It started with a quick look at the health and beauty aisle. And now, you somehow have a basket brimming with cleansers, serums, toners, lotions, masks and who knows what else. You walk away with a long receipt and a newfound (and probably misguided) commitment to a complicated, multistep anti-aging skin care routine.
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You’re not alone.
When it comes to skin care, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options out there. So many anti-aging ingredients. So many different formulations. So many influencers sharing oh-so-many opinions.
Some of us seize up. Others seize the day. We start slathering on every skin care product we can get our hands on in hopes of finding the magical formula to keep our skin young and healthy.
It doesn’t have to be this hard. We promise.
“We look at our skin every day in the mirror, and other people see it, too, so it’s only natural to want it to look its best,” says physician assistant Samantha Stein, PA-C. “But it doesn’t have to be complicated. I compare anti-aging skin care to brushing your teeth. It’s important to do, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a huge amount of time or money on it. You want to keep it simple. Less is more.”
Stein shares advice for the best anti-aging ingredients you should look for in your products, as well as skin care routines to keep your skin looking young — without going broke.
Best anti-aging skin care products
Signs of aging that can be addressed with a proper anti-aging skin care routine include:
- Wrinkles and fine lines.
- Dark spots (hyperpigmentation).
- Droopy eyelids and dark circles under your eyes.
- Redness and broken blood vessels.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s not just the skin on your face that ages. (Ever hear of “turkey neck?”)
“You can consider other areas, like your neck and hands especially, as part of your anti-aging routine,” Stein says. “The same ingredients and routine that we suggest for your face can also help with aging signs in those areas, too. If you’re already using the products, it doesn’t hurt to take good care of these other common areas where we show aging as well.”
So, what ingredients should you look for in your anti-aging products? A simple routine should include these scientifically proven anti-aging ingredients:
- Gentle cleanser.
- Vitamin C.
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Stein helps us dive deeper into each of these products.
At a minimum, you want to wash your face at least once per day. Many people can benefit from both a morning and evening cleansing routine, but if you can’t make twice a day happen, cleansing at least once per day is important.
When you cleanse, you want to use a mild, gentle face cleanser.
You don’t need to scrub your face with rough cloths or use those “exfoliating” cleansers that feel like sand. In fact, those methods can be very irritating to your skin and damage your skin’s moisture barrier — the outermost layer of your skin that locks moisture in.
When it comes to choosing cleansers and face washes, keep it simple and gentle.
Vitamin C serum
We know about the importance of vitamin C to boost your immune system. It’s also incredibly popular and useful as an aging skin care ingredient.
That’s because vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and it helps stimulate collagen production, both of which help your skin fight off signs of aging.
“Just like antioxidants that you get from eating blueberries and other foods, the antioxidant vitamin C helps to fight off free radicals, which damage the integrity of your skin,” Stein explains. “Oxidative stress from free radicals leads to things like wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and roughness on the skin.”
By counteracting free radicals, vitamin C helps to brighten and soften your skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
What’s more, vitamin C helps your body produce collagen. Collagen is the protein that provides structure, support and strength to your skin, as well as your muscles, bones and connective tissues. Your body naturally produces less collagen as you age, which contributes to crepey, saggy and wrinkled skin.
“Vitamin C is a co-factor in collagen synthesis, and so it can help boost your collagen production,” Stein says. “That will help your skin plump up and minimize the look of wrinkles.”
Some moisturizers and other products may include vitamin C as an ingredient. Stein suggests using a vitamin C-concentrated serum for maximum effect. Products containing vitamin C may be marketed as containing “ascorbic acid” or “L-ascorbic acid,” which are other names for vitamin C.
Any product you use that contains vitamin C should come in an opaque (can’t see through) container that reduces its exposure to light.
“Vitamin C can be inactivated by light, so you want to steer clear of vitamin C products that come in a clear bottle or in a jar with a wide opening,” Stein advises.
Stein says lower-cost vitamin C options can be just as effective as pricier versions. And good thing, too, because you’ll want to replace your vitamin C product often. The shelf life for vitamin C products is only about six months before they start to lose their effectiveness.
Another key ingredient in anti-aging skin care is retinol. It also goes by the name vitamin A or retinoid, which is the prescription version. All are referring to the same anti-aging powerhouse ingredient.
Retinol is a nutrient that encourages exfoliation. It increased the turnover rate of your skin, meaning it will help old skin cells shed away, replacing them with newer, healthier, shinier skin cells. Retinol can also help minimize wrinkles and fine lines by slowing the breakdown of collagen.
Because it helps clear away old cells, retinol will also help treat acne by unclogging blocked pores and unearthing blackheads and whiteheads. It can also help to prevent future acne.
