Everyone knows their skincare routine needs to include a face wash, sunscreen, and moisturizer. Those are just the basics. But things get a bit more complicated after that, and most everyone seems to be overwhelmed and confused by the growing number of options for anti-aging skincare products.
2019 seems to have been the year where skincare routines went insane – jumping from maybe 3 steps up to 8, 12, even 20-step systems meant to create “glass skin” so perfect that you never need to wear foundation. But if you’re feeling confused about the differences between an essence, a toner, and a serum, you’re not alone.
Reflections Center is making it easy and breaking down the 4 anti-aging ingredients everyone’s skincare routine should include, as well as how to purchase and use products so that they’re not canceling out each other’s effects.
TL;DR? Follow this simple routine morning and night to prevent aging and improve minor imperfections, like dark spots, sun damage, minor breakouts, and fine lines.
Step 1: Cleanse: make sure you’re removing all residue of the products from the night before. You can sometimes magnify chemical exfoliants’ power by exposing them to UV light, so you really want to make sure you’re not accidentally wearing it out into the sun the next day. Generally, you want to go with a gentle wash that doesn’t strip your face. If you’re using a more powerful cleanser that also treats or exfoliates the skin, you’ll want to save that for the evening and use something gentler here. Cetaphil and Neutrogena make well-respected gentle cleansers that can be found at the drug store.
Step 2: Moisturize: Moisturizers range in thickness and type (how they moisturize). Most people do best with an oil-free lotion-based moisturizer. If you are breaking out, try for a lighter, less occlusive moisturizer. If your skin feels tight or itchy, move towards a thicker or oil-based moisturizer.
Step 3: Protect with SPF: Consistently and effectively preventing sun-damage is the most impactful anti-aging choice you can make for yourself. Sun damage accounts for 80% of visible aging (wrinkles, dark spots, you name it!). The problem here is that most people hate the feeling of sunscreen on their skin, and the ones that feel okay are lower SPF (15-30), so you’ll need to reapply those throughout the day, which is pretty impractical for most people. Luckily, a lot has changed in sunscreen in the past 2 years.
Here are some to consider:
Neova’s DNA Damage goes on silky, not oily. This waterproof one is surprisingly good at lasting through a long run or swim, and still isn’t greasy. It does contain some antioxidants, too, which are a good idea to include in the morning, since most antioxidants are only active for about 8-12 hours, meaning the ones you put on last night are 1. washed off by now, and 2. not really effective after this long anyway.
Super Goop’s Makeup Setting Spray with SPF will not only set your makeup with an SPF of 50, but is easy to refresh throughout the day, even with a full face of makeup.
EltaMD’s Sensitive Skin Classic SPF has rightfully earned itself a cult following of people with the most sensitive skin, like rosacea and cystic acne-sufferers. If sunscreen has every made your skin feel like it was burning, this is one to try.
It should be noted your night-time routine doesn’t have to be the last thing you do before you go to bed, it just needs to be done after you’re done being outdoors and exposed to UV light for the day. That could easily be after your workout and before dinner.
Step 1: Cleanse: If you’re wearing makeup, consider a double-cleanse with makeup remover followed by face wash. If you’re going to use a double-duty product that both cleanses and exfoliates, like the AHA/BHA cleanser from SkinMedica, we suggest you use that at night.
Step 2: Exfoliate: We prefer Retinols as your exfoliant because these are the only products that have ever been shown to actually turn back the age of skin on a cellular level. If you’re not going to use retinol, you can use another chemical exfoliant, like glycolic acid, or the AHA/BHA cleanser we mentioned above. Some patients will use an retinol on some nights and exfoliants on others. You likely don’t want to do both on the same night. More on retinols below, this is one of the 4 ingredients we do recommend you invest in and add to any anti-aging skincare routine.
Step 3: Treat & Nourish: So after you’ve exfoliated the dead skin away, and after the retinols are already talking to your skin cells and encouraging them to turn over, you’re going to want to provide your skin with some nutrients to help it build those new cells, and also, the skin is most open and receptive to any treatments you want to provide, at this time. So without getting into the nitty-gritty (because that’s what you’ll find below), we recommend everyone make use of antioxidants, peptides, and growth factors*, and the TNS Essentials Serum contains all of those, in a stable and effective solution.
Step 4: Moisturize: lock it all in with a moisturizer
Retinol is Vitamin A and is a retinoid. Most patients will want to start off with an over-the-counter retinol product and then work their way up slowly to a prescription-strength, as they age. You will find retinoids in a variety of strengths. Start slowly with a lower strength used only 1-2 times a week. Work your way up to using that lower strength every day before you upgrade to a stronger strength. By the time you’re in your 40’s, if not earlier, you’ll probably want to be using a prescription-strength retinol, and then your dermatologist or cosmetic physician can help you move up in strength as appropriate.
