Skin Care Smarts

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that you need to cleanse, nourish and protect your skin. But some skin care facts haven’t made it into conventional wisdom. Top dermatologists share five ways to tweak your skin care regimen to get your most radiant complexion ever.

Moisturize Frequently  
To fight acne, don’t forget the moisturizer, which improves skin’s ability to keep bacteria out and water in. Why is water important? Flaky, dehydrated skin is irritated skin, which sends distress signals to our immune cells, distracting them from healing the inflammation that can accompany acne. Making things worse, the blemish-prone often overcleanse to the point of dryness, which adds more dead skin cells to those already clogging the pores.

To properly keep skin hydrated, wear a light, oil-free, water-based moisturizer. For extra oomph, choose one laced with a zit-fighting ingredient such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinol (nighttime use only) or azelaic acid.

Find the Right Retinoid
Vitamin A creams, known as retinoids, are scientifically proven to help unclog pores, smooth wrinkles, lighten brown spots and improve skin texture. The only hitch is that retinoids in prescription-strength form (which deliver the fastest results) can irritate the skin of first-time users and cause stinging, redness and peeling.  

Acclimate your skin by using a retinoid just twice a week, with the eventual goal of applying it every night.  Or build tolerance by starting with a less potent, over-the-counter form of retinoid: look for the words retinol, retinal, retinaldehyde or retinyl palmitate on the label. Pumped into gels, serums and creams, these ingredients take a little longer to show benefits -- up to six months. But by then you’ll be more than ready to graduate to their Rx cousins.

Load up on Vitamins
Like an alphabet soup, vitamins A, B, C and E call out from the labels of skin-care products. These antioxidant vitamins are naturally present in our skin, but they need replenishment to keep our collagen from being gobbled up by free radicals caused by UV light and pollution. Each excels at something: vitamin A builds collagen and quells enzymes that destroy it; vitamin B (which includes B12, B3 or niacinamide, and folic acid) reduces inflammation, water loss and uneven pigmentation; vitamin C protects against UV damage and improves skin texture; and vitamin E is an emollient that fights redness. 

To cover all the bases, make your products multitask by using a serum containing some of the vitamins and a moisturizer pumped with the others.

Look for Botanical Ingredients
By switching to cleansers and creams containing certain key botanicals, those of us with sensitive skin (a propensity to become blotched, red and irritated) might never have to reach for another tube of greasy hydrocortisone to calm an angry eruption. The top six botanical ingredients that get the nod from doctors because of their anti-inflammatory, antiredness and anti-irritant properties include: colloidal oatmeal, feverfew, licorice, aloe vera, chamomile and turmeric. Not only are these safe for sensitive skin and sufferers of chronic conditions like rosacea, their daily use will help prevent future flare-ups.

Say Yes to Ceramides
A natural component of the top layer of our skin, ceramides are fats that act like mortar to the bricks (cells) that form a wall to keep water inside the skin. When this brick wall is well-preserved, the result is a glowing, well-hydrated complexion. During the winter and as we age, ceramide levels start to drop, shrinking the mortar and causing dry, inflamed skin. Fortunately, we can replenish lost ceramides with synthetic or natural forms, both of which are found in moisturizers. To get your money’s worth, look for ceramides in the top half of the ingredients list.