The age of 40 is a milestone.
It’s an age where you finally start getting comfortable with yourself.
You recognize your insecurities and weaknesses, start working on them, or at least get comfortable enough to live with them. You do not get shocked by that new wrinkle or white hair anymore.
Then again, this is the age when the skin stops forgiving and forgetting.
Every extra hour of unprotected sun exposure, every extra cigarette, and every drunk night out starts to show little signs on the skin and your skin starts demanding more attention than ever.
But the best skin care regimen for 40 year olds doesn’t have to be 100 dollar night creams or 200 dollar serums. The key is knowing the right ingredients, right practices, and right lifestyle to keep everyone wondering which youth potion you drank!
So let us start with understanding your skin in your 40s, it’s needs, and choosing the right products.
What happens with your skin in the 40s: The aging process
From the age of 40, the automatic rejuvenation process of the skin comes to a slow halt. Skin aging happens because of intrinsic factors and extrinsic factors.
Intrinsic factors are the ones that cannot be altered by our lifestyle. This includes biological changes to the texture and quality of skin like thinning, collagen damage leading to loss of elasticity, chronic inflammation, etc and then there are facial expressions that create expression lines over the years.
Extrinsic factors are the ones which we have control over, like sun exposure, stress, smoking, diet, etc. These factors are preventable, modifiable and with the skincare changes that we make, we aim to target these extrinsic factors.
Most extrinsic factors cause a release of free radicals which damages cells and speed up aging. The most common causes of premature, or early aging, are chronic unprotected sun exposure and smoking. (5)
Designing a skincare routine in your 40s
The best skincare routine for 40 years olds (and over), should consist of preventive, as well as corrective products and some lifestyle modification.
Let us first put some structure to the routine, to begin with:
Morning skincare routine
Just like at every other age, the main step of the morning skincare routine should be a robust high protection sunscreen. In the 40s just like your skin, your sunscreen could do with a little extra support too.
Add an antioxidant serum layer under the sunscreen to boost the sun protection factor, as well as neutralize the free radicals causing DNA damage as soon as they get generated.
Morning cleansing should be focused on mildness. Use a hydrating or gel-based face wash with a low pH for a quick cleanse before starting with your skincare routine.
Another step that can supplement the health of your skin in your 40s is using a moisturizer in the mornings. Moisturizers do not just hydrate the skin but also strengthen the skin barrier. Moisturizing can either be applied as a separate step or use a moisturizing sunscreen with a high protection factor.
Evening skincare routine
The morning skincare routine is all about protection, and evening skincare should focus on the correction.
After using an appropriate cleanser (depending on whether or not you use makeup, how much you sweat, etc.) use a treatment active that addresses your skin concerns.
It could be the uneven pigmentation, rough texture, fine lines, or just big pores. Choose a serum with concentrated active ingredients. In case you have more than one concern, consider choosing an ingredient that targets multiple issues, or rotate the ingredients alternate nights.
Follow this step with a moisturizing cream, since all the skin types tend to start getting dryer, especially in the late 40s. Choose a moisturizing cream with an appropriate texture and richness to suit your skin and your skincare routine.
In case your skin is going through an irritated phase or feeling raw, you can substitute or add the moisturizer with a barrier repair cream.
Choosing the right products in your 40s
If you ask me one tip for the best skin in the 40s, I would say sunscreen in the 20s. But even if you haven’t been using sunscreen in the 20s, it is never too late to start.
Sun plays absolutely the biggest role in accelerating aging. Sun exposure causes a release of free radicals, damage to collagen, and deterioration of skin texture and quality. Prevention of accumulating damage due to sun exposure is the mainstay of anti-aging.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your sunscreen:
- Always choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection.
UVA protection should be labeled ‘high’, ‘PA+++’ or Boots star ratings 4+ depending on which country you live in. UVB protection is labeled standard as SPF in most countries, opt for at least SPF 30 for an office/supermarket day and SPF 50 for an outdoor day.
- Remember to apply sunscreen very liberally.
You should be using half a teaspoon of sunscreen for the face and neck to get the protection mentioned in the packaging. If your 50ml sunscreen is lasting 2 months, you are most likely not using enough. And remember to reapply every 3 hours.
- Do not forget your neck, undereye area, and back of your hands.
These sun-exposed areas age really fast and you do not want them to betray the rest of your youthful skin.
- The ‘chemical’ sunscreens have been much in controversy about entering the bloodstream of our body.
There is no evidence however that it has any short-term, or long-term, negative effect on the body. However if you do feel like avoiding them, go for sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
- If you do not want to layer your sunscreen and moisturizer, try a moisturizing sunscreen.
