Scrolling through Instagram, it’s easy to assume that getting healthy, glowing skin requires overhauling your entire life and probably emptying your bank account. But it really doesn’t have to be a challenge! In fact you can make big differences in your skin with some small changes to your routine.
The first step, though, is to make sure you're nailing the basics: washing your face regularly, using a moisturizer that's right for your skin type, and using sunscreen. From there finding the right products and routine is a matter of what your individual skin needs and your personal preferences. So we spoke with a few experts to get their top tips for healthier (and healthier looking) skin.
1. Please, please, please wear sunscreen.
“The single most important tip for healthy, glowing skin is to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every single day,” Shari Lipner, M.D., dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, tells SELF. “Performing this daily routine will protect you from skin cancer, sun spots, and wrinkles,” she says. So if you're not already doing this, now is the time to start.
And that’s not just something you should be applying to your face—you should be putting sunscreen on all “exposed areas of skin every single day,” Nada Elbuluk, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology (clinician educator), Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF.
Although you should use whatever type of sunscreen that you like enough to wear regularly (provided it’s broad spectrum and at least SPF 30), Suzan Obagi, M.D., director of the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery & Skin Health Center, tells SELF that she usually recommends mineral sunscreens that rely on titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. “However, we know that this is not 100 percent effective [at blocking UV rays] no matter what the SPF is,” she says.
That’s also why it’s important to keep your other sun-safety strategies in mind, such as wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade whenever possible. “I recommend avoiding any intentional sun exposure, including tanning and tanning beds, given that this will accelerate aging and wrinkling,” Jules Lipoff, M.D., an assistant professor of Clinical Dermatology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells SELF.
2. Find an exfoliation routine that works for you.
Exfoliation helps to remove dead skin cells, revealing the newer, smoother skin underneath. In general dermatologists recommend using chemical exfoliators over physical ones because they tend to be gentler on the skin.
For normal and oily skin types, Binh Ngo, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology (clinician educator), Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF that she recommends using products containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs include ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid while salicylic acid is the main BHA in skin-care products.
Those with sensitive skin may want to look into the even gentler polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), Dr. Ngo says, and should avoid physical exfoliators like harsh scrubs containing pits or abrasive beads.
Along with retinoids (more on those in a bit), chemical exfoliants “optimize skin-cell turnover and lead to a more even, glowing complexion,” Shilpi Khetarpal, M.D., dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. But because both types of products can cause irritation, avoid using them at the same time (e.g. alternate evenings or use one in the morning and one at night, depending on what your skin can handle).
3. Add an antioxidant or two to your skin-care regimen.
If you’ve ever wondered what exactly antioxidants are doing in your beauty products, here’s a quick explainer: Sun exposure leads to the formation of free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress and in high enough amounts can damage the skin. So in skin-care products, antioxidants “clean up or ‘scavenge’ the [free radicals], thus minimizing damage to the cells,” Dr. Obagi explains.
One of the most common and effective antioxidants you’ll find in skin care is vitamin C, which “is a great antioxidant that reverses oxidative damage from sun exposure,” Emily Newsom, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF, “and there are several nice serums on the market.”
Vitamin E is another antioxidant option that’s also a good moisturizer, Dr. Newsom says. “But really any good moisturizer is important to keep your skin healthy and dewy,” she adds.
4. Invest in a vitamin A product.
“Vitamin A-related compounds (retinoids) are really good for giving that glow and brightening the skin,” Dr. Newsom says. You may know these ingredients as retinol or in a prescription form, tretinoin or Retin-A. They all work by ramping up the normal skin cell turnover process, which can help with concerns like fine lines and dark spots as well as acne.
In addition to a normal skin-care routine and using a gentle exfoliator, using a retinoid at night is “the best way to get a healthy glow,” Dr. Khetarpal says. However, be advised that these ingredients are notorious for causing some irritation when first starting out so it’s best to use them just a few days a week in the beginning.
5. Pay attention to your individual skin needs.
Above all remember that what works for someone else may not work for you. “Know your own skin,” Jamie B. MacKelfresh, M.D., associate professor in the department of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine, tells SELF.
If your skin tends to be dry or sensitive you may need to prioritize extra moisturizer and hold back on the exfoliation to achieve a healthy glow, Dr. MacKelfresh says. But if your skin is on the oilier side, gentle exfoliation may be the key for you.
“Knowing your skin can help you find the right products to maximize your skin health and natural glow,” Dr. MacKelfresh says. And if you don’t know where to start or feel frustrated by a lack of results, talk to a board-certified dermatologist for guidance on caring for your unique skin.
- How to Pick the Best Sunscreen for Your Lovely Face
- The Best Antioxidants for Skin, According to Dermatologists
- 9 Moisturizers With Sunscreen That SELF Editors Actually Love
Originally Appeared on Self