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.
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.
Olay Regenerist Regenerating Lotion with SPF 50, $24.35, available at Soap.com; Clinique City Block Sheer SPF 25, $22, available at Macy's; Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, $23, available at Paula's Choice; Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid Moisturizer, $45, available at Sephora
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.
Mary Kay Timewise Night Restore & Recover Complex-Normal/Dry, $40, available at Mary Kay; Olay Regenerist Wrinkle Revolution Complex, $16.79, available at Target.
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Bryan Barron, beauty expert and co-author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, spends his days penning thousands of research-based cosmetics reviews as the head of the Beautypedia.com research team. And, lucky for us, he's letting R29 pick his brain about all things pretty. For more expert skin advice, follow Paula's Choice on Twitter.