It is a myth that moisturizing sunscreens do not provide as much protection as regular sunscreens. If the label on your moisturizing sunscreen says SPF 30, it will provide the exact same protection. So you can easily save some money there.
2. Moisturizer and barrier repair creams
Even if you have battled your entire life with oily skin and never used a moisturizer, in the 40s you need one! The hormones decide to play their games on the skin as we age and coupled with sun damage, the production of skin’s natural oil (sebum) becomes lower and the skin gets drier. (6)
The ingredients that you should look for in a good moisturizer are hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or plant oils. Hyaluronic acid can bind up to 6000 times its volume in water. (2)
It also improves skin elasticity and gives a plumping effect by temporarily filling up the fine wrinkles. Thus it is ideal for both day and nighttime use.
It is important to note that both hyaluronic acid and glycerin are humectants, which means they bind water from the environment and the deeper layers of skin and bring it to the topmost layer of skin, but they do not prevent water loss.
To prevent water loss we need oily ingredients which act as occlusives, forming a layer on the top of the skin. This can be achieved by either mineral oils, which are cosmetically not so elegant, or plant oils.
Plant oils work not only as a moisturizing ingredient, but they also are rich in antioxidants and work as anti-inflammatory barrier repairing agents. (3) An elegant moisturizer with plant oils, like sunflower oil, could be a good choice for all skin types in the 40s.
If your skin is continuously irritated, has dry and red patches, and burns when it comes in contact with other skin products, you may be dealing with a sensitive barrier damaged skin. This change is common in the 40s because of slowly sinking female hormones (estrogen) and years of cumulative damage.
In that case, look for a barrier repair cream with ceramides. A ceramide treatment could restore your skin health, hydration, and texture, (4) and is one of the best barrier repair ingredients.
3. Target the stressors: Antioxidants
The reactive oxygen species, generated by sun exposure, pollution, stress, or even intrinsic aging, cause direct damage to the skin cells and lipids and cause DNA damage. Our body has some antioxidants of its own, that neutralize the free radicals and reduce the damage to some extent.
As we age, the amount of antioxidants produced by the body starts declining, and it needs a boost from outside. This is a very valuable step to add to your skincare routine if you are 40+.
The most effective topical antioxidants are Vitamin C, vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, and plant extracts like resveratrol, green tea, rose geranium extract, and grapeseed extract. (8)
These antioxidants can be applied separately as a serum/ lotion during the daytime or you can choose a sunscreen with antioxidant ingredients. Have you noticed that some sunscreens have SPF 50 ‘+’ written on their labels? the ‘+’ in this labeling usually refers to the antioxidants.
The all-rounder ingredient in the antioxidant team is vitamin C. Not only is vitamin C a powerful antioxidant, but it also promotes collagen synthesis which reduces the visible pores and fine lines and wrinkles on regular use.
In addition, it is also an anti-inflammatory and a topical depigmenting agent which blocks the enzyme necessary for melanin production in the skin, lightening the brown sun spots and liver spots.
Since vitamin C is very unstable, remember to buy a stable formulation of vitamin C from a brand that you trust in an airtight and dark bottle. (9)
Green tea is one of the most studied antioxidants. It contains polyphenols EGCG which is a very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
It is very well tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin and rosacea. It also inhibits the enzyme which causes collagen degeneration, thus aiding its anti-aging property. (10)
4. Choosing the best night cream and anti-aging serum for the 40s
Night-time skincare in your 40s should be focused on corrective therapy. It should include ingredients that reduce the signs of aging, wrinkles and improve the skin texture.
You can either use a moisturizer containing active ingredients as your single step night skincare routine or use a separate serum with concentrated ingredients and layer it with a soothing, hydrating moisturizer. The ingredients that you should look for in your night serum are:
Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and are the gold standard ingredients for anti-aging.
Everyone above 40 looking for an antiaging skin care routine should have this ingredient in their routines at least twice weekly if their akin tolerates it.
Tretinoin is FDA approved to treat photoaging. But since tretinoin is prescription-only in most countries, other retinoids are available in over-the-counter serums and night creams.
From weakest to strongest, they can be found as retinyl ester, retinol, or retinal in the ingredient list. Retinoids do not just ‘treat’ aging, they also ‘prevent’ further aging of the skin.
Retinoids increase collagen synthesis leading to improvement in fine lines and wrinkles, decrease collagen damage, reduce skin thinning, help in shedding the dead skin layer and improve the blood supply to the skin. Thus it is the holy grail of antiaging. (11)
If your skin is not able to tolerate retinoids, start with a lower concentration, apply 2-3 times a week and use a sandwich method by using retinoid between two layers of moisturizer.
