“You don’t look 40,” Mr. Smooth said. It was my birthday and colleagues had gathered at my desk. I was about to deflect his compliment with something self-deprecating, but it turned out there was no need. “You could be 38,” he said.
“38??” That was it? Two lousy years? Considering that my friends and I reliably assure each other we look 10 years younger than our actual age, being told I looked a mere two years younger was meaningless.
But in retrospect, I wonder if I was being greedy. How much younger can a person honestly expect to look? The beauty industry makes big claims — look 10! 15! 20! years younger — but I spent a year interviewing experts for a book on the anti-aging industrial complex, and I think it’s fair to say that without surgery, or maybe even with it, seven years is about as much as you can slice off.
Let’s break the anti-aging plan into three categories and get started.
Things you can do today that will literally make you look younger by the end of the week.
Here are the biggies (and if you’re not already doing them you’re lucky because they’re quick and relatively inexpensive):
1) Bleach your teeth. Go to your dentist and do it there, or buy the whitening strips sold everywhere. These work, although not as dramatically as in-office whitening or the bleach trays from your dentist.
2) If your hair is gray, color it some reasonable color. Yes, gorgeous models look stunning with silver manes, but for most of us, gray is aging.
WARNING:Don’t go too blond or too dark (both will age you) or any shade of purple (younger relatives will shun you).
3) Botox and injectable fillers, which have short recovery time, can make you look younger right away or almost right away. They’re not cost-free —
4) Update your wardrobe with clothing that fits and flatters your body, and which is stylish but not too young.
WARNING! Clothes that are too short, too tight, or too Forever 21 are aging because they make you look like you’re trying too hard.
PRO TIP: Think coverage and misdirection. Sunglasses and lipstick (which can draw attention away from other facial problem areas) are your friends. Vogue editor Anna Wintour, 68, has perfected the trick to looking ageless. Her look is 63 percent hair, according to an analysis, 20 percent sunglasses, and only 17 percent face.
PRO TIP FOR MEN: Baseball hats signal youth. Wearing one can make you look younger, but be careful. If you push it too far — and wear one with a suit — any benefits will be negated under the cruel you’re-trying-too-hard penalty.
Things you can start today that will make you look younger in a few months:
1) Start using a prescription-strength skin care product with retinoids. According to Harvard Health Publishing, when it comes to wrinkle creams, retinoids “offer the most hope so far.”
What to get: Tretinoin, marketed as Retin-A or Renova, is most commonly used, according to Harvard Health.
PRO TIP: Save A LOT of money — like hundreds of dollars per tube — by asking your dermatologist to prescribe the generic.
2) Exfoliate! Aging skin often looks blah because it doesn’t slough off dead surface skin cells as easily as younger cells, so it’s a good idea to exfoliate. Two over-the-counter exfoliants — alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids — can renew the skin more effectively than many scrubs and masks.
3) Exercise: I’m sorry to say this because it actually takes work, but if you don’t exercise, no amount of skin cream, teeth bleach, or hair dye can help you. But if you do exercise, your clothes will fit better, you’ll move better, you’ll get healthier, and most important: You’ll feel better and have more fun.
4) I’m sorry to say this, too, because it’s so boring, and you’ve heard it before, but of course use sunblock and get enough sleep!
PRO TIP: Walking is not only great exercise, it’s a fun way to spend time with friends. Instead of sitting in a coffee shop, take your beverages to go and walk and talk. Get a backpack and walk to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
CAN’T I JUST KEEP MY SKIN LOVELY BY GUZZLING WATER? I put this question to a Massachusetts General Hospital dermatologist when I wrote my book. “Please debunk the water myth —
Stop thinking about looking younger and start thinking about being more youthful.
1) Think of it as Inner Youth . . . The real goal isn’t looking younger, it’s to become a more youthful person. Someone who does fun and interesting things, who knows about today’s world, whose references aren’t to dead movie stars.
The good news: When you’re engaged in the world around you, you’re less focused on crow’s feet, wrinkles, and gray hair. The other good news: Looking younger is a game whose difficulty increases daily, but becoming more youthful is actually within reach.
As for me, as Bill Belichick would say, I’m on to 38!