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Beauty over 40: Five things they didn't tell you

  • Story Highlights
  • Some older women develop hair on their faces
  • Shape and size of ears appear to change
  • Gums recede so teeth look longer
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By Valerie Monroe
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( -- Would you come here for a second? A little closer. Okay, I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer honestly. Can you see my mustache? No? You're sure? That's probably because I shaved this morning. Not with a real razor; I used one of those little femmy things that looks like an eyeliner pencil, except on one end there's a blade which, if you hold the handle right, slices off hair. Egad, now you know.

If, like me, one of your aspirations is to one day be, by any measure or evaluation, really, really old, you're most likely going to have to deal with more than a mustache. You will probably get a full coat of down on your face. The hair on your head will probably get thin, as will your eyebrows and eyelashes. Oh, I nearly forgot -- your pubic hair, too. You'll get spots on your hands and bunions on your feet. Your nose and ears may appear to have grown out of proportion to your face. And that expression "long in the tooth" will endearingly apply to you: A receding gum line will make your teeth look bigger.

I can't believe you're still reading this. Okay, as long as you're staying, I'll tell you how you can look beautiful as you age.

Though a significant minority of women of all ages have coarse dark hair growing on their chin and upper lip because of a genetic predisposition, most women who have excess facial hair have an underlying hormonal issue, says Doris J. Day, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. As we age, our bodies lose estrogen. Testosterone, unopposed, causes us to grow more hair where men have it -- more on our faces and less on our heads.

While it's fine to shave the occasional stray hair, most dermatologists don't recommend shaving thicker facial hair. The down on your face feels soft because it's been there for a long time. If you shave it off it's going to grow back stiff or coarse, though no thicker than before.

Being downier can present an unattractive problem with makeup. "Peach fuzz on the face can 'grab' powder and foundation," says celebrity makeup artist Maria Verel. There are a couple of tricks to prevent that. Apply foundation the way you apply moisturizer: Rub it in and let it set or dry, says Verel. Then buff it off with a cloth or a clean, slightly damp sponge. If you also wear powder or a powder foundation, after application, lightly mist your face with water to settle the powder. You can just let that be, or pat it dry.

If you're considering removal options, you need to know that laser hair removal works only in certain situations, says Loretta Ciraldo, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. It's not effective on white hair and if your skin is olive or darker, laser can cause postinflammatory hyperpigmentation -- a dark stain on your skin that could leave you with something that looks like a mustache even though your lip is hairless.

In a cruel twist, just as you're gaining hair on your lip, your eyebrows are getting patchy. Perhaps you'd like to consider an eyebrow transplant? or perhaps you wouldn't. In the restoration procedure -- which takes two to three hours in a doctor's office -- individual hair follicles from the back or side of the head (where they aren't noticeable) are removed and placed into the brow area to recreate whatever density you like. But wait a minute: Why wouldn't the hair grow as long as it would if it were still on your scalp? It does!

The transplanted follicles don't know that they've been moved, so you get something like bangs growing from your browbone. To avoid this potentially tragic state of affairs, forget transplants and try an eyebrow pencil or powder. Choose one that's a shade lighter than your hair color. And, with feathery strokes, fill in the patchy areas, says brow expert Sania Vucetaj. Brows grow a little longer as we age. Brush them upward and trim.

Looking in the mirror one morning, I noticed another unpleasant surprise of aging. My ears seemed to be larger than they used to be. Not a lot, but definitely bigger. Then I started discreetly examining my friends and other older women. Slightly bigger ears on most of them. Though our ears are 90 percent grown by age 6, and our noses are almost fully grown by the time we're teens, both do change shape and appear to enlarge as we age.

What causes this? One theory about the nose is that it has a large number of sebaceous glands, which have a high cell turnover rate and therefore growth potential. Also, both the ears and nose can droop as soft tissue like skin, fat and muscle relaxes, while receding bones leave less foundation to hold the skin and cartilage up. Plus, loss of elasticity and collagen in the skin causes sagging. Meanwhile, heavy earrings can stretch the soft tissue of your earlobes. Wearing lighter ones can help, but if you've been hanging major bling from your ears for years, earlobe reduction -- an in-office procedure that takes about 15 minutes per ear -- can help.

You can't entirely prevent your nose and ears from drooping, but you can minimize it by avoiding the sun, smoking and weight fluctuation, and by using prescription-strength skincare products like collagen protecting retinoids starting in your 20s.

Have you noticed that you're getting long in the tooth, it's because your gums are deteriorating and have begun to shrink away from the crown portion of your teeth, exposing some of the root, says New York City dentist Marc Lowenberg. The length of the average front tooth is 10 to 12 millimeters. With recession, including root exposure, it can become as long as 15 to 17 millimeters. In the same way that our skin loses collagen fibers, our gum tissue loses mass. The best preventive measure is to keep your gums free of bacteria by brushing and flossing twice a day. But be careful -- overly vigorous brushing can scrub away gum tissue, too.

I love old, veiny, spotted hands -- there's something beautiful, very wabi-sabi (the Japanese appreciation of transience) about them. Old hands look to me as if they've earned the right to carry heavy, important jewelry. But if you prefer the soft, plump, unmarked hands of youth, use the same anti-aging products you use on your face. That should include a retinoid, an AHA moisturizer, and -- this is critical -- sunblock.

If you haven't been good about protection, you can have hyperpigmentation spots lightened with laser. Veiny hands can be plumped up with Restylane, collagen, Sculptra and fat injections. I'd rather use the money I could spend on rejuvenation on a cocktail ring to show off my hands. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend


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All About Facial Hair

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