The Skin We’re In

150 150 Kristin
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Dear Frances

I don’t think any conversation between two women of a certain age would be complete without discussing skin care. If social media is any indication, the generation or two of women after us got the message on this topic a lot younger than we did. And I suspect that their skin at age 50 and beyond will be better for it.

I’m not sure what your experience growing up was, but in Southern California, we thought absolutely nothing of spending three hours a day sunbathing in the summer (rolling over every half hour for even coverage of course). Coated in baby oil! Not an SPF in sight! Add to that six months of serious chemo in my 30s (which I feel aged my skin 10 years) and well, here I am in my 50s, facing the consequences of my own actions. I’ve been lucky so far with no skin cancer, but lines and losing elasticity, well that’s another story.

One day I was having coffee with one of my best friends when I noticed a little bruise in the corner of her eye. I asked about it and it turns out that she had been getting Botox injections for five years! I had no idea! Since then, I’ve come to realize that getting Botox is so common! Even women in their late 30s and early 40s are getting injections now, so that those fine lines never become deep creases.I have no judgment for those who choose differently, but I’ve decided to try to take good care of my aging skin but not get into things like Botox, fillers, surgery, etc. Though I confess to standing in front of the mirror pulling my skin back to its 30-year-old visage.

Let’s start with a little perspective – after having breast cancer in my 30s, and outliving my own mother by seven years at this point, I have come to view getting older as a privilege. There was a point when I wasn’t sure I was going to get to see Ben go to kindergarten, so I’m just so happy to be here, whatever I look like!

But I am vain enough to want to do what I can to age as gracefully as possible. I think that attitude has a lot to do with how people perceive you. Being comfortable in your own skin (literally and metaphorically), and taking a reasonable amount of care in your appearance go a long way. I’d much rather take the more laid-back approach than to try turn back the hands of time a couple of decades (usually unsuccessfully).

Oh, those smile lines!

But, the other day I was looking in the mirror by the front door and the light was just right to illuminate all the texture on the sides of my face. You know, where the smile lines by your mouth meet the smile lines of your eyes? Only I wasn’t smiling. I feel like that’s new – fine lines etched more permanently on my skin. I know that as the years tick by, I will have to come to terms with the changing landscape of my face. So, I am determined to take care of what I have.

My skin care regimen is quite simple. Part of that reason is that whenever I go to the dermatologist, she seems very cagey when I ask her what I should be doing for my skin. She is clear on the topic of wearing sunscreen every day, but beyond that and a good moisturizer, she seems skeptical.

On my last visit, after watching a few too many hours of “Over 50 Skin Care Secrets” YouTube videos, I did ask her about prescription-strength Tretinoin (Retin-A for those of you that have had teenagers). She told me that this is one product that she felt had some good scientific evidence behind its effectiveness.

I am religious about washing my face before bed every night (which I think goes a long way). With a clean face, I put a small about of ROC eye cream or Oil of Olay Regenerist (both from Costco- who has great prices on these!) around my eyes, and then a small about of Tretinoin on the rest of my face, neck, and if I remember, the back of my hands.

In the morning, I wash my face again with Trader Joe’s facial cleanser and put on some Trader Joe’s or Oil of Olay SPF 15 moisturizer (in the summer I often use Trader Joe’s SPF 40 facial sunscreen). If I’m not using Tretinoin, I might use the Regenerist during the day as my moisturizer. That’s it. I’ve looked into serums, collagen cream, and vitamin C oil – but it’s all a lot of money without a lot of evidence that it works.

So, apparently Costco and Trader Joe’s are my jam (I feel a little embarrassed admitting that). Tell me about your routine. I know you feel bad about your neck, which I think is misplaced angst. 🙂

Dear Kristin

I do feel bad about my neck! Sadly, there’s nothing to be done unless I’m willing to spend $6,000 on surgery, and I’m not. Even if I had $6,000 to spare, I’d spend it on something else. 

It’s tempting to spend money on creams that will supposedly restore my neck to its glory days, but why bother? None of them will work. The only thing I know to do is to occasionally look at my little turkey wattle and appreciate it in the moment, because it will only get worse as time goes on. Sometimes I slather on some moisturizer as an act of kindness. You’ve been a good neck, I tell it. Have a treat. 

That’s actually become my number one beauty routine–doing my best to appreciate my current epidermal state. When I cast a critical eye at the mirror, I remind myself that my skin will never look better than it does today. It has looked better, but there’s no going back to my youthful visage (which I didn’t appreciate anyway–youth being wasted on the wrong people and all that). One day I’ll look at photos of myself circa 2022 the same way I currently look at photos circa 1982. I looked so young! I’ll think. Why didn’t I appreciate it back then? Well, I’m doing my best to appreciate it now.

And truth be told, aside from my neck, my skin is holding up pretty well. Oh, I have crow’s feet out the wazoo, but you know what? I don’t mind crow’s feet. I think they’re kind of nice. I’m less thrilled by the parenthesis that curve around either side of my mouth, also known as nasolabial folds, that seem to deepen every time I have a bad night’s sleep or eat less than healthy fare for a day or two.

Did you think you would ever start to look old? I looked young for my age for so many years (which I hated as a teen and loved in my forties) that I sort of thought I was immune to aging. I didn’t believe that my lips would thin as I got older, even though I knew other women’s did. And I was completely caught by surprise when my eyelids started to droop a couple of years ago. I even googled “drooping eyelids” because I was sure this signified something terrible–an impending stroke maybe. Turns out, I was just getting old like everyone else.

