My most humbling beauty moment since becoming a mother wasn’t losing my hair or losing a bra size, both of which happened and neither of which was especially pleasant. No, the biggest blow occurred when my 6-year-old daughter and I happened to look directly into the mirror at the exact same time, her bright-eyed, porcelain complexion a stark contrast to my own dull, uneven skin. To say I panicked would be an exaggeration but only slightly.
I know, I know. That my face is revealing signs of my nearly four decades on earth is to be expected and, frankly, celebrated. I’m proud of my laugh lines; they’re the result of countless joyous moments. But my skin was bumming me out. Whatever I was doing wasn’t working, and I had to stop the drift.
Enter Dr. Mary Hurley.
As the mother of five, Hurley has firsthand experience with the skin challenges of motherhood (e.g., post-pregnancy discoloration, playground-induced sun damage). She’s also the president and medical director of North Dallas Dermatology Associates and the author of melasma research published in the Archives of Dermatology. I’d found my skin savior.
I headed to Hurley’s office where, after several minutes under a high-powered magnifying mirror, she asked about my primary skin goals. My short answer: I’d like it to look better. The long answer involved laments about hyperpigmentation on my cheeks, chronic dryness coupled with breakouts, and general dullness. “I can fix that,” she said. “Let’s get this party started.”
Back to Basics
While I was hoping for some immediate impact, Hurley offered a conservative approach, tweaking my daily routine to address the core issues. The first order of business was the dry-yet-acne-prone conundrum. The culprits, she concluded, were my daily use of a Clarisonic cleansing brush and my overuse of a strong prescription Retinol. I was being too hard on my skin, drying it out, and, more than likely, overproducing oil to compensate, thus the breakouts. She instructed me to limit my Clarisonic use to three times a week and only with a very gentle cleanser and sent me home with an alpha-beta exfoliating scrub to use on the other days. She also prescribed a low-dose Retin A-bleaching cream combination as well as an eye cream. When I asked her if I needed a moisturizer, she said given my tendency toward oiliness, if I abstained from overcleansing, I would not need additional moisture.
Her most important directive was that I take a USPS-style approach to sunscreen and start wearing it every day, rain or shine. “Without daily sun protection, nothing I do in this office will make any significant long-term impact on how well your skin ages.” Got it.
Out with the Old
Two weeks into my successful execution of Hurley’s kinder-gentler daily skin routine, she declared me ready for a chemical peel. If upon reading the word “peel,” you envision weeks nursing a blistered, raw, flaking face, Hurley has good news: “This generation of peels is incredibly effective in reducing hyperpigmentation, softening fine lines, and increasing brightness with minimal downtime.” She put me on the schedule for a Dermaceutic Spot Peel, which specifically targets melasma and sun-induced discoloration. On the big day, an aesthetician cleansed my face and then smoothed on a couple of layers of a clear gel. Just as things started to get moderately uncomfortable (seven out of 10 on the sting meter), she swiped on a neutralizing solution. The whole process took 15 minutes start to finish. I was instructed not to wash my face for eight hours and was given a set of products to use for 30 days after the peel to further enhance the results.
The first two days after the treatment, my face was tight and itchy, and by day three, my skin was peeling in sheets. I hid out, watched multiple episodes of The Good Wife, and plowed through a stack of long-neglected magazines. By day six, the peeling and flakiness had subsided, I was caught up on my reading, and my skin was positively glowing.
Ease into It
Having mastered gentle cleansing, pledged my allegiance to sunscreen, and emerged from my peel shiny and happy, I could have easily stopped and declared success—but I wanted more. Back in Hurley’s exam room, I broached the big B. Yep, Botox. But I was hesitant.
It wasn’t the needles or even the fact that she would be injecting poison into my face that gave me pause. My issues were twofold. First, I feared Botox Face (you know the look: perpetual surprise, waxy, desperate). Then there was the ethical dilemma. From the time they could sit upright, I’ve preached the gospel of self-acceptance to my two daughters. We’ve discussed the powers and perils of Photoshop, and I’ve urged the celebration of beauty marks, birthmarks, and all manner of lines, declaring that to erase these things is to erase our unique beauty. I knew what Barbie would do. What would Gloria Steinem do?
The issue of Botox Face was easy for Hurley to dispel. “When Botox is done correctly, people won’t know that you’ve had anything done. They’ll just know that you look better.” My misgivings garnered an even more straightforward response. “Go home and think about it for a couple of weeks. If you’re hesitant, you shouldn’t do it.”
I did what I was told, and the thinking lasted all of three days before I was back in the office asking for the hard stuff (albeit a very small amount). After a few gentle pinpricks and some mild stinging, I was sent home with instructions not to do any headstands or yoga moves that put my head below my heart for 24 hours (um, okay). She said I’d start to see results in four to five days with the full effect kicking in after about a week.
I was stealth about the whole enterprise. I didn’t even tell my husband or mother. I abstained from yoga for three days, and then I forgot about the whole affair. That is, until day seven, when I bounded out of bed, flicked on the bathroom light, and let out a little gasp. I looked like me, only glowier, smoother, well-rested. Like Barbie’s brunette, realistically proportioned, much older, feminist sister. Well, almost.
(from left): Asset Protection: Sunscreen is a must, and not just on sunny days. For maximum anti-aging benefits, slather it on summer, winter, indoors, and out. Elta MD UV clear broad spectrum SPF 46, $29, North Dallas Dermatology Associates
Clean Machine: Gentle is the name of the game. Opt for a Clairsonic with a delicate brush head, and limit use to a few times a week. Clairsonic Mia sonic skin cleansing system, $119, Sephora
Bright Eyes: Seek out an eye cream that hydrates, smooths fine lines, depuffs, and lightens dark circles. iS Clinical youth eye complex, $95, North Dallas Dermatology Associates