Want the Best Skin of Your Life Once You Hit 40? Prioritize These 8 Products

Best Skincare Products for Anyone Over 40

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@greceghanem

Here's the thing: We're all aging, folks! As hyper-focused as our culture is on maintaining our youth and slowing down the wrinkles, pigmentation, and any other visible signs of aging, I'm calling for a shift in mindset. We might not be necessarily ecstatic when we notice that first gray hair or some new crinkles around our eyes, but instead of freaking out and throwing the car into reverse, I personally like the idea of making the most with what we have. And really, who said our skin looks best when we're young? A construct that's who. I mean, my mom is 74, and I'm thoroughly convinced she has the most beautiful skin in all the land—wrinkles and all.

Whether we like it or not, our age is showing up on our faces every day we're lucky enough to wake up to a new day. Inevitably, there will be some visible shifts. (For instance, according to one dermatologist I consulted for this piece, our collagen starts to break down by 1% each year after we hit 30.) That said, despite what our genetics, age, or lifestyle habits have to say about it, certain products and ingredients can definitely help keep our skin happy and balanced and looking as healthy as we feel. There's just some strategy involved. To get the scoop on the best skincare products to use once we hit 40 and beyond, I reached out to some of the best experts in the business—from estheticians and acne specialists to dermatologists—for their insight. Keep scrolling for eight key product categories to prioritize in your 40s and the best specific skincare products within each to add to your shopping cart. 

The Most Common Skin Concerns Once You Hit 40

"Clients in their 40s definitely voice more concern around fine lines and wrinkles, an increase in laxity, and uneven skin tone," says facialist to the stars and Australian skin expert Melanie Grant. "The rate at which our skin produces collagen starts to rapidly decline from age 30, and in our 40s, the sun exposure and potential sun damage from our youth really starts to surface with uneven pigment, dark patches, and sunspots." Plus, for many women, she notes, perimenopause is another factor that can contribute to a significant change in the skin once we hit our 40s since hormones shift and prepare for menopause. (This can cause a number of concerns, including dehydration, dryness, laxity, breakouts, and even rosacea.)

The good news? according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, adding and prioritizing the right skincare products can improve the aforementioned signs of aging while simultaneously reducing future damage, even if, sadly, we can't change our genetics, previous environmental exposures, or lifestyle faux pas.

The Best Types of Skincare Products to Use Once You Hit 40

Serum With High-Quality Actives

While you might feel the urge to buy a slew of new products and completely overhaul your regimen upon noticing the first visible signs of aging, remember that less is actually more when it comes to a great (and balanced!) skin aesthetic. "In the long run, you're better off working with fewer products and making sure you're really consistent with them," Grant explains. "If you're not sure where to start or don't want to invest in an entirely new regimen, reach for active serums. These are typically water based and formulated with the smallest molecules, yielding the most significant change in the skin." She recommends antioxidants—like vitamin C—for the daytime and corrective formulas with AHAs, BHAs, and retinol in the evenings.

"This serum is deeply hydrating," says Grant. "It plumps and pads fine lines, protects from environmental aggressors and blue-light damage, and is enriched with niacinamide and algae to promote microcirculation and add a really healthy glow."

"This silky-smooth, lightweight serum is power packed with 10% lactic acid, which works to resurface uneven skin texture while reducing discoloration and fine lines," shares NY-based esthetician Lily Njoroge, an acne specialist and the founder of Cave of Beauty. "While the lactic acid resurfaces, the ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and peptides in it work synergistically to plump and hydrate the skin along with supporting the barrier."

"Environmental exposures like UV light, pollution, and even infrared energy from heat all contribute to the development of hyperpigmentation on the skin," notes Zeichner. "Besides using an antioxidant serum and sunscreen, if you're suffering from dark blotches, consider a pigment-targeting serum. This one contains a triple combo of tranexamic acid, kojic acid, and niacinamide to help block the production of abnormal pigmentation while simultaneously brightening the skin."

(Editor's note: Price available upon request on Biologique Recherche's website.)

"These targeting patches are incredibly effective at breaking apart pigment without hydroquinone instead relying on the brightening properties of actives like tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and L-carnosine," adds Grant. 

Retinol or Similar Alternatives Like Retinal and Bakuchiol

"Our 40s are a great time to incorporate a retinol serum to encourage collagen synthesis, boost cell turnover, and break apart any pigment that might be presenting," Grant tells me. She recommends starting slowly—curb your application to once or twice a week in the evenings only and work your way up to nightly use as your skin tolerates.

"Retinoic acid or a plant-based version such as bakuchiol is a must when it comes to anti-aging ingredients," says Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD. "As we age, our body naturally loses vitamin A, which contributes to normal signs of aging. Retinoic acid (retinol/retinoid) is an extremely effective cell-communicating ingredient that can connect to almost any skin cell receptor site. It tells the cells to behave like healthy, younger skin cells. It also functions as an antioxidant that can interrupt free radical damage, which causes wrinkles and other signs of aging. It increases cell turnover, builds collagen, improves discoloration, hydrates skin, reduces acne, and, with continued use, strengthens the skin barrier."

