Your skin changes greatly through the years. How should your skin care change with it?

A how-to guide for looking your best at any age.

Experience can produce a number of positive life lessons, but unfortunately for those of us who could do without the outward signs of that living history, our skin doesn’t usually reflect those favorable qualities. The smooth, buttery exterior we all enjoyed as babies gives way to those carefree years running outside for hours or splashing around the pool as our parents chase us around with a handful of sunscreen. Great memories? Sure, but not so great for our skin.

Hand in hand with Father Time, our exposure to external factors, particularly the suns damaging rays, piles up the wear and tear to our skin that typically appears in the form of wrinkles, sagging and blemishes as we grow older. Every hour you are exposed to the sun results in microscopic damage to proteins and DNA in our skin cells, which, over decades, can result in skin thinning, wrinkling and possibly skin cancer. Sunscreen is recommended for use every day alone or with your primary moisturizer, but that’s just one step in many you should take to protect and nourish your skin. Read on for a decade-by-decade guide to proper skin care.

In summary, lifelong skin health involves daily protection from the sun’s radiation effects, a good diet and hydration to aid the skins repair mechanisms. Regular checkups, especially at age 50, are needed to monitor any new, changing or persistent spots, particularly if they’re pink, red, pearly or black in color.

20’s as you emerge from your teenage years, acne is hopefully less of a problem. While excessive wrinkles and signs of aging aren’t yet much of a concern, sun damage to areas frequently exposed can start showing up with freckles, moles and even melasma, a patchy skin discoloration usually associated with pregnancy or oral contraceptives. The focus during this decade should be on prevention, starting with the guideline to continue using sunscreen on a daily basis. Staying hydrated is essential to avoid the early onset of pronounced wrinkles. Smoking cigarettes damages elastin and collagen, which can result in severely premature facial wrinkling. Foods and fruits high in vitamin C and antioxidants can help retard ultraviolet radiation damage from the sun. Also be aware that just because a cream has antioxidants, collagen, vitamins and other highly touted additives doesn’t mean that it will be absorbed into your skin in cream form. The oral route is preferred, as it delivers components to the skin via circulation.

30’s Deeper wrinkles, blemishes and skin damage require a more aggressive regimen during this time. Along with sun exposure, those creases that form in the skin will make most think moisturizers, but topical retinoids are recommended for introduction into your bedtime regimen. Chemical compounds derived from vitamin A, retinoids can be found in a number of prescription and over-the-counter formulations and are effective in treating wrinkles, sun damage and acne while promoting skin cell turnover. Milder over-the-counter retinols are widely available, along with stronger prescription retinoids such as tretinoin (Retin-A). Skin serums made of smaller molecules than traditional moisturizers are able to penetrate quickly into skin to treat potential problem areas such as under the eyes and neckline.

40’s The deeper lines, blotchiness and dry-looking skin most people see at this age are attributed to the loss of dermal elastin and collagen that supports the epidermis (thin outermost layer of skin). Again, this damage is due to decades of sun exposure. Skin creams with peptides, which are small chains of protein molecules, have been shown in some studies to stimulate collagen production and plump the skin. While moisturizers wont slow down the aging process, they are still useful for soothing increasingly raw or irritated skin and can help strengthen collagen. Another effective skin care alternative are formulations containing lactic acid, ammonium lactate or urea alone or in combination, all of which are excellent moisturizers for this age group.

50’s and beyond: At this period, the skin continues to thin down and tears more easily; capillaries also tend to become more fragile, resulting in purple bruising that may last for weeks. Laser treatments and injectable dermal fillers can be effective for skin repair and plumping respectively during this stage. Daily sunscreen is still a requirement, along with watching for the appearance of persistent pink, scaly patches and red, pearly or black spots or bumps, which could herald the start of skin cancer. At age 50, everyone should have their first total body skin check to screen for skin cancer. Moisturizers and hydration are even more important in this age group.

Dr. Stanferd L. Kusch, MD, FAAD is a board certified dermatologist in Dallas, Texas, with over 37 years of experience in the treatment of all forms of skin disease and skin cancer. A Fellow in the American Academy of Dermatology, he is the author of Clinical Dermatology: A Manual of Differential Diagnosis, a training manual that has been used over the last 25 years in most English-speaking universities across the world.