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Your 10 Most-Asked Beauty Questions … Answered!

Demystifying all the newest products and formulations


spinner image Woman applying makeup in front of a small mirror on a desk
Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Women age 50-plus are experienced consumers of beauty products. Nothing gets past our inquiring minds or wallets. Our biggest gripe (aside from escalating prices) is deciding what to buy and use, as well as how, when and why. Those decisions are typically made as we stroll drugstore aisles, hover over our bathroom cabinet at 7 a.m. or browse online. Here are some top questions with practical answers from board-certified Dallas dermatologist, Rebecca Marcus, M.D.; chemist Ian Ginsberg, owner of famed New York City pharmacy C.O. Bigelow; and beauty-editor me.

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1. Which basic ingredients should I avoid mixing and matching?

spinner image CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum; Sunday Riley CEO Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream; Cetaphil Deep Hydration Healthy Glow Daily Cream; Olay Regenerist Retinol 24+ Peptide Night Moisturizer
(Left to right) CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum ($24, target.com); Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream ($22, bigelowchemists.com); Cetaphil Deep Hydration Healthy Glow Daily Cream ($19, target.com); Olay Regenerist Retinol 24+ Peptide Night Moisturizer ($34, target.com)
Target (3); C.O. Bigelow

Funny, but despite new products, the same rules still apply. Certain ingredients can be irritating and drying and cause redness or stinging when used together; others work best when paired with specific “partner” ingredients. “Be cautious about playing DIY chemist,” Ginsberg says. “Never apply vitamin C and retinol together, though both have proven pigmentation and texture benefits. C is a UV protector and works best during daylight to brighten and rebuild collagen, and is complemented by other antioxidants, especially vitamin E. Choose C in an all-in-one day moisturizer, or layer it as a serum under a hydrating moisturizer and sunscreen.

Retinol (which makes skin photosensitive) works best at night to promote cell turnover and smooth wrinkles, but it requires patient, gradual usage. Skip it on days you use any exfoliating product like a cleansing scrub, mask or peel, especially those with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA), to avoid irritation. When checking those labels, know that other star sidekick ingredients — like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, shea butter, peptides and soothing, calming niacinamide — pair comfortably with everything.”

2. Do wrinkle patches work like Botox?

spinner image Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Eye Mask; Pixi DetoxifEYE Depuffing Eye Patches; BioRepublic Lost Baggage Under Eye Emergency Repair Masks
(Left to right) Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Eye Mask; Pixi DetoxifEYE Depuffing Eye Patches; BioRepublic Lost Baggage Under Eye Emergency Repair Masks
Estée Lauder; Target (2)

Despite our best efforts with sunscreen and moisturizer, crow’s feet, dark circles and under-eye bags are a fact of life over age 50. Do stick-on patches mimic Botox or injectable fillers? “Sorry, but no,” says dermatologist Marcus. “Patches are a short-term, subtle fix. What they can do is help soften the appearance of lines and minimize bags and puffiness temporarily … enough to get you through a special day or evening looking well rested.” Choose eye masks with hyaluronic acid, glycerin or aloe, like the BioRepublic Lost Baggage Under Eye Emergency Repair Masks ($5, target.com), for a freshening moisture kick; and caffeine to depuff, like the Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Eye Mask ($42, ulta.com) and Pixi DetoxifEYE Depuffing Eye Patches ($24, target.com).

And here’s the scoop on two other patch trends: “Silicone patches and masks can provide a very subtle, temporary hydration boost by creating a barrier to lock in creams and serums beneath,” Marcus says. “Biodegradable needles that puncture the skin and promise collagen stimulation are simply not long enough to reach the dermis. They’d need FDA approval to do that.” My beauty-editor bottom line? Not worth it. Wait for more developments.

3. Can a facial massage roller lift or firm your skin?

spinner image Baimei Jade Roller and Gua Sha Set; Mount Lai Gua Sha Facial Lifting Tool in Rose Quartz or Jade
(Left to right) Baimei Jade Roller and Gua Sha Set ($18, amazon.com); Mount Lai Gua Sha Facial Lifting Tool in Rose Quartz or Jade ($28, sephora.com)
Amazon; Sephora

Jade rollers and gua sha stones have been around for centuries, but your fingers are efficient skin tools, too. Apparently, it’s how you use them to apply creams and serums that really matters. “It’s certainly not a face-lift, but applying products in a gentle upwards motion can encourage fluid to drain and reduce puffiness, which, in turn, can give your face a firmer look,” Marcus says. “Avoid pushing! Facial skin is delicate, especially around the eye area.” Start at the base of the neck and work upward and outward for a circulation boost and a rosy, healthy glow. Chilling in the fridge helps amplify the depuffing ability of already cool-to-the-touch rollers and stones, so keep one ready to go.