"This treatment feels lightweight yet nourishing on the skin, and it packs a punch with 1% retinol," shares Njoroge. "It is also formulated with antioxidants to prevent free radical damage as well as calming ingredients like licorice-root extract, oat extract, and ceramides to help reduce uncomfortable side effects of retinol like dryness, irritation, and redness."

Looking for something budget friendly? Njoroge loves this drugstore find from CeraVe: "This is the perfect affordable drugstore retinol that actually works. It has ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to help mitigate retinol-induced barrier disruption, hydrate and plump, and soothe the skin while the retinol works to smooth stubborn wrinkles."

"Retinol is perhaps the best study ingredient we have to treat aging skin," Zeichner agrees. "It stimulates collagen to help strengthen the foundation of the skin itself and improve the appearance of wrinkles. This deep-wrinkle serum contains a stabilized form of retinol that prevents it from being degraded and enhances activity in the skin. The moisturizing formula minimizes potential irritation."

"This high-performance formula boosts cell turnover, refines, and unifies the complexion," says Grant. "It's enriched with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to hydrate and nourish overnight as the retinal complex—a next-generation form of vitamin A—stimulates cell renewal."

"This retinol from Elizabeth Arden is my absolute favorite," shares Engelman. "In this easy capsule form, the serum is more potent—up to 76% more—because it cannot degrade from light and air. It also ensures the correct dosage at each use."

Engelman continues, "However, if you would rather use a plant-based formula, then I recommend NOW Solutions' Bakuchiol Skin Renewal Serum. It's a retinol alternative that smooths, refines, and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The clinically tested bakuchiol in combination with Pycnogenol gently improves imperfections while still being highly moisturizing to the skin."

If you don't want to use straight-up retinol, opt for a combined, slightly gentler therapy like this mask from Noble Panacea, which comes recommended by Grant. 

"This restorative mask works with your skin's own natural functions while you sleep with peptides, PHA, retinol, and ceramides to refine, firm, hydrate, and plump the skin," she says.

Antioxidants 

"Once you're in your 40s, a dose of antioxidants in the morning is a must," Grant explains. "They shield the skin from environmental aggressors and free radical damage that wreak havoc on the cells and accelerate aging. Vitamin C is great for those of us in our 40s because it adds radiance, brightens, firms, and really kicks our own collagen production into gear."

"Bliss's Bright Idea Vitamin C Serum is one of the best-kept secrets at the drugstore," reveals Zeichner. "It contains a stabilized form of vitamin C to maintain potency. The formula also contains a peptide to strengthen the skin and address fine lines and wrinkles."

"My gold standard for an antioxidant serum is SkinCeuticals' CE Ferulic," Engelman shares. "This product will noticeably reduce fine lines and wrinkles while improving overall skin appearance. Follow with a face and eye cream or sunscreen to strengthen the skin barrier."

Sunscreen

"No matter what your age is, sunscreen is absolutely essential," Zeichner emphasizes. "In fact, if you're only using one skincare product, most dermatologists would recommend sunscreen. Studies have shown that using sunscreen and nothing else over the course of a year actually improves signs of skin aging."

"Ultimately, the best sunscreen is the one that you are using, but if you are suffering from hyperpigmentation, I usually recommend a tinted mineral sunscreen," says Zeichner. "The iron oxide pigments that give the tint also protect you from visible light exposure that may contribute to dark spots."

"This is one of my favorite sunscreens that is formulated to have a water-light texture, making it super comfortable to wear while also providing antioxidant benefits from the matricaria-flower extract, tocopherol (vitamin E), green tea–leaf extract, and goji berry extract," Njoroge tells me. "This is a sunscreen that you'll actually want to wear. The cherry on top? It leaves no white cast and is truly universal."

"Sunscreen is a nonnegotiable, even when you're inside or it's cloudy," Engelman warns. "After you cleanse, use your antioxidant serum and then go in with your sunscreen. This 100% mineral formula is the first of its kind to combine pollution and UV protection with the brand's heavy load of antioxidants and its signature DNA Enzyme Complex. It is a sheer formula and can be worn under foundation if you wish."

"I also love Glo Skin Beauty's C-Shield Anti-Pollution Moisture Tint SPF 30 because of its creamy texture and finish as well as providing UV and blue-light defense, and it's available in 10 shades," adds Engelman. "It is a perfect swap for foundation, as it provides enough coverage for most complexions."

Peels and Exfoliants

"As we age, several important skin-barrier functions slow down: collagen and elastin production, cell turnover, and more," Engelman explains. Zeichner agrees, noting that, with age, our skin cells don't exfoliate the way that they normally did when we were younger. This creates buildup on the skin's surface, interfering with light reflection and contributing to a dull appearance of the skin. Luckily, both Engelman and Zeichner say peels and high-quality exfoliating products can help boost these processes while removing visible signs of aging and improving the overall health and appearance of the skin barrier.

"Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that dissolves connections between dead cells on the surface of the skin so they more easily can be shed," says Zeichner. "Don't use exfoliating acids if you're also using retinol because the combination can lead to too much irritation, but you can certainly alternate or add on an exfoliating acid serum intermittently when you need it. This serum from L'Oréal contains a potent glycolic acid concentration in a formula that minimizes irritation."

