What Products Do You Really Need for Healthy Looking Skin?

Dr. Janet Zand
March 1, 2019

 
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You probably feel it every time you go to the store: The skincare aisles can be overwhelming. There are so many products, and even the ones that claim to do the same thing can be widely different. Do you need an oil or water-based cleanser or a crème version? How often should you be exfoliating? At what age is an eye cream more a necessity than a luxury? And what exactly is toner?

The answers to many of these questions depend on your skin type – yet another puzzle to solve. Your answers are here.  Then there’s the perfect routine for each type. And there’s even some suggestions on ingredients to keep an eye out for. This will help take the guesswork out of getting glowing skin.

The first skin type is normal. Of course, “normal” is a bit of a misnomer. Many people fall into one of the other categories. But if your skin is not too oily and not too dry and you don’t struggle with signs of aging or sensitivity yet, you fall in this camp.

Next up is dry skin. Of course, if you have dry skin, hydration is your primary concern. You also want to restore the skin’s natural moisture barrier. When your skin is dry, it develops microscopic cracks. These cracks let moisture out and irritants in.

The opposite of dry skin is, of course, oily skin. People with this skin type often have larger oil glands, so they produce more sebum. Caring for oily skin often seems counter-intuitive because your primary goal is also keeping skin hydrated. When your cells sense dehydration, they can send oil production into overdrive. Striking the right balance of oil control and hydration is essential.

If both of these issues sound familiar, you likely have combination skin. Many people with combination skin find that their T-zone gets oily, but the rest of their skin stays dry. Rather than buying two different products to cleanse and treat different areas, you’ll want to find a balanced approach. If you find that your routine is tipping you too far into the dry or the oily category, take a look at the recommendations for those types. You may need to make some adjustments to find the right fit for your particular skin.

While you never want your skincare routine to be irritating, people with sensitive skin need to be particularly careful to choose gentle products. Sensitive skin is delicate and prone to redness and irritation. This isn’t the place for aggressive scrubs or harsh chemicals.

Finally, even if you also fall into one of the above categories, as you get older, “aging” may be the best descriptor of your skin. Aging skin has specific needs that often trump issues like dryness or oil production. You’ll want products that plump, lift, and brighten as well as hydrate.

Don’t Stop at Your Chin

No matter your skin type, you should consider applying your products to your neck as well – yes, even your cleanser. The neck is often one of the first places to give away our ages, in part because we don’t give it the same attention we do our face – even though we expose it to many of the same sources of damage. Applying sunscreen to this delicate skin is a smart first step. But the neck can benefit from the other products in your routine as well.

Once you’ve figured out your type, take a look at the chart below to find your recommended routine. Then keep reading to learn more about the ingredients you want to seek out (and avoid) in your products. 

Cleansers

If you have normal skin, you have a lot of options. Pick any cleanser that you like. Just make sure it doesn’t contain harsh ingredients like sulfates.

Cleansing lotion: People with drier complexions typically do better with a mild cleansing lotion. You don’t need anything that creates foam or lather. These ingredients are often harsh and drying. You want to avoid anything that would further disrupt your skin’s moisture barrier. Also consider choosing a fragrance-free product.

Cleansing gel: Again, you want to stay away from sulfates. Using a gel-based cleanser will help cut through oil. If you’re breakout-prone, you may want to try washing your skin up to three times a day. As long as you don’t experience dryness as a result, washing this often can help you make sure your oily skin doesn’t become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Toner

Every skin type can benefit from toner, but it’s not essential. Toner helps you do a final sweep after cleansing to remove any last traces of dirt, makeup, or oil your cleanser may have left behind. It also helps your skin get back in balance and ready for the next steps in your routine. Many toners contain nourishing or calming ingredients.

When it comes to toner, I’m mostly concerned that you avoid harmful ingredients like harsh chemicals. In particular, stay away from SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol. Some skin types may need to look for a product that’s alcohol-free altogether. Alcohol can be very drying, which can irritate skin or trigger a cycle of oil overproduction.

If you’re concerned about oil, look for sodium PCA, which will help your skin retain water; geranium to reduce oil; and witch hazel, which will help dry up oil without drying you out.

Serum

There are a number of serum types, all delivering specialized benefits to the skin. The right pick for you will likely vary depending on your skin type and sensitivity level. Because serums are thin and light, you want to apply them before heavier products like moisturizer to ensure they actually make it to the surface of the skin.

Antioxidant serum: Many skin types really benefit from an antioxidant serum. You probably know that I’m partial to vitamin C. But that’s not the only antioxidant out there. Vitamins E and A are great choices too. And don’t stop at the vitamins. Algae extract and licorice can brighten, and rosemary and peppermint can revitalize your skin. Peptides, hyaluronic acid, and resveratrol can help smooth fine lines.

Glycolic acid serum: This product will help dissolve dead cells on the surface of your skin to make your face look smoother and brighter. If you tolerate it well, you can use it a few times per week. If you find glycolic acid too harsh, try a lactic acid serum instead (see below).

