10 Overlooked Things That Make You Look Old
Last month I shot a commercial where we had to dramatize a woman aging 20 years. To make this happen, my agency worked with a stylist who pointed out a whole host of little “sneaky agers” that we often take for granted because we’re so focused on wrinkles and smooth skin only. Some of the “agers” on her list were obvious, but others not so much. She focused on the actress’s total package, from what she wore, to her posture, to her expressions.
It was clear that in her opinion most of us are over treating wrinkles, when the real sneaker agers lie elsewhere and looking as young, vibrant as possible is the sum of many little parts. Here’s what was on her list:
1) OLD HAIR
If you take away anything from this post, it’s to brief your hairdresser correctly. Often, hair stylists will make unspoken assumptions about your life, who you are and what you want. If you seem busy, harried and middle age, they may subconsciously err on the conservative side to fit what they think is your life. They are not mind readers, so be sure to tell them three magic words: MODERN, YOUNG, SEXY. With that brief, you’re guaranteed to get an upgrade. Now lets break down the four components of hair agers:
- Gray. This is automatic signal to the world that you’re over 40. But gray can also look fantastic when it’s worn with purpose. Where this doesn’t work is if you think no one is noticing the few errant strays cropping up on your head or the gray roots. We can see them.
- Luster and color. The matte brittle texture of overly processed hair is as much an ager as being gray. Ask your colorist if that buttery blonde is working as hard for you at 45 as it did at 30. Be open to what they say. And ask for options to get your hair gleaming like a semi permanent hair color or a gloss topcoat.
- Thinning hair. It’s easy to neglect that slightly widening part, or that visible scalp (click here for my own personal journey). But what women don’t realize is that female pattern baldness exists and needs to be treated early to avoid comb overs later. Only your derm can tell you exactly what’s going on with your scalp, but expect a lifetime of Rogain and possibly some vitamines. It will help you hold on to the hair you have, and maybe even grow some new sprouts. It’s a pain to apply day and night, but it works and beats the alternative. Another cult favorite I have yet to try is Viviscal, an oral vitamin that’s been used for a while in Europe that everyone in the beauty industry seems to swear by.
- Dumpy hair cut. With the texture, color and amount of our hair changing, having a style that works with your new self is paramount. This means, if your hair is getting a little thin and straggly, that flat, sleek long style that worked for you in 1997, might be worth revisiting. On the flip side, don’t ever abandon long healthy hair because you think you need something age appropriate.
2) EXTRA WEIGHT, ESPECIALLY AROUND THE MIDDLE (THE MENO-POT)
“But I thought a little extra weight was supposed to be good, like a little extra filler for the face?” I asked the stylist as I reached for a pillow to cover my midsection. She said that while a little extra weight helps the face, when taking in the entire person, the thinner frame wins out.
Here’s why; when you’re young and you have a little junk in your trunk it’s juicy, sexy and buoyant (think Kim Kardashian and Beyonce). On a primal, biological level it tells the world “I’m ready to party and procreate”.
But after life, gravity and hormones take’s their toll, the extra pounds pool around your belly, muscle tone diminishes and everything sags. Subconsciously, you begin to dress around your new body which only increases the “I’m done” message you’re sending. This is why erring on the side of a thinner frame helps; those shifts in the physique are less obvious.
It’s a buzz kill, I know (as evident in last week’s post). But wait, there’s more.
It’s not enough to lose weight. The quality of what we put into our bodies matter more than ever as we get older. The news keeps rolling in about alcohol’s tie to cancer, sugar’s link to inflammation and wrinkles and gluten being the new evil-doer in the grocery aisles. This largely translates into eschewing anything processed in favor of whole, organic foods with a heavy rotation of vegetables and fruit. Drink a lot of green tea while you’re at it and get 6 hours of exercise too. Save 1 day a week for carbs, gluten, dairy, sugar and booze. I’m exhausted already. I have to say, I do feel a difference when I eat better; these days I can’t live on coffee, Balance Bars and wine alone.
No small task, but probably the most effective program I’ve found for getting rid of Belly Fat is this diet and exercise program from More magazine. It’s not the easiest plan in the world, but it’s healthy and it works, especially the interval training.
