The Best Anti-Aging Skin Care Routine + Dermatologist Tips & Product Recommendations
Aging is inevitable and comes for all of us. And what a great thing, no? To age means to live, and may we all be so lucky to do so long enough to develop fine lines and wrinkles. And if you see some start to develop on your own face, just take it as a sign that you're living fully—there's a reason they are called expression lines.
And while you age, it's important to support your skin health so it can perform, look, and feel its best for longer. That's why this article exists: To go over what exactly your skin care routine should look like to support skin longevity.
In the past, these types of routines were typically labeled as "anti-aging" skin care routines. As I noted above, I am not against aging in the least. These steps are simply to help folks treat their skin with kindness as it matures so it can perform optimally.
I'd also like to say that every person is different. So while the below is a good general routine recommendation, you know your skin better than any beauty reporter, like me, ever could. So skip over what you know isn't for you, and feel free to try out a new step that you think just might do the trick.
Let's get into it.
All people should ideally wash their face with a gentle cleanser once a day. Some prefer twice daily; however, those tend to be people with oily skin. If your skin is dry or sensitive, once at night is all you need.
Not only that, but a nighttime cleanse can act as a moment of pause and stress release, according to Angelia Jia Kim, skin care expert and founder of Savor Beauty. "How you treat your skin is how you treat your soul. And what I mean by that is both need nourishment, care, and love," Kim says. She goes on to explain that she views self-care as, "an act that your future self will thank you for."
Why does this matter in a healthy aging skin care regimen? Well, self-care can have a very practical end, too: "If you're going to bed with dirt, sebum, and environmental toxins in your pores, it can break down the collagen in your skin," she says.
Toner is entirely optional. If you are someone who can't commit to more than the basics, skip over this step. But for those who love luxuriating in their products, a hydrating toner can add an extra cushion of hydration, feed the skin nutrients, and help balance the skin barrier's pH after cleansing.
"Unlike the old-school, alcohol-based toners that could be quite drying to the skin, these days they are more often hydrating formulations," says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King.
In addition to all of the above, toners can act as a first step for those who skip the morning cleanse. Since many people forgo washing their face in the morning, you can simply apply a toner to re-wet the skin and get it ready for the steps that follow.
Here's where the formulations get to work. "Serums are light, thin skin care products filled with active ingredients," board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., once told us about serums. "They tend to have smaller molecules, which allow the ingredients to go deeper into the skin."
Essentially, serums are your targeted step. This is where you can address your most prominent skin care concerns with more sophistication. For example, those with mature skin likely want a serum that will help firm and tone the skin. While there are many great ingredients that can aid in those goals, two of the most studied actives are retinol and vitamin C. (This is why they are often recommended for "anti-aging" skin care routines.)
For the day, use a vitamin C serum, which can help support collagen production, lighten dark spots, improve overall tone, and fight free radicals. At night, opt for a retinol serum, which can increase cell turnover, promote collagen production, reduce pigmentation, target blemishes, and improve firmness.
Those two ingredients not your speed? Don't worry, there are many more you can count on. Peptides can help improve hydration and firmness, niacinamide can soothe reactive skin, and AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acid) can even texture.
Creams and lotions are your moisturizing step. While you can look for options with additional actives (i.e., antioxidants, botanical extracts, and so on), the step's primary role is hydration.
A good lotion usually has a combination of humectants, emollients, and occlusive ingredients. Humectants (like glycerin, aloe, and hyaluronic acid) help attract water into the skin. Emollients support and nourish the barrier. Occlusives seal it all in, aiding in water retention.
While not everyone needs one, eye creams can provide additional ingredients to address the very specific needs of the eye area. The skin around the eyes is much more delicate, as well as prone to movement. "When we start to have less collagen and elastic fibers in skin as it ages, this very thin skin shows lines earliest," board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, explained about "crow's feet."
While for some, creams offer enough of a barrier, others prefer to top off the entire routine with an oil. Oils are highly occlusive and act as a final seal for all the previous steps. If you choose to use an oil, there are a variety of ways to incorporate it into your routine: Use it while you give yourself a facial massage or gua sha, slather it on as a nighttime treatment, or skip the moisturizer and use oil as your conditioning step (just be sure to layer a water-based serum under).
For those with mature skin, there are many luxurious facial oils to try: Rosehip seed contains fatty acids and vitamin C, argan oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and moringa seed oil is chock-full of antioxidants and oleic acid to support the skin barrier.
