Courtesy of fluctuating hormones, your skin changes a lot after 40. All that sunbathing you thought you’d gotten away with starts to deliver results in the form of dark spots and uneven tone. The blue troughs under your eyes don’t go away with a good night’s sleep. Your face cries out for moisturizer, even if you’ve always had oily skin. And your complexion seems to have forgotten how to glow on its own.
To cope, you’ve assembled an arsenal of products that may overlap and even cancel one another out. But even if they don’t, is all that rubbing and wiping and re-creaming really necessary? "I’m an advocate of a pared-down approach," says Lance H. Brown, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine, and we agree. Great skin at midlife is actually simpler than you think, so follow this easy strategy: Use just two or three products when you get up, and three before bed. Do that — and see the dermatologist occasionally — and we guarantee that you’ll age better than gracefully.
When to use it: Morning and night
Washing your face is necessary, but many women claim to be too tired, stressed, busy, or ______ (insert your favorite excuse) to bother before they collapse into bed. However, if you can make time to pour a glass of wine and curl up to watch TV, you can manage to scrub off the makeup, pollution, and grime that have accumulated during the day.
Solutions: The truly time-crunched can go for premoistened face wipes (use them while you watch Grey’s Anatomy on DVR); try Olay Daily Facials Express Wet Cleansing Cloths ($6; drugstores) or Skyn Iceland Glacial Cleansing Cloths ($15; sephora.com). Or use an oil-based cleanser like Lancome Huile Douceur Deep Cleansing Oil, above ($35; lancome-usa.com), which removes all your makeup (concealer, long-wear lipstick, even waterproof mascara) and cleans your skin in just one step. (Despite its "oily" name, it won’t clog pores.) Note: If you can only bring yourself to cleanse your face once a day, do it in the evening, when skin is dirtiest. But starting the day off with a wash is worth the time it takes. You’ll slough off dead cells, making the skin look smoother and enabling better penetration of your daytime products.
When to use it: Morning
You wouldn’t think of leaving home each day without applying deodorant; now try to be as religious about sun block. Sunscreen not only helps prevent skin cancer, it "minimizes your skin’s exposure to free radicals in UV rays, which cause the breakdown of collagen," says Vivian Bucay, MD, a San Antonio dermatologist and melanoma survivor. Bucay suggests you choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that is also broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVB rays (those that burn) and UVA rays (those that cause cancer and accelerate aging).
To save time and money — and space in your medicine cabinet — it’s smart to opt for a formula that’s also hydrating, since most of us need a moisturizer during the day. Try L’Oreal Advanced RevitaLift SPF 15 Day Lotion ($20; drugstores).
Tip: Clinical studies show that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E help to fend off the kind of free radicals found in UV rays — and improve your sunscreen’s ability to do the same. So to maximize your sun protection, consider choosing a hydrating sunscreen with antioxidants. We like Clinique Youth Surge SPF 15 Face Cream ($49; clinique.com, available in March), with vitamin C.