And of course there are a plethora of new lipo innovations on the horizon which we’ll save for another post, but I suspect most of you can succeed thru diet and exercise first.
3) LEATHERY, SUN SPOTTED SKIN ON THE FACE, NECK AND DÉCOLLETAGE
The stylist said the biggest issue she has to work around with actresses over 30 is that their neck and décolletage are often completely different from their face, which has been lasered, peeled and largely protected. In her opinion freckles make women look younger, but a freckle is defined by small sprinkles largely concentrated across the bridge of the nose and apples of the cheeks. An age spot is larger in diameter, and looks more like a drop of coffee. They tend to pop up on hands, temples, foreheads and are more singular in nature.
The best way to avoid the mismatched head and neck is to extend your cleanse, moisturize and protect routine to your neck and décolleté, especially the sun screen. (Just proceed with caution, as some products like Retinol are too rough for the neck skin which has fewer oil glands).
At home you can slow down spots with prescription hydroquinone and retinol (there’s a wonderful product called TriLuma which is a combination of both). However, you want to stop using it every 4 months or else your body will become resistant to it.
After that, chemical peels and light lasers are good options, as are the heavier duty weapons like ablative lasers. Seek a couple of opinions before you commit though; lasers can also cause damage and too many dermatologists recommend what they have laser wise instead of what is necessarily best for you. The irony is that all these treatments make you more sun sensitive which means the spots can come back with a vengeance if you aren’t vigilant about covering up.
Lastly, even if you’ve spent a lifetime in the sun, you can start reversing the damage by just stepping into the shade. Just take a look at the reformed Tanorexic Mom from New Jersey:
4) FACIAL HAIR; TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE AND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
All the hormonal shifts make it seem like our eyebrow and eyelashes hairs have decided to relocate to our upper lips and lower cheeks. All this hair reassignment put together can telegraph age. Lets break it down:
- Thin eyebrows. Probably the most underrated feature, eyebrows can fix a bad Botox mistake and can take you from a 6 to an 8. The tell-tale signs of older brows are patchiness, lack of density and shortening of the length of the brow. Here’s how to make the best of what you’ve got:
- Professional tweezing and tint. The tinting by a professional is key because they get the shade and set time just right. I’ve seen Marybeth Madron for the past 10 years and she’s an indulgence I won’t give up. It’s probably the one thing I do that makes the biggest, most immediate impact on my appearance.
- Rogaine. Stick a Q-tip in and apply morning and night. Do not use Latisse, as it helps to grow hair longer, but does not make hair thicker which is what you want on your brows (a formula for eyebrows is reportedly in the works however).
- Christian Dior Universal Eyebrow pencil. My personal favorite, it is the right shade of brown (not to red or too dark) and precise enough for me to apply while standing on a moving subway.
- Try to avoid applying moisturizers and serums to your eyebrows. This can block the follicular growth.
- Sparse, short eyelashes. This one is easy thanks to Latisse! At $120, it’s not cheap but it really works. A few watch outs for the uninitiated; it can make your lash line a little red and irritated at first, and some cases have been reported where it permanently darkens the color of light eyes.
- Facial hair “The Fuzz” or “Hag Hair”. We all have The Fuzz on some level, on our mustache and lower cheeks, but when it starts to become visible in pictures and you can twist or braid it, it’s time to come off. All possible removal methods can be found from here.
Yep, your teeth can sell you out, even with something as small as yellowing or spots. Thankfully, white strips can be an easy DIY option for most. I use Crest Vivid White strips every spring and fall (any more than that and my teeth get too sensitive). For some, the smile can become a real problem zone if the gum recedes to much (hence long in the tooth), there’s too much crowding or the two front teeth get ground down, making the smile look older. Luckily, there are terrific options for “smile rejuvenation” (Invisalign, veneers, bonding), but that will be covered in another post.
As we get older, the lazy slumping and slouching from our youth, permanently gets somewhat set in our carriage. Some things are genetic (like that hump people get at the top of their back), but you can do a lot to correct this starting with simply being mindful of dropping your shoulders, holding your head high and engaging your abs. In Pilates speak, they say to “imagine a thread pulling you up from your core thru the top of your head” blah blah blah.
