Skin health has been a huge interest of mine ever since I was 14. Since then, I have been passionate about understanding ingredients and learning what is good and bad for our skin and our bodies. In fact, this is a key interest that prompted me to pursue my degree in molecular biology and attend medical school!
While I am not officially a doctor yet, I have researched (and used) hundreds of skin products, and my degree in cell & molecular biology has provided me with a fairly in-depth understanding of molecular chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology. In this post, I am focusing on skin health and discussing ingredients that are beneficial for nearly every skin type. They are products I consistently use myself (for reference I have sensitive skin), and I really think they are worth investing in if you want to have healthy skin that ages gracefully and looks its best.
Now if you’re reading this article you’ve probably noticed that there are literally hundreds of ingredients that companies claim are the “best for anti-aging,” but I’m just discussing key ingredients that I think a basic, fundamental skin care regimen should include. There are other ingredients that could be used in conjunction with the products that I list, but if you want a straight-forward, effective, anti-aging routine, this is it!
— Of course, in addition to these products it’s also important to maintain a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, as well as a good fitness regimen. If you want to learn more about the importance of antioxidants I discuss them in detail here.
the basis of proper skin care
The basis of an effective skin care routine can be summarized into 3 categories, which I will describe in detail:
The biggest threat to our skin is oxidation and free radical damage. In order to protect your skin from these dangers, it’s important to use a good sunscreen and provide your body with lots of antioxidants.
There are basically two ways that sunscreen can block harmful UV rays: By blocking the sun with either a mineral barrier or with a chemical barrier. There are so many brands available today, but when in doubt – choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredient, and avoid chemical ingredients such as oxobenzene and avobenzene.
Mineral Vs. Chemical – What’s the difference?
Mineral sunscreens contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which block harmful rays by creating a physical barrier on the top layer of the skin (the epidermis) .
Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like avobenzene, oxobenzene, octisalate, homosalate, octinoxate, and octocrylene. There is some controversy with these ingredients, because research has shown that they have the ability to penetrate through the epidermis and enter our bodies. Why is this bad? Unfortunately these ingredients have been shown to interfere with thyroid, endocrine, and estrogen hormone processes in the body – among other things. So when in doubt, choose a natural product that lists zinc oxide or titanium oxide as the active ingredient, and avoid the chemicals I listed above.
Here are a few mineral sunscreen options:
- Babo Botanicals Daily Sheer Non-Nano Zinc SPF 40 Fragrance Free Mineral Sunscreen
- Babyganics Pure Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- CeraVe Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Face Lotion SPF 50
- CoTZ Sensitive SPF 40 Broad Spectrum UVA-UVB
- CeraVe Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Body Lotion SPF 50
- Dr. Andrew WEIL for Origins Mega-Defense SPF 45 Advanced Daily UV Defender
Antioxidants are the #1 way to fight against oxidation and free radicals, which are top contributors to premature aging. They are very damaging not only to our skin, but to our whole body! Eating a diet rich in antioxidants is helpful in keeping our skin healthy, and adding topical antioxidant products is incredibly beneficial as well. The top antioxidants that I recommend for your skin care routine are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and CoQ10.
— Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an ingredient you’ll find in thousands of skin care products, and this is because it’s a very powerful antioxidant (source). In addition, it also has the ability to help with cell turn over, photo-aging, tissue inflammation, and hyperpigmentation. All vitamin C products are not created equal, however, and there have been various studies to determine which forms of Vitamin C are best able to scavenge free radicals and stimulate collagen production. Look for a vitamin C product that contains these physiologically effective forms –
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Palmitate (MAP)
- Ascorbyl 6 palmitate
- Ascorbic Acid Sulfate
- Disodium isostearyl 2-0 L-ascorbyl phosphate (VCP-IS-Na)
- L-ascorbic acid
- Vitamin C Ester
Something else worth noting..
It’s super important to get vitamin C through our diet, because humans actually lack the enzyme L-glucono-gamma lactone oxidase, which is required for synthesis of Vitamin C in the body (source). What does this mean? If we don’t get it from our diets, we don’t get any of the powerful health benefits of Vitamin C!
products to try:
- Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Moisturizer
- Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester 15
- Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester Serum
- Obagi Obagi-C Fx System C-Clarifying Serum
- SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
- Exuviance AF Vitamin C20 Serum Capsules
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
- Algenist GENIUS Ultimate Anti-Aging Vitamin C+ Serum
- Dermadoctor Kakadu C 20% Vitamin C Serum with Ferulic Acid & Vitamin E
— Vitamin E
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is another antioxidant that’s effective in fighting against free radical damage. Like Vitamin C, Vitamin E is also only obtained through diet or through the skin when applied topically.
To get the strongest effects, use Vitamin E in combination with other antioxidants like Vitamin C and CoQ10.
*If you have acne or breakout prone skin I suggest testing Vitamin E on a small area first, as it may cause breakouts in these skin types.
Products to try:
- Dermadoctor Kakadu C High Potency Evening Oil
- Julep Boost Your Radiance Reparative Rosehip Seed Facial Oil
- Skyn Iceland Arctic Face Oil
- Murad Multi-Vitamin Infusion Oil
— Coenzyme Q10
Next up on the antioxidant list is Coenzyme Q10, aka CoQ10, aka Ubiquinone.