spinner image CeraVe Invisible Zinc Sunscreen Stick for Face SPF 50; Milani Make It Last Sunscreen Setting Spray SPF 30; Tarte Sea Set & Protect Mineral Sunscreen Powder SPF 30; Supergoop! Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF 50
(Left to right) CeraVe Invisible Zinc Sunscreen Stick for Face SPF 50; Milani Make It Last Sunscreen Setting Spray SPF 30; Tarte Sea Set & Protect Mineral Sunscreen Powder SPF 30; Supergoop! Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF 50
Walgreens (2); Sephora (2)

4. How do I touch up my SPF or add one without a makeup redo?

Plenty of women choose a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen for mostly-indoors days, or they skip the SPF if they are wearing makeup. Not smart, since UV rays sneak up on us while driving, on cloudy days or while sitting in front of a window. If you applied sunscreen earlier in the day, you’ll also need another round to stay protected. No need to wash your face and start over. For casual days, apply a nongreasy sunscreen stick like the CeraVe Invisible Zinc Sunscreen Stick for Face SPF 50 ($10, walgreens.com) or Supergoop! Glow Stick Sunscreen SPF 50 ($25, sephora.com); or tap on your usual SPF 30 sunscreen right over your tinted moisturizer or foundation with a dry makeup sponge.

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For more of a semi-matte finish on hot, humid days or for dressier occasions (like an outdoor wedding or business meeting), add a translucent powder sunscreen like the Tarte Sea Set & Protect Mineral Sunscreen Powder SPF 30 ($29, sephora.com) or an SPF setting spray like the Milani Make It Last Sunscreen Setting Spray SPF 30 ($14, walgreens.com). Just be sure to close your eyes when misting!

spinner image A woman testing a lipstick shade by applying it to the top of her hand
wera Rodsawang/Moment/Getty Images

5. Are in-store makeup testers back?

With COVID-19 still spreading havoc, department and specialty stores are once again making DIY swatching available. Is it safe? Well, in truth, was it ever? Even before the pandemic, multiuse test applicators were being cited as the source of harmful bacteria (think herpes, staph and E. coli), even when shoppers swiped on hands or wrists as opposed to lips, eyes and skin. Many brands and sites now offer virtual try-ons for color cosmetics by uploading a selfie or live shot of yourself, to “test” everything from lipstick to foundation.

Others have expanded their online shade charts with bigger dabs and photos of swatches on varying skin tones. But it is confusing. In some stores, beauty advisers themselves do testing on their hands or a plexiglass sheet with single use applicators. In others, consumer testers are back in action. However, if you’re game for a try-before-you-buy situation, “Your best bet if you opt for DIY testing is to ask a sales associate to sanitize the bottle, palette or cream before you dab,” Marcus says. Absolutely!

spinner image Assorted makeup and brushes on a table
Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

6. How long do makeup products last now?

In the best of all possible situations, we all tag new products with a Sharpie and mark the date as soon as we open the package. Since most products now have symbols indicating expiration on the label, knowing the start date solves everything. However, almost no one does this — including yours truly, who knows better. First of all, don’t store makeup in the bathroom, where moisture, steam and heat cause it to decompose faster. Replace double-dip products like mascara, liquid or marker style gel liners, wand-type concealers and sponge-tip cream shadows every three months, since they go from eye to applicator with every use. Refresh pencil eye or lip liners by sharpening, but be wary of any changes in texture and replace daily eye makeup after eye infections, like pink eye or styes, and replace lip balms and lipsticks after cold sores.

Expect liquid foundations, cream blush, tinted moisturizers and face concealers to last about a year. Powders like dry shadow palettes and bronzers often develop a dull oil buildup on the surface that can be easily skimmed off with a knife. These are just general guidelines. Always watch for changes in makeup texture, color and smell, and toss any that are questionable, even if under the expiration date. Vegan, clean, green makeup made without chemical preservatives may have a shorter shelf life.

spinner image Honest Beauty Organic Beauty Facial Oil; Ouai Hair Oil-Ulta Beauty; CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil; Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil; Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil
(Left to right) Honest Beauty Organic Beauty Facial Oil; Ouai Hair Oil-Ulta Beauty; CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil; Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil; Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil
Target (2); Ulta Beauty (3)

7. How do I use oils for skin and hair?

Kitchen-cabinet olive and safflower oils are historic beautifiers, but more refined versions of plant, nut and fruit oils for face and hair are an alternative to smelling like a salad. Face oils like Honest Beauty Organic Beauty Facial Oil ($34, target.com) or CeraVe Skin Renewing Gel Oil ($25, ulta.com) are different from serums. (Serums deliver active ingredients deep into the skin and go under moisturizer.) Face oils seal in moisture like a topcoat and are applied after serums and creams. Simply pat sparingly on dry or dull areas to add radiance and glow. Try cleansing oils like Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil ($20, ulta.com) to dissolve makeup, cleanse and soften dry complexions as an alternative to wipes.

