We all have to grow older. It's just a beautiful part of life. And aging skin is not a bad thing—as it's so often made out to be—but having skin that ages in a healthy way is a goal worth going after. We call it skin longevity around here—you want to have healthy skin for life, no?
We tapped top dermatologists to get the scoop on must-have skin care ingredients to grab for healthy aging. But we wouldn't be mindbodygreen if we didn't talk about skin aging from a holistic perspective. So these ingredients aren't just topicals—although, we did include a fair share of those as well—it also includes several ingredients to ingest via supplementation.*
Ahead, find the top seven picks to incorporate into your skin care routine, stat:
It's no surprise this skin care essential made it to the list of must-haves for healthy aging. And even with the vast amount of knowledge and studies that prove how important sun protection is, so many of us neglect to use it daily. If you didn't know, although the sun gives us a healthy dose of vitamin D, exposure to ultraviolet rays can be harmful. And the dangers of unprotected sun exposure don't vary by race or age. Bottom line: We all need to wear SPF every single day.
Skin cancer is not the only possible consequence of neglecting sun protection. It wreaks havoc on our skin, too. "Sunscreen is one of the first and most important steps to take in an anti-aging routine, and you are never too young or too old to start," says NYC dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D. "UV exposure can lead to signs of skin aging including dark spots and a breakdown in collagen, which leads to fine lines and wrinkles."
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the sunscreen you use should include broad-spectrum protection (to protect against UVA and UVB rays), SPF of 30 or higher, and a water-resistant formula. And your go-to formula should be applied every day you go outside, this includes cold-weather months and days when the sun is not visible. "Upward of 80% of UV rays still penetrate the clouds and can impact your skin, so protecting your skin daily regardless of season, rain or shine, is important," notes holistic board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D.
If you're worried about the ingredients in a traditional sunscreen, or chemical sunscreen, you're not in the wrong. According to activist organization the Environmental Working Group and the Food and Drug Administration, 12 of the 16 active ingredients in sunscreen used in the U.S. do not have sufficient data to support their safety claims, including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and avobenzone. Not only have they not been adequately tested for human safety, but many chemical sunscreens have been shown to be damaging to the oceans and oceanic wildlife, like coral reefs.
Louisiana-based dermatologist with a special interest in holistic medicine Mamina Turegano, M.D., FAAD, recommends reaching for a zinc-based sunscreen, as even those with sensitive skin can use it. "Zinc is considered to be a physical sunscreen ingredient," she explains, saying that it physically blocks the UV rays from damaging the skin cells, as well as turning the rays into heat which doesn't damage the skin cells.
We also must note that sun care isn't just about SPF: You need to be smart about your time in the sun and take protective measures.
Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals from oxidative stress, inflammatory processes, and UV rays. "Neutralizing free radicals with antioxidants improves the prevention of photodamage," says NYC dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. She encourages her patients to use an antioxidant serum every morning. A common go-to for skin experts is vitamin C since it helps build collagen in the skin, stabilizes the collagen you already have, and treats and prevents hyperpigmentation. Garshick seconds this choice and says environmental stressors like pollution can lead to oxidative damage, so applying topical antioxidants helps to prevent further damage like brown spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. A few other stellar topical antioxidants to consider are niacinimide and vitamin E.
But it's also vital to ingest antioxidants, as it can help deal with oxidative stress internally.* There are many oral antioxidant supplement options out there, but we prefer astaxanthin, ubiquinol CoQ10, and pomegranate whole food extract, the the ones that appear in mindbodygreen's cellular beauty+.* Astaxanthin is a carotenoid phytonutrient and potent antioxidant clinically shown to protect skin cells and help preserve the collagen layer, via it's photoprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.* Ubiquinol is the most bioavailable, bioactive form of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a potent antioxidant in every cell, including the skin.* Taking ubiquinol is clinically shown to increase CoQ10 levels (which decline with age) and reduce oxidative stress.* Not to mention: It supports skin elasticity and smoothness, while combating wrinkles.* Finally, pomegranate whole fruit extract is a premium botanical concentrated in antioxidants. Promoting cellular resilience and anti-inflammatory properties, this superfruit extract is clinically shown to enhance skin photoprotection from UV damage.* (And for more product picks, check out our anti aging supplement roundup.)
