A comprehensive, effective anti-aging skin care routine is an investment, which means we don't just want to impulse purchase buzzy new products without doing our due diligence. And I think I can speak for all of us when I say there's an overwhelming amount of cleansers, toners, serums, treatments, lotions, and potions to choose from out there. So before I committed to anything, I decided to consult a few specialists.
The first thing that Doctor Dendy Engelman, MD, told me, is that there's really no such thing as being "too young" to prevent and target premature signs of aging (e.g., pigmentation, fine lines around the eyes, and dulling skin). In fact, she said to start "as soon as possible, even if your anti-aging regimen is as simple as a cleanser and sunscreen."
Since I had those two covered pretty well, I asked her and two other specialists—Michele Henry, MD, and Shani Darden, licensed esthetician—about branching out and she helped me figure out which steps were most essential to an anti-aging skin care routine. So, if you're looking to start, expand, or streamline your anti-aging skincare routine, read through the essential practices and steps, plus product recommendations.
Morning and Night Step 1: Cleanser
Washing your face once isn't enough. "Double-cleanse," Engelman advises, also suggesting, "Stick with a gentle cleanser that will not strip your skin of natural oils and leave you more dehydrated than before."
I love this oil-based cleanser, which has a soft, silky texture and amazing fragrance. It never dries me out and always removed my makeup effectively. I have combination skin, so when during the more humid months, I prefer something that foams up (like this clarifying option by Zelens).
Morning and Night Step 2: Toner
Right after cleanser comes toner. "Toner is a necessary step for those who tend to have skin that is on the oily side, or if you are acne-prone," Henry tells me. Engelman recommends something like Biologique Recherche P50 1970, which exfoliates and tones the skin with phenol and salicylic acid.
Morning Step 3: Serum
Next up? Serum. Darden says a vitamin C formula is best. "Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your skin from sun damage and free radicals," she says. "I like to follow up with an oil-free sunscreen that hydrates but does not clog your pores."
Sunday Riley's has been my go-to serum during my daytime routine. It's infused with 15% THD ascorbate, also known as vitamin C, and it's designed to help even out and brighten your complexion.
Morning Step 4: Facial Oil
If you have super-dry skin, consider applying a drop of this facial oil before you put on your moisturizer for the day. It helps rebuild elasticity and firmness while keeping your skin hydrated all day long.
Morning Step 5: Moisturizer
Packed with probiotics and antioxidants, this moisturizer is specifically designed to help with aging concerns. Aside from being effective, the texture is amazing: silky, smooth, and ultra light.
Morning Step 6: SPF
Since the sun is the biggest culprit of premature aging, SPF is the most important step in an anti-aging skincare routine. "Sun exposure depletes the collagen in your skin and can cause issues with pigmentation," Darden explains.
I've been using this one for years, and I never want to switch! It smells incredible, doesn't make me feel or look greasy, and gets the job done. Of course, if chemical formulas aren't your preference, there are other options.
"For those concerned about chemical sunscreens, look for products that do not contain oxybenzone," Engelman suggests.
Night Step 3 (Weekly): Face Mask
Personally, I prefer to do face masks on a quiet night in, though you can also do one in the morning after you've double-cleansed.
"Masks work to hydrate and strengthen the skin barrier," Darden explains. "Full of peptides, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid, they support collagen production which can smooth line lines and wrinkles. I like Elizabeth Arden Probiotic Mask once a week."
Night Step 4: Retinol
Aside from sunscreen, Darden says, retinol is the most important step in an anti-aging routine. "Retinol works hard to prevent new wrinkles from forming, as well smooth out any fine lines that you may already have. It will also help to decrease pigmentation by cellular turnover," she explains.
I apply this facial oil before I moisturize and definitely noticed a difference in my complexion and skin texture within three weeks of using it. It's specifically formulated to trigger collagen and elastin production.
Night Step 5: Serum
AHAs such as glycolic acid are great for exfoliations, says Engelman. While I do use this Drunk Elephant mask once a week and this AHA night serum daily, I also love this lactic acid option because it hydrates my skin while also brightening it. I use it every few nights on top of my Luna sleeping oil and under my moisturizer.
Night Step 6: Moisturizer
Ingredients such as peptides and ceramides are crucial, Engelman tells me, because they "reinforce the integrity of the skin."
I swear by this cream, which the brand describes as being "like adding a shot of protein to your smoothie" because it's so abundant in nutrients and active ingredients. It's formulated to trigger more collagen production, so if you want to use a moisturizer specifically designed to target aging concerns, this is it.
Night Step 7: Eye Treatment
Eye cream is an absolute must, Engelman reminds us. "The skin around the eyes is 40% thinner than the rest of the face and therefore needs a little extra attention," she says.
"I will use an eye cream after this to brighten and hydrate the under eye area," echoes Darden. "It's important to keep your under-eyes hydrated because this is what helps to make wrinkles less noticeable and keep the skin firm and plump! If you need extra hydration, you can add a hyaluronic acid serum before your moisturizer."
Personally, I love Drunk Elephant's antioxidant-rich cream because it instantly delivers hydration to my eye area. While most other eye creams I've used have made me feel puffier in the morning, this one doesn't at all.
The Weekly Extra: Derma Rolling
This skincare device has been getting a lot of attention lately. If you aren't familiar with at-home derma-rolling, here's a quick run-through. It's basically a device that you roll over the surface of your skin to make sure your product is penetrating deep enough to actually work. Basically, the little needles and red light therapy open up your skin (which also puts sets it off into collagen production overdrive).
Though it's effective for better product penetration, Henry warns against misuse. "Used incorrectly," she says, "it can cause problems with pigmentation, especially with women of color."
The Daily Extra: Supplements
Last but not least, adding a supplement to your morning or night routine can make a huge difference.
"Oral supplements can help to support the body's natural production through being absorbed through the bloodstream, supporting underlying layers first," explains Engelman. "The idea is that the hyaluronic acid is absorbed into the bloodstream, which reaches the foundational layers of the skin providing moisture and supporting skin and joint health. I like pills and powders (Reserveage Nutrition Collagen Replenish) because they are easy to incorporate no matter what your lifestyle."
For more age-specific anti-aging routines, check out our breakdown.
This post was originally published on June 2, 2018, and has since been updated.