Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Many of us occasionally make reckless decisions, like sneaking in a tanning-bed session before a wedding. And then, we act like grandmas in the bathroom, carefully patting on wrinkle-reducing creams. In the backs of our heads, we're convinced that some magical (perhaps, yet-to-be-invented) product will cure all ills — which makes us feel better about our skin sins. But, can anti-aging products counteract damaging choices? We asked two dermatologists if the contents of our bathrooms have our backs.
Experts tend to agree that you can't erase bad habits. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing for healthy skin,” says Ronald Sulewski, MD, of Pinski Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in Chicago, IL.
Dr. James Dinulos, MD, owner of Seacoast Dermatology in Portsmouth, NH, says it's never too early to start good patterns. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he says. "There are no products out there that can reverse smoking and tanning. As a rule, the use of preventative anti-aging products, like sunscreen, produces a more youthful appearance than [of] restorative or corrective anti-aging products, like retinols.”
Dr. Sulewski uses identical twins to show that skin health depends on what you do day-to-day. The first twin sunbathes, smokes, drinks too much, and gets little shut-eye — but, she's religious about her serums and eye creams. Her identical twin has made wiser decisions, like staying out of the sun. However, she forgets her moisturizer more often than not. According to Dr. Sulewski, the first twin's skin health is more likely to suffer. “If not immediately, the differences would be noted over months or years,” he says. “Ultimately, the best solution is a combination of the twins’ choices — leading a healthy lifestyle, and using skin-care products that prevent damage and restore any weaknesses in the skin.”
Dinulos backs this up. “Living a healthy lifestyle that includes sun precautions — sunscreen and wearing protective clothing — combined with good sleeping and eating habits, is critical,” he says. “That said, some retinol-based products can decrease fine lines when used on a regular basis.”
Some people use good genes as an excuse to neglect their largest organ. If your mom’s skin looks amazing, do you really need to put in effort to take care of yours? (Hint: Yes.) When asked whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role, Dr. Sulewski says that although both are important, "at the end of the day, having a healthy lifestyle is more essential than having good genes.”
So, think of these products like a helmet when you're riding a bike: Use them as a safety measure, but don't expect them to protect you from everything.
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