Fashion & Beauty

The Five Signs of Aging

August 7, 2022



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

A LONG TIME ago—in a galaxy far, far away—I had a brief but significant brush with what felt like, at the time, an alien culture. I wrote about that close encounter for O, The Oprah Magazine:

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

There are about 35 of us beauty editors at a presentation of a company’s new product. I’m new, too, new to the job of beauty editor, just learning the ropes. Most of the women are lovely, sparkling, and girlish; only a few of us have seen 40 (and fewer yet, like me, are peering fondly back). A convivial young man standing at a wooden podium welcomes us. “Thank you all for coming,” he says, sparkling a little himself. “I have a question for you,” he says. He leans against the podium professorially: “Can anyone tell me, what are the four signs of aging?”

I generally do well in classroom situations, and greenhorn though l am, l know the answer he’s looking for: fine lines, sagging skin, thinning hair, etc. But I’m reluctant to raise my hand. Because if l do, and l give him the answer I believe is true, I’m afraid l might put a blight on the magazine l love and now represent. What if the young man is offended because I’m not playing along? So l sit on my hands and regretting, regretting, bite my tongue.

Today, however—two years of experience and a lifetime of antiaging presentations later—is a different story. Ask the question again; in fact, I dare you to ask the question. Because now l am very sure there is only one right answer, and it is my happy responsibility to give it.

What are the four signs of aging?

They are Wisdom, Confidence, Character, and Strength.

As I said, I wrote this many years ago. In fact, I wasn’t even old when I wrote it. Today—now that I am old—I would add to those four somewhat high-falutin signs a more pedestrian one: dry, cracked feet.

I used to be vain about my feet. I had bi-monthly pedicures—happily contributing to the multibillion-dollar foot care industry—even in the colder months when my feet entertained no public audience. During the pandemic lockdown I skipped the winter pedicures (partly due to isolation) and have noticed for the first time that my feet are having issues. An excellent reader around my age wrote to say she and her buddies were experiencing similar stumbling blocks, so I wondered if the problem was related to . . . maturity. Also, I wanted a solution, because come summertime, as usual, I planned to wave my feet flag high.

Do you remember spiritual marathoner Lao Tzu’s famous quote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? He didn’t mention what happens to your feet after a thousand miles but I will: They take a lot of punishment, which can manifest in more unsightly ways than you might care to imagine. One of those ways, suggested to me by the dermatologist Brooke Jackson, is a condition called keratoderma climactericum, more winsomely known as Haxthausen’s syndrome. If your feet are so cracked and dry that it hurts when you walk, your doctor will likely inform you this is your new jam. (Jackson says she sees it regularly in her practice among post-menopausal women and other younger, frequently barefoot people or those who are particularly rough on their feet.) Are your symptoms milder? Sorry, then: You may not be able to call yourself a card-carrying Haxthausener. But no matter, because the solution is the same.

As for treatment options, Jackson favors the over-the-counter cream Flexitol Heel Balm.Apply it at night under a pair of cotton socks, she says, which is a problem for me, since I can’t sleep with anything covering my toes. I bought a pair of these spa socks and they seem to work well, though in the morning I often find annoying fabric crumbs at the bottom of the bed. Jackson also recommends treating your feet to Dove Exfoliating Body Polish once or twice a month. A Dove-lover, Jackson also suggests that their new hand cream, Dove Body Love Moisturizing Hand Cream, is just as good on your feet because, she says, it’s fast-absorbing and non-greasy, and moisturizes for up to 48 hours. I’ve been using the more utilitarian O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet to excellent effect. Another reader, Ann B., wrote to suggest a prescription product, ammonium lactate cream; you can also find that ingredient in the over-the-counter Amlactin Ultra Smoothing Intensely Hydrating Cream.

Whew! I became so distracted by that flurry of product recommendations I forgot to explain the climactericum moment in the keratoderma diagnosis. Those night sweats you may be having—or have had, or can look forward to having—are but one indication that you’re entering or have passed through your climacteric, the biological stage of life in which reproductive capacity declines and finally ceases. (Menopause, on the other hand, refers specifically to the cessation of your periods. Did you know that? I didn’t.) Anyhow, I prefer to call it the climateric, a far better description of a process in which you experience your own private global warming, including unpredictable flooding and other momentarily tragic events. The good news is that our personal climateric passes; unfortunately, Mother Earth’s will not.

Because I don’t want to leave you feeling low, I found this “walking” video, which suggests there are more things on heaven and earth (and the Internet) than are dreamt of in our philosophies. (The accompanying music reminds me, weirdly, of the opening music in the TV series Big Little Lies.) And this one, with two chatty physical therapists, to help you give your hardworking hooves a little extra love.

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