The secrets to aging gracefully

By Jessica Migala

We all want to look great as we age. And we all know that woman: She's on point from head to toe and carries herself like she means it, defying aging with every step. So what's she doing? Here's how to take care of your skin, hair, and body, and drum up youth-boosting confidence no matter how many birthday candles are on your cake.

They skip the fancy skincare routine
Cut through the anti-aging aisle and focus on three products. "If you use a sunscreen, retinoid, and moisturizer starting at age 20, your skin will look much younger compared to someone who didn't use them," says New York City dermatologist Lance Brown, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. Applying SPF every morning is a must, along with keeping cells plump and hydrated with moisturizer.

Retinoids are where the magic happens, says Dr. Brown. Dermatologists consistently recommend them because the vitamin A derivative essentially teaches your skin to act young again, stimulating the collagen that prevents fine lines, he says.

They get a move on
Whatever your motivation to work out—feeling good, blowing off stress, losing weight—you can add one more to the list: staying young. In a study on older adults, those who exercised functioned physiologically similar to younger people. So it keeps you young on the inside, but what about the outside? "Your skin is the largest organ in your body and the only one you can see. Anything that's good for your body is good for your skin," he says.

While you may have heard warnings that certain workouts (namely running) can cause wrinkles and sagging from the up-and-down motion, Dr. Brown says that's not the case. Whatever you love doing—whether that's running, spinning, or lifting—keep on doing it.

They don't hide behind makeup
If you have wrinkles, brown spots, and bags, you're probably tempted to slap on a thick coat of foundation and powder all over your face. That technique backfires, says celebrity makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff. "Makeup can't completely cover aging. More is not more," she says. Translation: don't cake it on, but rather build it by layering. She likes starting off with a blurring primer (like L'Oreal RevitaLift Miracle Blur, $19; to disguise the signs of discoloration and hyperpigmentation. Top it off with a liquid foundation (it doesn't settle into lines like heavier cream formulations, which is best for mature skin), dust your T-zone with translucent powder, and finish with a cream blush for a youthful, healthy glow.

They tend to their hands
Your face and hands are two body parts that get the most sun. But since you're busy slathering on moisturizers and anti-aging products on your face, your complexion may look young while your hands betray that with brown spots and wrinkles. The same exact products you use for your face can go on your hands, says Dr. Brown. So when you use a retinoid at night, rub a small amount to the backs of your hands. After slathering on a good SPF moisturizer in the morning, do the same for your hands. You get the drill.

They exude confidence
Women who age gracefully have something big in common: confidence. "Don't do anything with the idea that you're trying to look younger—that can cause big missteps in your sense of style and how you maintain your beauty routine," says Gretta Monahan, style and beauty expert and author of Style and the Successful Girl ($19; "Make your goal to be the best you can look," she says. It can pay off down the line: In an earlier study from Yale University, people who had more positive beliefs about aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with more downtrodden 'tudes.

They revise their style
Do you still sport the same long hair you wore for prom? Have you avoided changing your style since you got your first job? "A lot of women struggle to get out of a style rut and they run the risk of looking like they're stuck in a time warp," says Monahan. In this case, it's not really about your choice (like long versus short hair) but the message it sends to the world—and yourself about your age. That's why she recommends finding a new style that works for your life today. The right cut can pay off in other ways. In a 2010 study, women who got their hair colored or cut and thought they looked younger had lower blood pressure. See, looking good is healthy.

They are up on the latest trends
Being a certain age doesn't mean you have to morph into an "older" style, says Monahan. "Women who age gracefully don't step aside from trends because of their age," she adds. One example: wearing a classic and great fitting jean (that doesn't have to be on trend) with an of-the-moment funky color shoe or accessory. "That gives your look that extra secret sauce. It's a great instant energy booster," she says. Not to mention, a boon to your confidence and self-esteem.

They aren't afraid to embrace their grays
Women can look stunning when they go gray, says Penny James of Penny James Salon in New York City. "You'll need a super sharp sophisticated cut to really show it off," she says. James recommends a lob or pixie (think Robin Wright Penn) for silver strands. Maintain your vibrant hue with a blue-violet based shampoo, which prevents yellowing from minerals in the water, advises Anabel Kingsley, Hair & Scalp Expert at Philip Kingsley.

They catch enough zzz's
It's not called beauty sleep for nothing. Poor quality sleep not only increases the visible signs of aging around your face (thanks, wrinkles), but also makes you feel less attractive, per a 2015 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Plus, compared to those who got less than 5 hours of sleep, women who clocked 7 to 9 hours had skin that also bounced back better from UV light exposure. This means sleep helps your skin naturally ward off the damaging effects of the sun, slowing down the aging process.

They ditch the spa
Facials can be relaxing, but for the most bang for your buck, see a dermatologist over a spa. "We have a whole arsenal of therapies designed to prevent and reverse skin aging that can be personalized to you," says Dr. Brown. "We know these are effective and can turn the clock back years." Even if the spa offers the same treatment offered at a derm office, the derm is the better bet. Physicians are experts in using these devices (knowing the settings, dealing with possible complications), providing you with the safest and most effective age-defying results.

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