DIY Skin Fixes That Don't Require a Dermatologist
Simple over-the-counter solutions for common skin problems
by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, February 18, 2021
En español | When did skin care get so complicated? Some days it feels like we need a medical degree to sort through all the creams, serums and treatments that can brighten, tighten and smooth our 50-plus faces. We turn to dermatologists for serious stuff like skin cancer checks, rosacea or dermatitis and maybe for a little Botox. But moisturizer? We're totally capable of some DIY analysis. After all, who knows your face, skin care history and daily habits better than you? Here are 10 easy fixes for a fresher, healthier look — no M.D. required:
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PHOTO BY: Target (3)
1. Fix: No-bother daily sunscreen
If you seriously want to shut down future brown spots and skin cancer, wear sunscreen. We all have one for weekend/beach days, but do you wear it 365 days a year? How about when it's cloudy, rainy or cold? When you're at work, running errands, driving or more dressed-up? Probably not. That's because the texture is unappealing for everyday wear. A simple solution is to use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 moisturizer like Neutrogena Visibly Even Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 30 ($13, target.com) or Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer with Soy SPF 30 ($7, target.com) for baseline screening of UVA/UVB rays. Then apply any makeup you like, from tinted moisturizer to foundation and blush, or none at all. And later on in the day or for more exposure than you anticipated — like a long walk or lunch at an outdoor café — simply whisk on a potent but light SPF 30 transparent powder like the SLMD Skincare UV Bounce SPF 30 in Shade 001, 002 or 003 ($40, target.com) for extra invisible protection. It stashes easily in tote, handbag or jacket pocket.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty; Target (2)
2. Fix: Cleanser that improves skin
Stop washing your face with any old soap or cleanser. Whether you prefer a cream, milk, foam or bar choose one that's mild and won't dry or strip your skin of natural oils. A gentle formula with moisture-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, essential fatty acids and botanicals will be more in sync with your goal for better skin. For example Versed Gentle Cycle Milky Cleanser ($15, target.com) has hydrating marula oil and soothing oat milk, Yes to Avocado Fragrance-Free Daily Cream Cleanser ($9, ulta.com) has moisture-enhancing hyaluronic acid and avocado, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, while Dove Beauty Calming Beauty Bar Soap ($6 for 4, target.com) has calming oatmeal and rice milk.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty; Sephora; Target
3. Fix: Moisturizers to plump up sags and wrinkles
Who doesn't pull their face back in the mirror to see the “face-lift effect"? It's a secret thing we all do. But smoothing saggy and lined skin doesn't require a scalpel or fillers. With consistent use a moisturizer that emphasizes hyaluronic acid and/or peptides, like Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream ($29, ulta.com), Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Cream ($20, target.com) or JLo Beauty That Big Screen Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($54, sephora.com), does the trick, and here's why. Hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge to attract water to your skin and plump up loose skin and expression lines. Think of how a balloon looks smoother and firmer when it's blown up. Peptides are made up of proteins called amino acids that reboot collagen and elastin — the support fibers of the skin — so yours looks bouncier and plumped.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Ulta Beauty
4. Fix: Power-boosting serums for moisturizers
If you feel your moisturizer results are flatlining, a serum can help. Due to their highly concentrated formulas and focus on specific ingredients, serums have the ability to amplify the effects of your moisturizer. Think of them as the layering pieces of skin care that get sandwiched between cleanser and moisturizer. The most useful are moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid serums like the Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 ($7, ulta.com) or La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Face Serum with Hyaluronic Acid ($30, target.com) or a skin-brightening vitamin C serum like CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum ($25, target.com). And FYI: Serums do not replace moisturizers; you still need the cream layer on top.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Walgreens
5. Fix: Retinol for sun damage and wrinkles
It's still the Holy Grail of skin care for fixing past sun damage and wrinkles and refining skin texture. Retinol can even minimize breakouts if your hormones are suddenly competing with wrinkles for attention. If you've tried prescription Retin-A or retinol, the over-the-counter derivative of vitamin A, before and found them difficult, give the new improved retinols a go. They're more hydrating and soothing thanks to the addition of ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide. Try a night cream like Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Moisturizer ($29, target.com) or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream with Hyaluronic Acid & Retinol ($31, target.com), or layer a retinol serum like No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate ($31, walgreens.com) under any basic moisturizer that does not contain vitamin C, AHA or BHA (see tip number 10 for details).