Now, all this exfoliating power can have its downsides. Retinol can be irritating to some people’s skin, particularly if you’re new to using it or if you have naturally sensitive skin.
Stein suggests that if using retinol is irritating to your skin, you could first apply a thin layer of moisturizer to your face before applying retinol. That will give your skin a little barrier while still allowing the retinol to do its job.
Prescription-strength retinoid isn’t necessary for most people, Stein also says. It can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. Prescription retinoids may work faster in some people, but you should start to see improvements in your skin in about three months with regular use of over-the-counter retinol products.
Hydrated skin is healthy skin. And healthy skin looks younger. As we age, our skin naturally creates less oil. Including a moisturizing face cream in your routine helps replace those oils. Plus, moisturizers can temporarily add some fullness to your skin, helping to reduce those fine lines and wrinkles.
Some moisturizers contain additional anti-aging ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, ceramides and various exfoliating skin care acids. Choose a moisturizer based on your skin care needs.
You’ll want to be careful about over-doing it on certain ingredients, Stein notes. If you’re using a retinol serum on its own, you probably don’t need a face cream that contains retinol. Same with other anti-aging ingredients. Aim for products that complement each other and address your skin care needs, as opposed to doubling up on the same ingredients in multiple products.
Stein says that regular use of sunscreen is hands-down the most important product in your anti-aging routine. And not just for summer or when you’re going to be outside on a sunny day. Use sunscreen every day.
Sunlight emits both UVA and UVB rays. Think of it like this: UVA for aging. UVB for burning.
So, even on days when the sunshine isn’t at peak sunburn level, it’s still emitting those UVA aging rays. And UVA is sneaky. It affects you through the windows in your home or office and through your car’s windshield.
“Typically, people don’t experience a sunburn if they’re in the car for a long time, but they still get the aging effects from the sun,” Stein states. “Or if you go on a quick walk on your lunch break on a cloudy day, you probably aren’t going to get a sunburn, but you’re still absorbing those rays and damaging your skin.”
She adds that the best sunblock is whatever kind you’ll use every day. Whether you prefer a chemical sunblock, a mineral one or a spray, the choice is yours. Just make sure it’s at least SPF 30.
As for those powdered sunscreens? They’re good for a quick afternoon touchup, but it’s best not to rely on them on their own and not for full-day use.
If you’re looking for efficiency in your skin care routine, try a moisturizer-sunscreen combination product to cut down on the number of products you need.
Simple anti-aging routines
|Morning routine||Evening routine|
|Wash with a gentle cleanser.||Wash with a gentle cleanser.|
|Apply vitamin C serum.||Apply retinol.|
|Apply moisturizer.||Apply moisturizer.|
|Apply sunscreen (if it’s not included in your moisturizer).|
When to start an anti-aging skin care routine
Stein says it’s never too early to start an anti-aging skin care routine. Never too late, either. Starting younger is better — before your skin starts to age naturally. There’s no rule saying that an anti-aging routine can’t start in your 30s, 40s or 50s and beyond. While you won’t erase decades of damage to your skin, some signs of aging can be stopped, and even reversed at least to some extent in a lot of people.
Give it time
When adding new products to your skin care routine, it’s always best to take it slow. If you start by adding a slew of new products at once, you won’t know which one (or ones) are actually having the effect you’re looking for. And now, you have a laundry list of products to continue to buy when it really may only be one or two of them that you need. Additionally, if you try a bunch of new ingredients at once and have a reaction, like redness or itching, it’ll be harder to pinpoint the cause of the irritation.
You also want to allow your products time to work. Skin care is more of a marathon than a sprint. Undoing years of aging won’t happen overnight.
Stein notes that it’s likely that when you start using new skin care ingredients, your skin will actually look like it’s getting worse before it gets better. It’s called skin purging, and it’s totally normal and a good sign. Skin purging means that your skin care products are doing their job — they’re cleaning house. And just like when you organize the basement, things tend to get a little messy before they look better.
She recommends giving any new skin care products about three months before you can expect to see results.
Other ways to care for your skin
Healthy, younger-looking skin isn’t just about the things you rub on your face. It also starts from the inside. Just like any other part of your body, your skin can reflect your overall health.
Stein recommends these healthy-living tips that will help to keep your skin in tip-top shape:
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Get enough sleep.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Manage your stress. (They don’t call them “worry lines” for nothing.)
A simple routine can make a big difference in the health of your skin and reduce the signs of aging. Remember — give it time, though. And if you don’t see the improvements you’re looking for after at least three months, don’t hesitate to talk with a dermatology healthcare provider.
“It’s good to consult your healthcare provider about your skin care needs because everyone has a different skin type and your provider can help recommend products that are best for you and your needs,” Stein encourages. “There’s so much out there, and it can get overwhelming and expensive. Your provider can help you cut through that clutter.”