Hello dear readers, old and new! Newcomers, please call me Val. You might remember me from my monthly “Ask Val” column at O, the Oprah Magazine, where I was the beauty director for nearly 16 years. Now I write the weekly newsletter How Not to F*ck Up Your Face.
My goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion. So, though you’ll find practical suggestions about topics like applying eyeliner and locating an excellent moisturizer for dry skin, you will be accompanied always by a gentle hand — an old hand — that wants to help you make choices to buttress and enhance your self-regard. Even more, I hope we can learn how to be loving witnesses to ourselves and one another as we age.
Speaking of which: The venerable Patti Smith, at 76, on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar! Is attention to septuagenarians a passing fad? I don’t think so; the more we baby-boomers develop into mature old age, the more of it we’ll see. But will it also mean a culture less likely to discount the contributions of its oldest people and more likely to recognize and even respect them?
Sadly, I doubt it. Because when ageism persists comfortably alongside coastal grandmas and the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale aesthetic of “grannycore,” it feels more like cultural appropriation and a marketing tool than a celebration. In spite of sightings of 76-year-old Dame Helen Mirren on the cover of People’s 2022 “Beautiful Issue” last spring and of 74-year-old Maye Musk on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2022 “Swimsuit Issue,” a recent study at NPR found that women age 60 and over continue to be dramatically underrepresented, comprising only 3 percent of major female characters 60 and over on broadcast programs and 3 percent on streaming programs. Gendered ageism — the impact of both sexism and ageism, which means women feel the effects of ageism more keenly than men — is an issue not likely to be resolved by a flourish of older women on magazine covers.
Now for a query from a reader.
Yes, you in the back in a long-sleeved sweater?
Q: Is there anything that really helps the appearance of crêpey skin — you know, what looks like tissue paper after you pull it out of the gift bag — on my arms and legs?
A: I first noticed crêpey skin on my arms one morning this way, excerpted from a story I wrote years ago for O, the Oprah Magazine:
Has it happened to you yet? Because it will. You wake up one morning, rested and calm and deliciously comfortable, and then, as you open your eyes, raising your arms for one last, deep, luxurious stretch, you notice — what? what’s that? what?— the skin on the insides of your elbows looks frighteningly … loose. Blinking hard, you’ll look again: Damn, loose! Waaait a minute, you’ll want to say, as if Mother Nature, sly girl, has pulled a fast one on you. But the hand on your alarm clock will tick inexorably from 8:04 to 8:05, and when you arise from your bed, it will be in a different body from the one you went to sleep in. Then: Booga! Booga! You’re old.
I wasn’t even old when I wrote that! But you get the drift. Crêpey skin is one of the more intractable issues that appears with age. So, first, I emailed HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf for her suggestions about how to deal with it.
“The skin on our arms and legs ages the same way our face does. But most of us spend less time protecting or trying to rejuvenate it,” she said. Although skin all over the body changes with age, the changes we see on sun-exposed areas are more noticeable and happen faster than changes from just aging alone (obv). Eventually, if we live long enough, we all see those crêpey wrinkles even on inner, sun-protected skin because of the loss of collagen and elastin and a reduction of underlying superficial fat, says Waldorf. How crêpey you become is due to a combination of external (environmental) and internal (genetic) factors.
How to treat it? “Topicals with ingredients we use for the face are helpful, including retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, and peptides,” says Waldorf.
I’ve used body lotions with hydroxy acids and peptides and haven’t noticed a difference. Just sayin’.
Well then. “A nice over-the-counter option is Amlactin 12 percent lactic acid,” says Waldorf. “There’s also a good study showing efficacy of Alastin Transform” — it’s pricey! — “which contains a proprietary peptide complex that helps cell turnover and helps generate the production of new collagen and elastin.”
Okay, but still unconvinced! Will a lotion produce a visible effect? Dermatologist Mary Lupo kindly interrupts: There’s another reason (besides a cosmetic one) to use a topical for crêpiness, she says. “Flattening of the dermal/epidermal junction is what causes crepiness; topicals can be very good at improving that by thickening it.” Because crêpiness is usually due to atrophy (not a great thing), you need to arrest it even if you can’t see a difference. That will keep skin from becoming excessively fragile, she says. Point taken.
For the intrepid: Although topicals will help maintain and improve the skin, Waldorf says procedures are required for significant improvement. Injections of the biostimulators calcium hydroxyapatite (Radiesse) or poly-L-lactic acid (Sculptra) can help improve skin texture and turgor. But be prepared: Several treatments involving a significant amount of filler are necessary. Additionally, tightening and resurfacing procedures with radiofrequency (such as Thermage, VivaMD, and Morpheus) or microfocused ultrasound (Ultherapy) can be used alone or with biostimulators to improve results.
Have you, like me, been slowly backing away wide-eyed and trembling from that previous paragraph? I guess one might want some of these treatments in spot areas like the knees or maybe the upper arms. I’m thinking … actually, I don’t know what I’m thinking about this. If your crêpiness profoundly bothers you and you can afford multiple treatments, why not? For me, this is where I sigh, surrender to being a mammal, and shift my gaze to the stars.
When I see my arms, now more closely resembling my mother’s as she aged, I feel an affinity for her I haven’t gotten from any other experience. I think of her courage as she navigated the treacheries we all suffer getting older and feel more compassion for her in her final years.
The other night, after my shower, I tried the Osmia night body oil, which dermatologist and company founder Sarah Villafranco sent to me as a holiday gift. As instructed, I applied the oil — it’s light and smells lusciously spalike with lavender, cedar, and chamomile — to damp skin and waited (feeling very chilly) till it dried rather than towel it off. My skin was still crêpey the next morning. But that crêpe was baby soft.