Birthdays happen, but looking older is optional. Here's how to take years off-without keeping your hands in your pockets.
Our secret plan for defying Father Time: Think beyond the crow's-feet. "Most women are so conscious of every little wrinkle on their face, they forget about the other body parts that may be showing some wear and tear," says Jeanine B. Downie, M.D., a dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey.
So by all means, let's deal with those wrinkles-but aging affects everything from the whiteness of your teeth to the thickness of your hair, so it's imperative that you address your problems from head to toe. The key thing to remember: Every sign of aging boils down to changes in texture and color. The rich sheen of your hair begins to fade; skin that was smooth grows rough. Likewise, every remedy involves preventing, reversing, or at least compensating for those changes. So choose your weapons, and let the counterattack begin.
Your teeth You don't have to say a word about your age-your pearly (or not-so-pearly) whites will say it for you.
AGE GIVEAWAY Years of eating and drinking can leave your teeth yellow or gray, and if you smoke, forget it. But size and shape also matter. Young-looking teeth are vibrant, with clean, rounded edges, explains Dallas cosmetic dentist Dale Greer, D.D.S. Older ones are the opposite (small, worn, chipped). In addition, your gums may recede over time and leave you looking as if you have gaps between your teeth, he says.
REVERSE THE CLOCK Peroxide-based whiteners deep-clean and brighten. To try: Crest Whitestrips Renewal. (A dentist's treatments will give you striking results in just one day-but at a much higher price.) If teeth are worn, ask your dentist about a bite guard to prevent grinding. To correct tiny or damaged teeth, ask about crowns, veneers, and re~contouring. Gum-recession gaps? Consider caps.
Your neck & chest Four words: Look below your chin. Like your face, that area has suffered environmental damage-from the sun, wind, pollution.
AGE GIVEAWAY If you care for your face (using moisturizer, wrinkle concealer, etc.), it may look a whole lot better than your neck and chest, which may be leathery, spotted, or deeply wrinkled. That contrast says you're older than your face reveals.
REVERSE THE CLOCK "It sounds simple, but you should treat the skin of your neck and chest just as you would your face," says Dr. Downie. Every day, apply creams with antioxidants like vitamins A and C. Your doctor can use a combination of chemical peels (or microdermabrasion and a laser) to fade age spots and firm up sagging skin. Botox injections in the vocal cord area can improve the look of a turkey neck, says Dr. Downie. To slow further damage, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily.
Here you're contending with not one but three aging factors: time, chemicals (from dyes and highlights), and the environment (yep, it does damage in this area too). "A 25-year-old can have 50-year-old hair-and vice versa, depending on the level of exposure to these elements," explains Atlanta stylist Gary Travis.
AGE GIVEAWAY For every cause of aging hair, there's a different manifestation. Dryness-in the form of messy frizz and loss of shine-is public enemy number one. Damage or age is to blame if your hair used to look good but is now thinning or dull or has a dishwater color.
REVERSE THE CLOCK Hair isn't alive, it's dead-but so is a cashmere sweater, and it will still look better if you care for it. Older hair is thirsty, says Travis, so first and foremost, you need to give it moisture-but not the kind you find in the shower, which is drying. (It sounds counterintuitive, but the less often you wet your hair, the healthier it will be.) Instead, after every shampoo, use a protein- or antioxidant-rich conditioner or treatment to strengthen and protect and to restore shine. To try: Nexxus Y Serum.
If you color your hair, try touching up just the new growth rather than recoloring (read: damaging) your whole mane. It's also important to soften your color as you get older, says colorist Louise Galvin, who's based in London, England: "The same tone that looked good when you were younger can seem too harsh as you mature." Your cut can also make a difference: Ask for one with movement, then keep ends trimmed and go easy on ultrahold products-a stiff, super-coiffed look always adds years.
Your hands They take a daily beating, says Dr. Downie. The culprits: everything from harsh soaps and shuffling papers at the office (both suck out skin's moisture) to the UV dryer at the nail salon (which-who knew?-contributes to those dreaded age spots).
AGE GIVEAWAY As you get older, hands look bonier and veins become more visible-both the result of reduced collagen production. Sun spots from years of exposure become more pronounced.
REVERSE THE CLOCK You don't have to wear gloves, but you do need to protect your hands with sunscreen-just as you'd apply hand cream. Exfoliate regularly to improve circulation and texture, and moisturize 24-7. For paper-thin skin that really shows the veins, ask a doctor about laser therapy to help the overall appearance of your hands. Restylane injections will work faster (plumping up the backs of your hands) but are more costly and can be painful.