About a month ago, I wrote about every single product I use on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis—depending on whether I am breaking out, going out, or suffering from beard burn. To be frank, it added up to quite the haul (which, I understand, can be both expensive and time-consuming). The overwhelming response when it was published was with regard to paring it back: If you had to choose, readers and friends asked, which products would you consider most important?
For me, a person who admits to being fairly high maintenance and meticulous in the skincare department, answering such a question was a tall order. So, I turned the decision over to the pros. I reached out to a few of my favorite and most trusted dermatologists to whittle my collection of skincare favorites down to the bare minimum. They turned up with just four important formulas to keep, which, in turn, gave me an anxiety attack. But given the chance to breathe, reboot, and attempt a more minimalistic lifestyle, I'm willing to oblige. Or, I'll keep my skincare routine as opulent as it always has been and remember these four products for my next round of friend-to-friend recommendations. Either one.
"This is my absolute go-to, can't-live-without product," reveals Marnie Nussbaum, an NY-based dermatologist. "It combats the anti-aging process by fighting free radical damage, minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, and it brightens your complexion effortlessly." Adds Joshua Zeichner, MD, "Antioxidants are like fire extinguishers that put out inflammation. They can promote healthy collagen production and brighten unwanted pigmentation. Make sure to layer it on every morning under your sunscreen."
I couldn't agree more. While SkinCeuticals' C E Ferulic doesn't exactly smell pleasant, the results make it so I would use it as perfume every day for the rest of my life if I had to. It instantly brightens, evens, and erases any lingering breakout marks or scarring. I apply a few drops in the morning and notice a difference both instantly and over time. The price is steep, but there's no other formula I would recommend as vehemently (with the exception of Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970, which is coming up next).
"I love Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 as a toner," says Nussbaum, "because not only does it gently exfoliate with lactic acid, citric acid, and salicylic acid, but it nourishes the skin with various vitamins and botanicals."
Same, I think, as I read her words over email.
"The mix of alpha-hydroxy acids exfoliates dead skin cells and promotes collagen production," explains Zeichner. "This helps to brighten and strengthen your skin's foundation, to even skin tone and minimize the appearance of wrinkles. Many people use AHAs as a substitute for retinol," he says. Myself included. "It also has ingredients that decrease oil production," adds Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "At $65, it's a good addition to your skincare regimen, even if used once weekly for sensitive skin types."
I couldn't be happier this was one of the top picks by all three dermatologists, as I believe this product has completely changed my skin. Before I tried it, I suffered from uneven, sallow-looking skin that often allowed for hormonal, cystic breakouts to pop up during my period. Now, I swipe a P50-soaked cotton pad across my face each morning and night, and those problems no longer exist for me. That, and I get complimented on my skin by co-workers and estheticians alike. Sure, I'm bragging, but this formula works wonders in the most literal sense of the word.
"For moisturizer, I'd suggest either the La Mer option or Barbara Sturm's," says Zeichner. "Especially in the evening, skin hydration levels go down, so a good moisturizer before bed is important."
I love a thick, rich moisturizer for nighttime especially, but I use this one during the day too. It keeps my face hydrated for hours and gives off a healthy shine that bounces light in a really nice, flattering way (especially under the fluorescent lights of our office). I do agree it's a pricey option, but in my opinion, moisturizer has to do a lot of heavy lifting. This one incorporates purslane to reduce redness as well as skullcap extract to stimulate your skin's natural collagen production.
"Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Fix Eye Power-Treatment Fill & Firm ($68) is an eye miracle," emphasizes Nussbaum. "It blends soy peptides, retinol, and hyaluronic acid to combat fine lines around the eyes." Nazarian explains, "The combination of gentle retinoid and soy help decrease dark spots and fine lines while the hyaluronic acid keeps skin hydrated and enhances the skin barrier. This is worth the price."
I've found this eye cream to be quite literally one of the only formulas that actually makes a difference in my crow's feet. It has a balmy, thick texture that fills in lines and erases fatigue. This happens pretty instantaneously due to the formula make-up but also extends those results tenfold over time, courtesy of the retinoid.
But Wait, There's More
After all was said and done, I was pretty happy with the formulas each dermatologist agreed upon—truth be told, they were four of my favorite products to begin with. That being said, a bit of confusion came up when I realized none of them had chosen a cleanser. Was I wrong to believe cleansing was one of the most important steps? Turns out, I wasn't.
"I would recommend a cleanser—but not an expensive one," Nazarian said when I asked why she didn't originally offer a suggestion. "The goal of the cleanser is twofold: Don't ruin the skin (i.e., be gentle without disrupting the natural hydration barrier and pH—no perfumes, fragrance, or harsh surfactants), and cleanse bacteria and dirt off the skin so it's a clean palette and can absorb all the wonderful serums and lotions being applied after washing. I usually recommend Dove Beauty Bar (not the perfumed options)."
Zeichner agrees, noting, "I do feel a cleanser is really important. However, you can get fantastic cleansers at your local drugstore at a much lower price point. I tell people to save money for the anti-aging products. The only other thing missing from your regimen is a daily sunscreen, either in a moisturizer with SPF or a straight sunscreen."
"Dove's fragrance-free Beauty Bar costs $7 for a pack of six (which means each one is just over a dollar)," says Zeichner. "It's my go-to treatment to effectively remove dirt and oil but maintain the skin hydration. It contains moisturizing ingredients like argan oil."
Lastly, never forget a sunscreen. "This broad-spectrum sunscreen also contains an antioxidant complex. It is light and easy to layer under makeup," notes Zeichner.
FYI: These are the products I use specifically when I'm breaking out.