A woman looks at her reflection in the mirror as she applies skin care products.

When it comes to skin care, you reap what you sow.

“Prevention is better than treatment,” says Sharon Kim, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Dermatology at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. “It doesn’t hurt to start addressing anti-aging at an earlier age.”

Here are Dr. Kim’s top recommendations for skin care by the decade:


Add-On: Sun Protection

Why: The building block of beauty is sun block. “Bottom line: It’s the most important thing for any age—and should be started before you’re 20,” Dr. Kim says. “It prevents skin cancer, premature aging and sun damage. Everything else is icing on the cake.”

Pearls of Wisdom: Apply after any moisturizers and before makeup. Foundation and other makeup featuring sun protection are inadequate, no matter how high their Sun Protection Factor. “The amount you’d have to put on your face to get that protection would not be recommended,” Dr. Kim says. Consider such cosmetics added insurance.

Look For: Broad-spectrum sunblocks with an SPF of 30 work against aging UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB rays, which cause sunburn. Avobenzone and benzophenone absorb UV, while titanium dioxide and zinc oxide stay on the skin’s surface, deflecting rays.

Brands: Basics, Neutrogena, Elta MD, Tizo Mineral.

Skip: Sunscreens with fragrance if you have sensitive skin. “Your best beauty investment can be over-the-counter block that does the job at a fraction of the cost,” Dr. Kim says.

Add-On: Cleanser

Why: Products cannot penetrate dirty skin.

Pearls of Wisdom: Use Micellar water to remove makeup before washing your face, to counter zits.

Brands: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser works for all skin types, while Cetaphil Foaming Face Wash targets rosacea. Simple Micellar Cleansing Water is an effective makeup remover. Glytone Mild and Glycolix Elite cleansers contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and Retinol, to moisturize and buff skin. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash and La Roche-Posay Effaclar offer foams and gels with salicylic acid for oily skin.

Skip: Fragrance and microbeads, both of which irritate skin.

Add-On: Acne Treatment

Why: Acne may persist beyond teenage years, due to hormonal changes.

Pearls of Wisdom: Look at the ingredients in acne products: Benzoyl Peroxide and retinoids should not be applied at the same time.

Look For: Antioxidant Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) and Salicylic Acid (a Beta Hydroxy Acid) which is oil-soluble, unlike AHAs.

Brands: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Defense Lotion, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer or the Ordinary High-Strength Vitamin and Mineral Blemish Formula.

Skip: Some creams may clog pores.

Add-On: Moisturizer

Why: Humectants enhance elasticity, suppleness and softness.

Pearls of Wisdom: Creams work best on drier skin; gel creams on normal and combination skin; and gels on oily skin.

Look For: Hyaluronic Acid seals in moisture, thus plumping skin to lighten fine lines.

Brands: Garnier SkinActive Moisture Bomb and Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost with gel cream for drier, normal and combination skin, and Neutrogena Hydro Boost gel for oily skin.

Skip: “You don’t need high-end versions,” Dr. Kim says. Ingredients, not price, are what matter.


Add-On: Antioxidants

Why: Antioxidants may prevent premature wrinkling. Vitamin C may help to slough dead skin. Vitamin E hydrates.

Pearls of Wisdom: Higher-end Vitamin C serums are worth the investment, since they are more likely to stabilize the antioxidant, which easily oxidizes and becomes less effective. Start with the thinnest textures—serums—before thicker creams, waiting at least a minute between layers so they’re absorbed.

Look For: Vitamin C serum in the morning before moisturizing, and glycolic acid via Retinol in the evening, post-cleanser.

Brands: SkinCeuticals Vitamin C Serum for the a.m. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream or RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Sensitive Night Cream before bed.

Skip: Scents, which can irritate.

40s and Up

In your 40s and beyond, target and treat skin problems when and if they arise. “One size doesn’t fit all,” Dr. Kim says. “I’ve seen women with amazing skin at age 40 and 20-year-olds with skin that’s tough as leather. Lifestyle choices and genetics affect skin-care needs.”

Concern: Sunscreen-Highlighting Wrinkles

Add-On: Higher-end sunscreen.

Why: These sunscreens are less likely to streak or cake, on their own or under makeup. Peptides and antioxidants amp up the anti-aging benefits.

Pearls of Wisdom: After 40, see a dermatologist who can make personalized recommendations based on your skincare needs, including medical grade cosmeceuticals and cosmetic procedures.

Look For: Broad spectrum brands packed with antioxidants.

Brands: ELTA MD and Tizo Mineral.

Skip: Forgetting sunscreen: Put it on auto-pilot as you do brushing your teeth. And wear it even for car excursions.

Concern: Hyperpigmentation

Add-On: Medical-grade alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and Retinol.

Why: AHAs slough skin’s surface to even patches on your face, neck or hands due to sun damage or pregnancy hormones.

Pearls of Wisdom: Start with every other day, or every third day as skin adjusts. If OTC or prescription-strength serums, lotions or creams are insufficient, your doctor may recommend regular chemical peels or IPL photojuvenation treatments using intense pulses of light to even skin tone.

Look For: Aestheticians supervised by dermatologists should give chemical peels. Lasers never should never be used by an aesthetician, Dr. Kim says.

Brands: IPL photojuvenation or Retin-A and other prescription-strength products tailored to your skin by your dermatologist.

Skip: Avoid medspas for cosmetic procedures such as lasers. You should consider consulting with a physician who has a board certification in dermatology to evaluate your skin and select appropriate treatments to meet your individualized skin care needs. “Don’t price-shop for discounts when it comes to your skin,” Dr. Kim says.

Concern: Wrinkles, Age Spots and Acne Scars

Add-On: Lasers, Botox, fillers and other cosmetic medical procedures.

Why: These treatments can reverse aging better than creams.

Pearls of Wisdom: Your doctor can guide you to what will address your personal concerns. Check patient photos to see whether the results match your expectations

Look For: Dermatologists and plastic surgeons trained in these procedures.

Brands: None.

Skip: Medspas. These outpatient treatments should be doctor office-based.

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