My science based anti-aging skin care routine
There are so many skin care products, treatments and procedures it’s difficult to know what are the best approaches to reduce wrinkles, and to keep your skin young for as long as possible.
We get swamped with anti-aging skin “advice”, consisting of innumerable products and therapies, often also the same products and therapies these advisors and “experts” want to sell to us.
In this overabundance of opinions it’s very difficult to find unbiased, science-based advice for proper skin health and rejuvenation.
Even going to a dermatologist does not always lead to the best solution; as some dermatologists are inclined to promote their own specific products or treatments, or to recommend products they get paid for.
And if you go to a dermatologist who invested in a lot of expensive skin care laser devices, (s)he will likely advise you to undergo a laser treatment. The same for a dermatologist who has mainly microneedling devices. Or the one that believes that low level light therapy is the best. And the one that likes to operate will likely recommend surgery to you.
Besides an overabundance of beauty advice making it difficult to see the forest for the trees, there is another problem: a lot of skincare advice is not based on the science of aging (biogerontology). Many beauty experts and dermatologists have only a very limited understanding of the aging process.
For example, they still think that aging of the skin is mainly caused by oxidative damage, DNA damage or crosslinks. Of course, we know that (skin) aging is much more complicated: it’s the result of epigenetic dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, crosslinking, telomere shortening, cellular senescence, and so on.
So we need to approach skin care from a very good understanding of the aging process.
For example, if you know that aging is the result of stem cell exhaustion, then specific laser treatments of the skin are not recommended because these can also damage the stem cells in the skin, which could lead to negative effects in the long term.
Innumerable products and ingredients are touted to reduce wrinkles and rejuvenate the skin. Specific products and ingredients work much better than others and have more science and evidence behind them.
Anyhow, what is my beauty routine? And what would I recommend?
Note: none of these products are sponsored. I recommend these products because I use them myself and/or because they contain the right, high-quality ingredients in the correct doses.
Basics of proper anti-aging skin care routine
In essence, a proper anti-aging skin care regime is actually quite simple. The two most fundamental and important products are:
– An exfoliating product, applied in the morning
– A retinoid-based product, applied before bedtime
To this regimen you can further add the following other important products:
So this is what on optimal anti-aging routine would look like:
– Exfoliator (I use this one – not sponsored)
EVENING (before bedtime)
– Cleanser (I use this one – not sponsored)
– A retinoid-based product (I use a prescription-based 0,05% tretinoin cream)
To this regimen, you can add some extra specific products, especially to reduce wrinkles around the eyes (crow’s feets) (see further below).
I will explain each of these products in more detail below.
An exfoliant or exfoliator
An exfoliator consists of acids, such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid that help to remove dead skin cells and improve skin cell turnover, giving your face a healthy glow, and make it look younger overall.
But how exactly does exfoliation make your face look younger?
One of the reasons the skin of a young person looks young is because young skin has a significantly higher turnover of skin cells. For example, skin cells are renewed every 25 days in a 25-year old, while in a 50-year-old the skin turnover is around 40 to 50 days. This is one reason why the skin of a 50-year-old looks more dull, coarse, greyish, in other words, looks less “fresh” and “young”.
Besides removing dead skin cells and increasing the skin cell turnover, exfoliators also increase collagen production in the skin (e.g. glycolic acid), reduce inflammation (e.g. salicylic acid) and have other beneficial effects.
There exist various different exfoliating acids, divided in two groups:
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs):
- Glycolic acid: its small size allows it to penetrate the skin deeper, inducing collagen production
- Mandelic acid: is more gentle on the skin than other acids
- Others: lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid
Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs):
- Salicylic acid: great to reduce inflammation
Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)
- Gluconolactone, lactobionic acid and maltobionic acid: these are larger molecules, penetrating the skin less deeply, working more slowly and this are used more for people with sensitive skin
It’s important to not use exfoliants in too high concentrations. Too strong exfoliation can damage the skin.
For example, for glycolic acid, use solutions that contain around 5 to 15% glycolic acid. Avoid solutions with 30 to 40% glycolic acid, this is too strong and could in the long term damage the skin, especially our very sensitive and fragile skin stem cells.
The same for salicylic acid. Ideally, use solutions that contain around 2% salicylic acid.
Generally, there are two kinds of exfoliating products:
- Wash-off exfoliators: which you apply and then wash off
- Leave-on exfoliators: you apply then and leave them on the skin
Ideally, you use leave-on exfoliators; this way they have enough time to penetrate the skin and exert their effects deep in the skin.
