We should think of our skincare routine like we do a wellness regimen: The biggest, most overarching goal is to take care of ourselves and to enjoy long-term benefits. Yes, the short-term victories in these routines are nice, like preventing pimples or pants that fit more comfortably. But it’s those long-term goals that should be the bigger target. And in terms of skincare specifically, that’s where an anti-aging regimen comes into play. Don’t think of it as a way to prevent the inevitable: You can’t look 25 forever. Rather, it’s a way to support your skin’s functions when the body naturally gives way to age.
For example, the skin’s natural collagen levels decrease as we age, specifically in our late 20s and into our 30s. It’s the loss of firmness and resilience that leads to wrinkles and fine lines. The delicate skin around the eyes — already much thinner than anywhere else on the body — almost becomes translucent. You can see the blood vessels behind them more easily (the dreaded dark circles), and the fat deposits under the eyes droop down when we’re tired or dehydrated. An anti-aging regimen can help counter these effects.
The right regimen can also prevent and reduce discoloration, acne and dark spots/scarring, rough texture, and hyperpigmentation. Some products can even reverse the impact of these things on the skin.
All of these things fall under the umbrella term “photoaging”. That is to say, they are the visible effects of aging, which themselves can be accelerated by a lack of any regimen, as well as poor habits that don’t support skin health. If you want to take charge of your appearance — and to look 30 at age 35 or look 40 at age 50, then it’s not too late. We can’t promise you’ll look 25 again, but we can promise that your friends will notice a significant change — no botox or fillers required.
1. SPF moisturizer on the daily
Since moisturizer is a baseline skincare product, it’s best if you pick up one with SPF 30+. Consider this simple addition of sunscreen in a skincare step you’re already taking: It blocks the vast majority of the sun’s UV rays, which themselves are responsible for much of the accelerated aging our skin experiences. It might feel weird applying sunscreen over top of your moisturizer — especially in colder months when UV rays are very much still present — which is also why it’s great to combine SPF and hydrating into one step. Plus, most SPFs can also help bounce the negative, dulling impact of blue-light devices on our skin, which we’re learning is another defense we need these days.
2. Daytime serums
One of the ways to elevate your regimen is with a proactive daytime serum. The difference between a serum and moisturizer is that the serums can penetrate into all three layers of your skin, so that they work on a more corrective level, whereas moisturizers hydrate and defend the skin on the outermost layer. So, applying a serum prior to a moisturizer (always prior) is a great way to add essential and hyperactive ingredients to target specific conditions.
In warmer months, a hyaluronic acid serum can pull moisture from the air and retain it in the skin, up to 1,000 times its own weight in water, thus improving its suppleness and firmness. (Avoid it in cold dry months because it will instead extract that moisture from even deeper within the skin since there is no moisture in the air to pull.)
A niacinamide serum (Vitamin B3) can improve the skin’s texture and balance oil labels while reducing inflammation and boosting the skin’s barrier defense functions. A Vitamin C serum can brighten dark spots and help skin look radiant.
In short, any and all of these things help skin to stay smooth, even, and firm in the short term — which is terrific in and of itself. But by maintaining a habit with them (akin to daily fitness), you prevent wrinkling and textural inconsistencies in the long term.
3. Nighttime "treatments"
At night, you want to put your skin through a bit of a workout. You’ll target it with specific ingredients (just as you do with a daytime serum), but these ones might be a little more aggressive on the skin, and a good night’s sleep will help magnify the benefits while also giving skin the time to recover from any harshness.
This is when you’ll want to deploy a corrective serum, with ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, like glycolic or lactic acid) to lift dead skin cells off the surface of the skin, as well as beta hydroxy acid (BHAs, namely salicylic acid), to seep into the pores and dissolve trapped cells and sebum buildup. All of them help promote accelerated cellular turnover, which ensures that you always sport your brightest, smoothest, healthiest skin cells. Some formulas even combine AHAs and BHAs into a gentle "peel" product that promises to surface only your best, brightest skin.
However, nightly use of these ingredients isn’t always encouraged. That’s why it can be good to cycle in a prescription retinol (tretinoin) or an OTC lower-grade retinol on altering nights. This Vitamin A derivative helps reduce the appearance of pores, prevents and fights acne, and even reverses fine lines and wrinkles — a true miracle drug. Talk to your dermatologist about the best way to incorporate retinol into your regimen.
It’s always good to cap a nighttime regimen with a proactive night cream, too, to help prevent moisture loss while you sleep. This can be a denser one than your daytime pick (and sans SPF, since you’re just sleeping in the dark). That more concentrated formula also helps to pump a bunch of vitamins and nutrients into the skin, to ensure you wake up looking refreshed.
4. Dedicated eye creams
Eye creams are formulated for that ultra-thin, sensitive area around the eyes, and their highly concentrated recipes help rationalize why they come in such small bottles. (A tiny dab goes a long way.) They tend to combine peptides and caffeine, or similar ingredients, that stir circulation and promote collagen production in the area, thus resulting in firmer skin, and less sagging, puffiness, crow’s feet, and dark circles. You can use them day, night, or both, though the caffeinated formulas are especially recommended for daytime use, to keep your skin looking alert.
5. A device upgrade
One thing the pandemic did for skincare was to bring home high-end facial treatments into the home. While it’s a great idea to go get a facial or laser treatment every month or more, that can also become very expensive and tedious to manage. So, we’re seeing an increase in at-home skincare devices, namely LED therapy masks and treatments that kill acne-causing bacteria, stimulate collagen production, and expedite the repair of muscle and skin tissue. It’s a terrific way to keep skin looking firm and clear, minus any inflammation.
These can put your skin through a lot in one 10-12-minute session, however, so you also want to do them in between days you use high-grade treatments like retinol or salicylic acid. If you want to rotate all three, you can do so, but don’t do them all on the same day, or after high amounts of sun exposure.
6. A healthy lifestyle
It might seem obvious, but your skin is indeed a reflection of your overall health. By getting ample sleep, minimizing added sugars and processed foods, quitting smoking and drug use, cutting back or eliminating alcohol, staying hydrated, eating healthy, reducing stress, and exercising regularly, you really do see the results in your skin. Poor habits can significantly dullen, weaken, and clog the skin — and reduce its ability to rebound efficiently each night — so support your skincare regimen with healthy habits across the board. That general focus on wellness will not only benefit your waistline and vitality.