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Anti-Aging 101: Where to Start?

How to create your own anti-aging skincare routineanti-aging, antiaging, routine, regimen
So, now that you know a little bit more about anti-aging, where does one start? There’s a huge number of products out there. Do you need 10 treatment products? Should you include stick to the basics? The answers to those questions really should be determined by you. But, here’s what a few little birdies (aka- the 2 cosmetic dermatology textbooks I own) say you should be doing to start off your anti-aging skin care routine. If you’re interested in doing more than this or you want to be much more in depth it is likely worth your time and money to head off to a dermatologist.

While these recommendations might seem pretty basic, sometimes the most basic things get lost in the craziness of learning about anti-aging ingredients and how well they work.

Obviously, you need to clean off your makeup and the day’s dirt every day. If you need more reason to wash your face each night, you should know that your sebum (which is produced even if you don’t look shiny and greasy) will trap environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke and car exhaust as well.

When looking for a cleanser you want a gentle cleanser that does a good job of removing everything without irritating your skin or overdrying you. Remember that you may need to adjust your cleansing routine with changes in season. A product that is great in the summer may be too much in the winter. You don’t need an anti-bacterial face wash. Washing thoroughly with warm water has been shown to be as effective. Wash with luke warm (not hot) water to avoid drying out your skin, pat dry and apply moisturizer and treatment products immediately.

There are so many amazing gentle cleansers available on the market right now that it is hard to recommend just 1 or 2 to list here (or even 15 or 20). Just find one that works for you. It does not need to be fancy, remember that most “special” ingredients are going to be washed right down the drain. Just make sure it removes all of your makeup and doesn’t irritate or dry out your skin.

Exfoliation removes the outer layers of the stratum corneum (see my epidermis post), which have built up as skin cell turnover slows down with aging. By removing the outer layers you reveal younger layers below and help the skin to increase renewal- these are good things.

There are a few things to keep in mind when exfoliating. First, you want to not overdo it. Why? Didn’t I just say it’s a good thing? Yes, but you can definitely overdo it. You want healthy skin, and too much exfoliation can disrupt the skin’s barrier or give you a lot of irritation. Either be gentle in your exfoliation or give your skin some time off on occasion to recover. The second thing to keep in mind is that you want to chose a method of exfoliation that will be uniform throughout the skin and avoid things that will hurt the skin.

Exfoliation is likely the fastest way to see result with your anti-aging skin care regimen (another reason it can be so addicting). If you have fine lines, make sure to scrub perpendicular to the direction the lines run for the best results.

There are two main methods of exfoliation:

1. Physical/Mechanical Exfoliation: This should be obvious, pretty much anything that physical disrupts the stratum corneum and removes cells. You can do this with a scrub, a mask or even a washcloth.
Washcloths/Pads: My derm text recommends using non-woven polyester pads (not sure what those are) or “slightly abrasive terry washcloths”, which is what I’ve always been told. That means you should hightail it to a dollar store or Walmart to buy rough washcloths to wash your face with. Pay particular attention to your t-zone and around the nose when washing your face.
Masks: Both masks that need to be washed off or peeled off will do some mild exfoliation as you remove them.
Scrubs: When looking for scrubs you want fine, even grit that is not made up of irregularly shaped particles, particularly if they are sharp. This rules out any scrub that uses Apricot (yes, the famed St. Ives Apricot scrub is not good), walnut, almond or pumice as their grit. You also want to make sure that the scrub has enough grit in it that you’ll have fairly even results. I’ve tested a lot of scrubs for this blog, and I have found only 4 that I have liked enough to actually recommend. A large number haven’t made it to testing based on the quality (or quantity) of grit in the scrub.
Biore Skin Preservation Even Smoother Scrub
Avon ANEW Clinical Advanced Microdermabrasion System
Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion
Bioelements Pumice Peel: I know, I know. I said no pumice. However, Bioelements did something different to the pumice in this product, and instead of being large and irregularly shaped it’s really a powder of the pumice crystals. They are more regularly shaped and not sharp as far as I can tell.

2. Chemical Exfoliation:
You can also remove dead skin cells by using chemicals such as hydroxy acids or retinoids to disrupt the anchors that hold cells together. Remember that you should ease into using these products, and cycle them on and off to allow your skin to recover. I’ll be discussing hydroxy acids and retinoids again in the near future, but there are old posts on both explaining how they work (retinoids and hydroxy acids). Both of these ingredients are found in a huge number of products, though you’ll need a higher percentage than is found in a lot of products for it to really work as your exfoliator.

A few of my favs:
Bioelements Quick Refiner: when they sent me this to test, Bioelements recommended that I use it for 3 weeks, take the 4th week off and then start over.
Jolie MD: Cycle the Softening Serum on and off to modulate the exfoliation, keep step 2 for every day.

A Warning about Exfoliation!
Exfoliating your skin (especially with a chemical exfoliator) definitely makes you more sensitive to the sun. That makes the last step (sunscreen) even more important. You need to use sunscreen every day!

Since pretty much the entire rest of the Anti-Aging 101 series is going to be taken over by discussing different active ingredient classes, you know there’s no way I’ll be able to condense it all into a few paragraphs. Let’s just say there are some ingredients that have been shown over and over in clinical studies to help with the appearance of aging, so they’ve made it into my “Anti-Aging Checklist” that I’ve been featuring at the bottom of reviews for a while.

