En español | Hey, beauty brands: We're OK with our age, so you can stop labeling skin care products as “anti-aging.” All we want is healthy skin that looks fresh, radiant and relatively even-toned. As a beauty editor, I know wrinkles are not really big on our worry list. I enlisted the help of Connecticut dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital, for fast facts on what makes the cut.
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1. Rosacea Hold the full-coverage makeup a minute. Robinson says to first “find out what's causing your skin to flush or redden and break out, and avoid flares. Keep a journal of triggers that set off a reaction. The usual suspects are extreme hot or cold weather, cleansing with hot water, caffeine, spicy food, alcohol and fragrance in detergent.”
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A dermatologist can diagnose your rosacea type (there are four), treatment and severity. Robinson also suggests “a topical prescription for Rhofade — a decongestant — to shrink the dilated blood vessels which cause redness, and for rosacea with acne-like breakouts [the] Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask ($47, sephora.com).” My beauty advice is to stick with nonirritating cleansers, barrier-repair moisturizers with ceramides or niacinamide, and a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ mineral sunscreen. Totally hide all with Dermablend Smooth Liquid Camo Foundation ($38, dermablend.com) or IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Redness Neutralizing Color-Correcting Cream ($32, sephora.com) for nonmasky confidence.
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2. Adult breakouts Skip the teenage stuff. “The trick here is to remember you're not 15 and avoid acne treatments for teens that increase the dryness of already dry, thin mature postmenopausal skin,” says Robinson. A daily salicylic acid-based cleanser “and use of a retinoid and an oil-free moisturizer can help speed up cell turnover to reveal healthy skin cells and keeps pores from clogging. Also wipe down your cell phone daily with a Clorox wipe and use speaker phone or ear buds for calls to keep your skin clean and free of bacteria.”
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For a quick fix I suggest a grownup oil-free makeup with a wide shade range for skin-authentic coverage — like CoverGirl TruBlend Matte Made Liquid Foundation ($11, ulta.com) or Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless Liquid Foundation ($8, ulta.com).
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3. Eczema Itchy irritated patches of cracked, scaly inflamed skin (aka atopic dermatitis) can compete with even the brightest red lipstick for attention. “A dermatologist can do a patch test to determine the dietary or environmental triggers, for sure, but try an elimination diet to find the culprit. It's often dairy,” says Robinson. Eczema runs in families but also can be triggered by eggs, peanuts and shellfish. The beauty switches? Opt for a gentle cleanser, wash with warm — not hot — water and keep skin hydrated with dye-free, fragrance-free therapeutic creams and lotions that are eczema-centric to minimize discomfort and irritation. Products by Aveeno, CeraVe, Avène and Eucerin with ingredients like ceramides, glycerin and hyaluronic acid help repair the skin's moisture barrier.
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4. Super-dry skin After years of worrying about oily skin and breakouts, extreme dryness comes as a shock to many women 50-plus. Only a doctor can diagnose dry skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema, but postmenopausal, everyday dry skin requires revising your skin care, too. Robinson suggests “a regimen of a gentle cleanser like CeraVe in the morning followed by an alpha hydroxy acid-based cleanser in the evening to keep dead, dull cells from lingering on the surface of your skin and creating a dry texture and look.” You can also amplify those benefits with moisturizing makeup and by avoiding powders. Tinted moisturizers and cream blush can be your best ally.
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5. Dry, flaky and itchy scalp Your black tops are covered with flakes, but is it dandruff or dryness? “Have a board-certified dermatologist do an evaluation,” suggests Robinson. “Sometimes conditions like psoriasis or even a topical fungus can be behind flakes and itchy scalp. The condition may show up in your eyebrows, too, but it's not contagious. You can't catch dandruff.” Good to know. If dry scalp is the cause, hydrate with gentle sulfate-free shampoo and avoid overdoing the dry shampoo. Robinson says that “most contain alcohol and work by absorbing your natural scalp oils, which could lead to buildup that exacerbates dandruff.”
