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Change Is Only Skin-Deep

How to avoid getting sucker punched by the cosmetics industry

The many faces of David Bowie

Wayne Farrell/Alamy

The many faces of David Bowie

David Bowie's passing has me thinking about the many truths in his famous anthem, Changes. I'm not talking just about that "Pretty soon now you're gonna get older" line, penned way back in 1971. I smirk as my new smartphone bosses me around, laugh out loud when my advanced GPS leads me astray and chuckle tolerantly at friends' endless status updates.

When my beloved beauty products go AWOL, however, I'm so longer such a highly adaptive "change agent." In fact, I get downright grumpy. This month, for example, my favorite lipstick was discontinued; my perfect foundation got reformulated; and the moisturizer of my dreams vanished from shelves.

Not that I'm whining, mind you. When I think about everything that age 50+ women have gone through just to reach the midcentury mark and beyond, I take pride in being a member of this resilient, unflappable tribe. We can find a solution for anything! Therefore ...

Never get stuck on a brand. Whenever you use up a product, don't just go on autopilot and make a repeat purchase. Instead, look for new labels and new formulas. Think of this as an opportunity to update and upgrade benefits. That go-to lipstick I was bemoaning above, for example, was a classic "bullet-style" roll-up. I've stayed true to its pinky-nude shade range but moved on to new delivery mechanisms: liquid mattes with sponge-tip applicators or high-pigment lip pencils with refined tips. Both methods color and enhance my skinny lips, and neither gets sloppy around the edges. That means I'm never guilty of leaving my "sipping signature" on teacups.

Turn lemon products into lemonade. Some cutting-edge products wind up being duds, and that's fine. Simply think of ways to repurpose them. Facial treatments from serums to night creams, for example, can be used on the neck and décolletage or body. An eye cream that's not quite right can see double duty as a hand cream instead.

Don't like a new shampoo? Use it to hand-wash lingerie, makeup brushes and cashmere sweaters. By the same token, an eye shadow that turns out to be too colorful, metallic or glittery can be layered under a muted, neutral shade of beige, gray or brown. Or if you wind up with a foundation that's not the right hue for you, just mix it with luminizer or liquid bronzer to adjust or brighten its shade.

Be open to new technology. Beauty oils and matte lipstick still elicit an "Ew!" response from mature women who are worried about breaking out or looking greasy or cakey. But technology has ch-ch-changed so much: Oils for face, body and hair are now formulated to be absorbed in no time flat, leaving no residue. They also lock in moisture, making them champions of dry or sensitive skin and of damaged or fragile hair.

As for matte lipsticks, they are now balmlike in texture and feature a velvety finish. They usually have a moisturizing base and incorporate hydrating complexes. Some even use light-diffusing gels or coated pigments and silicone to suspend color over the skin, preventing it from pooling in lines and creases. The effect is like that of a sheer stocking. Candidates to investigate here include Ahava Dry Oil Body Mist with Cactus & Pink Pepper, Boots No. 7 Beautiful Skin Cleansing Oil, Yes to Blueberries Age Refresh Face & Neck Oil, L'Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Matte Gloss, Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Matte Liquid and Lancôme Color Design Sensational Effects Matte Lipcolor.

Stay app to date on trends. Researchers in beauty development often turn to crowdsourcing to gauge consumer needs. Two makeup apps, for example, let you vicariously "try" a product on your smartphone before — or so the companies hope — you purchase it. One is the Makeup Genius app by L'Oréal Paris, which transforms your iPhone or iPad camera into a virtual mirror and allows you to visualize how a certain makeup will look on your own face. Another app, called YouCam Makeup, offers rankings of the most popular makeup colors of the moment, then lets users "try on" hundreds of products using digital makeovers of your selfies.

For more beauty and style tips, please check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love after 50, or AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine, available on tablets.