Even if you’ve passed 40, you can still turn back the clock on your skin and actually undo signs of damage. “It’s like getting your body into shape: Just because you haven’t exercised before doesn’t mean you can’t start now and see great results,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Here, top dermatologists share the secrets that can reverse the damage and make all the difference between looking your age and, well, looking ageless.
Rule No.1: Wash with a cleanser that turns skin into a sponge for anti-aging products.
If you buy whatever cheap cleanser is on sale or promises the biggest benefits on its label, you’ve likely been hurting your skin. First, dermatologists say, you should choose a cleanser designed specifically for your skin type (this rule of thumb applies to almost all facial-care products). So if your skin tends to get dry, opt for a hydrating wash. Have normal or combo skin? Look for a foaming cleanser, which can help rid skin of excess surface oil.
No matter your skin type, as long as it’s not supersensitive, choose a cleanser that contains alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs. These can stimulate cell turnover, helping prime your skin to better absorb the products you apply afterward, says Ronald Moy, MD, a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist. And if you use a cleanser with AHAs, you don’t need to invest time or money in a separate scrub or exfoliating product – in fact, using them together can irritate skin.
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One to try: Belmondo The Rain Facial Cleanser ($33, shop.prevention.com)
This gentle wash has apple cider vinegar, a natural AHA.
Rule No 2: Face serums are like lingerie: Wearing the right inner layer can transform how you look on the outside.
If you don’t use a serum now, you should: Most contain effective anti-aging ingredients not typically found in cleansers, moisturizers, or facial oils. But just as you do with lingerie, you'll want to wear something different during the day than what you sleep in at night. In the morning, apply a serum that contains antioxidants like resveratrol and vitamins C and E. These powerful agents act like fire extinguishers on skin, says Zeichner, dousing inflammation caused by free radicals.
At night, skip antioxidant-only blends and opt for a serum with retinol, a potent derivative of vitamin A. It helps repair skin by speeding cell turnover, preventing the breakdown of collagen, and stimulating new growth of the skin-firming protein. Retinol is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients available, but it can become less effective when exposed to sunlight, so be sure to apply it at night only. If you’ve never used a retinol product before, apply the serum every other night for the first month to reduce the possibility of skin irritation. If your skin is supersensitive, bypass retinol altogether and choose a serum made with retinyl palmitate, a milder yet still effective form of vitamin A.
One to try: Apoterra Nourishing Rosehip + CoQ10 ($35, shop.prevention.com)
This all-natural serum is big on anti-aging antioxidants, not cost.
Rule No. 3: The foundation of younger skin is a multitasking moisturizer.
Wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is the most important thing you can do now for younger-looking skin. While SPF won’t undo the sun damage your skin has already incurred, it’s the best way to prevent more signs of photoaging, like fine lines, age spots, and discoloration.
There’s certainly no rule that says you have to use a daytime moisturizer with SPF, but doing so means you'll speed up your morning routine – and be less likely to skip applying sunscreen. Look for moisturizers that offer broad-spectrum protection, meaning they filter both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 30, says Zeichner. For optimal benefits, choose an SPF moisturizer that also includes DNA repair enzymes like photolyase and endonuclease – these ingredients help block UV light on a molecular level, reducing the risk of photoaging even more.
You won’t want to apply a product with SPF at night, so invest in a separate moisturizer or night cream to use before going to bed. If your skin is dry, choose a hydrating cream with peptides that can help stimulate collagen growth, which, in turn, will work to make your skin look smoother and fresher. If you prefer the feel of a facial oil, opt for one with argan or marula oil – both can improve the elasticity of older skin, says New York City dermatologist David Colbert, MD.
One to try: StriVectin Multi-Action Restorative Cream ($95, strivectin.com)
Peptides help moisturize dry skin.
No matter which moisturizer you choose, don’t apply it to the delicate skin under your eyes. To treat this sensitive area, use an eye cream containing DNA repair enzymes, which also help smooth wrinkles.
One to try: Neova Illuminating Eye Therapy 4.0 ($58, neova.com)
Treat wrinkles with the DNA repair enzymes in this eye cream.
Rule No. 4: What you put in your mouth is as important as what you put on your skin.
You already know diet can do powerful things – like totally transform how your body looks in a matter of months. So why wouldn’t what you eat have the same effect on your skin? A healthy diet rich in hydrating whole foods and low in processed, packaged junk with sugar and chemical additives (both of which can trigger skin inflammation) is as important to a youthful glow as any product. In particular, Colbert recommends choosing foods high in probiotics, shown to help counter inflammation and bad gut bacteria that can wreak havoc on skin from the inside out.
–Greek yogurt: Top source of probiotics and protein
–Almonds: High in healthy fats and vitamin E
–Blueberries: Inexpensive way to eat more antioxidants
–Kale: Rich in wrinkle-fighting vitamin A
Rule No. 5: Call in an expert to do the hard work.
The best foods and products will help get you glowing, but sometimes you need an expert to repair more complex problems. A good derm can recommend the right products for your skin, and might even suggest minimally invasive treatments like Botox, fillers, and Thermage (which uses radio frequency to smooth wrinkles).
While such treatments can seem over the top to some, they may ultimately reduce the amount of effort you have to put in over time, says Ellen Marmur, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology and genetics at Mount Sinai Hospital. “By using treatments sparingly, you can avoid a full overhaul later, meaning you ultimately will do and spend less in your 50s and beyond.”