10 Simple Swaps That Could Save Your Skin

When it comes to your skin-care routine, what you use to get the results you want is everything. But, choosing the right formulas for your complexion concern isn’t always easy — and using the wrong beauty products means not getting the results you want. “I always ask my patients what products that they are using so I can know what is working and what isn’t — and it’s possible that not all of them complement each other, which could wreak havoc on your skin,” says Jeannette Graf, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC.
Whether it’s dry skin that won’t go away, eye lines that are driving you crazy, or blackheads all over, we asked derms to weigh in on which products, ingredients, and textures you should look for to take your skin care up a notch. Click through to see their swaps and learn the secret to overcoming your worst complexion catastrophes.
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For Extra-Gentle Cleansing

If you typically reach for a foaming cleanser or even a basic (yet gentle) bar soap, yet your skin feels, well, skin tight every time, you might be washing away needed moisture along with your cleanser.

Switch to: a cream cleanser. As the name implies, they have skin-softening ingredients such as glycerin, too, so that skin is clean, yet not stripped, says Dr. Graf. Or, try using a gel or foaming kind in the p.m. but the creamier version in the a.m., or visa versa. "I like all of my patients to have at least two cleansers to alternate between," says Gervaise Gerstner, M.D., L'Oréal Paris consulting dermatologist with a practice in NYC. "The skin changes, so it is important to rotate cleansers in terms of how dry it is or how broken out it is — so some should alternate every night, and some should alternate week by week."
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For Crazy-Dry Skin

Sure, you could use the richest cream on the planet to try and inject some much-needed moisture into skin, but then you run the risk of clogging pores and battling acne on top of tight skin and flakes. And, who has time for that?

Switch to: a light, yet super-hydrating overnight moisture mask. "Dry skin in the winter is a huge complaint, so in addition to a day cream, a night mask is a great addition to your routine," says Dr. Gerstner. "Use it at night to help moisturize skin while it repairs and you aren't facing any environmental damage like the sun or stress, so the next day your face is flake-free and ready for makeup." Or, apply a pre-moistened hydrating mask (the kind that look like goopy cloth masks), and leave it on for 30 minutes then go to bed without rinsing the residue off, suggests Dr. Graf.
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For Non-Stop Breakouts

We get it — you don’t want to slather zit cream all over your entire face because there aren’t pimples on every square inch. Plus, you'd run the risk of drying out what is currently in the clear. But, stopping bacteria from brewing into a blemish from the get-go is the secret to having a flawless complexion.

Switch to: an ultra-gentle pimple fighter. "In general, I don't believe in spot treatment as that only makes the pimple get better and doesn't address the crop of pimples coming tomorrow," says Dr. Gerstner. “So, I like my patients to 'fertilize' the whole area of skin that tends to breakout (like the jawline)." And, when you do need to zap one area more than the rest, look for a spot treatment laced with acne-fighters, such as sulfur or salicylic acid, as well as witch hazel.
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For The First Signs Of Wrinkles

You might only be at the point where a few fine lines creep up when you've been out too many nights in a row or your skin is just dehydrated, so simply slathering on some cream can soften them fast. However, that’s just a temporary fix.

Switch to: an OTC retinol and an antioxidant serum. "There are new retinol formulas that have smaller molecules, penetrate deeper, and don't cause as much irritation as the versions of the past," says Dr. Gerstner. The other trick? Less is more. Only use those that have low doses like .25 and work up to 1%. "I start 90% of patients on .25 retinol," says Dr. Gerstner. Also, look for proven antioxidants such as vitamins E and C to fight free radicals and slow down collagen breakdown. Or, be on the lookout for other newbies, like astaxanthin, which can be more potent than your traditional vitamins. "Astaxanthin is a member of the carotenoid family, and a thousand times more potent than vitamin E," says Kenneth Mark, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC.
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For Crow's Feet

Most eye creams are laced with hydrators that soften and smooth the delicate skin around eyes, which is 100% going to help erase lines. However, to keep the skin plump and collagen fibers from breaking down, they may not be enough.

Switch to: a peptide-based eye cream. "Peptides not only hydrate, but some have an anti-inflammatory effect by helping with capillary permeability and lymphatic drainage to decrease puffiness and pigment," says Dr. Mark. "Instead of just moisturizing, you want to use ingredients — like peptides — with physiological effects. Also, avoid gels, which can be drying even though they give the skin a feeling of tightness."

Dr. Kenneth Mark Tighten and Lighten Eye Cream, $69, available at Dr. Kenneth Mark.
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For Obvious Sun Damage

Just because it's not summer, doesn't mean your skin is in the sun-damage clear. The sun is still shining and those pigment-producing UV rays are hitting us all the time — yes, even at your desk, in your car, or that quick walk to the subway. So, along with a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day (minimum of SPF 30), you've got to actually use a product that is meant to reverse and prevent excess pigmentation from popping up now and later.

Switch to: a lightening treatment. "The sun is less intense this time of year, so the key is to take advantage of this and start to reverse damage now," says Dr. Mark. Combat hyperpigmentation nightly with a powerful skin lightener, such as prescription strength hydroquinone, or botanical lighteners such as kojic acid or licorice extract, as well as soy. You should also alternate with a retinol, too. "This helps to exfoliate the skin, but also to fade pigment," says Dr. Mark.
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For Scaly Dry Legs

It’s getting cold outside, so nothing feels more amazing than a hot shower or bath. But, nothing wreaks more havoc on skin either. And, while applying a rich body cream is going to help keep your skin silky soft, if that cream can't penetrate past the top layer, it's not going to keep skin hydrated for very long.

Switch to: a body cream with gentle acids. "Using a moisturizer that has lactic acid or ammonium lactate — an alpha-hydroxy acid — will help exfoliate, but also addd moisture to the skin and dramatically help counteract the rough, dry, scaly skin that is common in winter and often seems impossible to get rid of — especially on elbows and knees," says Dr. Mark.
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For Out-Of-Control Blackheads

Once pores are clogged with gook, they expand and look larger, as well as make skin look less-than-glowing. You can use a million pore strips and scrub like mad with an exfoliating wash, but Dr. Graf says it's actually the most basic of face treatments that can truly make your pores perfect.

Switch to: a clay mask a few times a week. "Apply it all over your face — clay masks contain essential minerals that are great for skin," says Dr. Graf. "But, more importantly, when they dry, they pull out what's in the pore with it so it can help loosen clogs and prevent bigger blemishes later." Her pro trick: Don’t let the mask harden completely, and keep adding a little water to it, if your skin is on the dryer side.
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For A Blah Complexion

Without the sun-kissed glow of the summer, skin can look dull and drab. Yes, it could be stress or lack of sleep, too ,but it can also be just built-up dead skin cells. And, no amount of cream is going to turn that around.

Switch to: a gentle weekly OTC peel. "These are going to immediately brighten the skin,” says Dr. Graf. Look for pre-soaked pads or a serum that has one or a combination of lightly exfoliating acids such as glycolic, lactic, alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids. "Use them at night one to two nights per week and apply your night cream on top so that it soaks in even deeper, too," she says.
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For Removing Makeup, Stat

Cleansers are meant to cleanse, yes? Yes. But, when you have layers of makeup sitting on and in your skin all day long, a few quick splashes of a regular wash (or evens swipes of a makeup removing towelette) might not be enough to get rid of it.

Switch to: a salicylic acid-based cleanser. "Any cleanser will help to some degree to keep pores clear as it is physically removing makeup, but salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that exfoliates and breaks up the dead layer of skin cells — therefore helping to unclog pores and wash away makeup more effectively, too," says Dr. Mark.
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