Sunscreen is a nonnegotiable no matter your age or what stage you are in your skin care journey. There are two classes of SPF: chemical and mineral. I recommend sticking to mineral sunscreens, like those that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as they are considered to be better for the planet and the most effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays. However, I also believe that the best sunscreen for you is one that you'll actually wear—so if you prefer the sensorial appeal of chemical sunscreens, then by all means.
If you haven't added a skin-care-focused supplement to your routine, then there's no time like the present. Topical products are excellent for addressing surface-level concerns of the skin, but for overall support, oral supplements can aid in hydration, elasticity, firmness, and tone.*
"While there is no such thing as a miracle pill for skin or any 'skin glow' shortcut, beauty supplements usually contain ingredients we know to play important roles in skin functions and overall health,"* notes board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D.
There are many healthy aging ingredients to consider—far too many to adequately explain here. However, we've gone over many actives in this antioxidant supplement explainer, as well as this dossier on collagen supplements. Antioxidant and collagen support are an excellent place to start if you're new to skin supplements. And for more options, check out our all-time favorite beauty supplements.
Not everyone needs to exfoliate. Many people with sensitive skin find they can't at all. In addition, those who use retinols (as I referenced above) are already exfoliating regularly as the ingredient spurs cell turnover. But for those who can, exfoliation can do wonders for your complexion: It buffers off extra dead skin cells on the epidermis, as well as evens out tone and texture. Just be sure to find the right products and cadence for your skin type. Want help? Here's our guide to exfoliation.
Our Favorite Products:
Best gentle face wash: Savor Beauty Jasmine Milk Cleanser
This silky, soft wash cradles the skin as you wash, dissolving away oil, dirt, makeup, and other leftover debris from the day. It contains jasmine to encourage cellular rejuvenation and fade dark spots, ginseng root to detoxify the skin, and soothing rose flower water.
Best hydrating toner: Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Facial Toner
A trio of antioxidant and moisture-rich ingredients make this a standout product for dry and maturing skin. Hyaluronic acid pulls in and holds water to keep skin looking soft and supple, rose water calms and soothes, and rose extract tones and contains antioxidants.
Best vitamin C serum : Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum
Three forms of vitamin C make this serum highly effective: stabilized L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and a bioactive fruit blend. It's further supported with vitamin E and hyaluronic acid.
Best retinol serum: Youth To the People Retinal Niacinamide Youth Serum
A serum that uses the most powerful form of retinoic acid next to the kind you can only get with a doctor's note: retinaldehyde. The powerful ingredient increases cell turnover, boosts collagen production, and fades pigmentation. It's buffered with niacinamide to soothe any irritation.
Best face moisturizer: Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream
A rich, luxe face cream packed with signal peptides, growth factors, and amino acids to hydrate and smooth fine lines. It nourishes the skin while helping trap in the moisture.
Best oil: Omorovicza Miracle Facial Oil
A replenishing oil that works both day and night, this uses a selective blend of sweet almond, primrose, jojoba, and rosemary leave oils to condition skin. Then it contains bakuchiol, which can improve the appearance of skin much like retinol without the effects.
Best eye cream: Paula's Choice Resist Anti-Aging Eye Gel
A lightweight eye cream designed for the specific needs of maturing skin around the eyes. It does so with a blend of plumping hyaluronic acid, stimulating peptides, and brightening licorice root.
Best supplement: mindbodygreen cellular beauty+
Beauty from the inside out: This innovative supplement contains four science-backed cosmeceutical ingredients. Astaxanthin, phytoceramides, pomegranate whole fruit extract, and ubiquinol CoQ10 are clinically shown to support skin hydration, elasticity, smoothness, barrier function, and wrinkle reduction.*
Best exfoliator: Skinergy Beauty Dual Refiner Face Mask Scrub
This double-duty refining mask and exfoliator gives your skin a weekly overhaul, without the irritation. It uses kaolin, jojoba, vitamins C and B5, and grapeseed oil, which all work together to brighten, tone, hydrate, and detoxify skin in one go.
Best sunscreen: Murad Correct & Protect SPF 45
A serum-like mineral sunscreen protects you from future sun exposure while working to tend to the signs of aging you already have. It uses zinc oxide for UVA/UVB protection, beet root extract for hydration, and a special carotenoid that enhances your glow and reduces signs of photoaging.
Caring for your skin at any age is important. If you are starting to see visible signs of the aging process—and want help to support your skin—there are smart, gentle steps to take to improve the look and feel of your complexion. Want some more skin care tips? Check our guide to layering your products.
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.