Ever wonder what skin care products you’d find in your dermatologist’s medicine cabinet? I asked five board-certified women doctors our age what they use daily for a healthy, glowing complexion. The answers were a surprising mix, from easy breezy practical to a complex layered regimen. Some of the products are out-of-the-ballpark pricey, others are professional brands you’ve probably never heard of and a few are familiar drugstore picks. What’s the takeaway? Aside from giving us the voyeuristic thrill of sneaking a peek at some of their favorites (sorry, readers, space limitations mean not room for all), the dermatologists dished some insider tips.
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Many dermatologists often use professional-grade skin care products sold at medi-spas, in dermatology offices or on specialized sites rather than the usual mainstream stuff. However, let’s be clear. They are doctors and know what they’re doing. Since many of these products have higher percentages of active ingredients ask your own dermatologist if they are suitable for you. That said, the team provided plenty of useful tips. Take a look:
1. Personalize your skin routine for your skin.
Make a plan for your skin — not your best friend’s or sister’s complexion or what a celebrity over 50 says works for her. “Everyone’s skin and situation is different, so there’s not one specific product that will work for all,” says Lupenko. “You may have more or less sun damage and varying degrees of issues like brown spots, lines and wrinkles, skin that sags, a medical concern such as rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis or a sensitivity problem like eczema.” Be sure your routine addresses your skin and its current state.
2. Respect your skin’s sensitivity level.
Lots of women find their skin more prone to redness and irritation at 50. Some common ingredients like fragrance, alcohol and essential oils may be off-limits. Others — even those proven to improve sun damage and wrinkles — like retinol, alpha hydroxy acids and chemical sunscreens may not work for you either. Know what triggers your sensitivity and skip it no matter how amazing the claims. “I have delicate, sensitive skin so for me less is more,” says Jaliman. “I can’t use some of the more aggressive products others can, such as retinol, and stick to formulas with peptides, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants.”
3. Use gentle, hydrating soap-free cleansers.
Most of the dermatologists start their morning and evening routines with a moisturizing cleanser and ignore scrubs, polishing brushes, exfoliating tools and sponges. Cleansers with a mild creamy formula and micellar water top their checklists. Jaliman even double cleanses with both at night. “I apply a cleanser formulated with hyaluronic acid, glycerin and aloe on a cotton pad for gentle exfoliation and follow it with soothing micellar water — which has a pH of 5.5 just like skin — to take off any remnants of makeup,” she says.
4. Sunscreen is an everyday must, rain or shine.
Every one of the dermatologists applies sunscreen religiously and all prefer mineral sunscreens, though brands and price vary. Lupenko suggests we “try broad-spectrum baby sunscreens like Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection, Eucerin Baby Sensitive Mineral and Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Mineral. Baby formulations are terrific for all ages — just marketed differently.” But don’t stop there. Lewis reminds that we “make sure to include ears, lips and hairline in sun protection.” Marmur layers her SPF. “I double up with SPF in makeup and a mineral sunscreen,” she explains. While Jaliman always wears “a hat with UPF 50+ and UV 400 glasses for 100 percent sun protection, in addition to sunscreen.”
5. Update your moisturizer as needed.
The expiration date on the tube or jar always means time’s up. However, that’s not the only reason to buy new. Mature skin continues to change as we age. Your face at 52 may be drier, more pigmented or wrinkled than it was last year at 51. It may be more prone to redness or more sensitive to things like fragrance. Adjust your moisturizer (and all skin products) accordingly. And a reminder from Lupenko: Don’t give up too quickly. “Keep in mind that many products take two or three months to start to work and six months to see a good improvement, so be patient!”
6. Let serums amplify your benefits.
Serums have become the new normal, kind of like styling products for hair. You can get away without one, but adding one will give better results. All of the dermatologists use at least one serum in their regimens under day and night creams and Cheung uses a startling four (you can layer them). Choose according to your skin’s individual needs but know each serum delivers a highly concentrated, potent dose of its active ingredient. You may want a vitamin C serum for extra brightening; a hyaluronic acid serum for an extra moisture boost; a peptide or retinol serum for wrinkle-smoothing; or an antioxidant complex to counteract dullness and discolorations. And, yes, you still need a moisturizer on top!
7. Exfoliate, but gently.
While dermatologists often rely on in-office resurfacing procedures like microdermabrasion, “lunchtime” peels or lasers, they also practice gentle at-home exfoliation. The key word here is gentle. Exfoliation — whether chemical or manual — gets rid of dead cells that linger on your skin’s surface, de-clogs pores, restores a healthy glow and helps topical creams and serums work more effectively. A little is great; too much is not. “Mature skin tends to be estrogen-deficient, making it more prone to irritation, dryness and a dull look,” says Cheung. “Use of chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids and retinol can help reveal fresher skin … just don’t overdo it!” She’s not kidding. Once a week for an exfoliating mask is enough for non-pros and if you’re using retinol at night that’s your built-in buffing system right there.
8. Look for proven ingredients.
Despite the price, brand or level of product potency, dermatologists depend on the same ingredients we do to restore a smoother texture, improve our glow and boost collagen so our faces look firmer and fresher. Their favorites include collagen boosters like retinol for those who tolerate it or peptides for those who can’t; hyaluronic acid and glycerin to enhance moisture; vitamin C to lighten discolorations; niacinamide and aloe to calm and soothe; antioxidants to prevent and reverse free radical damage; and ceramides or vitamin E to protect the barrier layer of the skin and lock moisture in.
9. Use a separate eye cream.
Skin care experts deal with the same eye area issues we do by always using a specific product (not your face cream) to counteract puffiness, dark under-eye circles, fine lines and crow’s feet. Choose an eye cream or gel with targeted ingredients. Look for vitamin C to brighten; peptides to smooth lines and crow’s feet; hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump dry crepey skin; caffeine to reduce puffiness. And if you wear eye makeup daily, borrow Marmur’s nighttime removal tip: “I use a shake-it style eye makeup remover (never wipes!) on the delicate eye area and rinse with a supersoft baby washcloth and follow up by using a damp Beautyblender sponge to remove any leftover mascara without pulling the eyelid skin.”
10. Get enough sleep and exercise.
These two freebies are on the doctors’ lists as daily skin boosters. “I try to sleep at least seven hours, wake up before 6 a.m. and do cardio and light weights for 30 to 60 minutes before work because sweat is the best cleanser and endorphins the best radiance booster,” says Marmur. Need more encouragement? Lewis notes that sleep and exercise are key to improving our complexions “since it increases blood flow to the face.”
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.