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Jennifer Garner on the one thing she wishes she could tell her younger self about aging

We caught up with the actress and entrepreneur to talk all things beauty, fitness and more.
Nathan Congleton/ TODAY

Jennifer Garner is an award-winning actress with more than two decades of working in television and movies under her belt, a co-founder of a successful baby food brand, a mom of three and one of our favorite people to follow on Instagram. But in our minds, she also has another title — as perhaps the most relatable mom on the internet.

From sharing too-real "What's in My Bag" videos (where contents include loose M&Ms and games) to opening up about her parenting 'fail,' she's constantly giving Big Mom Energy — and we mean that in the best way possible.

And since we all know that no one gives advice quite like a mom, when the Shop TODAY team recently had the chance to speak with "The Last Thing He Told Me" star over Zoom, we took it as an opportunity to get Garner's guidance on everything, from fitness hacks to beauty secrets, and she was more than happy to oblige.

In fact, there’s one beauty tip she wish she had known sooner: Garner shared with us that if there was one thing she could tell her younger self about aging, it would be that "nothing looks better in your 50s than sunscreen in your 20s." Though, she says she can't take credit for the sentiment. She first heard Doris Day, a dermatologist she met through her work with Neutrogena, say it around 10 years ago and it stuck. "It is the most true thing you can possibly tell a young person. When you're young, you just want to feel that tan, but it isn't worth it. Tan is sun damage. You've got to be smart. You have to think long-term and take care of your 38-year-old self because that is the year for me that all of a sudden I woke up and was like, what is this? I haven't even been in the sun but it didn't matter. It was the damage suddenly coming to the surface."

Now, she makes sure that she stays covered at all times by layering up with multiple sunscreens (she uses both Neutrogena's Invisible Daily Defense and Purescreen+ Tinted Sunscreen). And, in a true Mom moment, she made sure to emphasize that you should be applying it everywhere, from your neck to your ears. "If you have a part, use it right on the top of your head right on the part. It's so important! And then all down your chest and you've got to use it on your arms, the tops of your hands. So I'll keep some of that right in my car. And if I'm driving for a long time, I will reapply. Especially if I'm driving, I'm not even kidding, I'll reapply for the left side of my body because it's getting so much more sun exposure."

While giving her skin the TLC it deserves is clearly of the utmost importance for Garner, taking care of her body is also a priority. That is why she starts the day with an early morning workout (and when we say early, we're talking 5:30 a.m.). And while rising at that hour might seem unfathomable to many of us, she says there are a few things that help make the early wake-up easier.

"I have buddies that I'm accountable to and I have coffee ready to go. That's what it is. It doesn't feel good if you've told your friends you'll work out with them, and then they all work out without you or they miss it because you don't show up. Those things don't feel good. So it's like a hack to make yourself accountable to someone that you say you're going to work out with."

Another thing she does: "It's like I'm a little kid, I will lay out my workout clothes the night before. It's not like I'm trying to put together an outfit, I'm just trying to take away anything I can that is a barrier between me skipping a workout and doing it."

As a part of our Shopping Diaries series, we asked Garner to walk us through a handful of her favorite products, from the app that helps her keep up with her workouts when traveling to the kitchen gadget she uses "every single day."

Shopping Diaries: Jennifer Garner

Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Body Sunscreen Spray

When it comes to beauty essentials, Garner, who has been a Neutrogena ambassador for 16 years, calls SPF "more important than anything." She explains that it's something she's become very familiar with, "I was always pretty good about sunscreen. But after 16 years of preaching about SPF, and the more I've spoken in the process to dermatologists and to cancer doctors through Neutrogena, the more serious I am about helping people understand the importance, in health, and the importance in just pure vanity by starting early and your entire life, consistently protecting your skin from the damaging effects of the sun."

She has multiple favorites from the brand's sun protection lines, including the Invisible Daily Defense spray. "In every single door of the car, there is either an Invisible Defense Spray or a Beach Defense Spray, and as I'm getting out of the car, as my kids are getting out of the car, somebody is getting a last douse on their arms and backs of their legs and their legs and the tops of their feet ... just to make sure that you're good to go and that you're covered."

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Fragrance-Free Gel Facial Cleanser

"As soon as I met our Hydro Boost line, it has been on my counter in my bathroom. Different forms of it, different versions, sometimes everything that they make that's Hydro Boost all at once, but I've ever since never been without Hydro Boost," Garner says. "Hyaluronic acid is just a game changer for skin. We make it naturally, it's part of our body's natural way to lock moisture at the surface of our skin. So all we're doing is increasing what our body already knows it likes. And it binds moisture together, it locks moisture into the surface of your skin, you have more plumpness, fewer lines, more vitality in your skin — it's just it's a game changer."

She adds that as the weather heats up, she leans on the products even more. "It's so so important, even more than normal, to wash your face at night. And I really rely on the Hydro Boost cleanser. It's no fragrance, super gentle. It's not fancy, the way you think like, oh, this cleanser smells like a bouquet of roses. It's no fragrance, it's fragrance-free. But it's 100% starting the hydration as it's cleaning your skin and I love that."

