Feb. 4, 2010 -- What's the secret to healthy, younger-looking skin? We spoke to dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons and skin experts who told us there's no magic pill or secret mask. However, there are lots of simple ways to keep your skin in its best condition no matter what your age.
Here are the experts' top five tips to keep your skin looking healthy and beautiful.
"Avoiding excess exposure is the song I sing every day," says Dr. Amiya Prasad, a New York cosmetic surgeon and the author of "The Fine Art of Looking Younger."
"The advice I'd give first is to be very smart about using sun block, even on the days when it's not sunny," he said.
"One of the things I've observed in women in their 20s and 30s is that a lot of women have developed fine lines and wrinkles that are disproportionate to their age," says Dr. Prasad. "The main reason for that is sun exposure."
"The lighter your skin, the more susceptible you are the effects of UVA and UVB light."
That's not to say that women shouldn't step out of their houses for fear of premature wrinkles or leathery skin.
"Enjoy life," says Dr. Ellen Marmur, chief, dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center and author of "Simple Skin Beauty."
"Go running outside, but don't lie out [in the sun], and never step into a tanning salon."
Know Your Skin
Each person's skin has its own natural tendencies, and doctors say it's important to recognize early on what those are. However, figuring out just what type of skin you have can be a challenge in itself.
"It's harder than most people realize to know what your skin type is," says Dr. Emily Moosbrugger, clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of Cincinnati. "A lot of people have combination skin, where you have dry patches in some areas and oily patches in other areas."
The weather can also play a big role in how your skin behaves during certain times of the year.
"People tend to have a skin type that changes as the seasons change," says Dr. Moosbrugger. "You're dry in winter, oily in summer. It's most important to tailor your therapies as the seasons change or as your personal skin type changes."
So, once you've figured out whether your skin has too much or too little moisture, what can you do about it?
Dr. Prasad suggests that for oily skin, toners may have some benefit.
"There is some role in using toners to help even out the areas that are oily and to make your skin look more uniform," he says.
Dry skin, on the other hand, which tends to strike during the colder months, can be tempered by applying moisturizer two times a day. Additionally, Dr. Marmur suggests that if your skin starts to feel dry, stop using chemicals for a few weeks to allow your skin to return to its natural balance.
Don't Overdo It
When asked about the most common mistake most women make in caring for their skin, Dr. Marmur pointed to something simple and preventable.
"Over-washing and over-applying," she said. "[Women] overdo things. It's almost like they're in a chemistry lab and concocting new things."
Although most women have the best intentions for their skin, trying to do too much good can sometimes be a bad thing.
"A lot of women use harsh cleansers or wash their face too frequently, leaving their skin blotchy, dry, flaky, or too red," says Dr. Moosbrugger.
If you start to feel like you're sending your skin mixed signals, Dr. Marmur recommends a "skin detox," which requires stopping all chemical enhancers in order to restore your skin's natural tone.
Nothing Beats a Healthy Lifestyle
Your skin is just one more area that benefits from a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding harmful substances.
"You have to remember that skin is an organ like your heart or lungs," says Dr. Prasad.
"Proper hydration, vitamin supplements, getting enough sleep, exercise; these are things that are almost common sense that are often overlooked in skincare. They will give you a healthy foundation so that anything we do on the outside can improve your skin."
However, women may not see the benefits, or consequences, right away.
"In your 20s or 30s, if you took in a lot of sun, or you smoked, or your diet wasn't healthy, if you took in excess alcohol, you really start to pay the price in your 40s and 50s," he says.
One of the most important ways to keep your skin healthy? Don't light up.
"Smoking is one of the worst things you can possibly do to your skin," says Dr. Prasad. "As a surgeon, I can almost always tell if a patient is a smoker when they walk in the door."
Choose the Right Products
It's almost impossible to watch television or read a magazine without seeing advertisements for skincare products. While most ads promise great things, doctors remain skeptical of the benefits of the trendiest or most expensive new product.
"People get seduced by the aggressive marketing of skin products," says Dr. Prasad. "They end up spending a lot of money for products that simply can't deliver."
If we're not to believe everything we see on TV, then what do dermatologists recommend to keep skin looking healthy?
For people with acne, Dr. Marmur suggests a foaming cleanser with salicylic acid to help exfoliate skin.
Once they have outgrown the need for acne-fighting products, many women may want to move on to products that keep their skin looking young.
"The 40s and 50s is when, typically, wrinkles start to bother you, your complexion shows sun damage, and rosacea gets a little worse," says Dr. Marmur.
To protect yourself, experts recommend using a retinol cream at night, as well as occasional chemical peels and exfoliation to rejuvenate the skin.
For younger women looking to start an anti-aging regimen early, protection is your best bet.
"My philosophy is that [in the 20s and 30s] moisturizing your skin and protecting it is your anti-aging regimen," says Dr. Marmur.
"If in doubt, go see your dermatologist," says Dr. Marmur. "If you're starting to feel confused about your skin, you probably are. The earlier the better, if the emphasis is on healthy protection."