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”What are the top 3 things I should be using on my skin on a daily basis for great skin?”

We get this question all the time, as everyone wants to know how to streamline their morning and night skin care routines with the most effective products. Well, we know you want great skin. And we also know you’re busy, like us. So here are our top 3 everyday skincare products that form the foundation for a truly great, and easy, skincare routine. 

Top 3 Everyday Skincare Products featured by top Cary Dermatologists, Clara Dermatology: Vitamin A

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is the basis of retinol / retinoid products, which have amazing benefits for your skin. Studies have shown retinols to have a slew of benefits, including: reducing oil production in the skin, stimulating collagen production to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time, and increasing the rate of cell turnover (the speed with which new skin cells are produced), which can lead to lightening of sun spots and other discoloration on the skin. 

Retinols come in a variety of strengths, from over-the-counter, to medical grade, to prescription strength products. A higher strength product is not necessarily the best however. The higher the percentage of active vitamin A, the more irritation and dryness the product can cause. We generally recommend prescription strength retinoids to our patients with acne, and suggest medical grade retinol to our patients looking to improve the texture and appearance of their skin. Our retinol, Nightly Habit, contains 0.5% retinol, which we think is the sweet spot – strong enough to get results, but gentle enough to use nightly. 

And you should use it nightly… just not right away! Retinols and retinoids should be applied at night because they are easily broken down by sunlight, and also because we know that skin cell regeneration (along with cellular repair and regeneration in the rest of the body) is most active overnight while you’re sleeping. You want your anti-aging ingredients to be there for the heavy lifting that’s happening overnight! 

When you first start to use a retinol, you will notice some dryness and even mild irritation. We recommend applying a pea-sized amount to your entire face three times a week until you’ve gotten used to the product, and then slowly increasing the frequency to nightly over time. With consistent use, you will see skin that is smoother, more even in tone and texture, less oily, and more firm. 

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid, one of the alpha-hydroxy acids, is our favorite way to exfoliate! Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is water soluble, and it does amazing things to the skin. As a gentle yet effective acid, it helps to loosen up dead skin cells and sweep them away, along with the dirt and oils in the pores, to leave skin brighter and clearer. Glycolic acid also comes in many strengths (percentages) and formulations. Our favorite way to use glycolic acid is as a toner. After washing your face, or instead of washing in the morning, swipe a pad saturated with 10% glycolic acid across your face to loosen up and remove oils, dirt, and dead skin cells. Allow your skin to dry, then apply the rest of your skin care products; as a result of using the glycolic acid first, all of your other skin care products will absorb more easily and be more effective. And over time, you will notice a new brightness to your skin as a result of daily exfoliation with glycolic acid. Try the CLARA Clean Sweep pads, which have a blend of 10% glycolic acid, along with salicylic acid and lactic acid, to give your skin a beautiful, fresh look. 

As with any acid, glycolic acid can at first be irritating. Star slowly by incorporating glycolic acid into your routine a few days a week. All alpha-hydroxy acids can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so if you are using it in the morning, be sure to end your skin care routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect from UV radiation. Using glycolic acid at night is also a good option. Keep reading for more about combining glycolic acid with retinols and the other superstar ingredient we recommend, vitamin C! 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is great in your daily glass of OJ, and even better as a daily skin care serum! Vitamin C has 3 major benefits for the skin: it acts as an antioxidant, which means that it protects the skin from aging due to environmental pollution and free radicals from UV light (and works well with your sunscreen!); it boosts collagen production to help skin appear firmer with fewer fine lines and wrinkles; and, it is a brightener that prevents and lightens existing sun spots or other pigment on the skin by preventing overly-active melanin production in the skin. 

There are so many vitamin C serums available, it can be hard to know which one to choose. In general, studies show that a concentration of 10% or more of ascorbic acid (one of the most powerful and stable, or “bioavailable”, forms of vitamin C) provides the best brightening power. You may also see products with ingredients like ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl-palmitate, or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate; these are forms of vitamin C that must first be converted into ascorbic acid, and it is harder for these forms to be absorbed into the skin. In addition, vitamin C needs to be stabilized by combining it with other antioxidants, most commonly vitamin E and ferulic acid, so that it remains active and is not broken down by light. 

So in summary, we recommend choosing a vitamin C serum that contains 10-20% ascorbic acid, stabilized with vitamin E and ferulic acid. Our Fresh Squeezed vitamin C serum checks all these boxes, and is a great choice! 

How to Combine these Everyday Skincare Products:

What’s the best way to put these ingredients together into a skincare routine? First, whenever you start using new everyday skincare products, we recommend taking it slowly. Start with one new product at a time, and use it just a few times a week until your skin gets used to it. Some irritation and dryness can occur with all three of these products, so really take your time adding them to your regimen. Once you are able to use a product routinely without irritation, go ahead and add the next product to your routine. 

We recommend using glycolic acid in the mornings, to clean your face and get it ready for the day.  Clean Sweep pads by CLARA with 10% glycolic acid are a great way to prime your skin for the next products you’ll use. Alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid do make your skin more sensitive to the sun, but as long as you are diligent about applying your sunscreen, it is generally ok to use it in the morning. You can also use glycolic acid at night, but may have to alternate nights using glycolic acid and retinol, to minimize irritation.

Next, apply your vitamin C serum to the entire face. Serums typically soak in quickly, so it won’t take long before you’re ready to move on to the next step in your routine, typically a moisturizer followed by a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Remember, sunscreen should always be the last step in your morning routine!

At night, after washing your face, apply a small amount of your retinol (vitamin A) to the entire face. Follow with a moisturizer to hydrate the skin and seal in the retinol for the night. And that’s it! If you can commit to a regular routine with these three stellar ingredients, you will see fresher, brighter, more youthful looking skin within a few months of use. 

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