Do Your Hands Reveal Your Age?

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At the height of summer, I looked at my hands and thought, you are becoming your mother. Her loving hands were burned by bacon grease, stained with nicotine and weathered by sun and life.

I don’t fry or smoke, but I confess bad behaviors. I put my hands directly in the garden dirt, sometimes neglect my daily sunscreen and pick cuticles. The early New Year’s resolution is to stop my hands from looking 70 decades too early.

With age, skin thins and loses elasticity; age spots pop up on the hands. Nails may become ridged and more fragile. Early arthritis and veins show clearly. In an American Society of Plastic Surgery study, people examined unaltered and altered photographs of female hands and were asked to estimate the women’s ages. The majority of participants accurately judged the unaltered photos, and saw the altered photos, with blemishes and hand veins removed or jewelry and nail polish added, as looking younger. Interestingly, altered photos of very elderly hands, with thin skin, age spots, wrinkles and prominent veins, were seen at the accurate age.

Our great-grandmothers knew the secret: gloves, preferably long and white, worn daily. As if that’s workable. What can we do instead? I started a practical program.

Dishwashers are wonderful. So are rubber gloves; every time I put my hands in dish water, on went the gloves kept under the sink. Moreover, I started using warm, not hot, water for bathing and handwashing. A container of the richest cream I could find sits by every sink and at my bedside. Every time I walk by, I grab a big dab and slather it on. Once a week, cotton gloves go on over a double dose and remain overnight for extra hydration.

I’ll say it again: sunscreen. Your hands get UVA and UVB exposure every day, and sun damage occurs when you’re driving, playing tennis, walking the dog. I made it a habit to have not only the SPF50 sunscreen at my vanity and slather it on my hands before walking outside (not to mention the SPF100 for short periods of yard work), but also a small tube in both my car and purse for touchups after hand washing.

A weekly hand scrub followed by moisturizing well was added to the regimen. Gentle, not abrasive, exfoliation is just as important for the hands as the face and can help reduce dark spots over time by removing dead cells. And, as with the face, it allows emollients to absorb better.

Rejuvenation techniques used for the face are now being applied to the hands. Soft tissue loss in the hands is responsible for the hollowed-out look that makes large veins prominent. Certain dermal fillers have been FDA-approved for hand rejuvenation and can be injected in the appropriate areas between the extensor tendons to dramatically improve the youthful look of hands. Injections typically last for about a year.

Hand sclerotherapy is a surgical alternative that, while effective, should not be chosen lightly. Younger women with good collagen and fat in their hands are better candidates than older women, and sclerotherapy can minimize the prominent veins. This choice should be discussed in detail with your plastic surgeon, including the complex aftercare and the possibility that in case of illness or other surgery, those veins might be needed.

New fractional lasers can improve skin tone and fine lines on the hands by targeting small sections deep in the skin. Surrounding untreated skin helps stimulate healing. Chemical peels can also reduce pigmented spots caused by years of UV exposure.

Before heading to the plastic surgeon, though, I investigated a few kitchen remedies. Dark spots are damaged melanocytes; what can be used to reduce the damage?

Papaya contains the enzyme papain, a natural exfoliant that helps break down and eliminate dead skin cells while encouraging new cell growth. Mix two tablespoons papaya pulp, one tablespoon honey and one tablespoon milk until smooth and spread on the hands for about 30 minutes, then rinse with cool water. Repeat daily until you see results.

Dabbing lemon juice on dark spots may take about two months to reduce them; do this at night, because when wet it increases skin sensitivity to sun. The lactic acid in full-fat yogurt helps exfoliate skin and slow down melanocytes. Neem oil slows the production of melanin.

Castor oil is full of fatty acids and proteins that repair skin; it’s commonly used to fade scars, dark spots and hyperpigmentation on face and hands. Mix it with a little turmeric, which inhibits excessive melanin production, and honey, which has antimicrobial and healing properties as well, and spread on the backs of your hands for about a month.

It’s helping, aided by the cute SPF100 swimsuit coverup with hand protection that arrived in June. ■

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