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The Best Skin-Care Routine for Your 40s

Photo: Universal-Pictures

The 40s are a facial-aging tipping point. “Aging seems to appear rather dramatically and suddenly in your 40s due to the onset of the hormonal changes,” said Dr. Zenovia Gabriel, a Newport Beach–based dermatologist who specializes in hormonal skin aging. Estrogen production declines slowly during perimenopause, which typically starts in the mid- to late-40s, then drops precipitously as menopause begins.

What exactly does estrogen loss do to your face? “You would see diminished overall thickness of your skin, increased dryness and less elasticity resulting in sagging,” says Gabriel. In fact, Dr. Michelle Henry, the founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, says that “after the age of 30, we have one percent less collagen production, and we start to lose a teaspoon of fat in our face per year.” The cumulative effects of decades of sun damage and oxidative stress show up as fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Meanwhile, at a deeper level, the natural loss of supportive fat and bone create creases in the skin.

Deep-tissue issues (like fat loss and sagging) can only be addressed at a doctor’s office. But there are plenty of other ways we can treat aging skin at home. Whether you want a basic routine or an all-in skin preservation regimen, ahead are product recommendations from top dermatologists and a celebrity aesthetician.

 If your level is … Beginner

You have a low-key approach to skin care. But in your 40s, even your basics should give your skin a boost (gently). “You can reduce your regimen down to three steps: cleanse, moisturize, and protect,” says Henry. Below are a few products that incorporate the essential ingredients you need.

You’ll need: a gentle cleanser with benefits

$15

Dry skin is common in the 40s, said Dr. Arash Akhavan, a dermatologist in New York City and founder of the Dermatology & Laser Group. Glycerin, a humectant, is the base of this cleanser, so it draws moisture into the skin while you wash. Ceramides, lipids that fortify our skin barrier, are also at play here. They help the skin retain more moisture, said Akhavan.

A moisturizer with antioxidants

Gabriel then recommends using a moisturizer with antioxidants, another important ingredient to add into your routine at this age. Henry says antioxidants “help to combat free radical damage from things like UV rays from pollution and from infrared light.” This one from La Roche-Posay contains moisture-locking ceramides and the antioxidant niacinamide.

A mineral sunscreen

Much of the aging we experience — fine lines, dark spots, texture changes — is due to sun damage. Though we start to see those effects in our 40s, we can’t give up on preventing future damage. Most of the experts we spoke to recommend a mineral-based sunscreen to avoid the potential irritation that can come with chemical-based sunscreens. Henry likes this one from SkinMedica, and she echoes what we’ve heard time and time again: Wear a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. She likes this one specifically because it combats blue light and contains antioxidants.

A non-irritating retinoid

In the evening, beginners in their 40s should incorporate a retinol into their regimen to enhance cellular turnover (which slows as we age) and to help increase collagen and elasticity in the skin, which also more rapidly declines in this decade. Board certified dermatologist, Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, says it’s a nonnegotiable in this decade, so even beginners should use it. “It’s the closest thing we have to a holy grail,” he says. “It does everything. It helps with acne breakouts, helps with the skin surface, it helps with more effective exfoliation, It gets rid of that dullness, It helps with fine lines and wrinkles, it really does it all.” While there are plenty of retinol serums out there (more on those later), a beginner might like something like this Olay Regenerist Retinol Moisturizer which is a night cream and retinol in one. Gabriel says it’s a great beginner product containing niacinamide, an antioxidant that prevents the irritation sometimes brought on by retinoids.

If your level is … intermediate

At the intermediate level, introduce products that repair damage and treat problems that can occur in our 40s, like dark spots, fine lines, and even acne. Use the “beginner” product categories as your baseline routine and add items from this list based on your needs and the amount of effort you’re willing to commit to a routine.

A skin-brightening serum

Applying a vitamin C serum after cleansing will reduce age spots and uneven tone that many people experience in their 40s, says Gabriel. Both Gabriel and Hartman recommended this serum from Vichy. Gabriel likes it because “it combines 15 percent pure vitamin C and hyaluronic acid for brighter skin,” and Hartman is a fan because, even though it’s a drugstore serum, it “gives you all the benefits of some of the higher-end brands, and it’s in a formulation that really works well for most skin types.”

A hyaluronic acid serum

According to Akhavan, dryness and dullness, effects of increase transepidermal water loss, are common skin complaints among patients in their 40s. If this sounds familiar, your routine needs a hyaluronic acid serum — it’s a powerful humectant, meaning it draws in much-needed hydration. The Jordan Samuel Skin Hydrate Facial Serum cocktail of humectants include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and aloe leaf juice (which is also anti-inflammatory).

A (less expensive) hyaluronic acid serum

For a drugstore option, Hartman is a fan of this hyaluronic acid serum. “It has all the nutrients and minerals from the proprietary volcanic water that Vichy owns in France,” he says. “It does a good job of hydrating the skin and also calming any inflammation.” It’s not dramatically cheaper than the Jordan Samuel serum, but you’ll save about $10 and it’s easier to get your hands on.

A cream (not a lotion)

As we’ve mentioned, this is the age to take hydration seriously, so consider a thicker moisturizer. “If you’re someone who didn’t use a cream when you were in your 20s, you were a lotion person, by the time you get to your 40s you might be more into rich creams because your skin is just getting drier and drier and drier,” says Henry. Hartman says this is one of the best whipped creams. He’s a big proponent of antioxidants, which this has, as well as hyaluronic acid.

A retinol-AHA hybrid