best skincare routine for aging acne-prone skin

Who said that acne is only for teenagers?

Sometimes, it sneaks up on you as soon as you hit menopause. Other times, it’s more impatient and gets you in your 30s.

Like you hadn’t enough on your plate already. Wrinkles, anyone?… How the heck do you deal with both at the same time?

If you fight acne aggressively, you’ll dry out your skin and make your wrinkles more obvious than ever. If you treat wrinkles with rich creams or sunscreens, you’ll aggravate your acne. Argh!

Fret not. You can treat both acne and wrinkles at the same time. Luckily, some of the best antiaging superstars double as acne fighters. You just need to introduce them into your skincare routine in the right way. Here’s how:

Morning Skincare Routine For Acne + Aging Skin

Step 1: Gentle Cleanser

The #1 mistake women make when dealing with acne? Picking a cleanser that’s way too harsh in an effort to dry the acne away.

It ALWAYS backfires. A harsh cleanser dries out the skin, which reacts by producing even more sebum. Skin is dried out alright, but the acne’s still there.

Instead, opt for a gentle foaming cleanser. Anything with sodium lauryl sulfate is banned. It’s too harsh and irritating. Stay away from bar soaps and milky cleansers, too. They can clog pores and worsen acne.

Best Picks:

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): pH 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.99): pH 6.2. Available at Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice. 

Related: How To Pick The Right Cleanser For Your Skin Type

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Step 2: Antioxidant Serum

Free radicals are your skin’s biggest enemy. These unstable molecules lack one electron. They desperately crave it. So, they crawl through your body looking for healthy molecules to attack and steal the electron from.

The attacked molecule is now a free radical, looking for another electron to steal. It’s the start of a deadly chain reaction that leads to wrinkles and dark spots.

Antioxidants stop free radicals in their tracks. Your body knows free radicals are coming, so it naturally produces antioxidants to destroy them before they can wreak havoc. 

But, your skin needs a lot more antioxidants than your body can naturally produce. That’s where a healthy diet and skincare come in.

You’ll find plenty of antioxidants in skincare products. Vitamin C. Vitamin E. Green tea. Resveratrol. Coenzyme Q10. Ferulic acid. Superoxide dismutase…

The best one? None of them. Just like your body doesn’t need only kale, your skin doesn’t need only green tea. The more antioxidants you feed it, the younger and healthier it is.

P.S. If you’re opting for a Vitamin C serum, make sure it contains Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP) instead of L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA). Both fight wrinkles, but SAP goes the extra mile: it reduces lipid oxidation, one of the causes of acne.

Best Picks:

Related: Is Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate The Best Form Of Vitamin C For Acne-Prone Skin?

niod multi-molecular hyaluronic complex

Step 3. Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet. It attracts the water in the air into the skin and binds it there. It’s so good, it can bind up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Another pro? Hyaluronic acid works well both in high and low humidity conditions. No matter where you are, it’ll do the job!

Some antioxidants serums or moisturizers already have enough hyaluronic acid to keep your skin happy. If not, use a separate hyaluronic acid serum now.

Best Picks: 

Related: Spotlight On Hyaluronic Acid: Why You Should Add It To Your Skincare Routine

Step 4: Sunscreen

The best sunscreens use zinc oxide, but it’s so thick and greasy, it may cause breakouts. You can totally give it a try and see how it goes.

But, don’t limit yourself. In this case, it may be worth to go for a sunscreen hybrid that mixes zinc oxide with safe synthetic filters. Or, if your skin is super oily, go down the synthetic route entirely.

Just make sure there’s no alcohol in sight. Alcohol is often used to turn rich and creamy formulas into almost-runny, thin concoctions. But, it’s terribly drying and could trick your skin into producing even more oil. That’s the last thing you want.

Best Picks:

  • EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
  • Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 ($34.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore

Related: What Are The Best Sunscreens For Oily Skin?

Night Time Skincare Routine For Acne + Aging Skin

Step 1: Oil Cleanser

Time to take the makeup off, ladies! I love oils for this. I know, I know. But, hear me out.

Remember what your chemistry teacher said about “like attracting like?” Oils like jojoba oil attract the oils in your makeup and sunscreen, making it easier to rinse them off the skin.

My fave oil for acne-prone skin is jojoba. It’s very similar to human sebum so it doesn’t clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s an old friend.

Yes, it leaves a residue behind. If it bothers you, remove it with your morning foaming cleanser. Done.

P.S. Some foaming cleansers have oils in there too and can remove makeup. Check the ingredient list before  splurging on a second cleanser.

Related: What Is The Oil Cleansing Method?

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

Step 2A: BHA Exfoliant

Acne’s a job for salicylic acid (BHA). It’s the only exfoliant that gets deep inside the pores, removing all the excess sebum, dead skin cells and other crap that’s clogging them up.

It removes dead cells from the surface of the skin, so they won’t end up in the pores and clog them again. Basically, it keeps your pores clean so breakouts can’t happen.

By the way, salicylic acid must stay on your skin for hours to work its magic. Leave rinse-off products on the shelves. They won’t work as well.

Use it every other night, alternating it with retinoids.

PRO TIP: yes, you can use salicylic acid and glycolic acid (an antiaging superstar that boosts collagen production) together. The Drunk Elephant serum below has both.

Best picks:

Related: AHAs vs BHA: Which One Is Right For You?

peter thomas roth retinol infusion pm night serum 01

Step 2B: Vitamin A (Retinoids)

Why use one treatment for acne and one for wrinkles when the one will do? With vitamin A, you can kill two birds with one stone. Here’s why:

Vitamin A comes in many forms. You can go down the prescription route and get yourself some tretinoin or you can stick to OTC serums with retinol. Retinol works more slowly, but it’s gentler on the skin.

Mind you, both will irritate and dry out your skin at first. That’s why it’s best to start slowly. Use it only two or three times a week to start with and increase frequency gradually to every other day, alternating it with BHA.

It’s also not a bad idea to start with a small concentration of retinol (believe it or not, 1% is A LOT) and work your way up slowly.

PRO TIP: vitamin A makes skin more prone to sun damage. Use it at night only.

Best Picks:

Related: Which Strength Of Retinol Do You Need?

Step 3: Hyaluronic Acid Serum

This is optional. If you’re already getting your hyaluronic acid somewhere else, you can skip this. But if your skin’s on the dry side when you wake up in the morning, use a separate hyaluronic acid serum at night.

paula's choice 10% niacinamide booster 01

Step 4: Moisturizer With Niacinamide (Or Add It With A Booster)

This is the most challenging part. Your skin needs a moisturizer loaded with antioxidants to fight free radicals and hydrating enough not to turn your skin into a flaky mess.

And niacinamide. Plenty of niacinamide. It’s a form of vitamin B3 that fights wrinkles, fades dark spots, hydrates skin, soothes irrations and treats acne. There’s nothing it can’t do.

But, texture matters here. Anything that’s too rich and creamy is out of the question. That’ll clog your pores and worsen your acne. Instead, go for lightweight lotions and emulsions.

If you can’t find one that fits the bill, opt for a niacinamide booster and mix it with your moisturiser. Done.

Best Picks:

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Niacinamide In Skincare