Age-Proofing & Beautifying Your Skin

by Christine Lynn Harvey

How you care for your skin determines how old it looks and how healthy it is. Want to look older than you have to? Make sure you: get sunburned naturally or spend hours at those tanning salons, smoke, drink alcohol, don’t wear a SPF of 30 or more, don’t eat plenty of foods rich in anti oxidants and age proofing phytochemicals and please, don’t drink enough water. These are all prescriptions for aging rapidly. Once you change these lifestyle habits for the better, there are cosmetic things you can do on the outside to preserve the skin’s youthful appearance and protect it from further damage.

Carole Lea Burns, a licensed Aesthetician based at Chelsea Eye Associates in New York City, explains how you can prevent rapid aging of the skin, what causes uneven skin tone and how to correct it: From the age of 1-19, your body puts hyperpigmentation into the skin caused by the accumulation of one sunburn after another.

The cells become activated to create melanin, the brown pigmentation that causes you to become tan, but over time, these cells cause an uneven tone and spotting to the skin which are most commonly called freckles when you are younger and age spots when you are older. These cells, known as melanocytes, have memory, so they continually produce this pigmentation as a response to trauma to the skin which can be due to sunburn or continually picking one’s pimples.

This pigmentation can be also be due to melasma which can be a result of ethnic background or can occur during the hormonal changes of pregnancy. A Caucasian with African-American heritage will be prone to melasma, which are larger, darker uneven patches over the face. Sunburn makes it worse. Another condition that causes uneven skin tone is perioralhyperpigmentation which are dark rings around the upper and lower lips due to taking birth control pills. The good news is these cells can be “retrained” by various low-cost topical cosmetic treatments that make these uneven spots disappear. In order to prevent recurrence, a daily regimen of topical treatments and periodic treatments must be adhered to.

The sun emits various harmful rays and now, due to the destruction of the protective ozone layer by pollution, many more harmful rays are reaching our skin: UVA causes rapid aging, UVB burns the skin and UVC causes cancer, so it’s important to wear a daily SPF of 30 or more even on cloudy days since these harmful rays are still being emitted. Also, toxins in the environment age the skin much faster. It’s a sad fact, but your parents will age more gracefully than you, and your children will age more rapidly than you.

You can retrain the skin through in-office treatments and in-home prescription topical treatments that do not require an MD. Chelsea Eye uses only “ethical” products, that means products that are designed to produce results. “There are herbal skin lighteners containing kojic acid from licorice, but they take an extremely long time to work and they don’t turn the melanin production off,” says Burns. “Once going back into the sun, you reactivate those melanocytes, so it’s important to limit your exposure.

Treatments like glycolic peels and retinol treatments speed the process along because they exfoliate the skin and remove the stratum corneum, a layer of dead skin cells, so you get greater penetration of the topical treatment made with 2%/4% hydroquinone.”

You get faster results by using the treatment method offered at Chelsea Eye because it’s custom designed to your specific needs and skin type. “The Obagi system includes 9 bottles numbered in order of use for day and night care, which is a real no-brainer; you don’t have to worry,” says Burns. You go through a correctional stage of the skin where you have a lot of exfoliation and drying of skin. It’s out with the old, in with the new and you'll clearly see the difference first in the area of the nose and the cheek. The total cost for a glycolic peel is $150.00 and the full set of Obaji products is $325.00 for a 3-month supply.

Retin-A is used in the course of the treatment as it also gets out impurities in the skin. It’s a 6-week course of treatment where Carol sees her client once every two weeks for the glycolic peels that brighten the skin by removing the stratum corneum that causes keratinization of the skin.

Vitamin C serum also tightens the skin, reduces fine lines, photodamage, ruddy complexion and tangillia which are broken capillaries visible at the surface of the skin around the nose (especially in people who have allergies or are outdoor athletes exposed to the weather elements). Manual scrubs and exfoliating devices are very bad because they tend to rupture these capillaries.

“I tell all my clients to stay away from those products and wear an SPF of 45 if you’re doing outdoor sports, 30 in the summer, 20 for the rest of the year and to make sure you use it on the face, arms, ears and hands where exposure is greatest,” says Burns. Indoor heating, wind and cold exposure are extremely damaging to the skin and cause hyperpigmentation which causes uneven tone color of the skin. Retin-A and Glycolic products stimulate exfoliation, so be aware if you are using these products while spending lots of time out in the sun.

With any kind of trauma to the skin, whether it’s due to exposure, mechanical or sun damage, keratin will be stimulated to protect the skin from further damage and dark spots will appear as a result. The products you are using now may need to be changed in a few months due to seasonal changes and the fact that the skin is constantly changing and evolving. It’s also based on what environment you are in. Are you exposed to the elements on a daily basis or living in a dirty city? Do you smoke? All these things play a big factor, says Burns, who suggests the supervision of a certified aesthetician.

Scrubs distend the size of the pores and cause the tangillia to break. Smoking and sun exposure are the worst for your skin. That’s why you need to re-apply SPF cream every 2-3 hours. Whatever the aesthetician can help undo to your skin with clinic treatments, you can do right back with haphazard care. SPF should always be worn even in the winter and indoors. UV waves are constantly bombarding your skin. They are reflected off windows and mirrors and emitted by indoor lights.

Even washing your face with hot water can age the skin faster. Acne patients incorrectly think they should be washing their face with hot water but this increases scarring and hyperpigmentation. African-Americans produce more melanin in their skin and when they get a pimple, it creates a dark spot, but because they have a thicker dermis and more oil production, they age much more gracefully than Caucasians.

Burns recommends The Obagi System, a combination of Retin-A, hydroquinone and a light hydroxy acid cleanser. All these products work in tandem to speed up the lightening process, minimize acne scarring and fine wrinkles. Regular glycolic treatments strip away the upper dermis to speed up the process even further. Retin-A also helps reduce macules which are formations of dormant blood that has been trapped beneath acne pimples. Retin A may not be for all clients since it tends to leave the face red.

Alpha hydroxy acids tend to work more gently and slowly while glycolic peels are rated according to their acid content. The higher the rating, the faster and deeper the acid reaches the dermal layer to help all the other products go to work faster, but there is some dryness and peeling associated with the skin. Retin A must be used at night since it is inactivated by sunlight. Burns says she can customize a skin care program to fit each individual’s unique lifestyle. There are three different levels of skin care: 1. The Obagi System 2. Hydroquinone & Vitamin C and glycolic peel 3. Hydroquinone and phytocorrective lotion at night. It is totally safe to stay on these treatments since there are no side-effects except the redness caused by the Retin A. Once you complete the Obagi system, you go six weeks off and then six seeks back on again in order to trick the skin since the skin adapts to products making them work less efficiently.

There are also natural modalities for preventing the aging of your skin. Natural products like Arbutin and kojic acid (found in licorice) break up excess melanin deposits and work for those who have allergies to hydroquinone, but they work slower than the conventional treatments.

You can have beautiful age-less skin by changing your lifestyle habits, protecting it daily from the elements and consulting the professional advice of a skin care specialist like Carole Lea Burns.

Carole Lea Burns is available for consultations Tues-Thurs. 12-8 pm specializing in ethnic skin and acne management, laser hair removal, chemical peels and skin lightening. For more info visit or call 212-727-3717.