The exception here is anyone who suffers from acne break-outs because retinol can do double-duty by helping to clear up acne as well as anti-aging. Those who go this route in treating acne will need to see a physician for prescribing and monitoring, and will be given specific instructions on how to use their treatments.
Retin-A is the brand name for a prescription-strength version of Retinol., but it’s not your only option. There are many prescription-strength retinoids, including:
- Tretinoin (available as a generic Rx but also known by brand names Retin-A, Renova)
- Tazarotene (Tazorac)
- Isotretinoin (aka Accutane)
If you’re just starting out with Retinols, we recommend you try either a 0.25 or 0.50 retinol. The 1.0 strength of retinol is the strongest non-prescription-strength retinol available, so you’ll want to work your way up to and out of that strength before seeking a prescription, just so you’re not wasting your money, as the prescriptions are generally much more expensive and not often covered by insurance.
TNS Essentials Serum happens to contain all of the next 3 ingredients, and it’s the first time we’ve seen a product actually contain all 3 of these, in a way that is shelf-stable and effective. They use a special 2 compartment container to separate out the parts of this product that would normally neutralize one another. We like to joke that this product almost makes it too easy to get our patients to actually do all the steps we’d like them to for their anti-aging skincare routine. That having been said, whatever products get you to be consistent in your routine (and don’t irritate or damage your skin), those are the best products for you.
Peptides don’t get as much buzz in skincare as they really should. These potent protein helpers can smooth away fine lines, reduce pore size, and increase collagen production. Since we all know building new collagen is the key to younger-looking skin, it makes sense why including peptides in your routine is a key component of our recommendations for anti-aging.
Peptides have difficulty penetrating the skin that’s not well-exfoliated, so if you’re not using the 3-in-1 product we mentioned above, we do recommend you do this first, before your growth factors and antioxidants. Peptides also don’t do well when mixed with Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), also known as glycolic acid. Since AHA is water-based and tends not to penetrate the skin deeply, you can simply make sure you’re really getting all of that off with water before using your peptides.
Antioxidants are an important part of your skincare routine because we are exposed to so many things that cause free radical damage, like the sun, dust, smoke, and other pollutants. These free radicals create damage in the form of:
- collagen damage that weakens the skin, and eventually leads to wrinkles
- dark spots and brown spots
- broken capillaries and redness
Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals before they can cause that damage. So think of these as proactive protection.
Antioxidants do have a short half-life, meaning most lose their potency around 8-12 hours after being applied. So while applying them once a night in your TNS serum is good, applying them twice a day by including one in your sunscreen step is a really good idea, too. We are big fans of products that do double or even triple-duty, because it makes getting all of these steps in easier, and since skincare results are really about being consistent, anything you can do that makes it easier to get it done every day, is a big win. Neova was the first company to mix antioxidants in their sunscreen, and we linked to one of their products above, but this is a trend we’re seeing in more and more brands now, so you do have options.
*While growth factors are really helpful for almost everyone, there is one kind of patient who really doesn’t want to use growth factors on their skin, and that’s people who have precancerous or cancerous skin cells, like actinic keratosis (AK). You should be seeing a dermatologist yearly for a skin check to determine whether you have precancerous skin cells.
Growth Factors are the building blocks of healthy, youthful skin. As we age, our bodies naturally make fewer of these, so supplementing them can be helpful.
Stem Cell Activators are brand new to the market, and they work differently. Our brain automatically sends out signals, on regular intervals, to our basal stem cells deep within our skin, to tell them it’s time for certain cells to be replaced with new ones. Think of this as regular decommissioning and maintenance work. As we age, the intervals between those signals get further and further apart. By introducing more of that chemical signal into the skin, we can get those basal stem cells to decommission and replace our skin cells sooner. That means we’re getting your body to build its own new cells, and that’s effectively younger skin.
Now you probably do want to supplement with the growth factors to build new cells when you’re using a stem cell activator product, because if you don’t have the materials to build new cells and you’re just killing off old ones, that’s not going to get you the results you want. But you don’t necessarily need to up the turnover rate with these stem cell activators just because you’re using growth factors. Remember we are also exfoliating, which removes the dead cells faster, and that will naturally get your body to respond by building some new cells.
Our favorite growth factor product line is by SkinMedica, and it’s the TNS line. Beyond the essentials serum, they do offer special formulations for eyes, post-procedure, and other needs.
Our favorite stem cell activator line is made by Defanage. This is a new technology, and this is really the only product on the market that has good science behind it – and the studies of this product really blew us away. Defanage’s 8-in-1 serum is expensive but well worth it, especially for those in their 50’s and beyond. You can purchase this product at our offices, or through the link. Dr. Wix-Harris actually made a whole video just about this new technology, if you’d like to learn more.
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