Beauty for a Lifetime

How to look your best during each decade of your life

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Whether you're 25 and still using the same products you did in high school, or 45 and caring for your skin the same way you did on your wedding day, chances are you're in need of a skin-care and cosmetics makeover.

Experts say that plenty of women are stuck in a beauty time warp. They may be trying to re-create the look they had during a time when they were happiest, or simply unaware of what's new in skin care and makeup.

To help you get up to speed, WebMD asked some experts to clue you in on how skin ages and what you need to look your best during each decade of life.

Your 20s and 30s

For many, this is a time to say goodbye to teen acne angst and hello to a brighter, more radiant complexion. Unfortunately, experts say, this is also the time when many women make the biggest all-time skin care mistake: They don't use sunscreen.

"Women think that because their skin looks great, they don't need to do anything to protect it, and that is a big mistake," says New York plastic surgeon Darrick Antell, MD.

The younger you are when you commit to wearing sunscreen every day, the more you cut your risk of skin cancer -- and the more years you'll stay wrinkle-free, Antell says.

"Nothing ages the skin more than the sun, and even if you don't see that aging in your 20s or 30s, it's happening," Antell says. "What you do at 22 will become evident within the next two decades."

Dermatologist Joshua Fox, MD, agrees.

"Protecting your skin from the sun won't stop the aging process completely, but it can certainly expand the number of years during which your skin will look younger and more healthy," says Fox, a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology.

If you choose a moisturizer with a built-in sunscreen, both experts say, you'll be even further ahead of the game.

"You should start using moisturizer in your 20s if for no other reason to get into the habit, which becomes even more important as you age," says Antell.

Additionally, Fox says, you can start dipping into the anti-aging jar as early as your 30s.

"There is some evidence to show that anti-aging ingredients might have some preventive effects as well," says Fox, director of Advanced Dermatology and The Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery on Long Island.

What you can try now: Products containing alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids, and microdermabrasion products including scrubs and skin polishers.

Makeup tips: Your 20s and 30s are the decades to let your natural beauty shine, says former Hollywood makeup artist Barbara Fazio. The biggest mistake women in this age group make: trying too many trends at once.

"These are still the years when women want to look trendy and modern, but too often they try too many trends all at the same time," says Fazio, now director of the B. Fazio salon in Lakewood, Ohio.

To stay on-trend but not overdone, she says, pick one item from a particular trend -- say, metallic eye shadow or glitzy lips -- and never wear more than one trend on your face at a time.

Your 40s

Even women who are the same age may have different skin needs. This is particularly true when you hit your 40s, since many problems that pop up during this decade hinge on what you did in your 20s and 30s.

"If you wore sunscreen, if you did some preventive care, then you may not notice any major difference in your skin," says Fox. "If you didn't do those things, then fine lines and wrinkles are definitely on the upswing once you hit 40."

The problem is a breakdown of collagen, natural fibers that form an invisible network of support underneath the skin and help it stay plump and firm.

As collagen stores begin to break down -- a process that is accelerated by sun exposure -- skin loses its moist, dewy look. In its place is drier, more fragile skin, with fine lines and small wrinkles appearing around the eyes and in the nose-to-mouth area.

Further, as the years pass, we shed old skin less frequently. That means your complexion looks not only drier, but also more dull and uneven.

Solutions, says experts, include products aimed at helping to increase cell turnover, like alpha-hydroxy acids and wrinkle-fighting ingredients like retinol.

"The 40s is definitely the time to start using a retinol product," says Antell. "The professional versions are the strongest so you're going to see the most dramatic results, but even some over-the-counter solutions can work well."