by SHANNON BAUER PUBLISHED ON 03/21/23 07:55AM EDT
Skincare has never been a simple part of the beauty industry. The ingredients and technology involved in formulating alone require a deep understanding of chemistry—not to mention the way each skin type or person reacts to those products. One face may love a deeply exfoliating acid several times a week, and the next may break out immediately with a formula more complicated than the tried-and-true CeraVe. Add in the latest TikTok viral trend—like skincare slugging—and it’s no wonder folks are confused about what to use in their routine.
So, to clear things up, we turned to the experts for their take on this essential question: If you had to recommend one product that everyone should have in their skincare routine for spring, what would it be? “Your skincare routine doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC. “In fact, I usually say the simpler the better—think of the morning as a time of protection and prevention of damage from the day. Then think of the evening as a time of hydration and repair,” he explains.
Read on for the rest of their responses and product recommendations.
Once we got past the harsh acne treatments and pore strips of our youth, for many of us, the next step was adding sunscreen. It’s no surprise that every derm I talked to mentioned the importance of daily SPF. In fact, it was number one on their priority ranking: “Every skincare routine needs daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect the skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays,” says Elizabeth Mullens, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Uptown Dermatology in Houston. Most importantly, sunscreen prevents skin cancer. However, an added benefit to daily sunscreen use is the prevention of rapid skin aging. “Sunscreen protects the skin from UV radiation, minimizing the formation of discoloration and wrinkles,” says Lian Mack, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Glam Derm in New York.
Think of SPF as the insurance policy for your skin—the pricey treatments and potent serums won’t pay out if you’re not covered against damage.
“One of my favorites sunscreens is Eryfotona Actinica by ISDIN, a fast-absorbing, ultralight mineral broad spectrum sun protection. It not only prevents future sun damage, but [it] also contains an ingredient called DNA Repairsomes® to repair existing damage,” Dr. Mack explains.
Shop now: Amazon.com, $60
The second most mentioned product from many of our derms was a retinol or retinoid. “Retinol is perhaps the best-studied ingredient we have to fight the signs of aging skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It stimulates collagen to strengthen the foundation of the skin and improves the appearance of any fine lines that you have while preventing the development of new ones. At the same time, retinol enhances cell turnover to improve skin tone and radiance.”
Retinoids are the more potent version of vitamin A and are only available by prescription through your dermatologist (tretinoin is a common name you may recognize). A retinol, on the other hand, is available over the counter in a variety of strengths ranging from 0.25 percent up to four percent. However, many high-strength retinols sit at one percent to achieve the results you’re striving for minus the dry, flaky side effects.
While retinol is the gold standard of antiaging products, building up a tolerance can be a slow process and one you want to ease into depending on your skin’s ability to adapt to the active ingredient.
For anyone new to retinol, it may be best to start on the active ingredient at a lower percentage. First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate is a beginner formula at the low end of the spectrum and was developed for sensitive skin. Start off using it a few times per week on alternating nights to allow your skin to build up a tolerance.
Shop now: Sephora.com, $58
Retinol pros—those who have been using the ingredient for a while and are looking to up their dose—should consider the latest launch from Sunday Riley. A+ High-Dose Retinol Serum, is a, you guessed it, high-dose retinol complex (6.5 percent retinol, retinoid ester, and botanical retinol alternative) that combines with antioxidants and honey to hydrate and soothe irritation as it gets to work.
Shop now: Sephora.com, $43
If milia, the little bumps that often appear around the eyes, or fine lines are your biggest concerns, an eye cream with retinol is a possible solution. Versed Smooth Landing is a balm texture that contains one percent retinol as well as vitamin E and black currant seed oil to moisturize.
Shop now: VersedSkin.com, $18
A favorite of Dr. Zeichner is RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream. “It contains retinol to target wrinkles in a moisturizing formula that prevents irritation,” he explains.
Shop now: Amazon.com, $19
Dr. Mack’s first and second picks were SPF and retinol, but she also thinks there’s another player that deserves time in the spotlight: hyaluronic acid. “Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that allows the skin to attract and retain water by preventing transepidermal water loss. It is a well-tolerated molecule and is safe to be used daily,” she explains.
The Dermalogica Circular Hydration Serum relies on three types of hydration, including hyaluronic acid, algae, and polyglutamic acid to restore hydration from the surface all the way down to the deeper reserves. This serum was our secret to dewy skin all winter, too.
Shop now: Dermalogica, $64
Every skincare regimen needs an antioxidant product, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. Antioxidants, like vitamin C, usually come in serum form and can be used under your sunscreen to protect against many of the triggers for premature aging and skin cancer, she explains. Vitamin C has three main jobs, Dr. Zeichner explains: “It neutralizes free-radical damage caused by UV light, it blocks [the] production of abnormal pigmentation to lighten dark spots, and it serves as a cofactor for [the] production of healthy new collagen.”
And since the sun isn’t the only thing that can wreak havoc on your skin, environmental stressors, like visible light or pollution, can cause damage too. An antioxidant on your skin acts like an invisible shield underneath your sunscreen.
Both Dr. Nazarian and Dr. Zeichner are fans of the Bliss Bright Idea Vitamin C + Tri-Peptide Collagen Serum. “The stabilized form of vitamin C allows it to stay potent longer and defend against free-radical damage,” Dr. Nazarian says. “It’s a lightweight serum, which works great [when] layered under other products,” she adds.
Shop now: Amazon.com, $25
The product that Dr. Nazarian calls “so underrated, unappreciated, and often overlooked in terms of your skin health” is a cleanser. “The right cleanser isn’t always glamorous, but it’s a super-important first step to your regimen both morning and night,” she explains. She explains how the right cleanser is gentle and removes damaging environmental particles and oils while maintaining your natural skin barrier.
“I’m pretty adamant about being picky and educated about this step in the skincare regimen because it really sets the tone for your overall skin health,” she says. “My favorite is the unscented version of Dove’s Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. It’s important to avoid perfumes in your cleanser, plus it’s gentle on the skin.”
Shop now: Amazon.com, $9 for 3
An overlooked gentle giant of the skincare world is vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide. “Niacinamide is a potent antioxidant and is best known to even out skin tone, as well as smooth and improve skin texture when used topically,” explains Christina Lee Chung, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia.
While you’re revamping your routine, don’t neglect your body in the process. Dr. Chung highly recommends the Mizon Niacinamide Smoothing Body Lotion. “It’s got everything I look for—niacinamide, vitamin C, and AHA, which means it packs a fabulous punch to keep my skin color even and everything from my hands to heels soft and glowing. It also comes in a simplistic pump so [it] looks pretty on a counter and keeps things tidy,” she says.
Shop now: Amazon.com, $23