You should apply retinoids before bed—with or after a night moisturizer—since your skin enters its regenerative cycle while you snooze. The standard retinoid caveats apply: they can cause sensitivity to sunlight (remember that SPF!), and first-time users might experience redness for a few weeks as their skin acclimates. If that happens, dial down usage to every 2-3 nights, until your skin’s in the groove. And be patient: it takes about 90 days for the results to really shine through, and you need to keep up the retinoid regimen to keep the benefits.
You can get over-the-counter retinoids at most skincare retailers, including adapalene gel, a retinoid that is especially good for acne-prone skin. For high-grade options, get a prescription for tretinoin from your board-certified dermatologist, or from telemedicine sites like Apostrophe or Musely.
3. Fortify Skin with Vitamin C
If you’re not already acquainted, I’d like to introduce you to vitamin C. Know how grandma always wanted to feed you more food? Vitamin C stuffs your skin with antioxidants, which protect skin against chemicals, pollution, UV rays, and all sorts of other free radicals. In doing so, it reduces redness to improve skin tone, prevents and brightens dark spots and hyperpigmentation (by inhibiting melanin production), speeds up the skin’s healing processes, and—and!—makes it firmer by stimulating collagen production. Vitamin C: anti-aging in a bottle.
Speaking of bottles, getting the right type of vitamin-C-centric product is crucial, since the ingredient breaks down quickly. “Exposure to air and light can degrade the ingredient, rendering it ineffective,” says Kirsch. Look for products that allow you to mix the formula at home, so you know your vitamin C product hasn’t been wasting away in a warehouse.
Oh, and as Kirsch points out, more isn’t necessarily better. “Concentrations between 10-20% are typically considered effective,” he says.
4. Factor in Your Skin Type
While retinoids and vitamin C and SPF are generally one-size-fits-all, insofar as everyone should be using them, you’ll want to take an extra step or two based on what your specific type of skin needs more of. Dry skin wants different ingredients than oily skin which wants different treatments than acne-prone skin. You get the idea.
Below are some Kirsch-suggested add-ins for your anti-aging skincare regimen based on skin type.
“Prioritize ingredients like hyaluronic acid for intense hydration, as well as ceramides, which help to create a barrier on the skin that prevents moisture loss. Both will give the skin a nice shine.”
“Green tea extract will reduce excess oil and has antioxidant properties that can help to protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Niacinamide can help balance sebum production and reduce the appearance of redness.”
“Beta hydroxy acids, especially salicylic acid, should be a top choice for acne prevention,” says Kirsch, because they exfoliate and regulate oil production. He also suggests azelaic acid, which kills the bacteria that cause acne, plus helps skin texture.
Besides vitamin C, which reduces and prevents overactive melanin production, Kirsch recommends alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). “They can help fade dark spots and promote a more radiant complexion.”