As unfair as it might be, most non–medical professionals, like you and me, simply expect dermatologists to have picture-perfect skin. And 9 times out of 10, they do — but not without putting the work in. Sure, some dermatologists might be blessed with naturally cooperative complexions, but countless others struggle with common skin woes, like acne and eczema, just like the rest of us. Perhaps you're wondering: Well, can't they just use their fancy-schmancy in-office services to sort out their issues?
The answer is yes, sometimes. It definitely helps to have access to treatments like lasers, peels, and the laundry list of injectables available, but every dermatologist will tell you that determining — and sticking to — a core routine that caters to your skin type is crucial in order to maintain optimal skin health. After speaking with six top aestheticians about their tried-and-true regimens, I couldn't help but get curious about how other skin experts care for their own complexions. So I tapped eight dermatologists to learn more about the products and treatments they use to keep their skin clear and radiant.
Without further ado, find their full skin-care routines — including the drugstore cleanser four of them swear by — below.
Marnie Nussbaum, dermatologist in New York City
Before she starts inspecting her patients' skin, dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum attends to her own complexion, using a mix of both luxury and drugstore products to pack in as much hydration and antioxidant action as she can. "My skin-care routine starts in the shower with a moisturizing body wash," Nussbaum tells Allure. "I love Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash because it gently cleanses but doesn't strip my skin of its natural oils, and it contains a moisturizer in the formula containing pro glycerin that pulls moisture into the epidermis and keeps skin hydrated all day."
For her face, Nussbaum reaches for the ever-reliable La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser, which she favors because it's infused with prebiotic thermal water, ceramides, and niacinamide. "It helps to protect my epidermal barrier and decrease any redness and inflammation," she says.
After doing a thorough cleanse, Nussbaum applies her go-to antioxidant serum: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF With Ferulic Acid. "I use it on my face every morning as it contains a power punch of antioxidants, like vitamin C, phloretin, and ferulic acid to combat sun damage and give my skin a glow by decreasing hyperpigmentation," she says. Another reason she's a fan is that it's oil-free, which makes it more suitable for her acne-prone skin.
Once she's patted her serum in, Nussbaum slathers on CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion as it keeps her complexion hydrated all day long — without clogging her pores. Next up, she's on to eye cream. "I alternate between SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex for Dark Circles, which has a balmy formula with optical diffusers that reflect light away to illuminate the eye area, and Skin Better Science Interfuse Treatment Cream, which "boosts collagen and elastin while fighting dark circles and smoothing fine lines," she says. "It has neuro-calming peptides that smooth muscle action, making it a perfect match for when I use Botox."
Before her final step — sunscreen, naturally — Nussbaum applies a dime-size dollop of Neostrata's Triple Firming Neck Cream, which she says contains pro amino acid and neocitran to target collagen production. As for her favorite SPF, that would be EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46. "It's great because it's formulated with hyaluronic acid to keep skin moisturized, provides broad-spectrum SPF coverage with transparent zinc so it doesn't leave the white residue, and it has antioxidant protection with niacinamide."
After a long day, Nussbaum comes home and starts off her skin-care routine with Drunk Elephant's editor-favorite Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser, as it gently removes her makeup and all of the impurities her skin accumulated throughout the day. When she wants an extra-deep clean, she exfoliates with glycolic pads, which she says help her skin look more polished.
For moisturizer, Nussbaum swears by the Best of Beauty Award–winning Skin Better Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, which contains encapsulated retinol and AHAs to help increase skin cell turnover. “I alternate between this and a prescription retinoid every other night," she says.
After repeating the same eye and neck routine from the morning, Nussbaum applies a nourishing body treatment to keep her limbs silky soft. "Kopari Coconut Melt is a great allover body moisturizer, and I especially like to use it on my hands and for dry, cracked cuticles in the colder months," she says.
In terms of the extras, Nussbaum gets get monthly Clear + Brilliant laser treatments to keep her melasma in check — that, and she does a round of Botox every three to four months. Additionally, when traveling a lot, she'll add a moisturizing mask to her routine for added hydration.
"I love SK-II Facial Treatment Mask as it contains pitera, a yeast extract that improves radiance and texture, and I also adore Patchology 5-minute Rejuvenating Eye Hydrogels, which I pop on right before I land."
Lastly, Nusbaum says she never leaves home without her beloved EOS lip balm.
Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist in New York City
After diagnosing and treating countless patients' skin on a daily basis, Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, likes to keep his routine simple (or relatively so). "I know I need to take care of my skin but do not have the patience for a multistep routine," he says. "I aim to protect the skin during the day and repair it from any damage in the evening," he explains of his MO. For Zeichner, this means using the same multipurpose cleanser for his face and body in the shower. Right now, he's reaching for Dove Deep Moisture Shower Foam, as he says it cleanses without drying or stripping the skin of necessary oils.
Fresh out of the shower, he relies on a vitamin C serum (when he remembers), which he says he uses in the morning to prevent free-radical damage during the day. "I’ve been using the L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensive 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum, which is a stabilized form of vitamin C that's one of the best-kept secrets at the drugstore," he says. After serum, Zeichner skips a standalone moisturizer and instead goes straight in with a hydrating sunscreen. His sun-damage shield of choice at the moment is Neutrogena Healthy Defense Moisturizer SPF 50. "It provides protection and hydration in one, which is why I like it," he says.
If you can believe it, Zeichner keeps his p.m. routine pared down, too. The only changes he makes are swapping out serum and sunscreen for a prescription-strength retinoid (his collagen-builder of choice is tretinoin) and moisturizer. "I love the Aveeno Positively Radiant Night Cream because it contains a soy complex that brightens the skin overnight," he says. "Once it dries, I go right in with tretinoin and that's that."
As he's gotten older, Zeichner says he's noticed his skin gets much drier during the winter months, which occasionally requires him to use an ultrarich moisturizer at night to combat the adverse effects of the weather. "When I need a heavy moisturizer, which is usually every few weeks, I steal the Sisley Confort Extrême Night Skin Care from my wife," he says. "It's a super rich cream that contains natural oils, which always get my skin back in check."
Shari Marchbein, dermatologist in New York City
Shari Marchbein is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU's School of Medicine. She's also one of the countless dermatologists who struggle with both acne and eczema. "I have a combination of sensitive yet breakout-prone skin, so I tend to keep things really simple," she says. "The most important aspects for me [in the morning] are daily sunscreen with at least SPF 30 [and] an antioxidant vitamin C serum."
Before these two steps, however, she cleanses her skin with a super gentle face wash, which right now is Simple Waterboost Micellar Gel Wash. For free-radical protection, she relies on the SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF, a vitamin-packed serum that protects the skin from environmental stressors. She then follows up with a moisturizer that contains sunscreen, just like Zeichner. Her two favorites are Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 50 and Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart SPF 50, the latter of which also shields the skin from pollution.
As far as her nighttime routine goes, Marchbein likes to add in a prescription retinoid as well as an ultrahydrating moisturizer, followed by an occlusive product in certain areas that require extra TLC. "At night after a gentle cleansing, I apply Retin-A Micro, which I really love, followed by a moisturizer, such as Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream or Simple Water Boost Skin Quench Sleeping Cream," she says. "Then I apply either Aquaphor or Vaseline ointment to my lips and eyelids because it helps seal in moisture in these thin skin areas that are prone to dryness and cracking."
Marchbein also never forgets to give her body some love. For this, she turns to Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Repair Lotion or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, both of which she says contain ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to seal in hydration. "I also exclusively use Dove body washes; my favorite is the classic Deep Moisture one," she says. "Within 60 seconds of getting out of the shower, I apply a thick layer of moisturizer to maintain optimal hydration throughout the night."
Two or three times a week, Marchbein likes to slough away dead skin cells using a physical exfoliant. "I gently scrub away the old skin with either the St. Ives Radiant Skin Exfoliating Face Scrub or the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Exfoliating Cleanser to improve dull, flaky skin," she says. "It makes an instant difference."
Shereene Idriss, dermatologist in New York City
Shereene Idriss is a New York City dermatologist specializing in facial aesthetics and rejuvenation. You also might remember her from our All About Eyes issue. Idriss says she bases her morning routine on what she feels her skin needs that day. "Generally, I'll shower and wash my face with water only," she says. "I’ve most likely exfoliated the night before and therefore don’t want to overstrip my skin of its natural oils," she explains of her cleanser-free step. Then she goes right in with an antioxidant serum — everyone's favorite, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. "It's my personal go-to because it contains a potent triple combination of antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, and ferulic acid — this simple step helps dramatically with the improvement of fine lines, skin firmness, and overall brightening."
For a moisturizer that contains SPF, she swears by the Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 36. "It offers powerful yet lightweight protection, skin-hydrating ingredients, and antioxidants, like green tea extract and vitamin E, which protect against pollution-induced damage," she says. "This product has a subtle complexion-enhancing tint that evens out my skin tone and allows me to start my day without any makeup on."