However, just because something is not in this checklist doesn’t mean it doesn’t work (just look at the Johnson and Johnson Bioelectricity products I reviewed, they have amazing results yet the Bioelectricity isn’t in the checklist).

This is a list of common ingredient categories in anti-aging products which I look for before I buy or use a product. I literally stand there in the store and read the ingredients before I buy, looking for these ingredient categories, checking them off in my head and noting how high they are in the list. The higher they are in the list, the more of that ingredient that appears in the formulation.

Ask any dermatologist what you can do to help with aging, and I bet 100% of them will immediately, without even thinking about it, answer you with “wear sunscreen.” Sunscreen is by far and away the single most effective therapy for anti-aging. Photoaging does not require you to be burned or have massive amounts of sun exposure. Nor do you get all of your important sun exposure before the age of 18. You can still do a lot of good by wearing sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every day with broad spectrum UV coverage and avoiding the sun in peak periods such as between 10 am and 2 pm.

To learn more about sunscreens, how they work and what I recommend, you can read my weekly Sunscreen 101 series on Tuesdays or follow my Sunscreen Reviews, which will soon be taking the place of the 101 series with a new sunscreen review each Tuesday.

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

Leave a Comment


  1. 5.3.10

    A beauty regimine is also greatly approved by the use of botanical ingredients.

    anti-aging properties in caffeine/coffee butter are amazing IMHO.


  2. 5.3.10
    cc said:

    Hi! I have very sensitive skin and over the years, I've found out that I can only use Philosophy's exfoliating wash. Have you tried it?


  3. 5.3.10
    Heather said:

    Thank you for this informative post!

  4. 5.3.10

    Kudos on advocating wearing sunscreen. One of the most important protective and preventative things we can do for our skin. Make sure its effectively protects against UVA and UVB rays. Nice post, really enjoyed it 🙂

  5. 5.3.10
    f said:

    would you recommend the eye area to be protected by spf, or would this be too much for the eye area?

  6. 5.3.10
    Christine said:

    Lily- Caffeine will cause a temporary tightening, which is why I love it in eye creams especially.

    CC- I haven't tried it! I'll have to try to remember to check it out next time I'm at Sephora.

    F- Personally, I apply my daily moisturizer with SPF (I'm updating my "go-to" product's review tomorrow, stay tuned to read it!) all over my face and I'm pretty messy with it. It goes on my eye area, up and over my eye lid even. I apply eye cream over it.
    The eye creams that we use in anti-aging often contain ingredients that sensitize skin to the sun (like hydroxy acids and retinoids).

  7. 5.10.10
    Sandra said:

    is it ok apply caffeine/coffee directly to under eyes that are super-puffy? I've used creams that contain caffeine but they had no effect.

  8. 5.11.10
    Anonymous said:

    Any chance you can recommend some products that contain all of ingredients in your checklist? Retinoids, sunscreen, peptides, hydroxy acid and anti oxidiants? I have been doing some research and am having a hard time finding a product or products containing all of these. Any recommendations would help!!!

  9. 4.19.11

    Thanks for this anti-aging 101 post. I think you've highlight tips that some people may find quite useful.

  10. 4.30.11
    Mel said:

    Great post, I do follow an anti-aging skin regimen. I really started seeing changes in my skin and had to start sooner than later. Thanks for the information, very helpful to add to my regimen.


  11. 5.2.11

    very good insight 🙂 I will have to try this out. 🙂

  12. 6.21.11
    mhoward said:

    I'm on board with all your suggestions. I am using a personal microderm for exfoliating, never been happier. My issue is under eye area.
    Darn saggies.

  13. 11.28.11

    Thank you for sharing this blog entry about Anti-Aging 101. I’ve got to get cool new ideas and tips. Keep your posts coming! Will definitely read them all. 😉

  14. 1.17.12

    Same here. Under eye dark circles!

  15. 4.8.12

    This is really a great information since being 30 there are a lot of wrinkles showing up in my face and it is really making me feel awkward.


  16. 8.9.12
    Adelaide said:

    Thank you for posting this. I'm wondering what are your thoughts on the double cleanse method (remove sunscreen/makeup first; and the second cleanse to clean the skin)? Do you think this is really necessary?

  17. 8.9.12

    I don't, assuming that your first washing was adequate. I think it can be easy to miss stuff so washing a second time couldn't hurt really (also here assuming that you're using a gentle cleanser). I always wonder if I should have washed again when I go to dry and leave makeup on the towel. Hmmm…. Then I just do it again. This is pretty much on the days that I try to be lazy and just use my hands, I really need to always use a wash cloth or my Clarisonic.

  18. 12.14.12

    Great post…and very thorough anti-aging regimen. I think cleansing is the most important step, and exfoliation depends on your age and skin type but is also very beneficial. For me another often missed but very important step are facial masks. Usually used bi-weekly facial masks offer so much to your skin vitality. I prefer natural and organic masks made from pure pressed oils, herbs, clays, and other botanicals. Here is a great list of facial masks and there is a section for specific recommendations to each person based on their skin type. Enjoy!