CoQ10 is found in our cells, where it helps to neutralize free radicals and act as a cofactor in the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is the energy currency of our cells, so you can imagine how important it is for keeping our bodies functioning efficiently! Unfortunately, the CoQ10 levels in our body decrease with age, so obtaining it through our diet is important. It’s found in oily fish (like mackerel, salmon, and tuna), pistachios, sesame seeds, broccoli, and cauliflower. When applied topically to the skin, it can be helpful in fighting against free radicals and helping with cell turn over.
products to try:
- Juice Beauty Antioxidant Serum
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
- Trilogy CoQ10 Booster Oil
- Juice GREEN APPLE Age Defy Serum
- Dr Roebuck’s Ultimate Hydrating Serum
In addition to protecting your skin from environmental and UV damage, a glowing complexion requires consistent cell turn over. When you exfoliate the outer layer of your skin (which contains dead skin cells), this prompts new, fresh skin cells to take their place; what you are left with is firmer, brighter, younger looking skin. Exfoliants come in various forms, with the most popular being microdermabrasion, scrubs, chemical exfoliants (like AHA), chemical peels, enzymatic peels, and retinoids (like retinol or Retin-A).
I could write a whole post on these different forms of exfoliation, but for now I will just say that retinoids and peels are my favorite. In my experience they provide the most bang for your buck and can yield fantastic results.
If you choose to use a retinoid, medium-high strength peels can be done every few months by your dermatologist or aesthetician for even better results. (Just be sure to let them know if you are using retinoid products)
Tretinoin VS Retinol – what’s the difference?
When deciding on a retinoid product, it’s important to understand the difference between tretinoin (aka Retin-A, Avita, Renova) and retinol. Both are retinoids and are made from Vitamin A, but tretinoin is a “super strength,” highly concentrated retinoid that requires a prescription from your doctor. When you first begin using tretinoin there is also an ugly period that you have to go through (depending on your skin type), which means your skin will likely become dry, scaly, red, and your skin may even look crepey and breakout for a bit. I know this sounds pretty bad, but once this phase passes and your skin gets used to the tretinoin, the results are usually great. Because of this bad phase in the beginning, once you start a tretinoin regimen it’s usually good to stick with it and continue to apply it regularly in order to avoid having to start the process all over again.
Retinol is the form you will see in products you can buy in the store without a prescription. While this version isn’t as strong as tretinoin, it still promotes cell turn over and helps to firm and even out your skin.
- When using a retinoid product be sure to always protect your skin with a strong sunscreen. Freshly revealed skin is highly susceptible to UV damage!
retinol products to try:
- Dr. Brandt Skincare 2% Retinol Complex Serum
- Obagi Obagi360 Retinol 0.5
- Obagi Retinol 1.0
- SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream
- SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream
When you apply moisturizer, it helps to retain water in the skin and provide a “plumper” appearance.
— Hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate retain water in the skin and provide a plump, hydrated appearance, making them a good choice for a daily moisturizer.
— Aloe vera is another natural option that provides moisture and has been used for centuries on the skin.
— Various plant oils have also been shown to provide moisture, along with the added benefits of flavonoids, triglycerides, phytosterols, tocopherols, and the essential fatty acids Omega 3, 6, and 9 (source). While these sound beneficial, there is some debate on the stability of plant oils, so if you try one make sure that it’s cold pressed and packaged in a dark container in order to limit oxidation.
When shopping for moisturizers you will likely see mineral oil and petrolatum a lot in products, but be wary of these ingredients because they can clog pores and make your skin look dull over time.
My preferred moisturizer
My top choice for a moisturizer is the wax ester jojoba oil. It has a molecular configuration that’s less reactive than the configurations of plant oils (meaning it’s less likely to oxidize quickly), and it also has the closest chemical structure to human sebum. This allows it to absorb easily and quickly into the skin. It’s also an amazing base for makeup and helps to minimize settling in fine lines, too!
Chemical structure of jojoba oil and our natural skin oil – Notice how close they are in structure. photo source
Moisturizers to try
- Jojoba Oil by HobaCare
- Replenix Pure Hydration Hyaluronic Acid Serum
- Evolve Beauty – Hyaluronic Acid Serum 200
- Clinicians Complex Hyaluronic Acid Serum
A good under-eye product is also important
Since the under-eye area is the first to show aging, it’s important to use a quality anti-aging and moisturizing product in this delicate area.
under-eye Products to try
The best foundational skin care regimen will include ingredients that provide protection, exfoliation, and moisture. There are many ingredients that companies claim will provide this, but the ingredients I’ve listed are some of the most studied and have been a staple in the skin care industry for a very long time.
If you’re looking for a simple and effective routine, here is an example to get you started (In order of application) –
- Vitamin C serum
- Eye Cream or Serum
- Eye Cream or Serum
So there you go – my “universal” skin care guide. 🙂
I hope you found this post helpful; Feel free to reach out if you have questions or would like to talk skin care – it’s my favorite!