However, I use a wash-off exfoliator given it better removes dead skin cells and peeling of the skin caused by my tretinoin skin cream.
A good leave-on exfoliator is Paula’s Choice 5% AHA, which also contains ceramides from skin moisturization and EGCG extract from green tea (not sponsored) or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) Serum from Inkey, which also contains hyaluronic acid for moisturization and zinc (not sponsored).
The wash-off exfoliator I use is Olay Regenerist Regenerating Cream Cleanser (not sponsored). One reason why I use this exfoliator cleanser is that it also contains hard grains that help to better scrub the skin, removing some peeling that can occur because of the tretinoin cream (see further down).
Another wash-off exfoliator I like is the Salicylic Acid Cleanser from Inkey (not sponsored) because it contains the right dose of salicylic acid (2%) and also zinc and allantoin.
Using exfoliators makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. So always use sunscreen as the last step of your skincare routine (but whether you use exfoliating products or not, you always need to apply sunscreen – see further down).
A retinoid-based product
Retinoids are the most powerful tools to slow skin aging, and to even partially reverse wrinkles.
There is a lot of scientific evidence demonstrating they work and make the skin look younger.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A. Natural vitamin A can be found in your body as retinol or retinyl esters.
Vitamin A is mainly stored in the liver in the form of retinyl esters (e.g. as retinyl palmitate). Retinyl esters are then converted to retinol in order to be transported in the blood to nearly all our cells. Inside our cells, retinol is converted into retinal and then into retinoic acid (tretinoin), which is the bio-active form influencing many cellular processes.
There exist different kinds of retinoids. Some retinoids are more powerful than others. Arranged from least to most powerful:
- Retinyl esters (e.g. retinyl palmitate, retinyl propionate, retinyl acetate)
- Retinal or retinaldehyde
- Tretinoin or retinoic acid
Retinoids have epigenetic effects on the skin, reduce inflammation, sun damage and increase production of collagen and even elastin.
I prefer tretinoin (retinoic acid) given it’s the most powerful form of retinoids. In our cells, retinol and retinal have been converted into tretinoin to exert their main biological effects.
However, tretinoin is prescription-based in most countries, meaning you have the fuss of having to see an MD in order to get a prescription.
If you don’t want to do this, a very good alternative to tretinoin is retinol. Retinol-based skin products are available without prescription.
Retinol, especially combined with ingredients that further potentiate its effect, is an excellent alternative to tretinoin.
If you start to use retinoids, especially tretinoin, it’s important to start gradually.
If you apply too much in the beginning, your skin will become irritated and will peel off too much. Therefore, start with applying only a pea-sized amount of cream for your entire face every other or every two days. After around 3 weeks, if your skin can tolerate it, start applying it every day.
It’s possible that after a while applying your retinol cream your skin starts to peel off too much still, or becomes irritated. That could be a sign to cut back with your retinoid cream. You can then for example introduce one or two days per week you don’t apply retinoids creams to allow the skin to have a little retinoid-pause.
Also importantly, during the first months you apply retinoids, your skin also becomes more sensitive to the sun, so always use a sunscreen (which you would need to apply anyhow).
Also, as with many skin care products, one has to be patient. For retinol and tretinoin-creams, it takes at least 6 months to a year to see a substantial reduction of wrinkles and increased skin thickness and plumbness.
Given retinoids are acids, do not combine them with exfoliating acids like glycolic acid or salicylic acid given this could be too taxing for the skin. Therefore, always use exfoliating acids in the morning and retinoids in the evening.
Some good tretinoin skin creams are Retin-A (USA), Renova (USA) or Ketrel (Europe) with a concentration of 0.05% tretinoin.
Some good brands for retinol skin creams are Roc Retinol Correxion Wrinkle Correct Serum (not sponsored; prefered choice but can give some allergic reactions in people) or Neutrogena Retinol Cream + Hyaluronic Acid cream (not sponsored).
Other active products
As mentioned before, the two main active products of your anti-aging skin care routine are exfoliators (e.g. glycolic acid and/or salicylic acid) and a retinol-based product.
However, you can add a third active-ingredient product. For example one that contains peptides which have scientifically been shown to induce collagen production in the skin and to reduce wrinkles.
