I’m a dermatologist—an expert in everything skin, hair and nails. So why do I have heart palpitations when I walk down the skin care aisle at CVS? Is it just me, or has there been an explosion of new beauty products lately? Often times it’s impossible to really know how well a certain product does what it says it will do and where it’ll fit within your skin care regimen. Cosmeceuticals (over the counter cosmetic skin care products) are not really regulated (they don’t need to be) and they don’t have to show us their efficacy studies or how well a certain ingredient in their formulation penetrates the skin, or how active their ingredients are.
Most dermatologists feel like there are certain categories of products that are important. These are the skin care pillars, if you will: Retinoids, Antioxidants, Growth Factors, Peptides, Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids (think glycolic or salicylic acid)-oh, and of course sunscreen. You don’t have to use them all at once (but if you’d like to, you can). You can rotate them around or find your favorite two and stick with them until the next best product comes out that you want to try. You can use one in cleanser form, one in serum form, the other in moisturizer form. Confusing, right? I tell most of my patients to take at least these steps: cleanse, apply a treatment product (like an antioxidant, retinoid, or growth factor product), moisturize, sunscreen, makeup. Repeat this skin care regime at night, just skip the last two. I am going to go out on a limb and tell you some of the beauty products that I like (and that I use). They have good science behind them and some actually have published studies in dermatology literature.
Retinoids: If you can’t make it to your dermatologist to get a prescription strength retinoid or have “been there, done that” and feel like you can’t tolerate one of these formulations, you may want to try SkinMedica’s Tri-Retinol Complex or Tri-Retinol Complex ES. The easiest thing to do when shopping for a retinoid is to look for the word “retinol.” Some are stronger than others, but you will still get some benefits even with the lower-concentration products. Retinol is everywhere, but some common lower-priced products are Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin, Roc Retinol, and Affirm creams. You can’t forget to moisturize when using these products, either on top, over it, or mixed with it. Use these products at night. Bottom line: retinol works. Give it a few months. Your skin will look better and more even-toned, and your fine lines should look less noticeable.
Antioxidants: My patients seem to love SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF. I use it myself to fight my battle with the freckles on my arms and hands every day-it’s thin, easy to spread and a little goes a long way. I also like SkinMedica’s Vitamin C+E Complex—it’s soft and velvety. Vitamin C is confusing and hard to formulate—there’s an ongoing debate as to which form is the most stable, which form gets to where it needs to go to improve your skin, and which form actually works the best. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure this out. But, we do know when vitamin C works, it works. Period. It stimulates collagen, minimizing lines and wrinkles. It also lightens dark spots and protects you from the sun. Other brands that I think are good (not just for antioxidants) are PCA and DCL. Other good antioxidant products are Replenix Power of Three Serum or Cream and Replenix CF serum or CF cream, both of which have green tea, and RevaleSkin, which utilizes CoffeeBerry. We generally say to use these products in the morning to help prevent free radical damage you’ll encounter throughout the day.
Growth Factors: There really is no comparison. If you want to go there, you must go with SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum (or any of their TNS products—they have growth factors, just in lower concentrations). The science behind it is there. The best part about this anti-aging product is that it also has antioxidants, peptides, lightening agents all mixed in. A well-respected dermatologist stands behind it. It’s pricey and I’m sorry, but it’s amazing.
Peptides: Think copper peptide or pentapeptides. I have a little trouble with this one because I am just not so sure that the science is as compelling as some of the other things I mentioned. We do know that peptides increase collagen production, which improves elasticity and decreases fine lines and wrinkles. Olay Regenerist is probably the most popular pentapeptide product, and my patients really seem to like it. To that point, if you find a skin care product that you love and it is doing the job, stick to it (and let me know).
Alpha & Beta Hydroxy Acids: This is an easy one to do because they don’t have to be expensive and really do a nice job of exfoliating your skin. Absolutely essential for helping to remove the layers of dead skin that build up as we get older. You know what I mean! Your skin looks dull, your make up doesn’t go on as well, or those crow’s feet look more noticeable than usual? It’s time for a little help. Glytone makes great glycolic acid-based products. Other brands that come to mind are MD Forte and NeoStrata. Some brands are trending toward malic and mandelic acids, also alpha hydroxy acids. Salicylic acid is a good choice if you have acne prone skin. Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads are a favorite and cleansers like Glytone Acne Cleanser or DDF Salicylic Wash 2% are good ones to try.
Sunscreen: A must! I wouldn’t be a dermatologist if I didn’t go there. Don’t undo all the money you spent and all the progress you made with your products by skipping sunscreen. There are SO many great ones out there now. You can’t use the excuse of it being sticky or too white anymore. Apply it every day to your face, neck, décolleté, forearms and hands. Just make it part of your daily routine. If you are getting burnt despite your sunscreen, buy another brand or use a thicker layer. And look for the following ingredients: avobenzone, mexoryl, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (or a combination of them) in high concentrations. I have “sunscreens of the moment” so I rotate a lot. One tube shouldn’t last you very long, and if it does, you are not using it properly. At this moment, I am loving SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30 (it’s moisturizing on my dry skin) and their new tinted Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF50, which gives a bit more of a matte finish (great for reapplication or for more oily skin). But I also really like Epionce (paraben-free, I like all their products), La Roche-Posay (their sunscreens all have either mexoryl or stable avobenzone combined with antioxidant goodies), Glycolix Elite Sunscreen SPF 30 (with 17% micronized zinc oxide—wow!), and Replenix CF SPF 45 which has avobenzone, micronized zinc oxide and green tea. Blue Lizard is my favorite for kids or for a day at the beach. The list goes on and on but I should stop for now.
One category that may be important in the future is DNA-repairing enzyme products. Two options that I know of are Neova DNA Damage Control sunscreen and the DNA EGF Renewal line by Dr. Ronald Moy. I think this may be the start of something good. Stay tuned.
To recap: there are a ton of skin care products out there. Just know that you should be doing more than simply washing your face and putting on a moisturizer when you feel dry. Now if you’ll excuse me, my husband is trying to take my three-year-old daughter to the park without sunscreen. Somebody help me.