It’s so confusing! How many of you have emphatically stated this in dismay at the plethora of products on the market? If you had endless means, then you could waltz up to the highest end line you can think of (given that price point sometimes determines excellence) and spend upwards of $1500 for a so-called complete skin care line. But what do you really need? What are the two most important products to purchase?
A little knowledge goes a long way, therefore the important things to look at are not necessarily price point, but ingredients and quantities. In this article, we will go through the two products I recommend to every woman, and what to look for in each one as you shop.
The First Most Important Product: Vitamin C Serum
The Thor of skin care is vitamin C serum. Hands down the most important product in your arsenal, it’s an antioxidant and fights off free radicals, pollution, supports collagen and elastin production, boosts moisture, diminishes dark spots and hyperpigmentation, reduces redness and blotchiness, and lightens and brighten the complexion. Having said that, there are seven to eight different types of vitamin C used in skin care, each carrying its own benefits. For a breakdown of each of these, check out my blog and video on the subject here.
Types of Vitamin C: L-ascorbic Acid
For the sake of time, the top three types of vitamin c are l-ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, and ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate. Besides being hard to pronounce, these three heavy hitters all have strengths and help the skin. So, what’s the difference? L-ascorbic acid is powerful and effective, and is used more than any other type in skin care products. It’s also potentially more irritating than the other two and needs to be combined with certain ingredients to best absorb and not cause redness. In this category, I recommend The Ordinary. It’s inexpensive at $7, and if you have a reaction, you haven’t spent the bank. It’s also great for beginners to vitamin C to see how your skin reacts and if you see improvement.
Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is also relatively common and a bit pricier than l-ascorbic acid. It’s fairly mild, and shouldn’t cause irritation. You will see the best results through continued use for a month or so, however, keep in mind with all of these ingredients that the closer to the top of the ingredient deck they appear, the greater the quantity. To elaborate on this, if you see any of these heavy hitters toward the bottom of the list, the quantities are low, and it will take longer to see improvement no matter what the marketing states. The higher up, the greater the amount. For a great product that uses tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, try Image MD Restoring Youth Serum. At $84, it’s a wonderful mid-range product that was formulated by a dermatologist.
Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate is the most expensive on the list and consequently the least commonly used vitamin C. Its superpower strength cannot be denied, though, and it’s not very irritating. As far as quantities go, most skin care companies put between 15-20% of any type of vitamin C, and most don’t place the percentage on the label. Again, the way to figure this out is to read the ingredient deck and see where the ingredient falls.
For example, in my search for products with this type of vitamin C, I found a $350 serum touted by celebrities and checked out its ingredients. To my shock, ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate was listed #11 on the deck! The ingredients above it on the deck were inactive fillers and emulsifiers. I’m sure the product felt and smelled amazing, but what we are looking for is effectiveness. My recommendation for a product that puts this amazing ingredient at #1 on the deck, try Truth Treatments Transdermal C Serum. At $199 it’s not cheap, but the cost goes into the effectiveness of the ingredients and you notice it on your skin. Within two weeks you will see improvement by just using two drops daily. Yum!
The Second Most Important Product: Retinol
Retinol is in the family of retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid. It increases collagen production and cellular turnover, along with reducing dark spots, unclogging pores, reducing acne breakouts, improving skins texture, fine lines, and the brightness of skin. The prescription name for retinol is Retin-A and Renova (brand name Tretinoin) and is considered a hundred times for potent than non-prescription retinol. It’s also much more irritating to the skin. Buying non-prescription retinol causes less reactivity, but is also less powerful.
Derivatives of Retin-A, such as Retinyl Palmitate (the synthetic form of retinol) and Retinyl Acetate need to be processed by the skins enzymes before they can be active and efficacious and are the gentlest.
How Much Retinol Should you Use?
To achieve the greatest results with the least amount of time you need to use products with higher concentration levels. For example, most retinol products contain between .1% to .5%, which means it will take one to two months to see results with low irritation. Ideally, using products with .5% to 2% will create the most noticeable improvements and irritations. Used 2-3 times per week, and allowing your skin to heal if you notice redness or irritation, you will see improvement in a matter of weeks.
What Retinol Should You Buy?
Not all brands state the percentage of retinol, so when shopping be sure to read the label and in particular the all important ingredient deck. As stated above, the further down the deck an ingredient is listed, the less the quantity. This is not always a bad thing, especially if you have sensitive skin as this will limit the irritation. As far as products go, the least expensive to try is CeraVe. At $15, it’s good for first timers and budget shoppers. The quantity of retinol is low, and the investment smaller, so if you have a reaction or decide it’s not for you, you haven’t lost much.
For a mid-range retinol that you can use daily with little to no irritation, try Image MD Restoring Youth Repair Creme. At $84, it’s formulated by a dermatologist and effectively works over time to improve skins texture and cell turnover.
Looking for big changes in your skin? Try Truth Treatments Retinol 1% or (for those more experienced with retinol) 5%. Both are very pure and effective, and could cause some irritation. Having said that, irritation means the product is causing the cell turnover you need to see improvement, so it’s just whether or not you mind some redness.
The two most important products to have in your cabinet are vitamin C serum and retinol. With everything else, you can cut corners with minimal loss. If you have the cash, then by the whole hog and get the cleanser, moisturizer, day cream, night crème, eye cream etc. But this article is specifically targeted to those of us who want bang for buck, and efficacy above labels.