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.
The most important thing you can do for your skin is to create a routine you enjoy and stick to it.
All people should ideally wash their face with a cleanser suitable for their skin type at least once a day. Those with sensitive or dry skin should look for hydrating, creamy or milky formulas. Those who deal with oil management issues and acne can usually tolerate something stronger—such as a foaming cleanser or a formula with a chemical exfoliant. Some prefer twice daily, but if your skin is dry or sensitive, once at night might be 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.
Best anti-aging cleansers
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 some 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.
Best anti-aging toners
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. And while vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant, it's also one that can be hard to tolerate—in that case, opt for another antioxidant serum, that contains CoQ10, plant extracts, vitamin E, and so on.
Best vitamin C serums
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. Check out our favorite face moisturizers here for more of our top picks.
Best anti-aging moisturizers
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."
Eye creams can address these fine lines, as well as dark circles, puffiness, and to some extent bags (although, bags are genetic and can't really be addressed by topicals).
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 properties1, and moringa seed oil is chock-full of antioxidants and oleic acid to support the skin barrier.
Best anti-aging oil
Sunscreen is nonnegotiable no matter your age or what stage you are in your skin care journey. There are two classes of SPF: chemical and mineral. We usually recommend 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, 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.
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 encouraging cell turnover, even if it's not exfoliation.
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. Most folks with oily or average skin can do so two (maybe three!) times a week. For those with dry skin, stick to once a week.
Want help? Here's our guide to exfoliation.
Best anti-aging exfoliators
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.
Best ingredients to look for:
Here are some of the best ingredients to support healthy aging.
- Retinol. It's available over-the-counter (OTC) at low strengths. Retinol falls under the umbrella term "retinoids," which includes all vitamin A derivatives—both OTC and prescription. You can also find stronger forms (retinaldehyde) and gentler versions (retinyl palmitate). As we’ve noted its an ingredient that increases cell turnover, improves collagen production, eases dark spots, smoothes texture and fine lines, and can even improve breakouts. It can be a challenging ingredient to tolerate, so here’s our best tips for how to use retinol.
- Vitamin C. This antioxidant plays a vital role in the collagen synthesis process, which is why it’s so important to use as part of your healthy aging skin care. There are a lot of vitamin Cs to choose from (like L-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate), so it may take some time to find a product that works for your skin type. In addition, it’s good practice to find an option with vitamin E or other antioxidants, which can boost its potency.
- Peptides. Peptides are chains of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds, and amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins like collagen, elastin, and keratin exist in our skin, hair, and nails. Basically: Peptides are really important for many areas of the beauty routine. While our body makes them naturally, you can also apply them topically in which they act as messenger peptides, or they signal the body to do certain things like produce collagen, reduce inflammation, and so on. There are many kinds that all have their own unique properties and functions–in skin care look for Palmitoyl Oligopeptide2 and Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-73.
- Hyaluronic acid. HA is a humectant that attracts water into the skin, helping keep it moisturized and plump. I like to think of HA as a more temporary solution to fine lines—effective, but temporary. What I mean is that it’s not going to fundamentally change what your skin looks like in the future, but it can certainly give it a boost when using it. (And honestly, sometimes we just need a temporary solution and immediate gratification.) It’s good to have a HA serum on hand to apply when your skin needs a bit of extra help to look supple.
- Ceramides. As we age, our barrier becomes more fragile and sensitive. It’s super important to support with ingredients that strengthen and bolster its resilience. Ceramides are lipids naturally found in the uppermost layer of the skin, so replenishing them topically can help enhance barrier function.
- Antioxidants. While various options on this list are also antioxidants, here’s a catch-all for the free radical fighters we dearly love. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals from oxidative stress, inflammatory processes, and UV rays.
- Sunscreen. We can’t forget your most vital protection step! Sunscreen keeps sun damage from happening in the first place, and is thus the best proactive step you can take. Seriously: Don’t bother doing any of the above if you’re not going to protect your skin from UV exposure.
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 and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at 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 in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.