Photographed by Jacqueline Harriet.
UPDATE: This post was originally published on March 8.
Clogged pores, dull skin tone, fine lines that don't seem to disappear — we've all been led to believe there's a miracle product out there to give you the best skin of your life, no matter what you're up against. Is there really a plant extract from some exotic locale that can make your skin younger overnight? Isn’t there one product with one miraculous ingredient that does it all — lifts, firms, protects, lightens, hydrates, and exfoliates? Alas, skin care is never as simple as one ingredient or one do-it-all product. And, believing otherwise will end up hurting your skin more.
Think of all that skin goes through: In a given day, your skin is exposed to damaging UV light, it might feel dry and itchy, breakouts can occur, redness may appear, or you might see another wrinkle or brown spot that you swear wasn’t there yesterday. Those issues are why most of us need a range of brilliant products rather than this month’s trendy ingredient.
And, much like we require a range of nutritious foods to remain healthy, our skin requires a balanced diet of beneficial ingredients. If protein, fat, and complex carbs are the cornerstone of healthy eating ingredient groups like antioxidants, then skin-repairing substances and cell-communicating ingredients are the cornerstone of keeping skin beautiful and youthful as long as possible.
Once you let go of the myth about a miracle product, you can assemble a sensible, relatively simple skin-care routine loaded with a range of beneficial ingredients. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get remarkable results. Below is a sample skin-care routine featuring some of the best products from the thousands my team and I have reviewed.
First, find a gentle, water-soluble cleanser like Biore Combination Skin Balancing Cleanser. This removes dirt, excess oil, and debris (including makeup) without leaving skin tight or dry. Cleanse twice daily, and follow with an exfoliant.
Second, look for an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) exfoliant. Both AHA and BHA fight multiple signs of aging while leaving skin smooth and even. Go for AHA if you have dry, sun-damaged skin and BHA if you have oily, combination, or breakout-prone skin. For AHA, try Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid Moisturizer; for BHA, try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. Apply your exfoliant once or twice daily, after cleansing.
Third, a daytime moisturizer with broad-spectrum sunscreen and antioxidants is essential for preventing wrinkles, brown spots, sagging, and skin cancer. Get into the habit of applying SPF every day, rain or shine, and you will see better skin within weeks — seriously. Sunscreens with antioxidants offer better anti-aging benefits, so check out these super formulas: Clinique City Block Sheer SPF 25, which is great for sensitive skin, and for combination to oily skin, Olay Regenerist Regenerating Lotion with SPF 50. Apply to face and neck as the last step in your morning skin-care routine.
If your skin is aging, look for a serum with standout specialty ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and other research-proven, youth-reviving ingredients. Serums tend to have an air of mystery around them, but they’re really just the icing on the cake that’s moisturizer. Use them together for enhanced results. Serums to swoon over: BeautiControl Regeneration Overnight Retinol Recovery Serum and Dr. Denese New York Hydroshield Ultra Moisturizing Face Serum . Apply morning and evening; in the morning, finish with your SPF product.
And, of course, you'll need a moisturizer designed for your skin type, which means a cream if you have dry skin, lotion if you have normal to slightly dry skin, and gel or liquid if you have oily skin. Have combination skin? You may need two formulas: one for your dry areas and another for oily portions. Consider Mary Kay Timewise Night Restore & Recover Complex-Normal/Dry, or the lighter-weight Olay Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex. Apply at night, before or after the serum.
Of course, if you've found a similar product that seems to work for you, stick with it. As we age, it's important to remember you'll need more than one do-it-all product with a must-have ingredient to get (and keep) skin in top shape.
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