Seriously though, this is what yoga and Pilates are for (not shred calories like cardio). Also, wearing the right shoes (no one looks elegant when they can’t balance in stripper shoes) and being mindful of how you’re sitting or standing can instantly channel a little Audrey Hepburn grace.
6) VARICOSE AND SPIDER VEINS
They always say the legs are the last to go, so it’s a shame to let varicose veins ruin a gorgeous set of gams. There’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent them, but there are fixes. In the short-term a self tanner and a wonderful product I swear by called Lorac Tantalizer works just fine. The permanent solution is getting sclerotherapy or laser, the former being the reported preferred method (it’s cheaper too).
7) STYLE; DRESSING TOO DRAB OR STIFF.
It was amazing that so much of what made the actress age in our commercial age was due to styling, makeup and clothes. Sure we all know to avoid mom jeans, pants with pleats, sensible shoes and boxy anything, but there’s a whole lotta nuance in between:
- Add color. I know anyone who came of age in the 80s and 90s will always have a soft spot for head to toe black. But over the age of 35, it begins to wash most of us out. Instead, opt for a color that you love around your face or set it off with a white shirt if you feel it’s too much. (See J.Crew for inspiration). Counter balance with a neutral elsewhere if you’re feeling conspicuous. Remember, leopard and metallic can also be neutrals. Another option is to sport a scarf, but for the love of God, no ascots! Wear them in a hip, bohemian “oh yeah I just threw this on” kind of way.
- Loosen up Around the globe, fashion generally has gotten more relaxed and playful, especially in the US and with the rise of the tech workplace. Hey, we all have a black and navy suit somewhere in our closet for interviews and going to court, but your everyday wardrobe can be swapped for something a lot more relaxed like dresses, v-necks, cardigans or blazers with more killer dark denim butt sucking in jeans.
- Suck it in. Muffin tops, back fat, and VPLs. Sometimes no amount of juice cleanses, Soul Cycle or raw food diets are gonna cut it. You need to bring out the big guns. Nothing beats Spanx and a well-fitting bra. The combination is a DIY mommy-make-over.
- Tailor it. Your tailor is the next best thing to having Tracey Anderson on call as your personal trainer. They can do crazy things like sew Spanx material inside your skirts, reshape a boxy shirt and reset a button so you don’t have that unfortunate gap between your boobs in button downs.
- Be bold, deliberate yet choiceful with accessories. What looks dated is wearing a lot of jewelry on all areas of your body, especially just because you have it and it’s real. No one cares. Stick to the Coco Chanel rule of only wearing one great piece of jewelry (maybe two), but the more modern way to do this is by having a statement piece, such as those mega breast plate necklaces or having an “arm party”. (Note: avoid arm parties if you have short or slightly chubby arms).
Still not convinced? Look at these incredible clothing make-overs on ordinary women from the Daily Mail/Mail Online in this piece titled “How Choosing The Right Clothes Can Make You Look 15 Years Younger” by Lucy Waterlow.
8) DATED MAKE UP
This can mean either too much, or not enough. For half the cost of Botox, you can have a professional make-up artist reboot your make-up kit and make some small but meaningful changes. Sure, you can start at the make-up counter, but the lighting is often terrible and their pushing their own product line, which may not have foundation shades that work for your skin tone (for example, Chanel is too pink for my skin). Here are some of the aging deal breakers:
- Foundation that’s too matte, thick and powdered because it settles into fine lines (same with powder). Instead, always start with a primer and try a tinted moisturizer, but make sure it’s the right shade for your skin (this is where the professionals come in). If you need more coverage mix it with foundation using this trick from a earlier post. Be very, very careful with shimmer – it easily backfires and only highlights creases and pores. Set with a very loose setting power only where you need it. My go to solution is Armani Luminous Silk mixed with Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer and applied with a Beauty Blender.
- Use a corrector and concealer sparingly. It’s tempting to think more concealer will equal more coverage, but it just equals more gunk in your crinkles so use sparingly. That goes for the powder too.
