In the first part of this series, we talked about aging: what it means and what it doesn’t have to mean. Accepting aging with grace doesn’t necessarily require us to give up on our enjoyment of beauty or our desire to feel our best in our bodies. But neither does it mean to book the next flight out to the plastic surgery tourism destination of your choice. It simply requires some adjustments to our attitudes and habits.
Aging Gracefully: What to Do
What we do from here on out, we should do out of self-love. Different people define self-love in different ways. For me, self-love means respecting myself enough to want to be the best possible version of myself at any given moment, because I deserve to feel as good and as confident in my own skin as I can. Maintaining my health and my appearance, practicing self-care, is a demonstration of the value that I have for myself.
It’s a crucial shift in attitude. Your face and your form are not problems to be solved. You are not a fixer-upper house that needs to be gutted and stripped and refurbished before it’s worthy to inhabit. You are a magnificent mansion (or cozy stone cottage or whatever your aesthetic desires) that deserves care and attention. When an issue comes up that you’d like to address, you address it out of love. You love yourself enough to want to be the best version of yourself. And that’s where our list of things to do comes in.
You are a magnificent mansion that deserves care and attention. When an issue comes up that you’d like to address, you address it out of love.
1. Be Consistent With Your Daily Basic Skin Care Routine
Nothing stays in good condition without regular maintenance, especially not a living organ like skin. So as you think about ways to keep yours in the best condition it can be for your age and circumstances, make sure daily skin care is at the top of your list. At minimum, use a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type and needs every day.
If you wear makeup, add a makeup remover for your night routine. Oil-based emulsifying cleansers—you’ll see them marketed as cleansing oils or cleansing balms—are particularly good for this purpose. They break down makeup and sunscreen without stripping or irritating skin and rinse cleanly. I prefer them to cold creams, which leave a lot of residue behind for my cleanser to contend with, and to makeup removing wipes, which I find irritating due to the friction of the wipe on skin.
Think of basic skin care as the foundation for the rest of your skin care routine. None of the other actives and treatments you choose to add to your routine will work as well (or at all) if they aren’t applied to a clean canvas. And no amount of spot fading or collagen building will look as good as it should if it’s done to parched dry skin.
2. Be Consistent With Your Daily Sunscreen
This is a big one. That’s why, even though sunscreen belongs to the basic daily skin care category, I’ve given it a section of its own.
UV radiation is the greatest contributor to sagging skin, wrinkles, and dark spots. In fact, sun damage may be responsible for a whopping 80 percent of visible skin aging. Over time, even incidental UV exposure—what you get when walking to your car or down the street, rather than from a day baking on the beach—breaks down skin’s collagen and elastin structures, thickens and coarsens skin, and creates a state of chronic inflammation. And here in the West, most of us haven’t been taught how to use sunscreen properly, or even what to look for in a sunscreen.
UVB radiation causes sunburns. The SPF ratings on sunscreens denote its level of protection against UVB radiation. UVA radiation, on the other hand, penetrates deeper and causes much of the deep cellular damage that manifests on the surface as photoaged skin. In the U.S., sunscreens are only required to denote some level of UVA protection by designating them as “broad spectrum.” In Europe and Asia, however, sunscreens display their UVA protection levels using the PA rating, with PA+ being the lowest and PA++++ being the current highest available.
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Look for both a high SPF and a high PA rating when choosing your sunscreen, and—this is extremely important—choose a sunscreen that is lightweight and pleasant enough for you to comfortably use it daily, in generous amounts. Sunscreen protection is tested using a very specific dosage: 2mg of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. For most women’s faces, that ends up being just a bit under a quarter of a teaspoon. You don’t have to measure it out every day, but use your sunscreen in much more generous amounts than you’re likely accustomed to.
Side note: This also holds true no matter what kind of product the SPF comes in. That’s why SPF in makeup or even moisturizers is nearly pointless. Take a measuring spoon and measure out one-quarter teaspoon of lotion. Now picture yourself using that much foundation (or powder or day cream). It isn’t going to work very well.
3. Take Care of Your Body
If accepting aging with grace means maintaining and improving our current body condition, then it’s obvious that health is absolutely key. We want to glide through time with grace and confidence, not fall victim to time’s relentless forward march. For that, healthy habits become more and more important the older we get.
When I was in my early 20s, I could binge drink three nights a week, average four hours of sleep a night, and subsist on small portions of total trash food without my habits affecting my appearance or quality of life.
Yeah, I can’t do that at 40. I go one drink past pleasantly buzzed and end up looking and feeling like death the next day. The cumulative effects of unhealthy habits make themselves more known in my mood, my energy levels, and even the look of my skin—too much stress and too little sleep are guaranteed to dull my face.
Developing healthier everyday habits has been incredibly rewarding for me. I feel better, I look better, and I can do more with my days and more with my life. Some of the most important habits for me are:
- Regular exercise, which gives me more energy, more confidence in my body, and a continuing sense of accomplishment as I hit new milestones of things I could never do with my body before.
- Good sleep, at least six hours a night with a fairly consistent bedtime and wake-up time, which improves my moods and cognition, and also keeps my skin from going sallow and dull with fatigue.
- A decently balanced and nutritious diet to fuel the exercise and give my body the building blocks it needs to grow healthy hair, skin, and nails. I find a high protein diet works best for me, but consulting with a doctor or registered dietitian will help you figure out the balance that’s right for you.
- Avoiding excessive drinking, since too much drinking tends to dull down and dry out my skin (and my soul).
The thing about creating new habits (or breaking old ones) is that in order for changes to stick, you have to genuinely want them and be able to tie your identity to them. So don’t take the list above as a list of must-do items. Consider your current lifestyle and identify just one or two areas where you already want to improve, and go from there. The momentum you build from improving one habit will tend to carry over into other areas of life. Before you know it, you might be a whole new and improved person—the best version of yourself that you can be!
If we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall victim to the narrative presented by much of mainstream media and culture, that our lives are over and beauty and fun are in our past once we hit A Certain Age. Excessively filtered and edited photos in both professional advertising and personal social media accounts support that narrative by suggesting that the only way to hold on to self-confidence is by transforming into someone else entirely.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as long as we don’t allow it to be. With mindful self-care both inside and out, we can not only accept aging with grace but embrace our current position in the timeline of our lives, no matter what number we’re standing on today. There’s no reason to give up and a million reasons to continue showing ourselves the love we deserve. So enjoy who you are today and look forward to continuing to enjoy who you are for all the tomorrows to come!