I remember having coffee with my mom one day in DC, when our first daughter was just starting to toddle. We used to meet at the Starbucks between our houses, and my mother would scoop tiny spoonfuls of foam from her cappuccino into her granddaughter’s little mouth. As my mom leaned over to deliver a quivering dollop to her baby bird, I noticed a bruise on her neck. “Mom,” I said, “what happened to your neck??” She quickly adjusted her scarf, and said “Oh, we were using some straps in yoga class and I got rope burn.” I put my coffee down, leveled my gaze at her and said “Mom? Exactly how stupid do you think I am?”
After much prodding, my mother finally admitted to having had some sort of peel on her neck. She was about 60 at the time, and I was 30. I remember heaving a sigh and telling how beautiful she was and that she didn’t need to change anything about herself! She smiled wistfully and said “Just wait.”
Well, here I am at age 47, and I’m definitely noticing some changes in my skin. I see fine lines around my eyes and the way my neck wrinkles when I hold my head a certain way. My elbows look like I have Shar-Pei in my ancestry. And most startling is the loosy-goosy skin above my knees when I’m in downward dog—fetch me some capris, please!
While I’m not ready to have a neck peel, I’m starting to understand how complicated it is to be kind to yourself as you get older. I want to age naturally, celebrating my well-earned laugh lines and appreciating the body that’s been carrying me around all these years! I stopped coloring my hair a few years ago specifically because I didn’t want to conform to a societal standard that doesn’t make sense to me.
But also, I’m human. And it’s human nature (maybe just nature?) to care about how we look, even if we wish we didn’t. I have insecurities—just like my mom did, just like everyone does. There are moments when the changes of aging poke mercilessly at my vanity, making me think I look older or more tired than I feel. And even if I’m not planning to charge down the path of cosmetic intervention, I can see how easy it would be to get curious about the options. I’m sad that my mom felt both ashamed about her neck, and about having had a procedure done. Who wins in that scenario?
So, I’m writing this post in an effort to thread the needle on a tricky conversation. How can we participate in our own aging in a way that chips away at superficial, oppressive cultural norms and still allows us to feel alive, healthy, and attractive in our own skin? What are the best options for supporting optimal skin health as we get older?
I spoke with two dermatologist friends to explore a few topics, from how our skin changes to products and procedures that can help your skin stay strong and healthy as you age. As the doctor/founder behind Osmia, I get tons of questions about Botox and lasers and Retin-A, so I know that even our mostly natural audience is curious about things that lie outside the boundaries of pure green beauty. I present this information to you as a way of bringing some questions out of the shadows and into the light. To some (like my husband, who loves me and finds my wrinkles charming), this post may feel like it’s in conflict with the messaging of a natural skincare brand. But I’m tired of having everything be so polarized, so right or wrong. If you want to use your beautiful Osmia and try Retin-A or a laser facial, why not make that choice with more information from experts you trust?
What does it mean to have mature skin?
Dr. Brooke Walls, founder of the Aspen Center for Cosmetic Medicine and Dermatology, explains it this way: “The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis (the fat layer). A thinner epidermis and an altered junction between the epidermis and dermis are hallmarks of mature skin. The loss of collagen and elastin play a significant role in aging skin, as well as the loss of fat in our faces. It is a unique and complicated combination of genetic and environmental stressors over time that can accelerate or slow down these processes and thus affect the maturation of our skin.”
So, in addition to losing our baby fat, the bouncy, elastic fibers in our skin (collagen and elastin) get damaged, broken, reduced, and less bouncy over time. Makes sense, right? The longer our bodies are hard at work serving us, the more damage they have to manage or repair. Our joints show wear and tear from so many years of use, and naturally our skin does, too. Here’s a bit more info on mature skin.
What determines how we age?
Some of the changes we notice as we get older are intrinsic, meaning they are the results of time, ethnicity, and genetics. The passage of time causes our skin to become thinner and more disposed to fine wrinkles. Some ethnicities with a higher melanin concentration and darker skin tones have a thicker dermis to begin with, and may show these changes more slowly than their lighter counterparts. And genetics play a huge role in aging—just like they do with stretch marks.
Other factors, such as sun exposure, smoking, excessive alcohol, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition cause extrinsic aging, and can be modified. My dear friend from medical school, Dr. Ron Patrick, sums it up nicely: “Unfortunately, the sins of our youth definitely catch up with us as we age. Think cooking on the beach with baby oil, while nursing a hangover and polishing off the last pack of cigs on spring break! However, living a healthy lifestyle now can greatly combat these negative effects. Staying well hydrated, maintaining a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and a robust exercise program, applying titanium or zinc sunblock daily, wearing photoprotective clothing and hats, and having an elevated regimen of skin care products are all essential for the overall health of our skin.”
