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Ever wonder what dermatologists actually put on their own faces, when they're home alone and no one is watching? We did too. That's why we asked top experts in the medical and skin-care fields to reveal what products they apply daily — and what ingredients really move the needle when it comes to the health and glow of their own complexions.
Some of their answers were predictable (as if a dermatologist would ever leave the house without SPF) and others were more surprising. (Did we hear that someone washes their face with a modest bar? Yep. ) And while there are certain powerhouse ingredients few pros would forgo (like the brightening antioxidant vitamin C), their approaches vary from quick and easy to layered and savvy.
For example: New York City dermatologist Ellen Marmur's nightly ritual includes a high-tech device. She turns to her own MMSphere before bed to help her unwind. The LED tool emits different colors of light to help lessen inflammation, decrease bacteria, and even bring on relaxing vibes. How's that for commitment?
But no matter your maintenance level, there's one thing we can all take away from these complexion confessions: Your skin-care routine should vary from morning to night. When you wake up, focus on protecting your skin from the pollution, sun, and various light waves that will inevitably be coming your way. In the evening, switch gears and apply regenerating ingredients, or what dermatologist Mona Gohara calls the "worker bees. " She says, "At night is when your skin naturally regenerates itself. That's when you put [on] the actives, not the protectors. " So consider incorporating a retinoid formula that prompts cell turnover and aids in smoothing the surface. And if you have time to throw on a sheet mask while binge-watching Schitt’s Creek before bed, well, that's just a bonus.
Ahead, find the morning and evening skin-care routines of 13 top dermatologists — plus, treatments they do every now and then to keep their complexions in prime shape.
Michelle Henry, dermatologist in New York City
When it comes to her own skin-care routine, board-certified dermatologist Michelle Henry relies on an intuitive approach. "I like listening to my skin's needs on a daily basis and adjusting as needed, " she says. "Your skin's needs can change based on your microenvironment — however, I do have some mainstay products. "
She kicks off her day off by cleansing with PCA's Pigment Bar, which contains a blend of kojic acid, vitamin C, and azelaic acid to brighten skin. "I find it gentle enough to be used in the morning and I love that it helps to fight hyperpigmentation, which is one of my major struggles, " says Henry, who adds that she often uses a Buf Puf with it for additional gentle exfoliation.
Next, Henry reaches for a product lauded by beauty editors and skin experts alike: Biologique Recherché's Lotion P50. "It exfoliates and hydrates at the same time, helping to gently improve my skin texture and reduce the appearance of my pores, " she says. For serum, her staple is SkinMedica's Lytetra, which is formulated with tranexamic acid — one of her favorite ingredients for fading discoloration. "It's great at fighting pesky hyperpigmentation, " she says.
SkinBetter Science's Trio Rebalancing Treatment is her go-to moisturizer because it's lightweight and smooths the skin. "It moisturizes like a cream with the consistency of a lotion, and it contains urea and ceramides to moisturize and improve skin texture, " says Henry, who follows this step with sunscreen. "CeraVe's Ultralight Moisturizer with SPF 30 is quite moisturizing and blends into my dark skin, and I also like Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40, which is completely transparent, " she says.
Henry ends her day with another thorough cleanse — this time using SkinMedica's AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser for a deeper clean. "It removes the dirt, oil, environmental pollutants, and debris that accumulate over the course of the day, " she says. She then tones again with P50 before applying Alastin's Renewal Retinol. "This is a great non-irritating formula that softens fine lines and wrinkles, reduces acne, and fights hyperpigmentation with minimal risk of inflammation, " says Henry.
Finally, before hopping into bed, she slathers on SkinCeuticals' Triple Lipid Restore, a thick moisturizer that she says helps to repair and restore her skin while she sleeps. To keep the skin on her body feeling soft and hydrated, Henry uses a drugstore classic: CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream, as it's packed with ceramides that retain moisture in the skin. It also contains hyaluronic acid for added hydration.
