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For most of my life, I’ve credited my good skin to two products: a gentle cleanser and a powerful sunscreen. But something happened when I hit my 40’s — I noticed my skin no longer glowed like it used to and it always seemed to look and feel dry. When I noticed a few sunspots on the top of my right cheek, I realized it was time to elevate my morning and evening beauty routines.
“Fine lines, dryness, sunspots and a loss of firmness are all things women begin to deal with in their 40s,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “Plummeting estrogen levels directly affect collagen production, skin thickness and hydration, so it’s important to develop an anti-aging skin care program, and stick with that program, during this decade.”
With so many anti-aging products on the market boasting ingredients you’d never thought you’d put on your face (acids! oils!), it can be hard to figure out where to start.
So we reached out to top dermatologists across the country to help simplify the process. Everyone we spoke to listed sunscreen as the most important topical to keep forty-something skin looking great, followed by the appropriate cleanser, anti-ager, moisturizer and exfoliator.
Below, you'll find a quick guide to what you’ll need when it comes to choosing the right ingredients for your face, because as Gohara stressed, “At this age, prevention — not just correction — should still be your goal.”
When shopping for a sunscreen in your 40s, experts note you should be looking for the words zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and iron oxide on the label.
“Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect against both UVA and UVB rays, while iron oxide guards against skin-damaging blue light from computer and cell phone screens,” notes Gohara. “Look for an SPF of 30 or higher and slather on half a teaspoon on your face daily, including your ears and neck, before applying makeup. If you drive, be sure to protect your hands, as UVA rays can penetrate glass, resulting in sunspots.”
EltaMD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+, despite having zinc oxide, doesn’t leave your skin with a whiteish tint. It's also formulated with hyaluronic acid, which can help keep your skin hydrated and firm.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 is oil-free, goes on clear and works as a makeup primer to control shine. The vegan formula should be applied as the last step in your skin care regimen before you apply makeup, at least 15 minutes before you step out into the sun.
Gohara recommends keeping this brush-on SPF powder in your glove compartment. With SPF 50, the water-resistant formula provides both protection and sheer tinted coverage.
In your 40s, derms recommend using a cleanser containing ceramides, glycerin, and vitamin E.
“Ceramides are lipids that help retain moisture, glycerin is a humectant that pulls water from the deepest layers of the skin, while vitamin E also adds moisture,” says Dr. Martha Viera, volunteer faculty at the University of Miami Department of Dermatology. “Before cleansing, wash your hands thoroughly to avoid dirt or bacteria from touching your skin, and splash your face with lukewarm water prior to application to activate the cleansing ingredients. Start and end your day by washing with a quarter-sized amount of cleanser, applying it in a circular motion over your face and neck.”
Viera likes La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser because it’s designed to balance the skin’s pH levels, protecting the skin’s sensitive barrier. It is formulated to cleanse the skin without stripping it of moisture thanks to ingredients such as glycerin and niacinamide.
Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Gel has a soothing gel-cream texture that turns to foam when activated. The gentle formula works to remove makeup while also hydrating the skin.
Dove White Beauty Bar with Deep Moisture is great for sensitive skin as it combines cleansing ingredients with a dose of moisturizing cream. It is suitable for sensitive skin and gentle enough to use on both your face and body.
You’ll need two anti-aging products in your 40s: a morning serum that contains moisture-drawing hyaluronic acid and antioxidants, and a night serum that includes peptides and retinol (retinol should be applied at night as it can make your skin sensitive to the sun).
“Be sure to layer your anti-ager under your moisturizer and consider a serum which, thanks to their small molecular makeup, absorbs quickly and deeply,” says Dr. Arisa Ortiz, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at the University of California at San Diego. “Antioxidants like vitamin C, E, B5, and resveratrol attach themselves to free radicals, preventing the free radicals from latching onto and damaging healthy skin cells, while retinoids and peptides exfoliate dead skin while stimulating collagen and softening lines.”
Obagi Professional-C Serum contains ascorbic acid, a vitamin C derivative that softens the look of pigmentation and encourages collagen growth. It can be applied to the face, neck and chest in the mornings and followed with sunscreen.
Dr. Ortiz likes Rodan + Fields Intensive Renewing Serum because it’s lightweight, absorbs easily and has the highest levels of vitamin A for a nonprescription product. The serums are held in small capsules that you can open to smooth all over your skin.
This dermatologist-approved pick is suitable for normal, sensitive and dry skin. The formula works to not only visibly brighten the skin but also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
To tackle dry skin in your 40s, Gohora recommends looking for ingredients that help boost and maintain moisture, including niacinamide, ceramides, glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
“To be most effective, apply your moisturizer after your anti-aging serum. Dot your cheeks, forehead, chin and nose, and then rub in a circular upward motion both morning and night,” notes Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital and author of "The Pro-Aging Playbook."