What is a good skincare routine for mature skin?
I thought you’d never ask. Here are some great options, including my own routine! Or, if you're a skincare minimalist, just use our Mature Skin Kit once or twice a day—two simple products do the job beautifully for most skin types!
AM Routine for Mature Skin
- Facial cleanse with Purely Gentle Mud Cleanser, with nourishing aloe and honey.
- Moisturize with Restore Serum on very damp skin, pressing the serum gently into your face and neck. If your skin is super dry, or you have dermatitis, try Purely Simple Face Cream instead of the serum, plus a few drops of Nectar Nourishing Drops, which is loaded with Vitamin A and other antioxidants and has really strengthened my skin with regular use.
- Zinc sunscreen. (I use Mychelle SPF 28, which my sensitive skin tolerates pretty well.) As Dr. Walls says, “the best sunscreen is the one you will put on,” so you may have to experiment to find one that works for your skin. For our Sunscreen Shakedown, click here.
PM Routine for Mature Skin
- Body cleanse with one of our gentle, moisturizing bar soaps.
- Facial cleanse with Rose Clay Facial Soap, enjoying the incredible scent of rose geranium and the creamy white lather. Because I have perioral dermatitis, I use my treasured, beloved, worshipped little bar of Black Clay Facial Soap—this bar has been part of my daily routine for over ten years, and has truly transformed my skin with its anti-inflammatory, gently exfoliating effect.
- Moisturize with Restore Serum on damp skin as you did in the morning, or the combination of Purely Simple Face Cream and Nectar Nourishing Drops (better for super dry skin or dermatitis).
- Apply one of our nourishing antioxidant body oils to a sopping wet body, mixing it with the water on my skin for amazing results.
This routine closely follows Dr. Walls’s advice for mature skin. She says “using products in your daily routine that are clean and have fewer chemicals and fragrances helps support skin function. I recommend a less-is-more policy.”
Should I be using Retin-A?
“Tretinoin, the active ingredient of Retin-A, is definitely the holy grail of all dermatologists,” says Dr. Patrick. “Every dermatologist I know uses tretinoin nightly. Because it can be irritating at first, I advise my patients to apply a thin layer every third night for a month, then every other night for a month, then nightly. After a few months, tretinoin reduces fine lines and hyperpigmentation, improves the overall texture of the skin, and gives the skin a healthy glow.” Dr. Walls also points out that “it can help repair DNA damage, and can strengthen the skin by increasing the good types of collagen that we start to lack as we age.”
I tried Retin-A in my 30s, and my sensitive skin flat out rejected it. After a recent visit to Dr. Walls during which she removed a precancerous spot on my nose, I’ve been trying it again. By repairing DNA damage, tretinoin can prevent precancerous changes (actinic keratoses) that can lead to skin cancer, in addition to its other skin health benefits. I’ve had to move very slowly—after four months, I’m up to applying a low concentration every two to three nights, mixed with my face cream. I’ve experienced some dryness and redness, but a wash with our Mud Cleanser and a nice layer of Purely Simple + Nectar the next morning seem to settle things down, so I’ll keep trying for a few more months. My guess is that my perioral-dermatitis-prone skin ultimately won’t like the stuff, and I’ll have to ditch it again, but I figured it would be an interesting experiment!
I avoided Retin-A for a long time because of all the non-active ingredients I didn’t like, such as parabens and mineral oil, but prescription options are expanding, and some of them have fewer questionable ingredients. Tretinoin toxicity is also a concern, but the studies remain inconclusive for low-dose topical use, and I have yet to meet a dermatologist who is concerned about Retin-A toxicity, except in pregnancy. You should not use Retin-A if you’re considering pregnancy, since it’s Category C, meaning there is proof of animal toxicity and nowhere near enough human data to confirm or deny it.
If using Retin-A doesn’t work for your skin or feel right for you, there are loads of gentle, retinol and Vitamin A rich products on the market now, which can give similar results over time. For a run-down on retinoids, read this.
Which procedures are best for mature skin?
“My go-to procedures for mature skin are IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) photofacials and radiofrequency microneedling,” says Dr. Walls. “The IPL photofacial is better at evening out skin tone, and there is minimal downtime with this procedure. Some people need up to three treatments to see optimal results and I recommend yearly maintenance for most patients. The radiofrequency microneedling device is designed to increase collagen production. Results take one to three treatments and up to four months. The radiofrequency (RF) microneedling (MN) is an edgier procedure and requires a good amount of numbing. Afterward, the healing can take 1-7 days, but there are very few activity restrictions after day one. The results are subtle for both, but great for those who want that natural appearance.”