Come evening, Idriss likes to address whatever "issues" may have surfaced on her skin during the day. Regardless, though, she always starts her routine by removing her makeup with Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water and follows with a sulfate-free gentle cleanser, as she says they tend to be less irritating. "I personally love the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser because, as the name implies, it quenches your skin with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin, which are all key ingredients for locking in moisture," she says.
Post-cleanse, it's time for exfoliation. "This is where it’s important to note that what works for me may not work for you, so get to know what your skin can tolerate," she advises. "My skin remains in harmony when I exfoliate two or three times a week; I also believe that exfoliating at night is key because it strips your skin of all impurities that accumulate throughout the day and creates a clear foundation for your skin to absorb the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself overnight." Unlike Marchbein, Idriss prefers chemical exfoliants, her favorites being the Rebrightalyze Pads and the highly touted Biologique Recherche P50. "Both contain variations of glycolic acid and lactic acid, which make the skin appear brighter while exfoliating," she says.
Immediately afterward, Idriss applies SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5% serum to help advance collagen production, even out skin texture, and improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pore size. "Retinol is a star ingredient as it is one of those rare ones that can get deep into your dermis to stimulate your collagen production right at the source," she explains. SkinMedica's serum, which has a lotion-like feel, also contains vitamin E and squalene oil to help minimize irritation. Afterward, she uses Natura Bisse Essential Shock Intense Cream, as she says she likes to use a rich moisturizer that soaks in gradually overnight.
To top it all off, she uses the Nia24 Eye Repair Complex for her eyes. "This one not only helps smooth out the delicate texture of the skin around your eyes, but the niacin it contains helps to brighten pigment around your eyes," she says.
When she has some downtime, Idriss likes to treat herself to a Fraxel laser to target hyperpigmentation. "This always helps to clear my skin and smooth out superficial texture," she says.
Sejal Shah, dermatologist in New York City
Sejal Shah, a dermatologist in New York City, prides herself on being a minimalist when it comes to her skin. "In the morning, I rotate between First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser and CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, followed by a vitamin C serum and moisturizer with SPF," says Shah. For serum, she's loyal to the Revision Vitamin C Lotion 30%, and as far as moisturizer goes, she rotates between EltaMD UV Clear and the MD Solar Science Creme Mineral Beauty Balm.
Shah's nighttime routine starts with a double cleanse made up of a traditional cleanser and micellar water (her favorite is the original Bioderma Sensibio H20). "Then I like to use a retinol or glycolic acid, like Skinbetter's AlphaRet, a few times a week," she says, as this helps to resurface the skin without having to manually exfoliate. Speaking of which, when she does physically exfoliate, which is usually just once a week, she reaches for the Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Wine Pads, a treatment that contains naturally occurring AHAs to slough away dead skin and debris.
After applying her serum, Shah completes her routine with a dollop of Revision D.E.J. Night Face Cream, which contains a time-released 0.25 percent retinol combined with bakuchiol to prevent fine lines from forming overnight.
Shah also regularly gets Botox and Clear and Brilliant laser treatments. And when her skin is feeling worse for wear, she says she avoids any irritating or drying products and steps up the hydration with sheet masks. She's a big fan of the Eau Thermale Avène Soothing Sheet Mask.
Arash Akhavan, dermatologist in New York City
When New York City dermatologist Arash Akhavan wakes up, he cleanses with the Mod Skin NYC Revitalize Me Cleanser. Of course, he's biased: He founded the line. Disclaimer aside, he says the cleanser is gentle but very effective, thanks to ingredients like aloe and cucumber-fruit extract.
After cleansing, Akhavan smooths on Mod Skin NYC Revolution Serum, which is rich in hyaluronic acid. "It leaves my skin plump and dewy," he says. "I then apply a sunscreen, and I weigh this up depending on the season and how dry our local climate is," he explains. "Currently, as we are switching to drier weather in the Northeast, I am using the MD Solar Sciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50, which contains highly effective skin-moisturizing ceramides."
And that, folks, is Akhavan's simple three-step morning routine.
Come evening, Akhavan cleanses with the same Mod Skin NYC face wash mentioned above, followed by the same serum. Then he likes to address any signs of nascent fine lines, wrinkles, or discoloration. "I’m a big believer in vitamin C products, which I get through the Mod Skin NYC So Much C Cream, as well as retinol, which I get through our Encapsulated Retinol Cream," he explains. After smoothing on his night cream, it's off to bed.
