This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Everyone has a skin-care regimen. Some are a little more involved than others, but the goal is basically the same across the board: to nourish, plump, and protect our skin so it looks freaking amazing. The concept is easy, but finding the right products to help get us to that point is another story. It takes a lot of trial and error. And we don’t always have the time, patience, or budgets to experiment like it’s going out of style.
Consider this your shortcut. We chatted with two top dermatologists — Dennis Gross, MD and Jeannette Graf, MD — and asked them the question everyone wants to know: What magic combination of products will produce the best results? Whether you’re dealing with fine lines, dark spots, zits, or dry patches, they’ve got the answers — and now, you do, too.
Some of these recommendations will improve your skin in just 30 days. Others will put you on the right path to a better complexion in 60. But one thing’s for certain — you’ll finally possess a bomb skin-care regimen, with a doctor’s stamp of approval. If that isn’t adulting, we don’t know what is.
Both Dr. Gross and Dr. Graf agree that foaming cleansers are the best for problem skin. “They tend to be more pore cleansing and offer a bit more oil control,” Dr. Gross says. Plus, they can (and should) be used in the morning and at night.
Dr. Graf suggests Benzac for people looking to clear up their skin. “It has benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid,” she says. That’s the one-two punch that both kills and prevents acne-causing bacteria. Plus, if you buy it as part of a kit, it also comes with a spot treatment, so you can really zero in on zits.
Benzac Acne Solutions Skin Balancing Foaming Cleanser, $8.22, available at Walmart.
Exfoliation is the key to getting rid of zits. “The first step in the formation of a breakout is a blocked pore,” says Dr. Gross. “Exfoliation helps remove the debris that is responsible for the blockage.” The downside? Manual exfoliation can rub zits the wrong way, making them redder and more inflamed.
That’s why a daily peel is all upside. Dr. Gross’ Alpha Beta Peel is a potent acne fighter with a “soothing, antiseptic,” side, he says. The presoaked pads calm skin while whisking away debris. Use one every night, post-cleansing.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, $84, available at Nordstrom.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a zillion times: Retinols are not just for anti-aging. Dr. Graf recommends using one daily to help kick acne to the curb. But, instead of grabbing a bottle of the ingredient in its pure, aggressive form, she suggests applying a moisturizer containing retinol to cushion touchy, sensitive skin. Use it at night after your cleanser and mini-peel.
Philosophy Miracle Worker Anti-Aging Moisturizer, $60, available at QVC.
A lot of acne is caused by sweat — especially around the hairline. That’s why we’re all about witch hazel wipes, which clean and disinfect in a snap. “You can use them to wipe up any sweat that may accumulate throughout the day,” says Dr. Graf. Keeping on top of the issue will help you clear your skin that much faster.
Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Oil Controlling Towelettes, $5.49, available at Walgreens.
If you’re using anti-aging treatments to help fight fine lines and wrinkles, your face wash shouldn’t get in the way of all those active ingredients. “Whenever you use products for anti-aging, you want to keep the skin in balance, “says Dr. Gross. “Your cleanser should be something basic and gentle.”
Clinique Liquid Facial Soap Extra-Mild, $17, available at Sephora.
The three things that Dr. Graf says skin with fine lines needs? “Moisture, retinol, and peptides,” she says. This jar from Olay knocks out two of the three: moisture and peptides. But what exactly is a peptide, and why is it so essential? “Basically, they’re tiny fragments of amino acids,” she says. “They help to smooth out your fine lines from the inside out.”
Dr. Graf suggests using this moisturizer twice a day, but warns that you likely won’t see results in just 30 days. “You should start seeing them in four to six weeks,” she says.
Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Moisturiser, $28.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
As for retinol, Dr. Gross suggests looking for a night cream or night serum that contains the potent anti-ager. “Skin cells regenerate while you sleep,” he says. “Using retinol at night gives your skin’s natural process a boost.” Retinol stimulates collagen production, which helps to plump up and reduce fine lines.
RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, $22.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
Both Dr. Gross and Dr. Graf stress the importance of a daily sunscreen, especially when you’re embarking on an anti-aging regimen. The ingredients used to fight fine lines can make you extra photosensitive, so it’s important to layer on protection. But more than that, UV rays are enemy number one when it comes to aging, so using sunscreen is the best way to turn back the clock. This one from Kiss My Face is packed with antioxidants, which boost the effectiveness of your block, giving you a double-dose of fine line-fighters.
Kiss My Face Face Factor Face And Neck Sunscreen, $11.19, available at Drugstore.com.
Life is complicated — cleansing your face shouldn’t be. If you’re using brighteners to fight hyperpigmentation, Dr. Graff and Dr. Gross say that your wash should be as gentle as possible in order to prevent irritation. So, reach for an old standby that won’t leave things feeling tight.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $14.49, available at Ulta Beauty.
“Vitamin C is really important here,” Dr. Gross says. “You want to interrupt the production of melanin, and a vitamin C serum does just that.” While Dr. Gross says that this serum can be used every day, he suggests that those with deeper skin tones ease in, in order to avoid discoloration. “Start with every other day to see how your skin reacts, and then go from there,” he says.
Dr. Dennis Gross Hydra-Pure Vitamin C Brightening Serum, $95, available at Sephora.
A mini-peel (like this one from Glytone) can help lighten existing spots. “As the pigment travels to the top of the skin, the mini-peel will help exfoliate it so that it’s lighter,” Dr. Graf explains. Another advantage: Like vitamin C, it helps inhibit the production of melanin. Use this guy every night.
Glytone Boost Mini Peel Gel, $60, available at SkinStore.
Sunscreen is, once again, key while using dark spot correctors.
“[Brightening] ingredients make you more sensitive to the sun,” Dr. Graf explains. Women with darker tones should be especially prudent about sunblock, since UV rays can cause some lightening products to bleach skin.
Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen, $19, available at Birchbox.
Step away from the rinse-off cleansers! Even though it sounds counterintuitive, water can actually dry out already flaky skin. “You want to use a cleanser that you can wipe off, not rinse off, to limit the amount of water you’re using on your face,” says Dr. Graf. She suggests micellar water or an oil cleanser for added hydration. Use this at night, and skip cleansing in the morning. A spritz of rosewater toner before your moisturizer is all the hydration you need if your face is dry.
Avène Micellar Lotion Cleanser and Makeup Remover, $20, available at Birchbox.
“The drier your skin, the more dead skin cells hang on,” says Dr. Graf. Be sure to exfoliate, but do it in a very gentle way. Steer clear of scrubs with big, scratchy particles, and try an exfoliating powder with fine-milled grains to buff and polish, instead. Dr. Graf suggests exfoliating at night, immediately after cleansing.
Tatcha Polished Classic Rice Enzyme Powder, $65, available at Sephora.
After exfoliating, follow up with a cushy moisturizing mask. “You want something thick and moisturizing to help calm your skin and give it some extra hydration,” says Dr. Graf.
Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask, $22, available at Glossier.
Finally, finish with a moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid. “It’s really lightweight and incredibly concentrated,” says Dr. Gross. “Hyaluronic acid holds 1,000 times its weight in water,” and locks all of that moisture in place. Use this moisturizer in the evening and in the morning for nonstop hydration.
AmorePacific Moisture Bound Rejuvenating Creme, $150, available at AmorePacific.
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