Growing Old, Not Getting Old. This is War.

Quite often I hear that I don’t look my age. I remember a time when I thought 40 sounded incredibly old. But today, as a working mother in Corporate America, I realize that 40 truly is the new 30, or perhaps even the new 28. Yes, 28 is how old I feel. This may be the result of having given birth to my daughter around that age. My life as a single woman in Los Angeles shifted dramatically after she was born. There were no more late nights in the clubs on Thursdays but rather I spent time eating really healthy, organizing my home and trying to figure out how I was going to raise a baby alone.

Today, I am facing my 44th birthday and my skin is slowly starting to show it. I’ve always been rather conscious of my skin care and sunscreen is extremely important to my daily routine. I’ve encouraged my teenaged daughter to start this habit as well because the sun seems to do more damage more quickly today. (No comments on the ozone layer or global warming included today.)

About seven or eight years ago, my teammate turned me onto microdermabrasion, a beauty treatment that feels like a cat aggressively licking your face to remove the top (aka dead) layer of skin. It uses finely ground diamonds that are basically sand blasted onto your skin. Microdermabrasian doesn’t tickle but it doesn’t really hurt either. What I liked about it most is that it doesn’t take long for your face to recover and look normal again. One or two days of feeling extra dry and voila! The challenge is to take the time to do them on a regular cycle. The microdermabrasion lady told me to get on a three-week cycle to clear up all the dull/pale skin cells to encourage the bright skin to come to the surface of my face. It worked beautifully but it was hard to make the time commitment. I started going every eight weeks. The other problem is that it is not an inexpensive procedure so I had to adjust my budget to fit it in to my spending.

I was in my late 30s and apparently, skin grows new cells slower as we age so it starts to appear less vibrant and clear. Because I’m an Asian Pacific Islander, my skin has more melanin and it produced brown spots on my face. There is probably a medical term for those brown spots but I’m typing on my iPhone 4S and am too lazy to look it up.

Today, as I approach my mid 40s, the medical spa where I go suggested that I consider a “consultation” to discuss a strategy to combat aging. This is war.

I have been going to Skin Savvy in Hermosa Beach, CA and the CEO/Founder (I will call her General Skin Savvy) is my go-to woman for guidance regarding skin care. She turned me on to medical grade skin care products that include an amazing moisturizer, various cleansers and excellent sunscreens for my active life style and very sensitive skin. They are worth the extra investment, as my eczema has completely cleared from my face. I trust her with my face and we are now going to forge an alliance in my war against aging.

General Skin Savvy laid out options that varied from chemical peels, Vi peels, Botox, laser facials, and microdermabrasion. Chemical peels seemed much too aggressive for my sensitive skin so I ruled that out. Botox scare me but I developed these “11s” between my eyebrows after my marriage dissolved last year and they made me look angry or tired all the time. So, we shot some Botox in between my eyebrows and voila! Bye-bye “11s”, they lost that battle. Pricey, I admit, but I like looking “refreshed” instead of “angry”. My good friend said, “You look…like something is slightly different. The same, but different.” I like looking the same. More rested but the same.

Unfortunately, my microdermabrasians were not the only recommended next step in this war. Because of my advancing age, the “solar lentigenes” (or “brown spots”) were becoming more evident on my face and General Skin Savvy suggested I try an IPL Intense Pulsed Light Photofacial at the beginning of summer and one at the end. Microderms or another kind of on-going exfoliation and/or a lightening cream would be a nice supplement to help keep the IPL treatment effective but they weren’t as aggressive in this battle against aging.

On a Friday morning in April, I went to the spa for my first IPL. The day before, I had spent the day out and about with my teenaged daughter. We took an early morning Catalina Express across the channel to Avalon, CA for a fun-filled day of eating and zip-lining. My face looked like this:

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Not bad, but not completely clear of solar lentigenes, either.

My first combat instructions were to apply numbing cream 30 minutes before my appointment. Now, I have an extremely high tolerance for pain so I questioned the General whether I needed to use the cream or not. She assured me I did. And she was right.