Dr. Brooks performed IPL on a hyperpigmented spot on my upper cheek that was starting to look like an annoying, permanent bruise in my photos on Instagram. After two quick treatments with the laser, my spot is about 90% less noticeable and, and she also zapped that precancerous spot on my nose—bonus!
People with dark skin tones should avoid IPL due to an increased chance of scarring and hyperpigmentation, but radiofrequency microneedling can be used with all skin tones.
Other, less invasive practices like gua sha, dermarolling, jade rolling, and facial massage can promote skin health in a gentle, natural way. I use all of them regularly as part of my self care rituals—I especially love the way this rose quartz roller feels after a day spent in the great outdoors.
What about Botox?
Green beauty brands have a tendency to bash Botox, but I want to be realistic about a procedure that’s fairly safe and very widely used. Botox is derived from a bacterial toxin and has been used for many years in treating certain kinds of migraines, eye disorders, and urinary incontinence. It was approved in the early 2000s for cosmetic use to diminish the appearance of wrinkles by paralyzing the facial muscles that create wrinkles over time.
I’ve thought a lot about how Botox works, and how a paralyzed muscle will atrophy with time. If you use Botox for your whole face over the long term, your facial muscles will get smaller, which might make you feel that your skin is looser than it was before, making you wonder if things went the wrong direction. So I’m opting for lots of smiles and laughter to keep my facial muscles in great shape.
Even though it’s outside my comfort zone for many reasons at this point, I think it’s unfortunate when people feel shamed for choosing Botox. While some may see their age-related changes with compassion, or even delight, not everyone feels that way just yet.
What else can I do to support healthy skin aging?
Dr. Patrick and Dr. Walls (and yours truly) recommend an antioxidant-rich diet, proper hydration, and regular exercise for optimal skin health. Dr. Patrick also mentioned that hats and sun-protective clothing can go a long way toward preventing further damage, and Dr. Walls is a big fan of quality sleep as a way for skin to repair itself.
They also recommended Heliocare, an oral supplement derived from the Polypodium leucotomos fern that works synergistically with sunblock to prevent damage from harmful UV rays. I ordered some because my skin does not like the sun very much (Polymorphous light eruption? Phytophotodermatitis? Yep, that’s me!), so I’ll let you know whether I notice any improvement with Heliocare.
How can we help promote a more positive environment around the changes in our skin as we age?
This is the big question, right? For years, the only goal of any skincare program was “look younger, look perfect,” which is starting to feel outdated and non-inclusive. So, how do we shift the norms and expectations around aging and beauty in a meaningful way?
Dr. Walls acknowledges that “it’s hard, because from a very young age we are inundated with ideas of what is healthy and beautiful. Younger and younger women are trying to achieve a level of beauty or perfection that is neither normal nor realistic. One way we can promote a more positive environment is to own our unique attributes and recognize that beauty really starts on the inside. Then, we need to teach this to the next generation so they can successfully overcome such unattainable ideas of beauty. Audry Hepburn said it best: ‘For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.’”
Dr. Patrick says “When I discuss cosmetic products and procedures with my patients, my overall goal is to help them look refreshed, not younger. I think if we concentrate on always looking younger, we automatically assume getting older is a negative thing. If patients focus on every line and wrinkle, I tell them to ditch the 10x magnifying mirror and realize that no one is looking that close-up! Seeing a mature woman with silvery undyed hair, healthy glowing skin—lines and all—and a bright smile is truly a beautiful sight.”
I’m a work-in-progress, but my intention when I speak to myself in the mirror is to stay positive, kind, and rooted in gratitude. As for Osmia, you’ve likely noticed that we don’t use anti-aging language at all, and that’s a reflection of our beliefs as a brand. We don’t use gimmicks, fear, or your insecurities as marketing tactics. Our products are designed to support optimal skin health for every kind of skin, and we have the medical expertise and team education to do exactly that. We hope you’ll use your Osmia products to create rituals for self care that truly enhance your skin, your mood, and your joy.
Ultimately, each of us will have to create our own relationship with aging. With conscious intention, you’ll find a path that feels empowering, healthy, and uniquely your own. I hope you’ll keep eating well, hydrating, meditating, sleeping more, using your Osmia products, and getting outside to move your body, because there’s no substitute for that amazing foundation when it comes to the health of your skin.