And while coconut oil is getting a lot of social media attention, it can make mature hair feel greasy or even drier and oddly crunchy or brittle. Try elevated hair oils like Olaplex No7 Bonding Oil ($28, ulta.com) or Ouai Hair Oil-Ulta Beauty ($28, target.com) as a repair solution for damaged, processed and textured hair. Use on wet hair prior to blow-drying, or on dry hair to add gloss and tame frizzes. After decades of choosing oil-free products, we’re all into oil!

spinner image Garnier SkinActive MoistureBomb Super Hydrating Glow-Boosting Sheet Mask; Freeman Hydrating Aloe & Seaberry Mask; No7 Restore & Renew Serum Boost Sheet Mask
(Left to right) Garnier SkinActive MoistureBomb Super Hydrating Glow-Boosting Sheet Mask; Freeman Hydrating Aloe & Seaberry Mask; No7 Restore & Renew Serum Boost Sheet Mask
Walgreens (3)

8. Which sheet masks are best for mature skin?

It’s puzzling, but most of the low-cost sheet masks available at drugstores and mass retailers are designed for younger complexions plagued by oil and breakouts. They emphasize deep cleaning and detoxing with ingredients like clay, sulfur or charcoal. But dig deep through the racks. Single-use masks pre-infused with moisturizing, wrinkle-plumping, skin-refreshing ingredients like the Garnier SkinActive MoistureBomb Super Hydrating Glow-Boosting Sheet Mask ($3, walgreens.com) with hyaluronic acid, Freeman Hydrating Aloe & Seaberry Mask ($3, walgreens.com) with aloe or No7 Restore & Renew Serum Boost Sheet Mask ($4, walgreens.com) with glycerin provide a 20-minute fast fix. Apply one before makeup as a prep to a big night (or day) out. Thanks to the design and portable packaging, they’re ideal for travel and stashing in a gym or tote bag.

spinner image Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap; Blistex Hemp & Shea; Shea Moisture Cannabis & Witch Hazel Skin Rescue Moisturizer; Botanics Simply Calm Hydrating Overnight Mask for Stressed Skin
(Left to right) Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap; Blistex Hemp & Shea; Shea Moisture Cannabis & Witch Hazel Skin Rescue Moisturizer; Botanics Simply Calm Hydrating Overnight Mask for Stressed Skin
Target (3); Walgreens

9. Does CBD or hemp oil actually do anything for mature skin?

CBD — short for cannabidiol (a chemical found in marijuana) — comes from the plant itself, and hemp oil — derived from the cold-pressed seeds — are two of the most talked-about ingredients to hit the beauty business. Skeptical? Popping up in creams, oils, soaps and lip balms, CBD or hemp oil won’t get you high, but they claim to be the next big thing as anti-inflammatories, hydrators and blemish healers. The science is in very early stages, so stay tuned. Hemp oil (also called cannabis sativa seed oil) is not exactly new, it’s been used in beauty items forever.

Ever try Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure Castile Soap ($16, target.com)? Still intrigued? Try Shea Moisture Cannabis & Witch Hazel Skin Rescue Moisturizer ($15, target.com), with no CBD, just hemp seed oil; Blistex Hemp & Shea ($3, target.com), a lip balm with hemp oil and shea butter; or Botanics Simply Calm Hydrating Overnight Mask for Stressed Skin, with cannabis sativa seed oil ($13, walgreens.com).

spinner image e.l.f. Camo CC Cream; Estée Lauder Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45; It Cosmetics CC+Cream Illumination With SPF 50; BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30
(Left to right) e.l.f. Camo CC Cream ($14, target.com); Estée Lauder Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45 ($45, ulta.com); It Cosmetics CC+Cream Illumination With SPF 50 ($42, ulta.com); BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 ($34, sephora.com)
Target; Ulta Beauty (2); Sephora

10. Is “clean” or “dermatologist-tested” better for sensitive skin?

Some of us have very reactive skin at 50, and over half of us consider our skin sensitive. Yet we still want the same face makeup as everyone else. For a long time, dermatologist-tested was the safe way to go. But today, products labeled clean, vegan or organic are claiming that niche. The truth is that both are always great place to start — but any product may contain possible ingredients that trigger redness and rashes. Those with preexisting skin conditions like rosacea, eczema or psoriasis need to be particularly careful. Your best bet is to always try new products and brands slowly, one at a time, first on the inner elbow for 24 to 48 hours, and then on your face. If you’ve had issues before, look for formulas free of common irritants like fragrance, phthalates, dyes and preservatives (like parabens) whenever possible.  

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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