PUT SPRING IN YOUR SKIN
Here's why you should get acquainted with elastin: The often-neglected cohort of collagen is responsible for making young skin snap back when you press it (a key quality of firmness). Unfortunately, we stop making elastin around the time we hit puberty. But there is some good news: Scientists have figured out how to make more of it: dill extract. And Olay Professional Pro-X Intensive Firming Treatment, DDF Restoring Night Serum, and the Aveeno Ageless Vitality line all contain the ingredient.
Without collagen, your skin is destined to have the same texture as an old leather bag. Fortunately, there's a way to make more of this key building block, too: retinoids. They're the rare family of ingredients that dermatologists agree—across the board—actually work. (We love DermaDoctor Poetry in Lotion and Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream.)
LOOK OUT FOR YOUR EYES
Big sunglasses definitely help shield your skin from damaging UV rays. But dermatologists also recommend wearing a retinoid around your eyes at night (such as Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Mask or your normal retinol cream diluted with a plain moisturizer, like Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion to prevent irritation). Then, every morning, dab on Relastin Eye Silk, "which is shown to increase elastin under the eyes," says Miami Beach dermatologist Leslie Baumann.
The sun really is your skin's worst enemy: It breaks down both collagen and elastin. So slather up with a broad-spectrum formula that contains Helioplex or Mexoryl—which offer the longest-acting protection—and has an SPF that's at least 30. (We like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55.)
FIGHT FREE RADICALS
Antioxidants are the superheroes of skin care, protecting skin from evil forces in the environment—known as free radicals—that break down elastin and collagen. Every morning, protect your skin with a product containing a cocktail of antioxidants, since "they often work best in synergy," says New York City dermatologist Howard Sobel (who recommends those with vitamins A and C and coenzyme Q10, such as Eucerin Sensitive Skin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF 15.
FADE YOUR DARK SPOTS
Wrinkles may get a bad rap, but it's actually discoloration that's most responsible for making skin look older, according to studies—aging it by as much as 10 to 15 years. The most effective nonprescription options: creams containing both skin lighteners and exfoliators, such as Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, Vivité Vibrance Therapy by Allergan, and SkinCeuticals Pigment Regulator. Wear them over your entire face—not just over spots—along with regular sunscreen, and you will start to see some fading in about three months.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MOISTURIZER
Here's one thing we bet you didn't know about moisturizers: They protect skin against free-radical damage. "Dehydration leads to oxidative stress, which generates free radicals," says Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist in New York City and Coral Gables, Florida. "Without moisture, your skin isn't able to repair itself and suffers even more damage." You just have to use the right product. Cholesterol, ceramides, essential fatty acids, and niacinamide are among the best ingredients. (Try CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion or Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream.)
RELAX YOUR NECK
Go ahead and sweat, pant, and even grunt during a workout. Just don't strain your neck. "I see women do this when they jog," Brandt says. "They're strengthening the muscles that eventually pull down their faces."
EAT SKINNY FOODS
New research shows that low levels of skin-essential nutrients like vitamin C and zinc may slow your skin's ability to repair itself. To keep skin happy, eat more fatty fish (such as salmon), dark green vegetables (like broccoli), almonds, and walnuts. And drink lots of green tea—it's rich in antioxidants.
Rather than nag you to quit, we are just going to present the facts: "Smoking destroys collagen and elastin," says Brandt, "and it decreases estrogen levels, which are necessary to keep skin firm."
TAKE A PILL
When you can't get all of that good stuff into your diet, take these power supplements:
· Coenzyme Q10. This antioxidant protects skin from free radicals and helps cells repair themselves. It may also play a role in treating skin cancer. Just be sure to take it in the morning—it can be as stimulating as coffee.
· Evening primrose oil. This omega-6 fatty acid helps skin make ceramindes to hold on to water more effectively. It even treats eczema.
· Vitamin C. Without this antioxidant, your body cannot make more collagen. And even though it's available in creams and serums, it's much better absorbed when taken orally.
· Poypodium leucotomos (found in Heliocare Dietary Supplement for the Skin). This fern extract helps protect skin from UV damage and can reduce redness after you've been out in the sun. Take it on days when you'll be spending a lot of time outside.
· Fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids strengthen skin's barrier to keep moisture in and irritants out. They also help reduce inflammation and treat conditions like eczema.
IGNORE YOUR CRAVINGS
It's not much fun to hear, but some experts believe that overindulging in sugar (and corn syrup, dextrose, and fruit-juice concentrate) can prematurely age skin, weakening collagen and elastin as early as our mid-30s.