Countdown to Great Skin

great-skin

 Pick Your Timeline

Time was, when you needed an instant beauty boost, you slapped on a clay mask and a few cucumber slices and hoped for the best.
Thankfully, times have changed. Whether you have a special event on the horizon or need to look spectacular for an important work presentation overnight, there are dozens of high- and low-tech solutions that can smooth wrinkles, reduce redness, and impart a healthy glow.

Here’s what experts say you can truly accomplish in 1 day, 1 week, and 1 month. Find the timeline that works for your schedule, then choose your main goal; follow the recommended routine, and you’ll be wowed by the results!

One Day: Look Brighter
The night before: Use an at-home peel or microdermabrasion kit. “These products whisk away dead cells and instantly reveal healthier skin,” says Elizabeth Briden, MD, adjunct associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota. Bonus: Cosmetics glide on smoother and more evenly.

Try: Avon Anew Clinical Advanced Retexturizing Peel

One Day: Camouflage Fine Lines
1 hour before your event: Exfoliate and add moisture; the combination offers immediate plumping that lasts several hours. “Even gentle sloughing causes skin to swell slightly, making wrinkles less noticeable,” says Briden. Use a scrub with smooth, spherical beads that polish without causing redness (look for polyethylene at the top of the ingredient list). Follow with a lotion that contains GABA, a peptide that relaxes muscles and temporarily eases pesky lines.

Try: 24.7 Skincare Smoothing Anti-Aging Moisturizer ($30; CVS) or DermaFreeze 365 ($30; Rite Aid).

One Day: Lessen Redness
In the morning: Wash with a mild, soap-free cleanser; pat dry to avoid inflaming skin. Spot treat ruddy areas with a soothing 1% OTC hydrocortisone cream or a calming cream.

Throughout the day: Skip flare-up items like hot beverages, alcohol, and anything spicy–they release a chemical called histamine that can turn skin red.

1 hour before your event: Apply a washcloth soaked in cold water to your face for 10 minutes; the cool compress constricts blood vessels. Follow with a lotion that boasts a greenish tint. “Green cancels out redness because it’s on the opposite end of the color spectrum,” says Briden.

Try: Clinique Redness Solutions Daily Protective Base SPF 15 ($17.50; clinique.com) or Murad Redness Therapy Correcting Moisturizer SPF 15 ($36; murad.com)

One Week: Fade Brown Spots
At the start of the week: If it’s in your budget, try a single session with a Q-Switched Laser, which zaps away unwanted clusters of brown pigment; a scab forms and spots fall off within a few days. Cost: about $250.

Nightly: Use a peel or microdermabrasion kit to slough off the top layer of skin, making brown spots less noticeable. Any subsequent redness should be gone by morning.

One Week: Smooth Deep Lines
7 days before: Get Botox (around $500) to prevent muscle movement that causes crow’s feet and forehead furrows; the smoothing effect kicks in within a few days and lasts up to 4 months.

At the same time: Instantly plump deep lines and folds with filling materials like Restylane or Juvéderm. Made with hyaluronic acid, a substance found in skin, these options offer natural-looking fullness for about 6 months. Or try Evolence, a new product derived from pig collagen. Due to its thicker consistency, results may last up to a year. Such fast results come at a price: Expect to pay about $600 per treated area. Be prepared for mild swelling and bruising that last a few days.

One Week: Clear Broken Capillaries
7 days before: Try the Pulsed Dye Laser, which emits a beam of light that targets red pigment in the skin, causing vessels to collapse. You may experience slight swelling that lingers for 24 to 48 hours; treatment starts at $300.

Nightly: Use a topical retinoid to strengthen weak vein walls (wait 2 days if you’ve had the laser).

Daily: Apply an SPF of at least 15 (30 is better) to maintain clearing and prevent the UV damage that often causes the problem in the first place.

One Month: Reduce Wrinkles, Firm Skin
Nightly: Use an Rx retinoid to target wrinkles all over. “These vitamin A derivatives supercharge cell turnover, so you’ll notice fewer wrinkles by the end of the month,” says Arielle Kauvar, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Medical School. Ask your doctor for Atralin, the most moisturizing retinoid, which you can use daily for faster results with minimal dryness or flaking. Caveat: If skin is sensitive or prone to redness, you may be able to tolerate using the cream only every second or third night, at least for the first 2 weeks.

Every morning: Apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 to protect fresh cells.

One Month: Erase Brown Spots
Every other week: Alternate between using an at-home peel and a microdermabrasion product to fade splotches, reduce fine lines, and boost radiance. “Combining exfoliators is like power washing your complexion,” says Briden. Follow directions on the label so you don’t strip away too much of your skin’s protective outer layer. You may experience some immediate redness, which should dissipate the next day.

Every morning: Use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen to keep fresh cells from repigmenting.

Nightly: Apply an Rx hydroquinone bleaching cream; top with a prescription retinoid to drive the lightener into skin for faster results. Limit use to 2 months.

2 weeks before: If you can afford to splurge, an in-office peel employing a low level of trichloroacetic acid offers more dramatic results in tone and texture, reaching deeper layers of skin. After about a week of downtime (you’ll look badly sunburned), your natural healing response kicks in, replacing damaged tissue with fresh, younger-looking skin. Cost: around $700.

One Month: Relieve Redness
Immediately: Shelve aggressive anti-agers such as retinoid-containing creams and glycolic acid peels.

Nightly: Use a cream made with calming botanicals such as licorice extract or feverfew to help control unwanted redness. Try Aveeno Ultra Calming Night Cream ($14; drugstores).

Once (4 weeks ahead): If it’s in your budget, try a single Intense Pulsed Light session. Experts say patients average about a 20% decrease in diffuse ruddiness after one treatment. Bonus: Because IPL employs several wavelengths of light to remove unwanted pigment, you’ll likely see an improvement in brown spots as well. Side effects include mild redness and swelling that subside within a day or two.