When to use it: Morning and night
You already know the eye area ages first. "That’s because its skin is thinnest, driest, and most susceptible to wrinkling," says Susan Taylor, a Philadelphia-based dermatologist. The undereye is also among the first spots to sag, and when this area stretches out, blue blood vessels (aka dark circles) become more obvious. Finally, because circulation slows as we age, most of us also suffer some blood pooling under the eyes, creating a perma-puff effect.
The hard truth: Short of an eye-lift, there’s no miracle cure for these complaints. But certain creams and serums can minimize them. For wrinkling, sagging, and dark circles, your best bet is an eye cream with peptides, a chain of amino acids that have been shown to boost collagen production. (More collagen equals plumper, firmer skin — which fills out fine lines and thickens skin enough to make blood vessels less prominent.) To shrink puffiness, you need an ingredient such as topical caffeine, which constricts blood vessels and diminishes pooling.
For best results, apply eye cream day and night. Two with both peptides and caffeine: Dr. Brandt R3P Eye Cream ($80; sephora.com) and Olay ProX Eye Restoration Complex ($42; drugstores).
When to use it: Night
"If you choose only one anti-aging product, this is it," says Zein E. Obagi, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, and every specialist we interviewed agreed. In fact, according to a study published in the May 2008 Archives of Dermatology, a retinoid is the best route to accelerating your skin’s natural sloughing process (which slows down considerably as we age). The result is a complexion that’s brighter, plumper, more even in tone, and less prone to breakouts.
A variety of prescription formulas do the job; choose the one with the right extras for you: Renova is moisturizing; Tazorac combats acne; Retin A Micro is better tolerated by sensitive skin; and TriLuma fades dark spots. Because a retinoid cream can cause redness and flaking (typically during the first three months), most dermatologists recommend applying a moisturizer first and using the retinoid only two to three times a week. After three months, you may increase application to four or five times a week.
If you find that your skin simply cannot tolerate a retinoid, consider retinol, its gentler over-the-counter cousin. One to try: ROC Multi-Correxion Night Treatment ($25; drugstores).
When to use it: Night
"The biggest change in your skin after 40 is its sudden lack of moisture," says Gregory Bays Brown, a Louisville, Kentucky-based plastic surgeon and founder of ReVive Skincare. "Perimenopausal hormone changes have a direct impact on your sebaceous glands. Even women who’ve battled oily skin all their lives can become dehydrated," he says.
For optimum hydration, he recommends using the richest moisturizer you can tolerate at night. Two we like (that won’t make you break out): Clarins Hydraquench Cream ($48; clarins.com) and Elizabeth Arden Perpetual Moisture 24-Hour Cream ($42; elizabetharden.com).
Tip If your skin is very sensitive, you may also want to look for a night cream with lipids to rebuild your skin’s barrier level. (If the barrier has been compromised by, say, cold weather or over-exfoliation, irritants get in and moisture slips out.) In addition, "The body becomes so preoccupied with repairing its broken barrier that it neglects other functions, like collagen production and skin cell turnover," says Rosemarie Osborne, PhD, a scientist for Procter & Gamble. Try Osmotics Cream Extreme ($75; osmotics.com).