Marnie Nussbaum, dermatologist in New York City
Before she starts inspecting her patients' skin, board-certified dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum attends to her own complexion, using a mix of both luxury and drugstore products to pack in as much hydration and antioxidant action as she can. "My skin-care routine starts in the shower with a moisturizing body wash, " Nussbaum tells Honayst. "I love Olay Ultra Moisture Body Wash because it gently cleanses but doesn't strip my skin of its natural oils, and it contains a moisturizer in the formula containing pro glycerin that pulls moisture into the epidermis and keeps skin hydrated all day. "
For her face, Nussbaum reaches for the ever-reliable La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser, which she favors because it's infused with prebiotic thermal water, ceramides, and niacinamide. "It helps to protect my epidermal barrier and decrease any redness and inflammation, " she says.
After doing a thorough cleanse, Nussbaum applies her go-to antioxidant serum: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF With Ferulic Acid. "I use it on my face every morning as it contains a power punch of antioxidants, like vitamin C, phloretin, and ferulic acid to combat sun damage and give my skin a glow by decreasing hyperpigmentation, " she says. Another reason she's a fan is that it's oil-free, which makes it more suitable for her acne-prone skin.
Once she's patted her serum in, Nussbaum slathers on CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion as it keeps her complexion hydrated all day long — without clogging her pores. Next up, she's on to eye cream. "I alternate between SkinCeuticals A. G. E. Eye Complex for Dark Circles, which has a balmy formula with optical diffusers that reflect light away to illuminate the eye area, and Skin Better Science Interfuse Treatment Cream, which "boosts collagen and elastin while fighting dark circles and smoothing fine lines, " she says. "It has neuro-calming peptides that smooth muscle action, making it a perfect match for when I use Botox. "
Before her final step — sunscreen, naturally — Nussbaum applies a dime-size dollop of Neostrata's Triple Firming Neck Cream, which she says contains pro amino acid and neocitran to target collagen production. As for her favorite SPF, that would be EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46. "It's great because it's formulated with hyaluronic acid to keep skin moisturized, provides broad- spectrum SPF coverage with transparent zinc so it doesn't leave the white residue, and it has antioxidant protection with niacinamide. "
After a long day, Nussbaum comes home and starts off her skin-care routine with Drunk Elephant's editor-favorite Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser, as it gently removes her makeup and all of the impurities her skin accumulated throughout the day. When she wants an extra-deep clean, she exfoliates with glycolic pads, which she says help her skin look more polished.
For moisturizer, Nussbaum swears by the Best of Beauty Award–winning Skin Better Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream, which contains encapsulated retinol and AHAs to help increase skin cell turnover. “I alternate between this and a prescription retinoid every other night, " she says. After repeating the same eye and neck routine from the morning, Nussbaum applies a nourishing body treatment to keep her limbs silky soft. "Kopari Coconut Melt is a great allover body moisturizer, and I especially like to use it on my hands and for dry, cracked cuticles in the colder months, " she says. In terms of the extras, Nussbaum gets get monthly Clear + Brilliant laser treatments to keep her melasma in check — that, and she does a round of Botox every three to four months. Additionally, when traveling a lot, she'll add a moisturizing mask to her routine for added hydration.
"I love SK-II Facial Treatment Mask as it contains pitera, a yeast extract that improves radiance and texture, and I also adore Patchology 5-minute Rejuvenating Eye Hydrogels, which I pop on right before I land. "
Lastly, Nusbaum says she never leaves home without her beloved EOS lip balm.
Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist in New York City
After diagnosing and treating countless patients' skin on a daily basis, board- certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner likes to keep his routine simple (or relatively so). "I know I need to take care of my skin but do not have the patience for a multistep routine, " he says. "I aim to protect the skin during the day and repair it from any damage in the evening, " he explains of his MO. For Zeichner, this means using the same multipurpose cleanser for his face and body in the shower. Right now, he's reaching for Dove Deep Moisture Shower Foam, as he says it cleanses without drying or stripping the skin of necessary oils.
