Spoiler: Stronger products don’t always equal better.
When women hit 40, the descriptors used for skin suddenly switch from preventative to negative. Words like “sagging,” “dull,” “hollow,” and “wrinkly” are commonly used to market skincare towards women in this age group. But the reality is, signs of aging are marks of life experiences that younger generations aren’t in on — yet.
These skin-related changes are largely due in part to perimenopause, the years leading up to menopause where estrogen hormones start to drop off, which causes skin to become thinner and lose elasticity. Reduced collagen production is also a factor
Your 40s is also the time when years of unprotected sun exposure may start to catch up with you.
“If skin has not been protected, significant dyspigmentation (sun spots, seborrheic keratoses, melasma) may appear, and in those truly indulgent in sun rays, precancerous spots called actinic keratoses, wrinkles, and textural changes may appear,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, CA.
Whether you want to switch up your routine to address fine lines that have gotten deeper, target uneven skin tone, or boost hydration, the right skincare routine is whatever products make you feel good about your skin at this stage of your life.
To help guide you on finding the best skincare routine, we spoke with Dr. Palm and Dr. Corey L. Hartman, Founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, for their expert tips.
Your Morning Routine
Every good skincare routine starts with washing your face. Dr. Palm recommends using a cleanser that offers gentle exfoliation and anti-aging benefits — think AHA acids, plant-derived enzymes, or even fermented ingredients.
We’re fans of Kinship’s Naked Papaya Gentle Enzyme Cleanser, a gentle foaming cleanser infused with plant-based brightening enzymes and skin barrier-supporting ingredients.
Next, both dermatologists agree that using a specific serums is an important step. “An antioxidant serum containing a cocktail of vitamins — most popular are vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, resveratrol, and niacinamide — helps to guard against free radical development that causes degradation of precious collagen,” Dr. Hartman explains.
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is the gold standard of antioxidant serums. This formula is often recommended by dermatologists and beauty editors alike because it contains vitamins C, E, and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage caused by free radicals. The multitasking serum also treats signs of aging and photo damage such as fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
Epi.logic Master Plan Collagen Renew Growth Factor Serum is a plastic surgeon-created formula that includes peptides, human stem cell-derived epidermal growth factors, and hyaluronic acid to repair and promote cell turnover to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, enhance collagen production for firmness, and help maintain skin’s hydration.
As for moisturizer, look for a formula that contains hydrating ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, squalane, and glycerin. These formulas will replenish skin and lock in hydration for the day. La Roche-Posay Toleraine Double Repair Face Moisturizer is a non-greasy formula with glycerin, niacinamide, and ceramides to hydrate and soothe all skin types.
Sunscreen is the final and most important step in every morning skincare routine. Both MDs recommend a mineral SPF with zinc oxide and antioxidants to support protection against environmental pollution.
“A good skin care regimen means absolutely nothing without a broad-spectrum sunscreen, preferably mineral-based, physical containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” says Dr. Hartman. “Add a tint to ensure that iron oxides are included to protect against high energy visible (blue) light.”
EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is an award-winning sunscreen with zinc oxide. In addition to protecting against UV/UVB rays, the formula also doubles as a lightweight moisturizer.
A good eye cream that depuffs and hydrates the eye area, and a collagen-boosting product like a TriHex peptide cream or growth factor serum are also great additions a morning skincare routine.
Your PM Routine
While morning skincare routines focus on protection, nighttime routines are all about repair and renewal. So firstly, it’s important to remove any makeup you’re wearing. Dr. Hartman likes micellar water or alcohol-free toner.
Garnier Skin Active Micellar Cleansing Water is an affordable drugstore buy that simultaneously removes makeup and cleanses skin — even waterproof makeup.
Dr. Palm recommends exfoliating with a gommage, product that combines gentle chemical and physical exfoliation, after cleansing. “A good cleanser followed by a gommage is my go-to for skin in my 40s,” she says. “Gommages gently exfoliate skin without a chemical or physical irritant.”
And don’t let the word “peel” in Odacité’s Bioactive Rose Gommage fool you. This mild gel can be used as a traditional exfoliating mask. Apply a thin layer to the face, and roll it off under your fingers right before it’s fully dry. You’ll be able to see the product falling away.
Retinol is the star active ingredient of nighttime skincare routines. “The holy grail ingredient is retinol which helps regulate exfoliation, prevent acne breakouts, smooth the skin’s surface and even out discoloration,” says Dr. Hartman.
L’Oréal Paris Derm Intensives Night Serum With 0.3% Retinol is another drugstore buy that would cover your retinol needs. It contains the most potent form of retinol and works on deep wrinkles.
Dr. Palm recommends boosting prescription retinoid creams with a bakuchoil product, an Asian botanical rich in vitamin A. “The plant and seeds are used in skincare and up-regulate retinol receptors and can enhance retinoid effects while decreasing redness and irritancy,” she explains.
Moisturizer is an important last step to replenish skin and reinforce the skin barrier. “Choose one rich in emollients, but with active ingredients to encourage skin repair – again peptides and growth factors are a good choice,” says Dr. Palm.
Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream is a rich (but not too greasy) moisturizer formulated with a blend of nine peptides, growth factors, and amino acids to improve the skin’s texture and tone on top of adding hydration.
Based on your skin type, opt for a hydrating or clarifying face mask once a week. “The former for dry skin types that are prone to irritation and the latter for oily skin that deals with acne,” says Dr. Hartman.
The formula you choose can also vary based on the season. “During winter, a hydrating weekly mask is great for parched skin that is aggravated by plunging temperatures and humidity levels,” Dr. Palm suggests. She says many formulas can be rubbed down to the neck and left on overnight for extra hydration.
On sunny days, try a brightening mask. “Topical agents such as tranexamic acid, vitamin C, E, mushroom extract, azelaic acid, or arbutin would be great hero ingredients to be on the lookout for when selecting the right mask,” says Dr. Palm.
As for devices, both dermatologists recommend a microcurrent device. Just know that if you do opt to try one, it takes consistent use to see results. “I do caution patients that consistency is needed,” Dr. Palm shares. “These devices can be helpful, but it requires incorporating a few minute use nightly into your skincare routine, which is sometimes hard to do when balancing professional and family responsibilities.”
NuFace is by far the most popular microcurrent device on the market. The Trinity Facial Toning Device stimulates the surface of the skin with microcurrents to improve the face’s contour, firmness, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
Stronger Isn’t Aways Better
It’s a common misconception that the deeper the forehead line, the stronger the product needs to be in order to see results. But that’s not always the case.
“The titration of certain ingredients should always be guided solely by skin type, concern, and goals,” says Dr. Hartman. “There are no prizes for using a stronger retinoid if your skin is responding well to a lower strength retinol. In fact, unnecessary inflammation can be counterproductive since inflammation has been linked to premature aging, wrinkles, and lines.”
If you’re interested in increasing the potency of your products because you’re experiencing a plateau in results or have new skin goals, just make sure to discuss your options with a dermatologist first.