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens; Target (2)
6. Fix: Eye cream that wakes you up
Under-eye shadows, crow's-feet crinkles, saggy skin and puffy lids make us look fatigued and stressed even when we're not. The eye area is super-thin and parched but responds quickly to eye cream. The addition of moisture alone helps but choose extra ingredients carefully. Peptides, algae extract or caffeine increases firmness and deflates puffiness; vitamin C or K minimizes dark circles. Try Versed Zero-G Smoothing Eye Cream ($18, target.com), a vegan solution with peptides, algae extract and light-reflecting mica to blur fine lines; Alchimie Forever Rejuvenating Eye Balm ($45, walgreens.com), with soothing jojoba and cocoa butter and vitamin K to reduce dark circles; or InstaNatural Hyaluronic Acid Eye Gel Cream ($13, target.com) with caffeine, vitamin C and peptides. Improve the effect of your under-eye concealer, too, by blending it with a little eye cream in the palm of your hand before application.
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PHOTO BY: Sephora (2); Target
7. Fix: Face oils that get you glowing
After years of avoiding oils, it's time to embrace their emollient abilities. This is because due to the natural aging process and menopause our faces are drier than ever. Dry skin lacks oil and looks it — appearing dull, tight and rough as sandpaper. No, you won't look greasy! Just add a few drops of a face oil to any moisturizer or apply it sparingly as a topcoat and seal where needed on very dry areas if you're not ready to swap it for moisturizer. Look for oils like Botanics Organic Face Oil ($15, target.com), Josie Maran 100 Percent Pure Argan Oil ($49, sephora.com) and the Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($10, sephora.com) that are rich in glow-making essential fatty acids, namely omega-3, 6 and 9, thanks to rose hip and argan oil. Rub a tiny amount between your palms to warm it, pat your face and gently massage it onto face and neck using upward-sweeping strokes and circular movements. Beauty editor tip: Use any face oil left on your hands to smooth split ends, ragged cuticles and dry nails, too.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Ulta Beauty (2)
8. Fix: Scrubs that make over dry, dull skin
This is the fix for clogged pores around the T-zone and dull skin. Switch from your usual daily cleanser to an exfoliating cleanser or scrub on a weekly or bimonthly basis (depending on your skin sensitivity). Although there are plenty of AHA-enhanced formulas, you will have more control by using a purely manual polisher like Versed Day Maker Microcrystal Exfoliator ($18, target.com), Mario Badescu Botanical Exfoliating Scrub ($26, ulta.com) or Clarins Comfort Scrub ($27, ulta.com). The goal here is to buff away dead cells on the surface of the skin so fresh healthy cells and smoother, healthier skin beneath emerge. Warning: Be gentle, not aggressive. Mature skin is thin and vulnerable.
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PHOTO BY: Sephora; Ulta Beauty; Target
9. Fix: Targeted solutions for brown spots and blemishes
Brown spots (also known as hyperpigmentation) are caused by conditions from hormones to sun damage, while adult breakouts can flare up for reasons from stress to genetics to hormone upheavals (another menopause gift!). There are plenty of AHA- and BHA-laced correctors for brown spots but those with a combo of vitamin C and botanicals, like Burt's Bees Dark Spot Corrector ($15, target.com) with vitamin C and bakuchiol — a plant-based alternative to retinol — or Kiehl's Since 1851 Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution ($32, nordstrom.com) with vitamin C and peony extract, require no juggling of additives. For the occasional pimple or two try a new-for-us solution — pretreated undetectable patches to apply day or night, like Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Invisible Dots ($32, ulta.com) with 0.5% salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid.
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PHOTO BY: zoranm/E+/Getty Images
10. Fix: Learning what to apply, when and how
Sometimes the ultimate fix is knowing what to use and when and what to mix and not to mix. Some popular and proven ingredients play well with others, some don't. Here's the best plan:
Use vitamin C in the morning, retinol at night. Don't layer or mix them. C protects skin from UV rays and thrives in the daytime, retinol makes skin sun sensitive and works best at night to rebuild and repair. Though some retinol products are designed for day, use retinol at night when your skin is at rest, free of sunscreen and makeup and not fighting off UV rays.
Mix retinol with hyaluronic acid and an SPF. Retinol works best when supported by moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides (in the product or separately) and requires use of a sunscreen for day to reduce the sun sensitivity it does cause. No big deal since sunscreen is essential anyway, right?
Choose retinol or an AHA/HA product or an exfoliating scrub — never more than one of these on the same day. Try alternate days. For example, if you use a salicylic blemish buster, a polishing scrub and a retinol night cream, skip the retinol on days you do the salicylic acid patches and avoid both of these on the day you do the scrub. Since all rev up cell turnover, a double or triple(!) dose could be potentially extremely irritating and drying. Balance all these ingredients with moisturizing cleansers, serums and creams, of course.