Little by little, my youthful looks have faded. My lips have thinned, my nasolabial folds have become more pronounced, my jowls have gotten jowlier. But while I feel bad about my neck, and while I’m still super careful not to accidentally take a below-the chin selfie (have you ever done this? It’s horrifying!), most days I’m okay with the changes. Not thrilled. Not pretending I prefer them. But okay. 

The neck wattle is real!

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Like you, I keep my skincare routine to a minimum. I wash my face at night and apply eye brightening cream under my eyes (Origins Ginzing Refreshing Eye Cream, to be exact), which sort of works. Then I put on a thin layer of Differin Gel, an OTC retinoid, on my nose and chin and wherever else I’m inclined to have enlarged pores or blackheads. Differin is the one skin product I stand by 100%. I started seeing a notable difference in two weeks. It’s billed as an acne medicine, but you don’t have to have acne to use it. 

In the morning, I wash my face and put on moisturizer. I wait to put on sunscreen until later in the day, and then I use two different products. One is a tinted moisturizer that I mix with my regular moisturizer. I don’t like foundation, but I do like how the tinted moisturizer evens my skin tone out. If I’m going to be out and about for a while, especially in the summer, I use Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, which I bought after searching for sunscreens that you don’t taste after you apply them. 

So that’s it. I don’t foresee myself ever doing much beyond this, and I really don’t see myself getting Botox injections or laser treatments. I don’t judge women who do. Some women have jobs that they need to look young for, or husbands who think they should look forever 35. If Botox makes life easier for them, then go for it (or dump the terrible husband).

Having said that, it makes me sad to see actresses who have had too much plastic surgery or fillers shot into their faces. It doesn’t make them look better; mostly it makes them look bloated and unnatural. I much prefer to watch actresses who’ve let themselves age naturally, women like Annette Bening, Meryl Streep and Frances Macdormand. 

By the way, I highly recommend Val Monroe’s Substack newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. Val worked as a beauty editor for O magazine for fifteen years, and she’s wise and compassionate and has great advice about what works and what not to bother with.

We love to hear from you! You can leave a comment at the bottom of the page here.

  • Tracie

    When I was in my early twenties, I remarked that I didn’t want to be an old lady with moles on her face. If they appeared, I’d see a surgeon. Guess what? Ironically I didn’t have to wait very long and I was that *young* woman having moles removed one or twice a year. Like Kristin, I grew up thinking baby oil and sunshine were all I needed. But genetics were against me, and now I give my dermatologist an annual skin sacrifice to appease the sun god. So my skin care routine is simple so that I can sustain it. I wash my face with Cetaphil gentle cleanser and apply Neutrogena sunscreen. At night I slather on Holy Hydration by Elf or Olay’s Regenerist. The bonus is I can buy everything from Target and have it shipped to my home.

    By the way, when I was in my mid-30s, our family was watching the news on TV. There was a segment about Botox, and my 4-year-old son said, “Mom, you should do that.” Wow, that kid …! All I do to feel pretty is apply mascara and lipstick, always lipstick. People notice my smile and seem to ignore the rest.


      I hear you! I also do the annual visit to the dermatologist to stay ahead of the damage I’ve already created. I’m glad to hear that so many of us have simple routines. I thought that most people were doing more elaborate skincare routines. I just wouldn’t keep that up. My mom never left the house without lipstick, but it’s not a habit I picked up. I think I need to rethink that 🙂

  • Vanessa Dukovic

    Dear Frances and Kristen. I love both of you. Your honest and open communication to us all is so refreshing and please keep doing this. Seeing your faces and hearing your voices in both of your podcasts, then reading your chronicles, brings me closer to you. Love Vanessa from Australia. Quiltness

  • Vicki Holloway

    Timely topic for me!! I recently had my skin literally feel as if it were on fire on my face and then spread to my body. I threw out the age defying makeup i had just bought thinking I was allergic. I think it was a medical issue, but I had to go a whole week without any foundation or eyes. I don’t wear tons but my pale rosy skin sure was noticeable. I have to say I have a low cost, simple routine. Oil of Olay 7 plus the occ the collagen/peptide to moisturize and light cover girl makeup. Gold bond for all over body creams. I had a shock of my life when I went to the salon, they had a new area for Botox. My stylist is 27. She was all concerned about her crow’s feet and lines already. She had done Botox! We have so much pressure about never aging and having our 16-year-old body and skin. I told her she was beautiful and that I never noticed any crow’s feet and not to get addicted to it or her face may look paralyzed. I also have been faced with illness that could have had very bad outcomes. I am very pleased to still be alive wrinkles, red burned looking cheeks, droopy eyes and one eye that looks half closed all the time, mouth lines like a bulldog and a plethora of other things I see that I acknowledge age me. I won’t talk about my wrinkled and aged chest/ decolletage, totally get the scarf and ascot now. All the things that I bought into from the headlines that say age me and that I could buy their products to reverse time. $$$ , no and honestly some of their products make me look even older ie strong makeup.

    Then I smile to myself and say my current age aloud. I let that sink in. I am very thankful that wrinkles, warts and all that I am still here to embrace aging and trying to do it gracefully.

  • Audrey

    I’ll be meeting with high school girlfriends for lunch on Monday because one from Oregon will be “home” in northeast Wisconsin for a few days. We’re now all in that 60-62 range and finally, finally comfortable in our own skin. I think there comes a time when one determines whether the hype is worth the hope, or does it end up being more harm than help. I’ve also got a very simple skin routine, if you can even call it that. Keeping my face clean and using minimal makeup (mascara and lower lid eyeliner) on days I’m out of the house. If I’m home the mascara and eyeliner don’t happen. Works for me and I’m happy to know that’s enough.
    Thanks for this segment on your blog. The openness of the blog is so refreshing.

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