With your financial adviser (or husband) scrutinizing every expenditure, lunchtime peels and filler appointments are getting harder to justify. It's time to tighten the belt and find at-home solutions for antiaging. Consider: A skincare regimen doesn't have to be all-designer to do the job. "It doesn't matter if you're buying an item at a department store or a drugstore," says New York City dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco.
And while asset diversification may be essential in your financial portfolio, it's not when stocking your bathroom caddy. "Switching too often from one product to another can make your face more irritated," warns Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban. The bottom line: A simple, age-appropriate routine will save money and make skin brighter, plumper, and less sensitive. Pared-down and derm-approved, here are your decade-by-decade skincare essentials:
INVESTMENT STRATEGY: Preventing sun damage and reducing inflammation should be your primary concerns to minimize the effects of aging. "This age group tends to be more stressed," says New York City dermatologist Dr. Anne Chapas. "You're finding yourself, figuring out your life, looking for a job, and deciding whom you should date. All this can lead to inflammation in the skin."
BIG-TICKET ITEM: Naturally calming, antioxidants help combat inflammation and will help reverse sun damage if you use them at night, says Chapas. These powerful molecules also counteract damage from smoke, pollution, and other environmental stressors.
EQUITY BUILDER: Skin is thinnest around the eyes, which is the first area where fine lines will appear. "Sunglasses and a moisturizer with sunscreen will keep crow's-feet at bay," says Fusco, who also recommends using a separate eye-makeup remover, because 20-somethings tend to wear more makeup—including waterproof mascara and eyeliner—and are more likely to fall asleep without washing their faces.
SAVINGS CLUB: There's no need to shell out for stratospheric sunscreen. "An SPF 15 gives you about 92 percent protection, which is enough for every day. Once you go above SPF 20, the formula can get greasy, which is a concern for oilier, 20-something skin," says Shamban.
Grand Total: $82.46
INVESTMENT STRATEGY: "Once you hit 30, your complexion doesn't glow as brightly because your cells aren't regenerating as quickly anymore. Dead-cell buildup dulls the skin's surface," says Fusco. "Retinols boost cell turnover so skin gets rid of dead cells and creates new collagen faster. They also fade brown spots and plump skin, which makes pores look smaller."
BIG-TICKET ITEM: For thorough but safe exfoliation, doctors agree that nothing beats the Clarisonic. "The soft brush cleanses and removes the top dead layer of skin. It temporarily plumps up fine lines and wrinkles and gives you a healthy glow," adds Fusco. At $195, it's expensive, but the rechargeable brush does come with three tubes of facial cleanser—enough to last you a couple of months.
EQUITY BUILDER: "You might pay $150 for a prescription retinol like Renova, but that tube will last you nine months," says Shamban. For proven results without an Rx, try RoC's line of retinol products. "It's the only over-the-counter retinol I've seen with a lot of research behind it. It's almost the same as prescription-strength, but it's gentle enough to be well tolerated by all skin types," adds Chapas.
SAVINGS CLUB: "Between work and family, you're probably not getting enough sleep in your 30s, which leads to puffy undereye bags," says Chapas. To de-bloat without the inflated price tag, look for drugstore eye creams with caffeine and anti-inflammatories like ginseng.
Grand Total: $278.21
INVESTMENT STRATEGY: Cumulative UV damage means that brown spots, sagging, and rosacea-induced redness are common concerns by your 40th birthday. Anti-inflammatories reduce redness, and amping up exfoliation ensures that active antiaging ingredients like peptides and skin-brightening kojic acid can penetrate.
BIG-TICKET ITEM: "If you have deeper lines, Botox is a worthwhile investment because it has proven benefits," says Chapas. Plus, paying $443 (the national average cost for Botox in 2008, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery) can be a smarter choice than buying a $400 antiwrinkle cream that may or may not work.
EQUITY BUILDER: For an at-home Botox alternative, choose a cream with neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptides (which relax muscles for a mild line softening) and carrier and signal peptides (to increase collagen production). "Only apply peptide eye creams in the morning," suggests Fusco. "If you put it on before bed, it can migrate into your eye and cause irritation."
SAVINGS CLUB: "You don't need to spend a fortune on a cleanser that you're going to rinse off," says Shamban. However, 40-something women do need a makeup remover/cleanser that foams or scrubs to take off the foundation they're probably wearing at this age. A moisturizing formula would be ideal, because "perimenopausal skin is drier," explains Shamban.
Grand Total: $326.47
FAST-FORWARD Five Surprising Factors That Speed Up Aging
1. DRIVING Car windows don't block UVA rays, which is why drivers end up with more sun damage on their left cheeks. If you live in a sunny locale or have a long commute, use an SPF 30 or higher for daily use.
2. RUNNING Bouncing up and down makes skin sag faster, so runners should start using firming peptides at an earlier age.
3. SLEEPING "I can usually tell what side a patient sleeps on when I look at her face," reveals Oakland, CA, dermatologist Dr. Katie Rodan. "The wrinkles will be more compressed, and they might have an unnatural line next to their nose from the pressure." She recommends Therapeutica pillows, which cradle your head in bed so you can sleep faceup.
4. DIETING A recent Case Western University study of 186 sets of identical twins found that after age 40, the heavier twin looks younger than her slimmer sister. And if you're overexercising, the body may metabolize sugar-based hyaluronic acid fillers (like Restylane or Juvederm) faster, which means more costly touch-ups.
5. PLASTIC SURGERY An artificially tight face can make you actually look older. Also, scar tissue doesn't age as well as regular skin because it's less elastic and prone to discoloration, warns New York City plastic surgeon Dr. Sam Rizk. Prevent old scars from becoming more obvious by massaging in a scar-treatment gel like ederma.