retin-A to Differin to Tazorac. "To minimize irritation, dilute the formula with moisturizer," Dr. Grossman advises. "Or use less frequent doses and work up to every night."
When you slough off skin cells, repair treatments can sink in more easily. Look for mild scrubs with ultra-fine beads. Or try a gentle-yet-thorough electronic cleansing brush.
Firm up eyes, chin, and neck
Most women start to notice crow's feet and fine lines in their early 30s—sooner if they've had a lot of sun damage.
Look for an eye cream that contains caffeine to de-puff and reduce dark circles. To tighten and firm over time, choose one that also has peptides or retinol. For a temporary lift, "place frozen green tea bags (soak first) over your lids for a few minutes," Dr. Grossman says. "The antioxidants and caffeine will help bring down inflammation and make your eyes look fresher."
Dermatologist options for eyes
Injectable fillers (like Restylane and Juvederm) plump up under-eye hollows and lift pouches under the eyes. Special bonus: The injectables put pressure on the fibroblasts in the skin to jumpstart new collagen growth.
Strategically placed Botox, Dysport, or Xeomin injections create a subtle brow lift. "By relaxing the brow depressor muscles, you allow the brow elevator muscles to kick in," says Fredric Brandt, MD, a New York City dermatologist. "That can raise the brows by a millimeter or two."
Chin and jawline
Your jawline typically begins to soften in your 40s.
Apply over-the-counter retinoids, or Rx Retin-A, and peptides; they're best for firming and toning. And keep your teeth healthy, Dr. Waldorf advises. "Poor teeth and bone loss in the gums mean less support for the skin," she says.
Dermatologist options for chin and jawline
Botox, Dysport, or Xeomin injections soften dimpling on the chin and lift the corners of the mouth. Used in the platysmal bands of the neck—the ones that stand out when you clench your jaw—they can also tighten up mild jowling.
Fillers (such as Restylane, Juvederm, Perlane, Radiesse, and Sculptra) reshape the chin and jawline and add volume to cheeks and temples.
The skin here is thinner than the skin on your face, "so aging shows up in your late 30s or early 40s," says New York City plastic surgeon Alan Matarasso, MD.
Everything in your daily complexion arsenal (sunscreen, antioxidants, retinoids, peptides) should also go on your neck.
Dermatologist options for neck
Botox injections soften the platysmal bands for a more youthful appearance. Or try Ulthera, an ultrasound-based treatment to lift and tighten loose skin, or Thermage, a skin-tightening procedure, to firm.