Retinoids and bakuchiol
Many experts agreed, retinoids can play a very important role in healthy aging. If you're unaware, retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and studies show that they play a significant part in a slew of topical skin care improvements1 including reducing lines and wrinkles and the appearance of dark spots. Board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Libby, M.D., FAAD, says retinoids are the holy grail for almost any dermatologist. "Retinoids increase cellular turnover to exfoliate clogged pores and reduce the appearance of fine lines and are fabulous treatments for acne."
If you're looking for a natural alternative to retinoids, Turegano suggests the plant extract bakuchiol. A recent study shows that this natural option is known to have similar anti-aging effects2 as retinol and is even less irritating.
If you find that your skin is losing its firmness, Turegano recommends reaching for peptides. "Peptides are small-chain amino acids that help build collagen, elastin, and keratin,"* she says. "This can lead to firmer and smoother skin." And since applying collagen topically has no effect on the skin other than hydration, finding ingredients that promote the production of collagen naturally is a great way to plump and lift the skin.*
Both AHAs and BHAs are considered to be topical exfoliants by chemically breaking down and sloughing off dead skin cells, dirt, debris, and excess oils. While exfoliating the skin, AHAs and BHAs help to promote the growth of new cells, allow for better product absorption, and restore hydration.
AHAs, however, might be more beneficial for mature skin, rather than BHAs, which tend to be better for younger, acne-prone skin. "For older patients and those with oilier skin, I tend to add a bonus AHA for exfoliating and improving skin texture and tone," says board-certified dermatologist Caren Campbell, M.D. Turegano says using exfoliating agents helps skin care ingredients penetrate deeper into the skin, which means their effects will be boosted. AHAs also help to stimulate collagen and elastin production3, slough off dead skin cells, and brighten the overall complexion.
Hyaluronic acid is like gold when it comes to hydration.* It's a naturally occurring sugar that holds water to collagen. Not to mention it can hold up to a thousand times its weight in water and locks it in. HA gives dehydrated skin a burst of moisture, and it helps to plump skin and fill fine lines.*
As with collagen, the amount of naturally occurring hyaluronic acid in our bodies decreases as we age. So applying it as a topical product or ingesting it orally via supplement helps skin look hydrated and plump.* Oral forms of HA have also been shown to support skin hydration4 and appearance.*
Lecithin is a phospholipid, which are generally extracted from sunflower or soy (or egg yolks) as lecithin, but are also found in olive and hazelnut oils. Why is this ingredient so amazing? Its head is attracted to water while its tail repels it, meaning it makes a great moisturizer since it actively works with the skin, which also has water-loving and water-hating parts. The similarity in structure means lecithin helps moisturizing ingredients penetrate further into the skin.
Lecithin can improve and protect cells and membrane damage from free radicals, which are thought to be one of the main causes of aging.
Olive squalane is sometimes also referred to as "nature's face-lift" since it's found in your skin's natural oils and is easily synthesized by your body. It's an excellent moisturizer and feels much lighter than most other cosmetic oils. Squalane functions as an antioxidant, prevents UV damage5 and promotes cell growth.
Andrea Jordan is a beauty and lifestyle freelance writer covering topics from hair and skincare to family and home. She received her bachelor's in Magazine Journalism from Temple University and you can find her work at top publications like InStyle, PopSugar, StyleCaster, Business Insider, PureWow and OprahMag. When she's not writing, you can find Andrea tackling new recipes in the kitchen or babysitting one of her many nieces and nephews. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and cat, Silas.