Fresh out of the shower, he relies on a vitamin C serum (when he remembers), which he says he uses in the morning to prevent free-radical damage during the day. "I’ve been using the L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensive 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum, which is a stabilized form of vitamin C that's one of the best-kept secrets at the drugstore, " he says. After serum, Zeichner skips a standalone moisturizer and instead goes straight in with a hydrating sunscreen. His sun- damage shield of choice at the moment is Neutrogena Healthy Defense Moisturizer SPF 50. "It provides protection and hydration in one, which is why I like it, " he says.
If you can believe it, Zeichner keeps his p. m. routine pared down, too. The only changes he makes are swapping out serum and sunscreen for a prescription- strength retinoid (his collagen-builder of choice is tretinoin) and moisturizer. "I love the Aveeno Positively Radiant Night Cream because it contains a soy complex that brightens the skin overnight, " he says. "Once it dries, I go right in with tretinoin and that's that. "
As he's gotten older, Zeichner says he's noticed his skin gets much drier during the winter months, which occasionally requires him to use an ultrarich moisturizer at night to combat the adverse effects of the weather. "When I need a heavy moisturizer, which is usually every few weeks, I steal the Sisley Confort Extrême Night Skin Care from my wife, " he says. "It's a super rich cream that contains natural oils, which always get my skin back in check. "
Shari Marchbein, dermatologist in New York City
Shari Marchbein is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU's School of Medicine. She's also one of the countless dermatologists who struggle with both acne and eczema. "I have a combination of sensitive yet breakout-prone skin, so I tend to keep things really simple, " she says. "The most important aspects for me [in the morning] are daily sunscreen with at least SPF 30 [and] an antioxidant vitamin C serum. "
Before these two steps, however, she cleanses her skin with a super gentle face wash, which right now is Simple Waterboost Micellar Gel Wash. For free-radical protection, she relies on the SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF, a vitamin-packed serum that protects the skin from environmental stressors. She then follows up with a moisturizer that contains sunscreen, just like Zeichner. Her two favorites are Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 50 and Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart SPF 50, the latter of which also shields the skin from pollution.
As far as her nighttime routine goes, Marchbein likes to add in a prescription retinoid as well as an ultra-hydrating moisturizer, followed by an occlusive product in certain areas that require extra TLC. "At night after a gentle cleansing, I apply Retin-A Micro, which I really love, followed by a moisturizer, such as Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream or Simple Water Boost Skin Quench Sleeping Cream, " she says. "Then I apply either Aquaphor or Vaseline ointment to my lips and eyelids because it helps seal in moisture in these thin skin areas that are prone to dryness and cracking. "
Marchbein also never forgets to give her body some love. For this, she turns to Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Repair Lotion or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, both of which she says contain ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to seal in hydration. "I also exclusively use Dove body washes; my favorite is the classic Deep Moisture one, " she says. "Within 60 seconds of getting out of the shower, I apply a thick layer of moisturizer to maintain optimal hydration throughout the night. "
Two or three times a week, Marchbein likes to slough away dead skin cells using a physical exfoliant. "I gently scrub away the old skin with either the St. Ives Radiant Skin Exfoliating Face Scrub or the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Exfoliating Cleanser to improve dull, flaky skin, " she says. "It makes an instant difference. "
Shereene Idriss, dermatologist in New York City
Shereene Idriss is a New York City dermatologist specializing in facial aesthetics and rejuvenation. You also might remember her from our All About Eyes issue. Idriss says she bases her morning routine on what she feels her skin needs that day. "Generally, I'll shower and wash my face with water only, " she says. "I’ve most likely exfoliated the night before and therefore don’t want to overstrip my skin of its natural oils, " she explains of her cleanser-free step. Then she goes right in with an antioxidant serum — everyone's favorite, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. "It's my personal go-to because it contains a potent triple combination of antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, and ferulic acid — this simple step helps dramatically with the improvement of fine lines, skin firmness, and overall brightening. "
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
For a moisturizer that contains SPF, she swears by the Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 36. "It offers powerful yet lightweight protection, skin-hydrating ingredients, and antioxidants, like green tea extract and vitamin E, which protect against pollution-induced damage, " she says. "This product has a subtle complexion-enhancing tint that evens out my skin tone and allows me to start my day without any makeup on. "
Come evening, Idriss likes to address whatever "issues" may have surfaced on her skin during the day. Regardless, though, she always starts her routine by removing her makeup with Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water and follows with a sulfate-free gentle cleanser, as she says they tend to be less irritating. "I personally love the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser because, as the name implies, it quenches your skin with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin, which are all key ingredients for locking in moisture, " she says.