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Nab a drugstore dandruff shampoo with pyrithione zinc such as Dove Dermacare Scalp Dandruff Shampoo ($5, target.com) or Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dandruff Shampoo ($9, target.com), which have antibacterial and antifungal powers; those with coal tar such as Neutrogena T/Gel Extra Strength Therapeutic Shampoo ($8, target.com) that slow down the growth of skin cells; or those with selenium sulfide such as Selsun Blue Moisturizing Dandruff Shampoo ($7, target.com) that slow bacterial growth and fungus. Then alternate to avoid building up a tolerance to one ingredient.
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6. Cold sores Worried about germy store “lipstick testers"? You should be. Lipstick is a warm, moist environment that can breed infection for easy transference from mouth to mouth. “Avoid sharing anything that touches your mouth — lipsticks, lip balm, eating utensils,” says Robinson. “The herpes type 1 virus causes cold sores on the lips. Once infected, the virus stays dormant until sun exposure, extreme cold, a head cold or depressed immune system sets it off.” Over-the-counter FDA-approved products like Abreva can soothe the pain, itching and burning, and an SPF 30 lip balm like Herpecin L can protect from UV rays. A doctor can prescribe an antiviral drug like Acyclovir or Valacyclovir to speed the two-week healing process.
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7. Blackheads and enlarged pores Enlarged pores pop up after menopause, giving skin a dirty look and a gritty feel — especially around the nose. That's due to a decrease in skin-firming collagen and elastin, sun damage and hormonal shifts. They cause skin to sag, and pores to stretch and get floppy. They easily become clogged with dead cells, oil and makeup, which creates the illusion of enormous blackheads in your makeup magnifying mirror. A gentle but thorough cleansing and exfoliating routine can help. “Sluggish cell turnover is again the menace,” says Robinson. “Alpha hydroxy acids keep skin cells shedding and moving. Don't dig away at home.” A gentle day spa facial can help unclog and exfoliate without the DIY stress.
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8. Facial hair Suddenly sprouting chin hairs or a mild mustache? Robinson says that as “female hormones fall, you may see some hairs along the jaw or above the lips.” Don't panic. This is normal postmenopausal stuff as excess male hormones (testosterone) trigger coarse dark facial hair. If you have a few random hairs, simply tweeze/snip/thread/wax away. However, waxing is not great for those with thin sensitive skin or for Retin-A users. A board-certified dermatologist can do laser hair removal safely — no salon or day spas, please — or prescribe Vaniqa, a cream that inhibits hair growth. See your doctor for excessive growth of facial hair ASAP, as this may indicate an underlying medical issue.
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9. Sensitive skin About half of us think we have it, whatever our skin type or other skin concerns. Sensitivity shows up as a burning, stinging, blotchy sensation with possible itching or breakouts to boot — an allergic reaction, in other words. As more indie brands and organic/green beauty products flood store shelves, who isn't thinking twice before slathering on a new cream? “Read the labels carefully,” says Robinson. “Just because something is ‘natural’ doesn't mean it isn't filled with skin-irritating ingredients. Fragrance is a common offender and so are botanical oils.” Agree! Test every new product on the inside of your elbow and wait 24 hours. That's why they have samples.
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10. Skin cancer scares Once you have a precancerous growth biopsied or have a basal or squamous cell cancer treated, you wait for more. We're the generation that baked in the sun for decades, so of course we're afraid. For reassurance, get a skin cancer check every year — and more often if your doctor suggests it. The earlier skin cancers are detected, the more treatable they are. Apply sunscreen every day, rain or shine, cold or cloudy. Robinson recommends physical sunscreens with the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. “They sit on the surface of your skin as a barrier to UV rays, which bounce right off. They're even tolerated well by those with sensitive skin since no chemicals are absorbed to contribute to irritation or an allergic reaction."
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Makeup Wakeup: Revitalizing Your look at Any Age by Lois Joy Johnson and Sandy Linter