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10 New Do's and Don'ts of Skin Care After 50

Grownup skin needs a whole different regimen

woman applying eye cream

Hero Images/Getty

We've redefined skin care. The words “antiaging” and “younger” have been banished to a beauty-marketing black hole. We're no longer suckers for every so-called breakthrough brand, miracle ingredient or 14-step exotic regimen of products. Instead, we just aim to look healthy, well rested and fresh. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for mature skin for two good reasons. First, grownup complexions — like our hair (quality, texture and color) and bodies (shapes, sizes and proportions) — do differ. Second, your complexion's not shy now about revealing the effects of genes and your history of sun damage, smoking, poor diet and lazy skin maintenance. Here are 10 things for all to know, get into and avoid.

1. Using the same moisturizer a.m. and p.m. is OK, but there's a catch 

You can't skip sunscreen during the day, even when it's rainy, cloudy or cold. A daily moisturizer with broad spectrum SPF 30-plus will prevent UVA (aging) rays from doing their dirty work year round. Designed to be worn under makeup, they are usually light and nongreasy. While you don’t need sunscreen at night, using that same SPF cream before bed won't hurt, but you'll miss the extra hydration of a separate, richer night cream with skin-repair ingredients. If your face is very dry, using that rich night cream for morning and evening is perfectly fine — just be sure to add sunscreen somehow during daylight hours (see items 2 and 3).

2. Makeup with SPF is not always a substitute for sunscreen

Some tinted moisturizers, CC and BB creams and foundations do come with built-in SPF 30-plus and skin-improving ingredients. If the SPF is lower than 30 and you plan to be outdoors or exposed to the sun for a long period of time (like at a farmers or flea market, a football game, lunch outside at a bistro), apply a light sunscreen over it. That goes for driving for hours, too, since UVA rays penetrate glass. We don't apply makeup with the same thoroughness as moisturizer or sunscreen — we blend it out. Remember if your ears, neck and hands are exposed, they don't get makeup but do need sunscreen.  

3. Sandwich sunscreen after all skin care and before makeup

If you're using a moisturizer-sunscreen hybrid, see item 1. If your day moisturizer does not have a sunscreen, apply one after serum, eye cream and moisturizer but before primer (if you use one), foundation and the rest of your makeup. FYI: A physical sunscreen with zinc or titanium oxide (aka mineral or natural sunscreen) blocks UVA/UVB rays and deflects them; a chemical sunscreen (with ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone) absorbs rays like a sponge. Which one to use requires some experimentation on your part. Choose a sunscreen that feels compatible with your other face products, is undetectable on your skin (regardless of skin tone), and doesn't cause makeup to separate, streak or slide off.

4. Cleanser should never leave skin feeling tight, greasy, sticky or dry

That's where we often slip up, and it affects the efficacy of all your skin-care products and makeup. Select a cleanser that makes your skin feel soft, supple and clean. It might be a bar soap, liquid, milk, foam, gel or cream. Trendy micellar water contains tiny balls of oil molecules suspended in water and, in my opinion as a beauty expert, is better for a light cleanse and for those who wear minimal makeup or have sensitive skin. At night double cleanse using a separate makeup remover (wipes are great) to kindly but thoroughly get makeup and sunscreen off and out of pores. You'd be surprised how much residue is left if you don't. It’s essential if you wear any combo of full-coverage face makeup, concealer blush, bronzer, waterproof mascara, eye shadow and liner and sunscreen.

5. Want more radiant skin? Exfoliate gently

Beware of facial scrubs with harsh particles, extra-zealous polishing tools and high-power at-home peels. These can actually be abrasive and tear or irritate the skin. Exfoliation is essential to remove or dissolve dead cells that linger on the surface of the skin, giving it a dull, dry look. Choose a creamy cleanser with vitamin C, or a low-concentration alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), or an enzyme mask with cell-dissolving pumpkin or papaya. Use once a week for a healthy look; better absorption of all topical serums, creams or oils; and easier makeup application.

woman applying eye cream in mirror

Cecile Lavabre/Getty Images

6. If a little is good, more is better does not apply to skin care

Playing dermatologist with a little DIY pairing can be hazardous. If your skin looks shiny and red, feels tight or is sensitive to the touch, check your product regimen. Some very effective active ingredients can become irritants when layered with others at the same time. Never combine: retinol and vitamin C, AHAs or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs — usually it will read salicylic acid); vitamin C and AHAs or BHAs or niacinamide (aka vitamin B3); AHAs and BHAs. Space it out. You might use a vitamin C serum in the morning under a skin-plumping, hydrating hyaluronic acid moisturizer, for example, and apply a retinol cream at night. If your skin is slightly sensitive to a “beneficial” ingredient, try using it twice a week or apply a soothing moisturizer before a serum with the ingredient in question to cut the intensity. Redness is always a red flag that there's inflammation — dangerous for skin that has issues like rosacea or a history of allergic reactions. Just stop using it cold turkey.

7. Serums are regimen extras, but their benefits are hard to ignore

Serums are not moisturizers. They are super-concentrated treatments designed to deliver specific problem-solving ingredients deeper into the skin, thanks to a smaller molecular structure. Serums contain a higher level of an ingredient. For example, that might be hyaluronic acid (for hydration), vitamin C or antioxidants (for brightness), retinol (to smooth lines), peptides and niacinamide (for firmness). Apply a serum to damp skin before moisturizer. It takes just a drop or two for the entire face.

8. Skin oils are team players or stand-alone solutions

Oils are not the same thing as serums but can work with them — serum under moisturizer, oil over moisturizer for a radiant look. Face oils have essential fatty acids that help keep the skin's outermost lipid barrier layer strong and supple to prevent water loss. You can use them in place of a moisturizing cream or primer, or to spot-treat areas. If layering an oil, it goes after moisturizer and sunscreen but before makeup ... or as a final step at night. Pat an oil into your skin — don't blend it around as you do a cream. Oils of argan and maracuja are two of the most popular for parched, dehydrated or sun-damaged skin.

9. Avoid being a product junkie

Ignore exaggerated claims and also check product reviews for specific info — even from peers. Every woman does not need the same number of products. Only you know your skin and its history. Don't underestimate the appeal of going back to an easier, straightforward routine. The more products you layer (please ignore those YouTube videos), the more chemical overload. Fewer products — but the right ones — can deliver your best-quality skin. Maybe it's just cleanser, serum and moisturizer with an SPF upon waking, and then a makeup remover, cleanser and moisturizer or oil in the evening. Done! And for those who want actual researchers and scientists to do the homework, sticking to one brand is the most reliable way to go.

10. Is it working?

That's really all we want to know for sure. You didn't get wrinkles, dry skin, discolorations and dull skin overnight, so give your skin products a chance to do their stuff. Expect weeks of use before you begin to see a change. The only immediate difference will be in how easily a product is absorbed or how it feels on your face. Giving up too soon (unless, of course, you are experiencing signs of irritation or breakouts) is what beauty marketers count on. It's partly responsible for the constant cycle of skin-care trends and claims. Don't get fooled, either. Read the packaging and the ingredient listing. Sometimes “new” products are just repackaged old ones with a change of one ingredient, or a different texture or delivery system (for example, a pump dispenser instead of a jar, or a gel-cream instead of a cream).

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.

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