Beauty & Skin

THE BATTLE AGAINST TIME: ANTI-AGING PRODUCTS

Anti-aging products should begin to be introduced into a woman’s beauty regime when she is thirty, the professionals emphasize. Since this information was irrelevant for me, I rushed out and bought my daughter all the products Dr. Gallais recommended and sent them off to Chicago.

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The minimum necessities, according to Dr. Gallais, include the magic threesome: a cleansing product and two moisturizing creams or lotions—one for day, plus a richer formula for night (you knew that). In these hydrating products, the age-defying ingredients will give an extra boost to efficaciousness. Keep in mind that they must be chosen specifically for one’s skin type, age, and/or any special problems (in all cases, that’s where a professional keeps us on message).

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate is the mantra of all skin professionals, and to make life less complicated, they agree, look for sun protection in the formula of a day cream.

DR. GALLAIS’S GENERAL ADVICE: “All moisturizing products depend upon one’s age. Generally, vitamin C is the first step into anti-aging for young women; hyaluronic acid, vitamin A, and glycolic acid are more appropriate for mature skin. Although I often recommend a retinoid product [such as Retin-A] for younger women.”

In the United States, it’s interesting to note, glycolic acid is often recommended for twenty- and thirtysomethings for both acne control and its anti-aging benefits.

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It’s important to start slowly. Dermatologists caution that a woman should gradually increase the strength of her anti-aging products—start light and move up the scale as the skin demands. Too much is too much. As with any prescription, no benefit is accrued by overtreating a problem. “Make your skin work,” they advise. “Don’t give it too much too soon.

It’s counterproductive,” Dr. Gallais said. As our skin evolves, the idea is for us to evolve with it, helping it along without giving it more support than it needs. Dermatologists and estheticians are in accord on this. The skin should “perform” for its reward. At forty, for example, a woman’s skin probably does not need an ultra-rich hydrating product, but at sixty it very well might. Products should evolve with a woman, taking into account hormonal changes.

Jean-Louis Sebagh, one of the world’s most famous plastic surgeons, is a huge believer in maintenance to slow down the passing of time. He agrees about starting young, in one’s thirties, and believes tweaks of Botox, fillers, peels, and laser treatments should also be part of a youth-protecting program. “Not a lot, just enough,” he said. “Remember, French women do not like anyone to think they’re doing anything ‘unnatural,’ which means as they keep up the maintenance, no one sees radical changes and therefore no one notices. It all appears natural.”

He calls these procedures “fine tunings.” Sebagh says he doesn’t “change faces,” but rather helps restore them. “You can keep your forty-year-old face until you’re seventy if you start early with medical maintenance.” The medical maintenance to which he is referring can include a cocktail of laser treatments, Botox, hyaluronic fillers, mesotheraphy (more on this in a moment), and injections (antioxidant vitamins C, A, and E), all administered in the hands of a highly qualified doctor, preferably one who, like Dr. Sebagh, has an artist’s sensibility. He claims that these minimally invasive procedures can perform miracles.

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So, I asked Dr. Sebagh, what the minimum investment would be for the miracle of keeping a forty-year-old face until one is seventy.

“That’s such an American question,” he said.

“Perhaps, but please humor me,” I said.

“About 2,500 euros a year,” he said, “but I have some patients who spend upwards of 10,000.”

Most of us, for various reasons—philosophy, budget, fear—prefer a softer approach to our beauty regimens, which means we must rely on good sense, good food, trusted dermatologists, and good products. Good fortune, as in good genetics, never hurts either, but that’s the luck of the draw.

For several years I was using a vitamin C serum and its complementary cream, both recommended by Sandrine Sebban, an internist who is one of France’s leading doctors of aesthetic medicine. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that “traps” free radicals that accelerate the aging process. Serums and creams with a base ingredient of vitamin C improve the skin’s density, resulting in fewer signs of age. Dr. Gallais told me so.

Free radicals age skin by increasing destruction of collagen, the fiber that keeps skin flexible and smooth. Vitamin C is highly effective for maintaining collagen, but it is itself unstable. The only form of vitamin C that remains effective is L-ascorbic acid, which must be kept in a dark, light-shielding bottle. (My Flavo-C serum is sold in such a bottle, and Dr. Sebban also told me to store my bottle inside my medicine chest to ensure further protection.)

It’s comforting to know there is serious science behind a product, but all I care about are results. Vitamin C is suitable for all skin types and, yes, I’ve seen a measurable difference. My skin appears almost poreless and baby smooth—air kissers have complimented me on my smooth cheeks—and it has a youthful rosy, glow. I need very little makeup.

My prescription Retin-A, which my skin tolerates well, although that is not the case for some women, has been one of my greatest allies for more than twenty years. As a result of nightly—yes, perhaps excessive—use, I have no upper lip “bar code” lines, nor do I have the classic lion’s whatchamacallit between my brows.

Dr. Sebagh said, “There is no question that these products are one of the most remarkable anti-aging solutions that have ever existed. They are part of our toolbox. Prevention is always the best medicine.”

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If you can tolerate Retin-A, I recommend requesting a prescription. It’s another never-too-late remedy. If you have redness and flaking side effects, Dr. Gallais suggests NeoStrata Renewal as an alternative. To treat redness and flaking, Anti-Rougeurs Nuit, a rich cream from Eucerin, solves the problem, she said.

Unfortunately, it never occurred to me to apply my Retin-A to my nasolabial folds, those nasty parentheses between the nose and lips. Somehow I don’t think it would have made that much difference. One esthetician remarked that I must have smiled a lot in my life. How true.

ANOTHER HARD TRUTH: Retin-A was not created to fill in the creases in those areas where our faces have lost volume. That’s where fillers come in. And, as you know, fillers come in syringes.

But never mind, since Dr. Sebagh told me that smiling is the best facial exercise that exists, I couldn’t be happier. “Smiles are ‘elevators,’ grimaces and frowns are ‘depressors,’ and then there is gravity, so it’s best to elevate as much as possible,” he said.

Serious anti-aging products can and should be used on the décolleté. This often forgotten area can let us down sooner than we think. Unfortunately, I was careless on that front and had the crinkles to prove it. We often blithely slather creams, lotions, and SPF products on our faces but forget our delicate neck and chest areas. To deal with my carelessness after the fact, I first turned to my trusty Retin-A to see if it could remove some of the damage. It didn’t. The results were disappointing at best. Then I turned to Dr. Gallais and the magic of mesotheraphy.

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