Peloton App Membership

Even when she's traveling or outside of her regular routine, Garner still makes fitness a priority. "I will use a hotel gym or I will do one of The Limit on-demand videos that you can use without any weights or without anything, just to get my heart rate going. I also really like the Peloton app. I'm not a runner, but if I'm listening to one of the outdoor running things on the app where they're talking you through the run and you're running, say, in intervals and you get a break every now and then or you slow down every now and then, it makes the time go more quickly. And so I use that a lot when I'm traveling."

"Meal Prep Magic: Time-Saving Tricks for Stress-Free Cooking," by Catherine McCord

If you follow Garner on social media, you know that she is an avid home cook. And in her beloved #pretendcookingshow series, she is constantly sharing some of her new and classic favorite recipes. So we had to know which books she's been reaching for when she's in the kitchen as of late.

"My friend Catherine McCord has a blog called Weelicious. Her food is delicious, and I love her cookbooks. She has a new one ... there's a healthy fried chicken recipe that I've really been into. I like her cookbooks in general."

"Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," by Ina Garten

"I always cook out of Ina's [cookbooks]," Garner says. "Probably, at least half of what I make is out of Ina's cookbooks."

KitchenAid Stand Mixer

"The most used product in my kitchen is our KitchenAid mixer because it's used every single day," she says. The gadget makes frequent appearances in her Instagram cooking posts and she's even admitted before that she's been known to travel with it (and its pasta attachments).

KitchenAid 5-Ultra Power Speed Hand Mixer

The hand mixer is another kitchen staple for the home cook (who is also a KitchenAid partner). "I grew up using the KitchenAid hand mixer. And I was just with my parents and that's still what my mom uses, she's never had a stand mixer. And I said, 'Have we always used this?' and she said 'Yes, because it doesn't fall apart. I've had this thing for 20 years!'"

More of Jennifer Garner's beauty favorites

Given her relatable personality and laid-back nature, when we first spoke to Garner back in Nov. 2021, we weren't surprised to hear that overall, her beauty routine could be described as pretty "low-key."

"We can almost all wear less than we think because, to me, I don't want my kids or people to only see the actor version of me that is perfectly made up by brilliant artists and think that's how I look," Garner previously told Shop TODAY. "I want to look normal and I want to normalize looking normal. I always have felt really strongly about that. And then if I'm dressed up, I like that my kids are like, 'Woo, look at my mom!'"

For Garner, an everyday makeup look consists of just a few essentials: concealer, blush, mascara and "a little something on my lips." But that wasn't always the case. When we asked her if she had any beauty regrets, she barely paused before answering.

"When I was in college, and I'm sure after college, my idea of makeup was what I would wear if I was doing a ballet recital or the Nutcracker," she said. "I had very light-colored pancake makeup, and seriously, you could see where my chin met my neck ... it was atrocious. It's really made any picture from college unusable because if I thought I needed to look nice, that's what I did. I literally opened up my fishing tackle box of theater makeup and just went at it."

And for Garner, it seems like a big part of feeling good is mental. "I try to not see unflattering pictures of myself because I know I look better in real life than paparazzi pictures make me look, and if I don't, I don't want to know it."

Though for anyone who has moments where they feel less than their best (don't we all?), she has some good advice: Step away from the mirror. "When you start getting super critical of yourself, turn around, pivot in that spot and go do something nice for someone else," she said. "Or go work out, or just take that and make it active instead of letting it just fester in you."

Virtue Full Shampoo

Garner, who is part of the Virtue Labs team, says she switches between Virtue's Full Shampoo and Conditioner and the Recovery line, "because both work so well for me."

Garner was first introduced to Virtue by her long-time hairstylist (and the brand's creative director), Adir Abergel. "He was just like, 'I think you're going to flip when you try this, I think we should work on it together, we have to make this happen.'" she said. "So I tried it, kind of feeling like, there are a lot of hair products out there, but oh my gosh, I cannot even tell you." She added that it gives hair, "health, bounce and shine like nothing I've ever used."

Sheila Stotts Wood Handle Application Brush

But Virtue's hair products aren't the only ones that Garner keeps in her arsenal. She also loves this brush from Sheila Stotts and said she buys them to give away as gifts. "They're perfect for detangling a little kid's hair," she said. "I mean, you wouldn't think it because they're just straight wires, so you don't want a little kid to whack you in the face with it, but they are great at detangling and they also just move through your hair really easily."

Reed Clarke Gold 4-Inch Hair Pin

"Of all the hair pins I've ever tried, this is the best," she said. (She was even wearing it when we spoke.)

Stila Convertible Color, Peony

"I've used the Stila cream blushes for about ever, especially in Peony," she says.

Westman Atelier Vital Skin Foundation Stick

For concealer, Garner adds that she's using this stick from Westman Atelier. It's made with nourishing ingredients like squalane and Berryflux Vita, which according to the brand, help prevent moisture loss and boost hydration.

Neutrogena MoistureSmooth Color Stick for Lips

She also loves this color stick from Neutrogena in Raisin. "I might have used it in a commercial or something once, and now I can't live without it."

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Face Oil Retinol Serum

"Once you're sloping down the back half of your forties, you're going to want to get yourself some retinol," she says. When starting to use a retinol product, you do have to be a little cautious. "You can overdo retinol and feel like your face gets really tender or is too sensitive, you have to build your way up to it and realize how many nights a week you want to use it and what that looks like," she said. "But it really will start to resurface your skin."