Skin peptides are small parts of proteins (mostly of collagen proteins) that are often connected with a fatty acid “tail” so they can penetrate more deeply in the skin to activate fibroblasts and specific pathways to produce more collagen, laminins, and integrins, and other substances that are important for the structure and integrity of the skin.
Examples of skin peptides are palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, palmitoyl tripeptide-1, palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminobutyroyl hydroxythreonine, palmitoyl dipeptide-5 diaminohydroxybutyrate and others.
Examples of brand names that contains mixtures of such peptides are Matrxyl 3000™ peptide, Syn-Tacks™ Dual Peptide and so on.
A peptide-based skin cream I use is “Collagen peptide serum” from the Inkey List (not sponsored). I like the products of companies like the Inkey List or The Ordinary given they provide high-quality, science-based products for a very good price (most skincare brands charge way too much for their products).
I apply it after I have cleansed and exfoliated my skin.
A good cleanser is the start of your daily skincare routine.
A cleanser cleans the skin from dirt, pollution, toxins and other substances that damage the skin.
Ideally, you use a cleanser that also has some active ingredients in it, like vitamin C or magnesium.
For this reason, I use Age Perfect from L’Oréal (not sponsored) given it contains vitamin C and magnesium and other beneficial ingredients.
A moisturizer is also an important part of your daily skincare routine. Aging skin becomes less moisturized.
One reason why our skin looks old when we’re old is because it’s significantly less moisturized, giving the skin a dried-out, dull, wrinkly appearance. Also, a skin that has not enough moisturization will age faster given its less protected.
A well-moisturized skin looks younger.
There are mainly 3 different kinds of moisturizers:
- Humectants: pull water into the skin (examples are hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea).
- Emollients: restore the skin barrier and make the skin texture more smooth (examples are ceramides, rosehip oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, etc)
- Occlusives: they form a barrier over the skin to trap moisture (examples are beeswax and other waxes, silicones, lanolin, mineral oil, etc).
For the purpose of anti-aging, I prefer hyaluronic acid. This substance occurs naturally in the skin. However, during aging, we gradually lose hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is and excellent moisturizer. Also, hyaluronic acid has a signal function and can improve skin health besides by just attracting water to the skin.
Ideally, make sure your product contains at least 1.5 percent hyaluronic acid.
A product I use is
Another interesting product is Paula’s Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster, given it also contains vitamin B5 (penthanol) and ceramides (not sponsored). A similar interesting product is Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, which also contains ceramides and vitamin B5 (not sponsored).
Most skin damage is caused by the sun. Sunlight is extremely high-energy and powerful radiation (just let a black object lie in the sun and see how warm it gets after 15 minutes). It causes significant damage to our fragile skin, which consists mainly of water and proteins and fats and DNA floating around in it.
Sun radiation causes significant damage to the skin cells, especially DNA damage (by forming thymine dimers for example), and this happens after a few minutes. Luckily, our skin cells can repair most of this damage, but not all, so every time when the skin is exposed to the sun some damage accumulates.
Also, the reason why our skin tans when exposed to sunlight is due to DNA damage. In fact, your skin becoming tanned is a DNA damage response. When sunlight causes DNA damage in our skin cells, the skin cells will produce brownish-melanin kernels to surround the cell nucleus that stores the DNA in order to protect the DNA against further DNA damage.
So you get a tan because of DNA damage!
As mentioned before, the skin never forgets completely all the DNA damage it accumulated. People who are often exposed to sun radiation look much older, have more wrinkles, a more leathery skin, and have more liver spots, actinic keratoses and other forms of sun-damaged skin. They also have much more risk of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma.
So it’s paramount to use sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy. Between a SPF30 and SPF50 there is not really a fundamental difference. Yes, a SPF50 will protect the skin for longer against DNA damage (around 50 times the minimum amount of time it takes to get skin damage, which is about after 20 minutes of sun exposure). However, when outside, it’s more important to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours because you will sweat or wipe off most of the sunscreen anyhow after a few hours.
I use this brand (not sponsored). It also contains hyaluronic acid, which is a moisturiser.
MORE COMPLEX EVEN MORE POWERFUL ROUTINE 2:
This routine consists mainly of the steps of routine 1, but we add some extra products to reduce wrinkles around the eyes (crow feet).
Of course, a proper skin care routine is the first important step to look young for as long as possible. If you want to know the other important steps and interventions, buy my super popular ebook! (It’s only X USD/EUR).