Ever wonder what dermatologists actually put on their own faces, when they're home alone and no one is watching? We did too. That's why we asked several top experts in the medical and skin-care fields to reveal what products they apply daily — and what ingredients really move the needle when it comes to the health and glow of their own complexions.
Some of their answers were predictable (as if a dermatologist would ever leave the house without SPF) and others were more surprising. (Did we hear that someone washes their face with a modest bar? Yep.) And while there are certain powerhouse ingredients few pros would forgo (like the brightening antioxidant vitamin C), their approaches vary from quick and easy to layered and savvy.
For example: New York City dermatologist Ellen Marmur's nightly ritual includes a high-tech device. She turns to her own MMSphere before bed to help her unwind. The LED tool emits different colors of light to help lessen inflammation, decrease bacteria, and even bring on relaxing vibes. How's that for commitment?
But no matter your maintenance level, there's one thing we can all take away from these complexion confessions: Your skin-care routine should vary from morning to night. When you wake up, focus on protecting your skin from the pollution, sun, and various light waves that will inevitably be coming your way. In the evening, switch gears and apply regenerating ingredients, or what dermatologist Mona Gohara calls the "worker bees." She says, "At night is when your skin naturally regenerates itself. That's when you put [on] the actives, not the protectors." So consider incorporating a retinoid formula that prompts cell turnover and aids in smoothing the surface. And if you have time to throw on a sheet mask while binge-watching Schitt’s Creek before bed, well, that's just a bonus.
Ahead, find the morning and evening skin-care routines of four top dermatologists — plus, treatments they do every now and then to keep their complexions in prime shape.
Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine
Skin type: "Brown, melanin-rich, combination, and prone to hyperpigmentation."
A.M. routine: "After washing with a gentle, nonsoap cleanser, a vitamin C serum is the first thing that hits my face. Often I'll use Obagi Medical Fx C-Clarifying Serum with hydroquinone to deal with my melasma. Over that, I’ll layer hyaluronic acid, like SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator. Last is sunscreen: I vary between EltaMD facial and First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30. Because I get oily in areas, I like Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 50 to freshen up in between patients."
P.M. routine: "This is when I put on the 'worker bee' actives: I wash then medicate with a retinoid-like prescription-strength Tazorac and moisturize over that. I'm a big fan of SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, but sometimes I legit put Vaseline petroleum jelly on my face. It’s thick and has a barrier repair function."
Once in a while: "I exfoliate once a week for my melasma with gentle First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma White Clay Acne Treatment Pads with 2% salicylic acid."
Ellen Marmur, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Skin type: "Supersensitive and prone to adult-onset acne rosacea."
A.M. routine: "I believe sweat is nature's best facial cleanser, so after my morning workout 90 percent of the time I just rinse [with water] in the shower. With my skin still damp, I put on two pumps of [my own] MMSkincare MMRevive Serum, then tinted SPF. For workdays, Chanel Vitalumière and on days off, it's EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 Tinted. For activities like tennis, EltaMD UV Active Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+. Then my N95 mask, sunglasses, and I’m out!"
P.M. routine: "My super skin secret is sleep. [Before bed,] I always use Neutrogena Gentle Oil-Free Makeup Remover or Beautycounter Instant Eye Makeup Remover, then remove the residue with a damp cloth. I love using my MMSkincare MMSphere 2.0 home LED therapy to relax and boost dopamine, aka the sleep hormone."
Once in a while: "When it's very cold, I apply what I call a 'rescue cream' — Aquaphor Healing Ointment or an Aveeno body lotion — to my face and neck. And if I notice milia or blackheads, I exfoliate [in the office] with a Jessner's Peel, then hydrate with MMSkincare MMRevive Face Mask."
Nada Elbuluk, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Skin of Color & Pigmentary Program
Skin type: "Generally sensitive."
A.M. routine: “I wash with Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar [Elbuluk is a Dove Partner] and I use a moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or higher. I'm always trying different ones. Sometimes I’ll also use a vitamin C–based antioxidant product or one with vitamins C and E, [like] SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum."
P.M. routine: "Because my skin doesn't tolerate prescription-level retinoids, I tend to use cosmeceutical-grade [products] that are retinol- or retinaldehyde-based. SkinMedica and SkinCeuticals have really great ones — and there are [good drugstore] options like the Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair and RoC collections — but I haven't gotten married to one yet.”
Once in a while: "Retinols cause increased cell turnover, so I don't do additional exfoliation. I'm a less-is-more kind of person."
Jill Weinstein, clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Skin type: "Sensitive, tending toward dry."
A.M. routine: "Glytone Age-Defying Antioxidant Eye Cream has antioxidants to protect from environmental damage and caffeine to de-puff. I don't put much on right now — I worry any product could be too occlusive under my mask or cause heat rash — but I use EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. After, I top it with a loose powder, like Nicole Jacob Mineral Powder, to mattify and set it.”
P.M. routine: "Glytone Exfoliating Body Wash has slightly more glycolic acid than a face wash, but for me, it’s still not irritating. I use it nightly to prevent congestion and for fresher-looking skin. I alternate between two eye creams — SkinMedica Instant Bright Eye Cream and Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL Eyes — for improved fine lines and crepiness. I use Glytone Age-Defying Antioxidant Night Cream and, two times a week, Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream with a form of retinol that’s less drying than prescription-grade retinoids.”
Once in a while: "In the summer, I use SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense Serum to help prevent redness and hyperpigmentation."
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