Akhavan believes hormones play a huge role in skin health and says it's vital to keep stress hormones in check. "Regular sleep is a must for me, as well as exercise," he says. He also tries his best to avoid high-glycemic foods, as he says there's data showing they can contribute to surges in stress hormones. "It's just something I try to keep in mind when making food choices."
Melissa Levin, dermatologist in New York City
Like many of her peers, Melissa Levin, a New York City dermatologist and clinical instructor at NYU's Langone Health, lives for CeraVe's classic Hydrating Cleanser; she says it's super gentle and gets the job done. Unlike some of them, however, she likes to use an eye cream in the morning to help decrease puffiness and undereye bags. Her current must-have? SkinBetter InterFuse Treatment Eye Cream, which contains peptides, vitamin C, humectants, and caffeine to aid in improving the aforementioned eye-area concerns.
Then, to keep breakouts at bay, Levin uses a prescription medication called Aczone 7.5%, a gel-based treatment that targets adult acne. "I apply it to my entire face once daily before moisturizing with Avène Eau Thermale Hydrance Emulsion," she says.
Depending on the day, Levin also sometimes likes to use Isdin Flavo-C Ampoules to provide antioxidant protection. "This formulation is sealed in a glass ampoule to ensure stability and potency and is easy to use for travel," she says. "I especially love it for the winter since, in addition to the L-ascorbic acid, it also improves skin moisturization due to hyaluronic acid and proteoglycans."
Levin finishes with a healthy dose of the Isdin Eryfotona SPF 50. "It's an elegant, lightweight-but-effective pure mineral blocker with 11 percent zinc oxide and DNA repair enzymes."
Levin's nighttime regimen is largely the same, save for a few steps. To remove makeup and debris, she uses La Roche-Posay Micellar Water on a clean cotton pad. "I love micellar water because it's minimal in the number of additives and relies mainly on water and oil, which gently remove the residue off of the skin," she says. For cleansing, she favors either Alastin Gentle Cleanser or Neostrata Resurface Foaming Glycolic Acid Wash Cleanser. "I use Neostrata as an effective exfoliating cleanser since it contains 18 percent glycolic acid and lactobionic acid to exfoliate, smooth irregularities, and brighten skin," she explains.
Then, before moisturizing, she uses a combination of antioxidant- and retinol-containing serums. "I use Isdin Melatonik for its unique combination of melatonin, bakuchiol — a naturally derived botanical with retinol properties — and vitamin C," she says. For retinol, she alternates between Differin Gel and SkinBetter Science Intensive Alpha Ret (both of which Allure has revered in the past).
Lastly, Levin uses two moisturizers: a prescription cream called Ceracade, which contains a ton of ceramides to help repair the skin barrier, topped with Dermalogica Barrier Defense Booster. "The latter has oat kernel oil, which is chock-full of healthy cholesterol, linoleic acid, ceramides, and sterols," she says.
For Levin, caring for her neck and chest is just as crucial as caring for her face. "I teach my patients that the face, neck, and chest is one unit that should be treated, which is why I use Alastin Restorative Neck Complex as it's an antioxidant-based firming and tone-correcting cream that addresses crepiness, horizontal necklace lines, and discoloration."
Carlos A. Charles, dermatologist in New York City
As far as routines go, Carlos A. Charles, a dermatologist in New York City, is about as bare-bones as it gets. "My routine looks like this: In the morning I wash with a gentle cleanser, such as CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, followed by a generous layer of EltaMD UV Clear, which doubles as both my sun protection and moisturizer," he says. Charles adds that sometimes he'll also use a vitamin C serum to ward off free-radical damage, which helps with his hyperpigmentation. Lately, he's been using — wait for it — SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. Anyone surprised?
In the evening, Charles says, he sometimes swaps out CeraVe's original Hydrating Cleanser for its foaming option, as he says it works better at removing the dirt and grime from the day. "Then I moisturize with CeraVe PM Face Moisturizer, and twice a week I'll use a gentle retinoid cream on top to assist with cell turnover and collagen production," he says. "I usually go with the tretinoin 0.025 percent cream."
Charles says he always, always uses a fragrance-free soap on his body (such as Dove or Aveeno) and makes sure to apply a generous amount of moisturizer from head to toe right after bathing.
Now read more about pros' favorite skin-care picks:
- 6 Top Aestheticians Reveal Their Favorite Skin-Care Products
- The Best Skin-Care Products Created by Dermatologists, According to a Cosmetic Industry Expert
- The 18 Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin, According to Experts
Done reading? Now watch 100 years of acne treatments:
Originally Appeared on Allure