How to Age Gracefully… Do it in French

By Dr. Doris Day

"How old are you?” Such a simple question, only four words, but even when asked in the privacy of the exam room, by a white-coat clad physician, the response is hesitation, cringing, stress and increased blood pressure, and the evocation of the “fight or flight” mechanism usually reserved for bear attacks. Some even might say the legislators that put the HIPAA laws into place were really trying to protect this one “awful” number above all other medical information….

The answers I have heard over the years to this one question have been very amusing. Some answer very quickly or tell me before I can ask them, waiting to see if I’ll look surprised at how much younger they look than the number they just announced, and I am surprised at how often that turns out to be true. You simply can’t be 120 Mrs. Jones, you don’t look a day over 40! Others simply won’t answer, while yet others come up with very creative ways of letting me know how sensitive a question this can be. One of my favorites was: “honey, I’m so old, I lie about my kids age!” And yet others just give their birth year and hope I’m bad at math.

Recently one patient came up with a number that really got me thinking about how I would answer this question over time. When I asked how old she was she said “40 10” rather than saying 50. A light bulb went off in my head. Having learned a little French in school 100 or so years ago, but who’s counting… I recalled that in French, once they hit 70, they were smart enough to stop right there. You continue to age, but your age miraculously ceases to get larger. Seventy in French translates to 60 10 in English, and the best is when you hit 80, hopefully in the best of health and spirits, you get to be quatre vingt, which translates to four 20’s. How great is that? Who wouldn’t love to be 20 4 times? 80 looks like a great place to be when you put it that way! Even 90 works, it translates to 4 20’s 10. They don’t even have a unique number for 90! If you are lucky enough to make it to 90, in good health and spirits or not, you won’t ever have to lie about your age since you’ll just be a combination of so many other younger and more vibrant numbers. It does not get better than that. Apparently in French 90 is the new 20…. 4 times, plus 10, that is.

Another value I have learned from my European colleagues is the aesthetic of the natural beauty. That is the idea of using all the tools available, starting with skin care and understanding the power of great ingredients to preserve, restore and rejuvenate the skin, along with nutraceuticals and in office treatments to help you look like the youngest best version of yourself without changing or devaluing your own special features that make you, you. The idea is to be a version of the younger set of numbers in your age, a way to help you look on the outside as great as you feel on the inside. Here are some of my favorite tips:

• As the summer months are well upon us be sure to stay vigilant about applying and reapplying sun protection and being sun smart. This means using an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days, wear a hat and sunglasses, wear sun protective clothing and seek shade when possible.

• Eat foods high in antioxidants. These are foods like berries, green leafy vegetables, almonds, walnuts and fish. You can even add in a little red wine. There are numerous studies that show that eating foods high in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, aka healthy fats, will give you added protection against damage from ultraviolet radiation, and will help lower your risk of both skin cancer and premature aging.

• Think about nutraceuticals- these are functional foods with specific benefits for the skin.

• See your dermatologist for an annual skin cancer screening and an evaluation and guidance for your skin care regimen. This can include products available at your local drug store along with cosmeceuticals which are designed to help even out skin tone, minimize the appearance of lines, wrinkles and pores, and even improve skin texture. Don’t underestimate the power of the right product on your skin. I’ve seen results that are dramatic and beautiful. Some of my favorite ingredients are retinol, niacinamide, peptides, matrikines, growth factors, vitamin C and others. One thing you may not realize is that the formulation as a whole contains two components. The first is the active ingredients and the second is the vehicle. You can have the best active ingredient but in the wrong vehicle it either won’t be effective or, even worse, it may be irritating to the skin. My favorite comparison is to that of a baker vs a non-expert. You could give us both eggs, flour, sugar and butter, but I promise the chef’s cake will come out better. As a scientist I look for data and evidence that formulations are effective and I see a broad range of products at a broad range of prices that work very well.

• Check out the latest non-surgical approaches to rejuvenation. The idea is to keep you skin at it’s healthiest most beautiful, to not fall behind by doing smaller treatments from a relatively younger age as needed and to always be the most beautiful version of yourself. This is now possible due to the wonderful devices and tools we have available, treatments such as Ulthera and Thermage, Endymed and Voluma, Restylane Lyft, and now the brand new Volbella as well. There’s so much that can be done, but just as with the formulation in skin care products, know that these tools are only as good as the training and skill of the person doing it. It is very important to see an aesthetic dermatologist so you can get the most out of the treatment.

Dr. Day, a dermatologist, is affiliated with NYU Langone Hospital.