Ward Off Wrinkles
Feel as if you need a chemistry degree to navigate the cosmetics aisles? You're not alone. According to Olay, 33 percent of women say that picking out skin-care products is more confusing than filing taxes. Chalk it up to an explosion in the number of products. Plus, the markers of aging are showing up as early as your twenties and thirties, especially if you often exercise outdoors, and that has created a whole new category of creams and lotions, says Tina Alster, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. But no worries. We've found the top ingredients to battle your most common skin problems and help you look years younger.
Ward Off Wrinkles
Your daily run might do wonders for your body, but it can tax your skin. Sunlight and toxins such as pollution and smoke unleash damaging free radicals. "These can increase inflammation in your skin and cause collagen to break down, paving the way for lines," says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a dermatologist in Boston. But just as you can halt muscle loss by lifting weights, you can help slow down collagen loss.
Your superstar ingredients: Antioxidants
A daily dose can neutralize free radicals before they do harm — and allow cells to repair existing damage. There are a ton of options out there, but the pros suggest sticking with well-studied types, including vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, and lycopene.
How to use them: "Think of antioxidants as being like the vitamin boosts you add to smoothies," Dr. Hirsch says. In the morning, try a sunscreen infused with these agents. At night, use a cream containing collagen-stimulating retinol or peptides to smooth lines.
FITNESS faves: Aveeno Positively Ageless Correcting Tinted Moisturizer ($20, drugstores) with vitamin C, and L'Oréal Paris Sublime Sun Liquid Silk Sunshield for Face SPF 50+ ($11, drugstores) with vitamin E.
We're all for embracing your freckles, but when you're dealing with a large mark that doesn't fade after summer, it's time to take action. "Spots are indicative of cumulative sun damage," Dr. Alster says. They can appear in your mid-twenties, typically on your face, décolletage, and hands. According to a study, uneven skin color can make you look 20 years older. Yikes! Fortunately, there are ways to get even.
Your superstar ingredient: Hydroquinone
Derms consider this skin lightener the gold standard for fading spots. Available in prescription (4 percent) and over-the-counter (2 percent) strengths, it works by breaking down the melanin in spots. If you have sensitive skin, try gentler kojic acid.
How to use it: Apply a thin layer of a brightening serum all over your face twice a day. "This treats any discoloration that hasn't yet surfaced," says Katie Rodan, MD, a dermatologist in Oakland. Top it off with sunscreen.
FITNESS faves: Murad Rapid Age Spot & Pigment Lightening Serum ($60, sephora.com) with hydroquinone, and La Roche-Posay Mela-D Pigment Control ($59, laroche-posay.us) with kojic acid.
As we get older the rate of skin-cell turnover starts to slow, causing a buildup of dead skin. And the pace at which these cells are shed isn't the same all over your face. Cells in the T-zone, where there are more oil glands, tend to get replaced faster than the skin on the sides of your face. The result? A patchy effect that interrupts light reflection. But it's easy to get glowing again.
Your superstar ingredient: Glycolic acid
It helps break apart the gluelike substance holding dead skin cells together, Dr. Alster says. The result: An even, more luminous surface.
How to use it: Glycolic acid can irritate skin. If you can tolerate the ingredient, smooth on a moisturizer containing it daily, or try it two times a week if you have sensitive skin. If that's still too aggravating, try a glycolic-based cleanser, which rinses away dead skin.
FITNESS faves: Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Moisturizer ($45, sephora.com), and DermaDoctor Litmus Test Glycolic Acid Facial Cleansing Gel ($25, ulta.com).
Erase Acne Scars
What's worse than a monster zit? The ugly spot it can leave behind for weeks, even months. Contrary to popular belief, it's not necessarily a scar, Dr. Hirsch says. It's often hyperpigmentation, the work of your melanocytes — pigment-producing cells that go into overdrive when skin gets inflamed, as it does with acne. This condition is more likely to affect people with darker skin tones. Luckily, you can speed up the healing and fading process.
Your superstar ingredient: Salicylic acid
This will help promote cell turnover, so you'll shed melanocytes at the surface, which can make spots fade faster. Salicylic acid also unclogs pores and can prevent new zits from emerging.
How to use it: Apply a salicylic acid peel once a week, but not more often than that. You don't want to overdo it; drying out your skin will only increase inflammation.
FITNESS faves: Neutrogena Blackhead Eliminating Cleanser/Mask ($7, drugstores), and Brazilian Peel Clear ($45, sephora.com).
Sunburns normally fade after a couple of days, but get enough of them and you may be sporting a perma-flush. Because sun damage can generate broken capillaries, a ruddy complexion may be a precursor to aging, Dr. Rodan explains. Other triggers, such as alcohol and even extreme temperatures (like those in your hot yoga class), can induce a flare-up. Topical treatments will get the red out.
Your superstar ingredient: Topical niacinamide (vitamin B3)
It not only calms the flush but also helps strengthen your skin, locking out potential irritants, Dr. Rodan says.
How to use it: Apply a calming cream that contains this anti-inflammatory daily, even when your skin isn't red, to help prevent any future flare-ups.
FITNESS faves: Olay Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex ($25, drugstores); StriVectin Get Even Brightening Serum ($89, strivectin.com) with niacin, another form of B3; and Rx Skin Therapy Skin Firming Serum ($58, rxskintherapy.com).
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2012.