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Ever wish you could sneak a peek inside the medicine cabinet of a dermatologist? Now you can!
TODAY interviewed 12 professionals about the anti-aging products they actually use to keep their skin looking young. From a $13 over-the-counter retinoid to a skin-brightening vitamin C serum, keep reading to discover the skin care secrets dermatologists swear by.
Anti-aging serums and retinols
Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City, can't speak highly enough about Differin.
"It used to be a prescription and then it went over the counter — I love Differin gel," she said.
Thanks to powerhouse ingredient retinoid, this gel doesn't just fight acne, it also helps reduce signs of aging. It works by reducing inflammation deep in the skin to clear clogged pores and combat fine lines.
"When I think of anti-aging, I think of protecting, preventing and correcting, so I always like to have an antioxidant in the morning," said Dr. Michelle Henry, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
Henry recommends La Roche-Posay's vitamin C serum because it brightens skin, gets rid of dark spots and stimulates collagen. "It makes skin look fresher and gets rid of lines and wrinkles," she added.
Henry calls hyaluronic acid a "miracle molecule" — and this serum is full of it. "It really helps plump up your skin," she explained. "As we get older, we lose hydration in our skin and this ingredient can help restore moisture."
New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dina Strachan says she and her patients love this product for getting rid of dark spots and fine lines. It was formulated as an alternative to the skin lightening ingredient hydroquinone.
“It’s safe to use the long term because it doesn’t bleach the surrounding skin. It’s also packed with powerful anti-aging ingredients like kojic acid and licorice root extract, which fight free radicals that damage collagen," she explained. "It can be applied once or twice a day, just be sure to use a sunscreen with this product."
“I love this product because it’s sensitive enough for first-time retinol users," said Dr. Kim Nichols, a Connecticut-based dermatologist.
"Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, does a lot. It minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, diminishes hyperpigmentation, blackheads and dark spots and reduces inflammation, pore size and the appearance of blemishes," she said, adding that it's not too harsh on skin.
"Two things to remember when using retinol: Always use with a moisturizer and less is more," she noted. "You only need a penny size for your whole face at night.”
“I started researching natural skin lines a few years ago when I was looking to replace my underperforming hydrating gel," said Dr. Jessica Weiser, a New York City-based dermatologist.
"That’s when I discovered this gel and serum combo. I was initially attracted to the hypoallergenic and nontoxic nature of these two products, but after I tested them, I was immediately drawn to their silky texture and smooth application — and their results."
She applies both in the morning for radiant skin.
"I apply the serum every morning — its powerful antioxidants brighten my complexion and help prevent UV and environmental damage," she said. "Then comes the gel, which contains hyaluronic acid, which gets ‘set’ over the smaller molecular nutrients and vitamins in the serum. The combination leaves my skin glowing, radiant and perfectly prepped for sunscreen, the final and most important step of my skin care routine.”
“I swear by retinoids! Every dermatologist learns about this form of vitamin A in residency as part of our training," said Dr. Gary Goldenberg, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "As an anti-ager, retinoids help soften wrinkles and lines and decrease pigmentation caused by the sun. But they also treat breakouts and stimulate collagen and elastin fibers."
Goldenberg also loves its exfoliating properties.
"Want more? Retinoids can improve pigmentation issues, like brown spots and melasma, thanks to its exfoliating properties and they can shrink the size of your pores and give your skin a glow," he added. "Any product that's left on my fingers goes right to the backs of my hands for some anti-aging there.”
Anti-aging face moisturizers
Henry is a fan of this cream that took over a decade to develop because it's made with retinol and won't irritate skin. "It also has some Vitamin B3," she noted.
"The combination helps to not only get rid of fine lines and wrinkles, but also helps lighten dark spots and give the skin hydration — It's a really nice drugstore retinol," said Henry.
“While there are many expensive skin care treatments on the market, nothing is better at preventing both skin cancer and premature skin aging than sunscreen," Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
"Studies have shown time and time again that regular use of sunscreens prevents the development of skin cancers, including melanomas, which can be potentially fatal," he said. "In one recent yearlong study, regular sunscreen use was even shown to improve the cosmetic appearance of the skin, likely because protective skin was able to heal itself."
Ultimately, consistency is key when it comes to skin care.
"The best treatment for aging skin is preventing ultraviolet light damage to begin with," Zeichner said. "Skipping one day will not result in too much loss, but if you regularly take a pass, your skin will ultimately pay the price."
Zeichner said he was impressed with the product's brightening properties.
"I was introduced to this product when I was a resident," Zeichner shared. "I love that it not only protects from UV exposure, but it’s the one product that really brightens up the skin, thanks to its soy complex and light diffusers.”
“I love this anti-ager because it’s dual acting: It’s an oil- and fragrance-free moisturizer, plus it’s a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide but doesn’t leave your skin looking pasty and chalky," said Dr. Sonia Badreshia, clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. "It's a must-wear for your face, neck, décolleté and hands. I recommend it to treat and prevent dark marks and it’s my secret weapon for fighting rough knees and elbows."
“This is the best anti-aging product in the drugstore!" said Dr. Diane S. Berson, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Berson says the combination of ingredients in the formula address most concerns associated with premature aging like dull skin tone, texture and wrinkles.
"Applied at night, it’s the perfect solution for those who want an effective anti-aging product in one jar,” she added.
Levin recommends this combination moisturizer with SPF 30. "It has three essential ceramides that really hydrate and protect the skin barrier. It also has hyaluronic acid which is a super hydrating skin care ingredient that I love," she explained.
If you struggle with dry skin, Avéne Tolerance Extreme Emulsion cream may be the product for you. "I really like Avéne during this time of year," Levin said.
The lightweight moisturizer hydrates skin without leaving a greasy residue, so you can easily layer it under your makeup.
“I've been applying hyaluronic acid to my skin for years," said Dr. Rachel Nazarian, assistant clinical professor at The Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. "It’s a substance naturally found in the skin and works to maintain water for a fuller, more youthful look."
Nazarian said drugstore products with hyaluronic acid are now better than ever.
"Today, smaller molecules of high-grade hyaluronic acid with better topical absorption capabilities can be found in over-the-counter products, including this gel-cream that I apply nightly. Bonus: Its hydrating properties curb the irritation caused by retinols," she told us. "I still use a few tricks to enhance absorption, such as applying it after I shower while my skin is still damp or using it after an exfoliating wash."
“Sunscreen is the most important anti-aging product because the sun is responsible for 90% of skin aging," said Dr. Arielle Kauvar, a New York City-based dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Langone NYU Medical Center.
Better yet, this moisturizer is perfect for sensitive skin.
"This is my favorite face sunscreen because it doesn’t irritate even the most sensitive skin — we even use it on patients after laser procedures," said Kauvar. "It’s water-resistant and adds a light tint to your skin, which is great for when you want to go sans makeup. I apply it after my moisturizer and before my makeup. Just be sure to reapply if you’re outdoors all day."
“This sheer, tinted sunscreen goes on smooth and acts as a great lightweight primer before makeup, smoothing out any skin imperfections," said Dr. Sherry Ingraham, a Texas-based dermatologist.
"It's also a great product to use at the beach when you don't want to wear heavy concealer and foundation, but still want a little coverage."
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