Exfoliation has become an integral part of one’s ‘skincare boot camp.
The most effective ingredient for exfoliating the dead skin cells to unveil smoother healthy-looking fresh skin is glycolic acid, the strongest alpha hydroxy acid. Glycolic acid dissolves the glue holding the superficial layer of skin cells together and helps them to shed evenly.
When used regularly, it also improves skin thickness, skin quality and promotes collagen synthesis. (12)
Glycolic acid should not be used more than thrice a week and not on the same days as retinoids since they can both irritate the skin. Also always remember to wear sunscreen during the day if you are using glycolic acid at night since alpha hydroxy acids make the skin more sensitive to sunburns.
However, glycolic acid may not be suitable for sensitive skin. Those who do not tolerate glycolic acid should go for milder versions of alpha-hydroxy acids like lactic acid and mandelic acid.
Attractive alternatives to chemical exfoliation are enzyme exfoliation like papaya or mild physical exfoliation, which achieve the same purpose of getting rid of the dead skin cells to improve the evenness and texture of the skin.
There are various kinds of peptides that are studied against aging and are available in a multitude of products. Multiple peptides have shown efficacy in promoting collagen production thus smoothening the skin. (13)
Almost all the peptides improve the skin to some extent, but the best performing peptides of all have been Matrixyl, copper peptides, and hexapeptides.
Matrixyl stimulates both collagen and hyaluronic acid production in the skin but only if present in high concentration. If your night cream/serum lists it way down in the ingredient list, it probably will not work the charm you are expecting.
Copper peptides can restore damaged collagen to some extent and help in rejuvenating the skin. Argireline, a hexapeptide, is also called topical botox, because, when used regularly, it can reduce the formation of expression lines on the face.
Peptides are also easy to combine with other products and are a great addition to skin care regimens in the 40s.
3 Easy lifestyle changes for the skin of your dreams in the 40s
1. Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption
This will prevent your skin from being tormented by a storm of free radicals. A chronic smoker is almost always immediately identified from their skin.
Chronic smoking doesn’t just damage the collagen and causes fine wrinkles, it also caused ‘smoker’s lines’ around the mouth caused by repeated pursing of the lips to smoke a cigarette.
2. Get good sleep
A study from 2013 found significant differences in the quality of skin between good and poor sleepers. It found that sleep deficient people age almost twice as fast as compared to people with adequate sleep.
Even the water-holding capacity of skin in good sleepers was notably better than the ones with poor quality of sleep. (1)
3. Boost the antioxidant capacity of your body from the inside
Add superfoods like nuts, kale, quinoa, etc to your diet, or start taking antioxidant-rich supplements to support your body’s natural fight against environmental stressors.
Antioxidants applied topically and taken in as food/supplements work synergistically to boost the response against free oxygen radicals. (7)
3 Things you should stop doing to your skin in the 40s
1. ‘Basking’ in the glory of the sun
That is just a big no. 2 hours of unprotected sun exposure could age your skin much faster and undo months of laborious skincare. Especially if you are using a lot of actives like retinoids, hydroxy acids, etc, they all increase the sensitivity of the skin to the sun increasing chances of sunburn.
2. Using too many or too aggressive products
Using many products in the hope that they will act faster to reduce the wrinkle or in collagen-building, is a futile exercise. This will just irritate the skin, damage the skin barrier, cause inflammation and make the skin age even faster.
Do not use more than one active in a routine, and if you do want to include multiple products in your skincare, rotate them through the week.
Also, refrain from introducing too many products at once in the routine, let your skin get used to products slowly and gradually build on them.
3. Using makeup wipes
Makeup wipes are aggressive, abrasive, rub the dirt around the skin, and leave you with semi-clean and irritated skin. Micellar water or oil-based cleansers are more suitable for a 40 year old woman looking to remove their makeup and oil-proof sunscreen.
The best skin care regimen for the 40s should be powerful, but at the same time not too aggressive. It is important to have realistic expectations from skincare.
The aim of a good skincare routine is not to make you look 20 years younger, but to make your skin look the best it can for your age. The above tips, tricks, and recommendations would certainly help you achieve this.
Do you have a secret ingredient/tip that revolutionized your anti-aging skincare routine?
Let us know in the comments, and please feel free to share it with whoever you think is struggling with the signs of aging on their skin in the 40s.
I hope this article provides you much-needed insight to build your weapons to fight aging in your 40s.
If you loved this article, you would also love our other content because as medical experts, we aim to provide you with scientifically sound information to help you make informed decisions about your skin. Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to never miss an article and for exclusive subscriber-only content.
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