Engelman recommends Glo Skin Beauty's peel boxes due to how easy they are to use at home and their professional-level results that can help transform the appearance and function of mature skin. "The line carries a variety of peels targeted to various skin concerns and needs, like Retinol + C Smoothing PeelHydra-Bright AHA Glow Peel, and more," she says.

"This exfoliating mask metabolizes dry and dead skin and is beautifully stimulating," Grant shares. "It's great for waking up the skin, especially before an event."

Eye Cream

Even if you've forgone eye cream in the past, experts say your 40s are a strategic time to give the delicate area around your eyes an extra dose of TLC. "Another must for anyone over 40 is eye cream," says Engelman. "The eye area is really the first place we show aging, so I even recommend starting in your 20s."

"The skin around the eye area is much thinner and needs a different texture," explains Engelman. "Caudalie's 100% natural-origin Premier Cru Dark Circle Correcting Eye Cream uses its patented TET8 technology to target the eight signs of aging. … [It] reduces deep wrinkles, diminishes fine lines, firms skin, plumps skin, improves elasticity, brightens dark spots, boosts hydration, and enhances radiance."

"This firming, brightening eye treatment plumps, brightens, and hydrates the delicate eye contour while also strengthening and fortifying your lashes," Grant points out. "The fast-absorbing, lightweight formula can be used day and night and won't break down your eye makeup and mascara."

One of the most beloved eye creams in the biz, this investment-worthy formula from SK-II tackles any and every skin woe in one fell swoop for an instantly rejuvenated result. Your under-eyes will benefit from a boost of hydration, and the cream's exclusive ingredient complex and InfinitPower Technology work to tighten, smooth, and firm. Not to mention, your makeup will look ten times better after you've used this to prime your skin. 

Repairative Moisturizer

"Along with sunscreen, a gentle cleanser and a nourishing moisturizer will be your best friend," Njoroge tells me. "Look for a moisturizer that has ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and peptides, as these can help your skin appear more plump and hydrated, temporarily reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

If you're over the age of 40, Zeichner adds that he often recommends a richer moisturizer as compared to what he would recommend to someone younger. "With age, the skin typically gets drier, contributing to dullness and loss of radiance," he says.

"This decadent repair cream is a lifesaver for anyone dealing with wrinkles and dryness," Njoroge gushes. "It sinks right into the skin without feeling heavy and repairs it with ceramides, acai berry sterols, omega fatty acids, hyaluronic acid, and squalane. The final result is skin that's plumper, brighter, and smoother without feeling greasier."

"Not many are aware of the goodness of escargot outside of fine dining, but snail-mucin extract is one of the best ingredients for just about every concern," adds Njoroge. "This moisturizer has trace amounts of glycolic acid, so it's mildly exfoliating and aids in brightening and resurfacing the skin, but its primary function is intense hydration and wound repair. This rich cream contains arbutin, which reduces discoloration, and allantoin, which aids in soothing stressed skin. And the best part about it is that it still feels lightweight and airy on the skin."

"Charlotte Tilbury's Magic Cream is a rich moisturizer that contains a blend of botanicals in addition to super hydrators like hyaluronic acid and shea butter," says Zeichner. "The botanicals help soothe, protect, brighten, and strengthen the skin."

"Despite your best attempt to treat your skin the way you should, irritation and dryness inevitably happen," Zeichner adds. "I always like to make sure that my patients have a recovery cream for times when the skin is dry or irritated. This Superbalm is a go-to recommendation because it can be used as a moisturizer for the skin, lips, or around the eyes. It helps protect the skin with lanolin, the same compound that helps waterproof the wool of sheep, and can be used regularly or in times when the skin needs a little extra help."

"This new iteration of the cult favorite The Cream is richer, more comforting, and offers deep and lasting nourishment, especially for those experiencing sensitivity, rosacea, or a compromised barrier," Grant notes.

No, this humidifier isn't a moisturizer, but according to Engelman, it's a smart add-on to enhance the hydrating effects of your skincare routine: "You can supplement your skin's hydration effortlessly, even while you sleep, by running a humidifier—I recommend the Canopy Humidifier because it's hassle-free, mist-free, and won't grow mold or bacteria."

Gentle Cleanser

"Cleansing should be the simplest step in your routine that doesn't require much thought, which is why I love cleansers that don't contain exfoliating actives," Njoroge divulges. "You know they're safe to use regardless of what other steps you'll follow them up with, and they won't increase your risk of being sensitized from over-exfoliation."

As Zeichner reminds me, you don't have to spend a fortune on your cleanser, and choosing a gentle, simple formula is probably one of the best things you can do for your skin, especially once you hit 40. 

"This is a great option right from your local drugstore that contains ultra-gentle cleansing ingredients to wash the skin without compromising the integrity of the skin barrier," Zeichner confirms.

"This gentle cleanser is perfect for people who experience sudden dryness and increased sensitivity as they reach 40, and it has ceramides for barrier support, niacinamide for brightening and soothing the skin, and glycerin for hydration," Njoroge concludes.

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