After my skin was sufficiently numbed, I went into the treatment room. Unfortunately, the General was on leave so I was being treated by one of her Colonels who happened to be Filipina, like me. Her skin was flawless, no solar lentigenes to be seen. We discussed her experience with the IPL and what I should expect as my skin recovers. Day One, my face would feel hot and possibly swollen, similar to a bad sunburn. I was instructed to wait at least 90 minutes before applying an ice pack because my face was producing new collagen. Apparently, the heat was a good thing. The a Colonel cautioned me that there would be brown patchy areas on my skin, where the sun damage was worst.

Day Two my skin would look like it had Oreo cookie patches all over it. There would be no scratching or peeling done or that would cause permanent scarring on my face. Gross. But I could go out wearing a hat and sunscreen that was SPF50, no less than SPF30, which I already wear every day.

Day Three would be more of the same but I would be able to cover the Oreo cookie patches with foundation. Liberal use of moisturizer was highly encouraged.

All right, I understood what I was getting into and laid back on the treatment table. The Colonel placed tiny protective goggles on my eyes and pulled back my hair away from my house. She proceeded to zap my forehead and cheek as test areas. She warned me that it would feel like a snap of a tiny rubber band in some areas and the hardest part would be when the laser was near my eyes. The light was so intense that I saw it with the tiny goggles on and my eyes closed. It made me think of tiny blasters being fired at my face or teeny white light sabers being stroked across my skin. There were areas where it hurt enough to make me flinch and a stench of burnt hair wafted in the air. The entire procedure probably took less than 10 or 15 minutes. Afterward, she applied SPF50 sunscreen and handed me an ice pack to use later. It was expensive, over $200, and I left with my cheeks feeling puffy and hot. I also wanted to hide my face immediately from the sun and from people so I walked into the surf shop below and purchased a fabulous summer hat. Retail therapy helped numb the pain.

Here is my hat:

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The hat looked JLO fabulous and allowed me to hide from both the sun and people.

When I got home, the pain had subsided but my daughter said, “What happened to your face???” This is what I looked like immediately after my IPL Photofacial on Day One:

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Sorry if the photos are a bit gross. I decided to take my daughter to a movie that afternoon, we saw “Captain America” and I also elected to go out to a Bon Voyage party for one of my hula sisters. The crowd would be mostly my hula ohana at a locally owned Thai restaurant that has karaoke. I figured that I could spackle some foundation on my face and apply some natural eye make-up and go without much fuss. Thankfully, the restaurant was not lit very hot and I felt fine, not self conscious at all.

Day Two was Saturday morning and I looked outside to see cloud cover and cooler temps, about 63 degrees. I slathered on two layers of SPF50, layered my paddling gear (sports bra, tank top, short sleeves and a long-sleeved jersey on top) to brave the outdoors. Practice would be 10 or 12 miles on the open ocean towards the R-10 bouy. This is what my face looked like on Day Two:

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I didn’t tell anyone on my team that I had an IPL the day before and only one friend asked about my awful looking face, I know she’s one of my besties because she asked. Honestly, I did feel a bit self-conscious and uncomfortable so I wasn’t as talkative as usual. However, it was my first outrigger canoeing practice of the season so I chalked it up to trying to remember how to paddle at all. I usually stroke the canoe, which means I set the pace by sitting in Seat One, but that felt like the worst piece I paddled all day. Interestingly enough, I enjoyed steering the most yesterday. In fact, I actually kept the canoe running straight and on course. Boom for Pi’i. After practice, I went to lunch with my bestie to catch up on life…vacation, my new boyfriend, work drama, her dating, etc. We had a leisurely lunch together, filled with laughter & gossip. Afterward, I went home to shower and take a nap. That evening I decided to stay home and relax. I needed sleep and lots of water. And, of course, I needed some time to talk to my boyfriend. He and I are in a long-distance relationship so phone calls are very important to us.

Day Three, I went to yoga with a face full of foundation and my hair pulled back in a headband but not off my face. That felt weird. Usually, I have my hair up in a ballerina bun to stay off of my face. But it felt very nice to stretch and breathe and relax this morning. My face looked like this:

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I will leave this blog post for the time being. Next week I will continue with my opinions on the IPL photo facial and whether I will continue with this strategy. The battle against aging skin may prove futile and I may need to stick to clean eating, regular exercise and laughing loudly every day. Even if I start looking “my age”, at least I will feel good and be happy. That’s the real way to win this war.

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