AHA/BHA serum: AHA and BHA stand for alpha or beta hydroxyl acids. These will help shrink the appearance of your pores and brighten skin. You can also look for salicylic acid and tea-tree oil on the ingredients list to help minimize breakouts.

Retinol serum: Retinol is a powerful ingredient. Including it in serums allows manufacturers to use smaller molecules than they could in creams. And the skin can take in these smaller molecules more easily. However, since some people find retinol to be harsh or irritating, it’s best to take a couple of breaks every week. You may even want to start with just one or two nights a week and work your way up to five as you assess your tolerance. Over time, though, you’ll likely notice that retinol helps your skin look younger and smoother. People with oily skin may particularly benefit from retinol’s pore-tightening effects. If you have deep wrinkles, you may want to talk to your doctor about a prescription-strength product.

Lactic acid serum: All skin types need to exfoliate, but the best manner differs from type to type. Lactic acid is mild and gentle, but will still help you sweep away dead skin. You can try using this type of serum twice a week.

Brightening serum: Look for a product designed specifically to fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation to help restore your glow.

Moisturizer

Moisturizer with SPF: Some skin types do fine with a sunscreen built right into their morning moisturizer. Be sure to apply it to your face and neck separately. Many people apply these products to their faces and then spread some of the leftovers to their necks. But when it comes to sunscreen, quantity is nearly as important as quality. Two applications will help ensure you don’t shortchange your neck. Look for ingredients like dimethicone, panthenol, and sodium hyaluronate/hyaluronic acid. 

Moisturizer: Once again, people with normal skin can choose from a wide variety of products. I recommend picking one specifically designed for night though. You don’t need to be applying SPF while you sleep!

Hydrating moisturizer: All moisturizers should hydrate your skin. But if your skin is particularly dry, you may want a boost. Look for a natural oil in your product. Rose-hip seed, evening primrose, borage, cranberry, sweet almond, and jojoba are all good oils to try. You can also look for a product that supplies phospholipids. If you have aging skin, you can sneak some more retinol into your routine with your moisturizer as well.

Oil-free moisturizer: Of course, if you have oily skin to begin with, you don’t need extra oil in your moisturizer. But you do need to moisturize! Remember, dehydrated skin actually pumps out more oil. Look for a product with sodium PCA and glycerin to help your skin hold onto moisture without triggering oil production.

Lightweight moisturizer: If you have combination skin, you don’t need to shy away from oil altogether. But you don’t need anything too heavy. Look for a product that contains hyaluronic acid.

Scent-free moisturizer: People with sensitive skin need to be especially cautious around fragrances and dyes. These often contain synthetic chemicals that can irritate skin or even trigger an allergic reaction. You may need to stay away from alcohol as well – many people find it drying.

Sunscreen

To avoid moving into the “aging” category prematurely, you definitely need sunscreen. Some skin types can get away with a moisturizer that contains SPF for day, as I noted earlier. Others need a separate product. I like zinc oxide because it provides a physical barrier to keep the sun away from your skin. Zinc will also help your skin look matte if you struggle with oil and will help fight breakout-causing bacteria. Zinc is typically non-irritating as well.

Miscellaneous

Eye cream: Peptides are key to a good eye cream. They promote collagen production, which in turn will plump up fine lines around the eyes.

At-home peel: A peel is a more gentle way to exfoliate than a scrub. If you have a layer of dead skin on your face, all the moisturizer in the world won’t make a difference. Peels can gently dissolve dead skin without damaging the new cells underneath.

Face oil: It might sound counterintuitive, but people with both dry and oily skin can benefit from a face oil. (Thus, of course, people with combination skin can use it too.) When you’re feeling especially dry, you can even use one in place of your nighttime moisturizer. People with oily skin should use it more sparingly. It’s good to use when you’re in a particularly dry environment, like an airplane or your bedroom with the heat running. Giving your skin an extra drop of oil over your moisturizer can help keep it from panicking in dry air and overproducing oil.

Clay mask: A clay mask can help remove dirt and oil from pores. Just make sure you choose a gentle product, and don’t leave it on for too long. If it starts to crack, your skin is getting dehydrated. If you have combination skin, you likely only need to use the mask in your T-zone.

Gel mask: If you’ve ever applied aloe vera to a sunburn, you know how soothing gel can be. The same applies to irritated or sensitive skin. Gel masks can also be very hydrating.

Physical exfoliator: Look for a product with round beads. These will be gentle on your skin while still working to remove dead cells. Don’t forget to use it on your neck!

I know this much information might seem overwhelming – just like the skincare aisle. But now you know where to focus your attention and how to pick the products that will be best for your skin type in the long run. You can tune out the rest. Now you’ll be able to identify some possible gaps in your routine that you can fill to help your skin look its absolute best. Of course, the products at Systeme 41 fit most of these recommendations and work wonders for your skin – and at a price much lower than the typical skincare aisle, as it is not sold in retail stores.

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