Post-cleanse, it's time for exfoliation. "This is where it’s important to note that what works for me may not work for you, so get to know what your skin can tolerate, " she advises. "My skin remains in harmony when I exfoliate two or three times a week; I also believe that exfoliating at night is key because it strips your skin of all impurities that accumulate throughout the day and creates a clear foundation for your skin to absorb the essential nutrients it needs to repair itself overnight. " Unlike Marchbein, Idriss prefers chemical exfoliants, her favorites being the Rebrightalyze Pads and the highly touted Biologique Recherche P50. "Both contain variations of glycolic acid and lactic acid, which make the skin appear brighter while exfoliating, " she says.
Immediately afterward, Idriss applies SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0. 5% serum to help advance collagen production, even out skin texture, and improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pore size. "Retinol is a star ingredient as it is one of those rare ones that can get deep into your dermis to stimulate your collagen production right at the source, " she explains. SkinMedica's serum, which has a lotion-like feel, also contains vitamin E and squalene oil to help minimize irritation. Afterward, she uses Natura Bisse Essential Shock Intense Cream, as she says she likes to use a rich moisturizer that soaks in gradually overnight.
To top it all off, she uses the Nia24 Eye Repair Complex for her eyes. "This one not only helps smooth out the delicate texture of the skin around your eyes, but the niacin it contains helps to brighten pigment around your eyes, " she says. When she has some downtime, Idriss likes to treat herself to a Fraxel laser to target hyperpigmentation. "This always helps to clear my skin and smooth out superficial texture, " she says.
Sejal Shah, dermatologist in New York City
Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology Sejal Shah prides herself on being a minimalist when it comes to her skin. "In the morning, I rotate between First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser and CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, followed by a vitamin C serum and moisturizer with SPF, " says Shah. For serum, she's loyal to the Revision Vitamin C Lotion 30%, and as far as moisturizer goes, she rotates between EltaMD UV Clear and the MD Solar Science Creme Mineral Beauty Balm.
EltaMD UV Clear Borad-Spectrum Sunscreen
Shah's nighttime routine starts with a double cleanse made up of a traditional cleanser and micellar water (her favorite is the original Bioderma Sensibio H20). "Then I like to use a retinol or glycolic acid, like Skinbetter's AlphaRet, a few times a week, " she says, as this helps to resurface the skin without having to manually exfoliate. Speaking of which, when she does physically exfoliate, which is usually just once a week, she reaches for the Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Wine Pads, a treatment that contains naturally occurring AHAs to slough away dead skin and debris.
After applying her serum, Shah completes her routine with a dollop of Revision D. E. J. Night Face Cream, which contains a time-released 0. 25 percent retinol combined with bakuchiol to prevent fine lines from forming overnight.
Shah also regularly gets Botox and Clear and Brilliant laser treatments. And when her skin is feeling worse for wear, she says she avoids any irritating or drying products and steps up the hydration with sheet masks. She's a big fan of the Eau Thermale Avène Soothing Sheet Mask.