When I hit my late thirties, I saw that I had two choices: I could stress about looking older, thus releasing all kinds of freaky chemicals in my body which would age the bejeezus out of my cells and make me prune up well before my time, OR I could pop open a bottle of wine, put my feet up and do what was reasonable and sustainable (for me, so far, that means anything that doesn’t really, really hurt or cost more than a Marc Jacobs handbag). Door number two seemed to offer the greatest likelihood of enjoying the happy life I’ve had time to build these past four decades.
But even I, who just wrote a book about how getting older is much cooler than anyone ever talks about, can’t help but peek through the keyhole of door number one every time I see some preternaturally young-looking actress smile coyly and claim that drinking lots of water and thinking positive thoughts are responsible for her youthful gleam. Please. Whatever. Do what you do, but don’t make the rest of us feel like it doesn’t take extraordinary means to look 30 years younger than you are.
Speaking of extraordinary means, there are a bunch of urban anti-aging myths floating around out there, and some of them have been around as long as the idea that green M&Ms make you horny (if you’re too young to know that urban legend, trust me — it’s a long time). Most are just as apocryphal. While there’s definitely lots you can do when you’re young to look your most stunning forever more, before you go getting a bird poop facial (no, I am not kidding) read what my lovely derm friends Drs. Laurie Polis and Debra Jaliman had to say about some of these wacky ideas.
Putting bodily fluids on your face. Why, people? Just … WHY? I’ve heard sperm, baby pee, and, yes, avian excrement. According to the website for the Ten Thousand Waves Resort in Santa Fe (Four stars! Would be five without the bird poop facials!), The Nightingale cleansing masque is “made from sanitized droppings of nightingales imported from Japan. It is an amazing (all natural) way to brighten and smooth the skin.” I’m sorry, but yuck.
Ah, but could it possibly work? “Medically there’s really no reason to do that,” says Dr. Polis of Soho Skin and Laser Dermatology in New York City.
And just in case you were thinking of doing a face plant in someone’s wet diaper — c’mon, you were tempted — pee does nothing for your skin, not even neutralize a jellyfish sting. (Vinegar, apparently, works for that, says Dr. Jaliman, who also practices in New York.)
Putting other random substances on your face: “I just crack up!” says Dr. Polis. “People spend so much money doing things like putting gold leaf on your face — there’s actually a gold leaf facial.” Some of these wacky skin treatments have some kernel of a kernel of a kernel of medical fact to them, says Dr. Polis, that gets “extrapolated beyond reason.” Injections of gold, she says, are sometimes used in the treatment of arthritis, because gold has anti-inflammatory properties. “But then some spa marketer says, gold is anti-inflammatory, let’s put it on the face. Ugh.”
As for Preparation H to reduce eye puffiness, evidently this is a favorite model and beauty contestant trick, also used on lumpy butts and thighs. But on your face? Really? Dr. Polis says the hemorrhoid cream does have anti-inflammatory properties and would help reduce fluid. “Cold chamomile tea bags are much gentler and less irritating on delicate under eye skin, though.”
Sleeping on a slant board: A friend told me that the silent movie actress Lillian Gish did this to reverse the effects of gravity. And she looked pretty good in her later years, but likely not because of that. While inversion tables have their use in the orthopedist or chiropractors’ office — short, 20-minute sessions can help release the pressure on the discs of the spine — “Inversion has nothing to do with your wrinkles,” Dr. Polis says. “It’s not going to counteract 23.5 hours a day of being upright.” (She also cautions against putting your heart above your head for more than a few minutes at a time — the brief inversions in a yoga class are fine.) “It might get a little blood to your skin, but only for a short time, and no more effectively than a good workout.” It’s not a bad idea, however, to try to sleep on your back, says Dr. Jaliman, to avoid creases from the sheets and puffiness under the eyes from facing downward.
Facial exercises: This is Dr. Jaliman’s pet peeve, and frankly I’m just glad to be given official medical permission not to do them! On your face, she says, your muscles are attached directly to the skin, so when you repeatedly work the muscles, “All you’re doing is crunching your skin, and that causes wrinkles,” says Dr. Jaliman, who points out that Botox works by paralyzing the muscles — the opposite of what you do when you do facial exercises. The reason you develop expression lines as you get older is because you smile and frown and sneer, which of course you should keep on doing (as if you could help it.) “Of course you want to emote, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t wake up in the morning and go out of your way to do 100 grimaces. That would be silly.” Yes, but not quite a silly as the bird poop facial.
Photo by futurestreet CC