- Lipstick that’s too dark, matte and lined. Unfortunately, we tend to age around the mouth and having a dark matte smear of color around your mouth is like a billboard that says “look here for lines”. Instead, opt for a pinkish, creamy lipstick or rosy gloss. And because our lips lose definition as we age, use a lip liner after you’ve applied your gloss, but only in the places that need definition.
- Hard eyes that aren’t “blended”. This doesn’t mean you can’t rock a smoky eye, I love eyeliner! But, because our skin is a little crepeier than it was in our 20s, you have to blend, blend, blend. Go gentle on the lower lid eyeliner because it can accentuate dark circles. Easy on the mascara too.
- Fill in your brows!
9) The Bermuda Triangle of Sag (the area encompassing your neck, jowls and chin). This area is tough to address without a doctor’s intervention. The actress we worked with had little but of sag, but not too much. However, when we posed her, we had her just her chin out just a bit to tighten, and draped a colorful scarf around her to draw the eye down a bit. Soft make-up and lip color also worked wonders here. And don’t look down at your iPhone so much!
The long-term fixes can range from injectables and filler, such as Restylane to add volume which lifts the sag up a bit, to the newer skin tightening lasers such as Thermage and Ultherapy, which to date have mixed results, are expensive (about $3500) and hurt. Other options here include face lifts and chin implants. I mention this because it’s so easy to get hyper focused on Botox, that if you’re truly thinking about investing in medical procedures, take stock of the bigger picture to see where you need medical help.
10) Wearing the weight of the world, anger and bitterness on your face. Lets be real – we’ve got bills to pay, careers to manage, parents, husbands, kids, cats, cholesterol and the global economy to worry about! Of course we’re stressed and anxious. But, the real kicker for me was when my husband recently tried to take my picture on vacation last year. I was mad at him for something stupid and got an annoying text from my office. In the photo I looked hideous even though I thought I was looking my best (and it was the Golden Hour). Later, my son took a shot of me after I had a cocktail. I looked spectacular. I remember thinking how perfect that moment was, how much I loved him and how proud I was of him.
Bottom line, life isn’t all truffles and rainbows. And there’s been a lot said about the “U curve of happiness” which means when we’re between 30 and 50, life is pretty damn tough given we’re sandwiched between kids, parents and our own worries about our future. The good news is, we’re just in the trough of the U curve and the upward climb to glee is supposed to start at 45. Largely because we start to redefine happiness by adjusting to our circumstances.
In the meantime, the news us we need to chill out. While I think highly of the healing powers of margaritas, what really works is exercise, yoga and meditation. I do exercise and sometimes yoga and always feel better when I do. I haven’t mastered the art of meditation, but I will say that just listening Deepak Chopra says on an audio book immediately makes me feel better even though I don’t get half of what he’s saying. He also has this video game called Leela which is supposed to have meditative qualities to it. I talked my son into playing it and we were both unusually calm for the evening.
OK, so that was a lot, but I felt it was important to share. It’s easy to forget that plastic surgery and injectables are only complements to the sum of many “tiny agers” that make or break how old you look, many of which we can easily address. Second, it’s incredibly easy to get stuck in a rut, no matter how up to date we think we are. Plus, we walk around with an idea of what works for us based on some seminal “aha this works” moment that we may have 20 years ago. We don’t realize the micro changes that are happening over time; our facial planes change, the texture and tone of our hair and skin is different – our entire visage changes.
Lastly, I also want to dedicate this post to Charla Krupp, who’s book “How Not To Look Old”, is the seminal field guide to all things anti-aging. In looking for her website to link back to her site, I learned she died of breast cancer January of this year. Charla, this one’s for you.
Related links and articles:
- Reese Witherspoon’s Smile Make-over (Daily Beauty)
- Nora Ephron, “I Feel Bad About My Neck” (NY Times)
- Stress Really Does Age You (Daily Beauty)
- Dr. Nicholas Perricone’s Top Foods For Beauty and Health (Epicurious)
- Research Shows Happiness Increases After 45 (Daily Mail)
- Secrets of ‘super-ager’ brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age (sciencedaily.com)
- The Matrix of Excellence: Skin Care Edition (narcissista.me)