As we get older, our bodies undergo tons of tiny changes that keep us moving — albeit sometimes not as quickly as we used to. Because the skin is the body’s largest organ, many of these changes stare back at us in the mirror; some of them are healthy and completely natural, like smile lines or crow’s-feet.
“Many changes occur within the skin over the years that outwardly are manifested as aging,” says Dr. Carlos Charles, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of 4.5.6 Skin, who says sun exposure, pollution and blue light from screen time are the most common external factors that contribute to accelerated aging. “These will gradually cause textural skin changes, hyperpigmentation and even collagen loss, which results in fine lines and wrinkles. [Plus], as we age, the skin cells tend to regenerate more slowly, leading to a duller complexion.” In other words, our skin’s ability to retain moisture, produce collagen and repair itself quickly decreases dramatically over time.
But there are a few powerhouse skin care ingredients that can help to smooth wrinkles, buff hyperpigmentation away and overall work wonders on mature skin. CNN spoke to four dermatologists to find out the top actives, plus the products that come with them.
Moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides
“Ingredients that both help to support the skin’s barrier function and that can attract moisture to the skin care are key,” says Charles, who recommends looking for hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which he calls “a great humectant which helps to attract and retain moisture to the skin surface.”
Algenist Algae Niacinamide Moisture Veil ($65; sephora.com)
“Algae and aloe vera have similar benefits for soothing and calming skin and managing dehydration, while algae also inhibits the enzymes that break down collagen, a common cause of skin laxity and aging,” says Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles who is the founder of Ava MD Dermatology, SkinFive Medical Spas and The Box by Dr Ava. This pick from Algenist has dozens of 5-star reviews.
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($29.99; dermstore.com)
“We know that with age, skin barrier function declines and the skin cannot maintain hydration as well as it used to,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s department of dermatology, “so look for moisturizers that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which acts like a sponge to pull in hydration to the other skin layer.”
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream ($48; sephora.com)
“Ceramides help create a barrier on the skin and thereby minimize permeability,” says Charles. “They also help to protect against environmental factors that lead to skin aging.” This one from Dr. Jart is a favorite among derms and customers alike.
Antioxidants like vitamin C
“Antioxidants … help your skin recover from environmental stressors,” says Ava, pointing out that vitamin C is one of the most lauded antioxidants out there. Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Julius Few agrees: “As a pillar of any highly effective skin care ritual, topical vitamin C calms and cools the skin while providing a layer of protection from free radicals and environmental pollutants. Check the label for L-ascorbic acid, which is considered to be the vitamin C best for skin. Arguably the most important ingredient to maintain healthy skin long-term, antioxidants work to neutralize aging free radicals like pollution, smoke and the main culprit, UV rays.”
Aforé C Serum ($125; aforebeauty.com)
“After cleansing your skin in the morning, antioxidants calm and cool the skin while providing a layer of protection from free radicals and environmental pollutants,” says Few. “We have a vitamin C serum for both oily and dry skin types, so you can tailor it to your skin’s type and needs.”
Vitamin C Serum 20% Pure L-Ascorbic Acid ($19.99; amazon.com)
“Vitamin C [in its most potent and stable format of L-ascorbic acid] is perhaps the best known antioxidant. It helps to support increases in synthesis of collagen and photoprotection by slowing oxidative damage and is even more viable with sunscreen,” Ava says.
Lumene Valo Glow Boost Essence Serum With Vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid ($17.79; target.com)
Zeichner recommends using vitamin C “along with your sunscreen to protect you from UV damage from the sun, as it blocks the production of abnormal pigment to lighten dark spots and even skin tone.”
Dr. Loretta Anti-Aging Repair Serum ($110; drloretta.com)
“Vitamin C helps us form new collagen, keeps skin bright and boosts sun protection to prevent some photodamage,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a Miami-based board-certified derm and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care.
Daily sunscreen, 365 days a year
“After 40 years of practicing as a dermatologist and performing total body exams on patients aged from 18 to 98, I am still fascinated by the fact that about 90% of all the skin ‘aging’ we see takes place almost exclusively on skin that is exposed to the environment,” says Loretta, who recommends daily SPF no matter what time of year it is.
No more surprising is that every single dermatologist agreed with her.
Dermalogica PowerBright TRx Pure Light SPF 50 ($68; ulta.com)
“Anywhere above or below the towel needs to be covered daily even when working from home,” says Ava. “If you’re outside and in more intensive sun, double down on sunscreen every 90 minutes with 30 SPF and add a hat or sun protective clothing.”
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Face Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin ($19.99; target.com)
“The importance of sun protection cannot be overstated,” says Few. “Even on cloudy days and indoors. The light through the car windows, blue light from phones and computer screens can compound into visible skin damage over time. Using a broad-spectrum SPF 50+ sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection keeps UV rays from prematurely damaging and aging your skin.”
EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($37; dermstore.com)
This mineral sunscreen is one of Dermstore’s bestsellers. One reviewer says, “This is the only facial sunscreen that I purchase. It is perfect for everyday wear and is fantastic under makeup. I love that it has zinc oxide in it for strong protection.”
Shiseido x Tory Burch Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen ($49; shiseido.com)
This limited-edition sunscreen may have fun packaging, but the formula is serious business. It goes on smooth and feels hydrating — never drying. (More than 1,000 5-star reviews agree.)
“My favorite ingredient for brightening the skin is a retinoid,” says Charles. “Retinoids address skin brightening through multifactorial channels. They work by increasing skin cell turnover and thereby they help the skin to more quickly shed the dull older skin cells away. This allows for the younger and more vibrant skin cells to come to the surface more efficiently.”
RocRetinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum ($32.99; ulta.com)
Retinol is perhaps the best studied ingredient we have to find the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Zeichner, who recommends this cream because “it uses a stabilized form of retinol in a moisturizing delivery system that minimizes potential irritation.”
Aforé Maintenance-R Retinol Cream ($125; aforebeauty.com)
“Retinol works to increase the turnover of your skin cells, which essentially means your skin cells reproduce at a faster rate, which increases collagen production, evens skin texture and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Few, who recommends the retinol cream from his own line because it also has soothing ingredients like green tea, hyaluronic acid and aloe vera to reduce sensitivity.
Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer ($45.42; amazon.com)
Charles calls this moisturizer “an excellent retinol for novices, as it is gentle and less likely to cause irritation. It also contains niacinamide, and B3 helps calm inflammation that can induce aging.”
Skin Medica Retinol Complex ($78; dermstore.com)
The algae extract offers a hydrating buffer for the retinol, making it a favorite of Ava’s — and almost every customer that purchased it.
Alpha hydroxy acids
“As cell turnover slows down, we don’t shed cells from the skin surface as we once did,” says Zeichner. “As a result, light does not reflect as well off of the surface of the skin, which translates to a dull appearance. Incorporate alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic acid into your routine to enhance exfoliation.”
La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Dark Spot Corrector ($41.99; ulta.com)
Loretta agrees: “AHAs … add vibrancy by removing dead cells that store pigment and give a lackluster appearance to skin,” she says.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel ($88; sephora.com)
These cult-favorite peels remain a bestseller for years because they work.
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Glycolic Acid Serum ($29.49; target.com)
Customers have given this glycolic acid serum, which gently exfoliates the first layer of skin to reveal brighter, plumper skin, nearly 2,000 5-star reviews.
Ole Henriksen Invigorating Night Transformation Gel ($38; sephora.com)
Use this serum at night, underneath a gentle moisturizer, to reveal more even-toned and smoother skin in the morning.