When looking for products to keep the skin healthy and youthful, it can be overwhelming with the various cleansers, serums and creams that are out on the market. Although there are thousands of different products to choose from, I explain to my patients that there are specific ingredients that I find to truly be helpful to the skin. Brands do not matter as much as the specific ingredients. Although with more reputable brands, I trust that the active ingredients are more stable and therefore, more efficacious.
Sunscreen is the most important aspect of protecting the skin. Chronic sun exposure not only increases the risk of skin cancer but significantly ages the skin as well. I recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF 30 although studies have shown with real-world use, the higher the SPF, including those that are SPF 100+, the better the protection. This should be worn at least once daily on the face, neck, chest and hands (areas that are constantly exposed). If you plan to be outdoors for more than an hour, sunscreen should be reapplied every 1-2 hours as the sunscreen starts breaking down over time especially with sweat and water exposure. With sunscreens, specific brands do not matter; it’s the SPF that matters. However, with nicer brands, the feel of the sunscreen may be more elegant and therefore, more pleasant to apply to the skin.
Topical retinoids help with skin cell turnover. As the skin ages, dead skin does not readily fall off as new skin comes in, leaving the skin dull. Topical retinoids help regulate this process so that over time, the skin looks brighter and more youthful. They can also help with fine lines. Prescription topical retinoids are much more active but can also be more irritating and drying. If the skin can tolerate the prescription topical retinoids, I would recommend using these. However, if the skin is very sensitive, then a less active retinoid would be recommended such as retinols that can be purchased over-the-counter.
Glycolic acids are helpful for brightening the skin and evening out skin tone. Glycolic acid can be found in over-the-counter cleansers and creams. I would recommend using a product that has at least about 5% and above. The higher the percentage, the better the results, but can also cause more stinging and irritation.
Topical vitamin C is an important collagen stimulator as well as a powerful antioxidant. Sunlight and environmental pollutants cause free radicals in the skin which can accelerate aging of the skin. Topical vitamin C (10% of higher) should be used every morning to protect against these free radicals.
Hydroquinone is helpful for evening out skin tone, lightening freckling caused by the sun or brown pigmentation left after acne. Although there are over-the-counter formulations of hydroquinone, they are not very powerful, so I would recommend using a prescription strength one of 4% or 8%. Many dermatologists work with compounding pharmacies to make bleaching creams with hydroquinone 8% with a retinoid to allow the bleaching cream to go in deeper into the skin but will also have all the benefits of retinoids.
There are so many topical products in the market to maintain youthful skin and improve aged skin. It is overwhelming to know which products are truly helpful and which ones you are wasting your time and money on. When looking for helpful products, first determine what you are trying to achieve with your products and then decide which ingredients will help to achieve those goals. If you are still unsure, visit your dermatologist who can help create a skincare regimen catered to your skin.