Looking your best at any age: New choices expand the options

First of all, congratulate yourself. You look great. Want proof? Pull out your old family photo album and take a look at wedding-party pictures, circa 1950. If you're right now as old as your Aunt Sadie or Uncle Phil were in those pictures, you'll see immediately that men and women aged 50, 60 and 70 look far more youthful and vital today than their counterparts did decades ago.

As clothing and cosmetics retailers now know and as the TV commercial says, today's seniors are refusing to age gracefully. Given the growth and popularity of senior-oriented publications — replete with senior-oriented ads — this is a generation clearly willing to expend both money and time on looking its best.

The goal — whether you're a man or a woman — is to find the look and products that work best for you.

If you find your skin is much drier than it used to be, that's because the oil-producing glands designed to protect and moisturize it have grown smaller and less active. Years of overexposure to the sun might have wrought havoc, too, in the form of wrinkles or even skin cancer.

Smoking doesn't help, either.

To promote healthy skin at any age, begin with a balanced diet and consistent exercise routine. Then take a look at how you cleanse and moisturize your skin. If you're using the same kinds of products you used as a younger adult, switch to gentler versions. To compensate for the lack of a natural moisturizer, use a heavy lotion or cream while your skin is still wet.

Men suffering from dry skin no longer need to hunt for relief in their wives' cosmetic cases. Several firms now manufacture men's moisturizers. Clinique, for example, sells a liquid version called M Lotion.

For the last few years, products containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) have been hailed as skin exfoliators and rejuvenators. Originally developed for facial skin, AHA-enriched lotions have also been credited with affecting smoother, younger-looking hands. Estee Lauder's product Revelation is designed to moisturize both hands and chest.

Once you've moisturized your skin, don't forget to put on sunscreen before going out. Look for a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Increasing numbers of older men and women are turning to cosmetic surgery to correct everything from crow's feet to jiggly upper arms. While chemical face peels and facelifts are the most popular procedures, Longevity magazine reports that a group of surgeons has successfully experimented with a silicone "filler" for laugh lines. The procedure costs about $1,250.

Another report credits a New York plastic surgeon with performing a so-called "batwing" procedure, removing excess flesh and fat from the upper arms.

If you choose to undergo some form of cosmetic procedure, make sure the doctor you consult is board-certified. Specifically explain what you want and find out if it's realistic. Ask for before-and-after pictures of the doctor's former patients who underwent similar procedures.

Take advantage of video-imaging technology to get a sense of your own "before and after." Be persistent in pinpointing the procedure's risks, including any impact your own medical history might have, and weigh those downsides against the benefits.

Women accustomed to a certain makeup regimen might, in later years, find that the long-familiar colors and products no longer create the same flattering effect. As skin ages, it pales; hair changes color too. Less is more where makeup is concerned.

If you use a foundation, select one enriched with moisturizers and apply it lightly. Play up your eyes and lips, but lighten the colors.

Dominique Szabo of Estee Lauder suggests using matte rather than frosted shadows in a neutral, transparent or sheer shade. Szabo also recommends mascara in shades of black-brown and deep gray, and discourages older women from using hard eyeliners.

Hair, like skin, becomes drier with age; its texture thins and its volume decreases. Buy a mild shampoo that contains ingredients like silicones, proteins and polymers, which create an illusion of fullness by keeping individual strands from sticking together.

If you color your hair, select shampoos that strengthen hair shafts. Men and women who opt for a natural gray have a variety of shampoo products at hand — such as Aveda's Blue Malva, Matrix's So Silver and Clairol's Shimmer Lights — to keep the color from yellowing.

Both men and women should consult a stylist to choose a simple, flattering cut that requires little maintenance. Avoid heavy dousings of hair spray and mousse. If hair loss bothers you, there are a number of treatments worth investigating, including hair transplants, hairpieces and drugs such as minoxidil.

What's the image you want to project? Fun-loving and youthful or serious and mature? Your wardrobe can reflect the variety of roles you play in life, and impacts not only the outside world but also how you move and interact.

Senior women are free to borrow elements from younger women's fashions — color, for instance, and texture — and would do well to avoid heavy fabrics and drab hues, choosing colors that highlight complexion and eye color.

If you're after an elegant, sophisticated look, select clothes with a more formal cut, and experiment with silk scarves and conservative jewelry such as pearls and gold chains.

Most importantly, take a good look at your body. Even if you haven't gained weight over the years, its distribution probably has shifted somewhat. Clothing manufacturers recognize this, and offer lines both fashionable and well-fitting.