The Truth About Skincare for Your Face

From the WebMD Archives

There are thousands of anti-aging creams, moisturizers, lotions, serums, exfoliators, and cleansers available, and you can spend hundreds of dollars on luxury brands, or just a few dollars at the drugstore. But many inexpensive drugstore brands work just as well as the luxury brands, dermatologists say, because they contain many of the same ingredients.

The secret? Find your glow with the right products for your skin type.

Bar Soap and Liquid Cleansers

Most bar soaps are too harsh to use on your face because they contain ingredients that may irritate and dry the skin. Liquid facial cleansers or foaming products are less harsh. Some even moisturize your face as they clean.

Aesthetic dermatologist Amy Derick, MD, advises women to use a liquid facial cleanser containing ceramides, lipids that help skin retain moisture.

If you insist on bar soap, avoid soaps with sodium lauryl sulfate which can dry skin. Instead, look for moisturizing soaps with ingredients such as glycerin and plant-based oils.

If you have oily skin or acne, use a cleanser containing salicylic acid, which removes dead cells from skin, or benzoyl peroxide, which helps unclog pores. This may prevent further breakouts too.

Anti-Aging Creams

How do retinoids and over-the-counter moisturizers and serums that contain retinoids help diminish signs of aging? Yale dermatologist Jeffrey Dover, MD, says they increase cell turnover and may build collagen. Another compound, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter, seems to work at the nerve level to relax wrinkles temporarily.

  • Try creams containing retinyl propionate or retinol, which are found in the skin as vitamin A derivatives.
  • Read your labels. Ingredients such as peptides and sirtuin, a protein, help smooth uneven texture and improve skin’s elasticity.
  • Look for the terms PAL KTTS, copper peptides, and palmitoyl oligopeptide on the ingredient list of anti-aging creams.

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Moisturizers

The skin on your face is constantly exposed to air and pollutants that rob skin of moisture. Old-fashioned petroleum jelly has been used for decades as an inexpensive moisturizer. It works by sealing in moisture, but it’s greasy and heavy.

Moisturizers with emollients and humectants hydrate the skin without the greasy effect. Humectants help retain moisture while emollients help soften and soothe skin. Together, they can temporarily minimize fine lines around the eye or on the neck.

Many skincare products both moisturize and provide anti-aging benefits, dermatologist Doris Day, MD, says.

  • Look for creams that contain glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which plumps the skin temporarily, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Exfoliating Scrubs and Lotions

Ingredients in moisturizers and serums must get through the the skin’s outermost layer to work effectively. Using an exfoliator twice a week will help slough off dead skin cells, allowing creams to penetrate. It also helps make skin appear smoother and less blotchy. Some all-in-one skin cleansers and exfoliators are gentle enough to be used every day.

For an effective but gentle exfoliator, look for products containing glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or malic acid.

Antioxidant Creams

Many creams contain antioxidants, which help prevent free radicals from damaging cells. Some of the creams claim to diminish wrinkles, sallowness, and other signs of sun damage. But there are very few scientific studies that prove they really work as claimed.

If you want to try antioxidant face creams, look for products containing niacinamide, which is both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, or the antioxidants coenzyme Q10, coffee berry extract, and soy extract. Dermatologist Robin Ashinoff, MD, says these ingredients may help reduce the signs of sun damage.

Skin Lightening

Ashinoff says over-the-counter creams containing licorice extract or kojic acid, a fungal ingredient, may lighten those unsightly “age spots” that crop up on the face and neck. But they won’t get rid of the spots completely. She recommends that women who want to lighten spots on their face look for a cream that contains hydroquinone which has been proven effective in lightening skin.

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The FDA allows over-the-counter skin lightening products to contain up to 2% hydroquinone. In 2006, the FDA proposed banning hydroquinone, but that ban has not gone into effect.

The FDA also advises consumers not to use any skin lighteners that might contain mercury, a toxic metal. Those products are made abroad and have been sold illegally in the U.S. If you see "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric," "mercurio," or "mercury" on the label, stop using it immediately, wash your hands and any other parts of your body it's touched, and call a health care professional for advice.

Sun Protection

About 80% of visible skin changes attributed to aging are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. Preventing sun damage is the single most important thing you can do for your face.

Many facial moisturizers and creams contain broad-spectrum sunscreens that filter out UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using broad-spectrum protection of at least SPF 30 every day. Limiting your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat, can also help protect your skin from sun damage.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 19, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Doris Day, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

Jeffrey Dover, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine.

Amy Derick, MD, MD, an aesthetic dermatologist in Barrington, Ill.

Robin Ashinoff, MD, professor of dermatology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

The Skin Cancer Foundation web site.

American Academy of Dermatology: "Sunscreen."

FDA:" Hydroquinone Studies Under the National Toxicology Program (NTP)."

FDA:" Skin Creams, Soaps and Lotions Marketed as Skin Lighteners and Anti-aging Treatments: May Contain the Toxic Metal, Mercury."

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