This moisturizer comes in a soothing light gel-cream formula and uses hyaluronic acid to fortify the lipid barrier to prevent dryness. It can be applied twice daily after a serum is applied to the skin.
Pause Collagen Boosting Moisturizer contains skin-conditioning fatty acids and B vitamins that work to promote healthy skin. The formula features the brand's "Pause Complex," which combines vitamins, antioxidants and peptides that help boost collagen production.
Dr. Frank likes Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Moisturizer, a lightweight gel that contains niacinamide and hyaluronic acid for a boost of hydration. It can be applied in the mornings to the face and neck in order to brighten and moisturize the skin.
Acids in exfoliators help remove layers of dead skin cells to promote cell turnover, clear pores and reduce pigmentation. Look for words such as glycolic, lactic, mandelic or salicylic acid on the label.
“Apply a dime-sized amount of facial exfoliator two to three times a week at night,” Jarrod told us. “Just don’t overdo it — too much exfoliation can rob skin of the fatty acids that protect the skin barrier.”
This treatment addresses skin care concerns by exfoliating, purifying and smoothing the skin. Depending on your skin type, it can be used up to three times a week to improve the appearance of your complexion.
Dr. Frank likes Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, which has an eye-popping 25% glycolic and lactic acid blend to smooth and brighten skin. Since the formula uses clean ingredients, it is fragrance-free and won't leave the skin feeling irritated.
A derivative of salicylic acid can be found in Lancôme Renergie Lift Multi-Action Ultra Milk Peel, a leave-on exfoliator that you apply after cleansing and before your moisturizer. The milky consistency feels smooth on the skin and should be applied with a cotton round.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant contains salicylic acid and foams up into a paste when activated with water. The formula can be applied daily to the skin to slough off dead skin cells and even out your complexion.
Although it is a bit of a splurge, this daily serum uses rich ingredients such as mandelic and lactic acid to unclog pores, even skin texture, reduce the appearance of fine lines and more. It can be applied to the face and neck to reveal brighter skin over time.
Bonus products: Our experts noted there’s no harm incorporating a neck or eye cream into your routine in your 40s.
Look for targeted ingredients in a neck cream, such as tetrapeptides to promote collagen formation, antioxidant algae extract to protect against free radicals, glucosamine to stimulate hyaluronic acid and improve hydration while decreasing wrinkles, and omega-3 fatty acids to add moisture.
“Apply a dime-size amount in the morning and evening, working your way up the neck to the jawline until the product is evenly distributed and absorbed,” notes Gohara. “Neck creams tend to be thicker than traditional moisturizers, so allow more time for them to absorb and be sure to follow up with a sunscreen in the morning.”
Viera likes Revision Nectifirm Advanced, which uses peptides to smooth dry skin. Other ingredients such as lingonberry extract work with the skin's natural microbiome to provide soothing results.
Prai Ageless Throat & Décolletage Creme has shea butter and hyaluronic acid to plump lines and effectively smooth the skin. For best results, the brand recommends applying the moisturizer twice daily to target areas.
Suzanne Somers Organics Neck Firming Crème contains tetrapeptides to support collagen and elastin growth. The formula is packed with skin-boosting ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and Swiss apple stem cells that help to combat signs of aging.
This cream can be applied twice daily in upward motions to hydrate and revitalize the skin. The formula is quick-absorbing, so it won't leave the skin feeling oily or greasy.
Look for ingredients like caffeine to reduce puffiness and dark circles, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to plump fine lines, and arginine, growth factors, and retinol to boost collagen production.
“Apply a pea-sized amount twice daily by gently patting the cream on with your ring finger,” Viera said. “Be sure to use any eye products containing retinoids at night to avoid sun sensitivity.”
Dr. Viera likes Neocutis Lumière Illuminating Eye Cream, a lightweight cream that contains antioxidants to protect against environmental damage. In addition to its protective qualities, it can also be used to reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles.
RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream uses a derivative of vitamin A to accelerate the removal of dead skin cells, leaving you with visibly brighter skin. It targets concerns such as crow's feet, under-eye wrinkles, deep wrinkles and fine lines.
Skinbetter Science Interfuse Eye Treatment Cream contains caffeine to reduce puffiness and vitamin C to brighten the under-eye area. It is packed with humectants to help lock in moisture and promote healthy skin.
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- Why you should add an anti-aging face oil to your summer skin care routine