What do you see when you look at your skin in the mirror? Is it smooth, even-toned, tight and firm? Or is it slightly more textured than 10 years prior, with pigmented spots and sagging in more places than you care to admit?

I’ve got good news and bad news to share with you. First, the good news: If you do have smooth, even skin, you can maintain it for years to come with the right skincare products! Now, for the bad news (and I may possibly have to go into hiding after admitting this insider secret): If your skin is severely damaged from years of sun worshipping, smoking—basically, “living la vida loca” without a skin care worry in the world—products alone probably will not put much of a dent in your skin situation.

How can you tell if you fall into this severely damaged group? Dr. Richard Glogau, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California San Francisco, came up with a classification system that can help you. He originally designed the Glogau Photo-aging Classification Scale as a training tool for young dermatologists to apply the appropriate therapy to patients based on their levels of sun damage. But he quickly noticed, “What started out as a teaching tool turned out to be much more,” Dr. Glogau stated in a recent interview.

Recognizing your place on this scale is actually pretty easy and is in line with the Chinese proverb that you don’t know where you are until you recognize where you have been. This chart will make things clearer:

The Glogau Photo-aging Classification Scale

Type 1: ‘Early Wrinkles’Patient age: 20s to 30s

  • Early photo-aging
  • Mild pigment changes
  • Minimal wrinkles
  • No ‘age spots’


Type 2: ‘Wrinkles in Motion’Patient age: 30s to 40s

  • Early to moderate photo-aging
  • Appearance of smile lines
  • Early brown ‘age spots’
  • Skin pores more prominent
  • Early changes in skin texture


 Type 3: ‘Wrinkles at Rest’Patient age: 50s & older

  • Advanced photo-aging
  • Prominent brown pigmentation
  • Visible brown ‘age spots’
  • Prominent, small blood vessels
  • Wrinkles, even at rest
Type 4: ‘Only Wrinkles’Patient age: 60s or 70s

  • Severe photo-aging
  • Yellow-gray skin color
  • Prior skin cancers
  • Pre-cancerous skin changes (actinic keratosis)
  • Wrinkles everywhere

Source: https://www.sfderm.com/wrinklescale.html

According to Dr. Glogau, the products that I spent a career researching and developing are not a waste of my adult life (what a relief!), and they are very effective for Types 1 and 2 for prevention and protection. Even Type 3 can benefit from a great retinol/alpha hydroxy acid regimen. Type 4, however, will need to rely more on cosmetic procedures—“massive resurfacing,” as Dr. Glogau puts it—to improve the condition of the skin. Chemical peels, laser treatments and dermal fillers will do far more than a cosmetic retinol product ever could to turn back the hands of time for those in Type 4. Skincare products are still beneficial for Type 4 to keep skin in a healthy condition.

Sure, we all start out as a Type 1 with smooth skin and no wrinkles or age spots, but then all of the sudden when we smile, little lines form around at the corner of our eyes and nasolabial folds (but they disappear when we stop smiling—thank goodness!). Then, a faint brown spot appears on your cheek that seems to have come out of nowhere—and welcome to Type 2. Uh oh, the smile lines are now visible even though we’re not smiling and that formerly faint brown spot is now prominent (along with other visible pigmentation changes that we never had before). This can only mean one thing: Type 3. Now, there are wrinkles everywhere, in fact, finding a patch of smooth skin is nearly impossible. Even the hue of our skin is different: more of a yellowish or gray than the rosy cast of yesteryear. The level of sun damage is severe, and we are officially Type 4.

A good skincare program can keep our skin in the best possible condition, regardless of your “Type.” As a chemist, I would love nothing more than to be able to create a skin care product that would take us from Type 4 to Type 1 in four weeks, but that is not possible.

What is possible is establishing a regimen that will keep our skin moisturized, plump and supple. And, when you get there, to manage your expectations of what skincare products can do when the years of photo-damage have finally caught up.