The New Skincare Rules

Wash, moisturize, repeat? Think again, say top dermatologists.

Whether you're a medicine-cabinet minimalist or an unabashed product junkie, it could be time to recalibrate your skincare routine. The key to young-looking skin, says dermatologist Neil Sadick, M.D., is "changing your skin paradigm" to protect your face from damage during the day and encourage cell renewal while you sleep. We asked Sadick and fellow Manhattan-based dermatologists Doris Day, M.D., and David Colbert, M.D., for the bare bones essentials to getting (and keeping) smooth, healthy skin.

1. Antioxidants are essential
"If you left a bicycle out in the rain, it would become rusted. But if you sprayed it with antioxidants, the metal wouldn't rust," says Colbert. "Your skin is the same way." In the past few years, researchers have developed newer and more stable antioxidants, says Day. The wonder products protect cells from free-radical damage caused by the environment, can reduce redness and inflammation and encourage regeneration, so apply them morning and night. Since topical antioxidants have the most direct effect, Sadick recommends creams or serums with Vitamin C, Coffeeberry or Idebenone.

2. Use more sunscreen than you think
When companies test SPF, they generally use up to one-third more product than most of us actually apply, says Day. To get full coverage, she applies her own sunscreen in layers, waiting a few seconds between applications for the stuff to sink in. She also recommends starting from the outside edges of your face and working in towards your nose: "I see the most skin damage on the edges of the face because people start in the middle then figure, 'eh, I'm done.'"

3. Retinol really works
"Retinol is the most tried and tested ingredient out there," says Day. "We know it makes skin healthier and reverses the signs of aging." An active form of Vitamin A, retinol boosts collagen and should be applied at night, directly after cleansing. Always ask your dermatologist, but Sadick often recommends that patients alternate an over-the-counter product (they're milder and less likely to irritate) with one that's prescription-strength (such as Retin-A).

4. Consider an oil
As low-tech as it sounds, traditional facial oils are experiencing a resurgence. "Oils are made of essential molecules that go into the creases and cracks of your skin and protect it from losing water" says Colbert. "It's one of the quickest ways to get an instant glow to your face." Ideal antidotes to harsh peels or acids, essential oils such as Argan, Sweet Almond and Jojoba calm the skin and can reduce inflammation. Just avoid pore-clogging mineral oils, says Colbert, and apply only at night unless your skin is extra dry.

For the dermatologists' specific product recommendations, view our slideshow.