When your complexion isn't completely consistent, we have tips to address all of your skin care concerns
Smooth Fine Lines and Wrinkles
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Ask any skin doc and they'll tell you that retinoids are the crème de la crème of anti-aging ingredients. These vitamin-A derivatives not only stimulate collagen production to minimize wrinkles, they also speed cell turnover, effectively exfoliating skin and improving texture and tone. You'll find the more powerful retinoic acid in prescription-strength products while over-the-counter options contain milder retinol. With either option, flaking and redness are potential side-effects as your skin acclimates to the powerhouse ingredient, but these are easily mitigated. "If your skin is normal, apply a plain moisturizer underneath your retinoid," advises Joshua Zeichner, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "There's data showing that this minimizes the side effects, without affecting efficacy," he adds. Combination skin? Try this moisturizer trick just on the drier parts of your face—typically the cheeks—and apply the retinol directly onto the oilier spots, like your forehead, nose, and chin. (Here's How to Buy Skin Care That Works, Every Time.)
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It's a tricky balancing act when it comes to zapping zits and dealing with combination skin. You obviously want to get rid of pesky pimples, but some of the more common blemish-fighting ingredients (think salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide) can leave the drier parts of your skin feeling stripped. Consider botanicals to help keep skin both clear and balanced. Tea tree oil, for example, contains anti-bacterial properties, making it choice to use as a spot treatment. Try The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil ($18; thebodyshop.com). Witch hazel is another good option: "It helps decrease oil production," explains Emmy Graber, M.D., President of the Dermatology Institute of Boston, who suggests looking for it in a toner that you can swipe along any areas prone to breakouts. Try Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner ($6; drugstore.com). Breaking out more than usual? Here's How to Treat Acne-Prone Skin.
Keep Skin Healthy and Hydrated
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For normal to combination skin, it's best to stick to the middle of the road when selecting a moisturizer. That means hydrators that are neither too light nor too heavy, but rather right in between. Pass on balms or creams housed in jars; these are always richer and thicker, and best reserved for super dry skin. Instead, reach for lighter lotions, typically found in bottles. You can also scan the ingredient list for glycerin and hyaluronic acid, two ingredients that draw moisture to the skin, without feeling too heavy or creamy. And if you're self-admittedly not great at remembering to apply sunscreen everyday, pick a moisturizer with (at least!) a broad-spectrum SPF 30, adds Graber (just be sure to apply an even layer across your entire face to ensure you're getting the denoted protection). One to try: Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer SPF 30 ($31; kiehls.com).
Get a Glow
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There's a fine line between exfoliating too much (leaving skin stripped and irritated) and not enough (leaving skin looking dull and lifeless). For a combination complexion, one option is opt for both a physical and chemical exfoliant, says New York-based dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, M.D.. (As a reminder, the former work by using small particles like jojoba beads to manually slough off dead skin cells; the latter relies on acids or enzymes to dissolve the dead cells.) Apply the chemical exfoliant on your cheeks, then use the physical scrub along your T-zone, the slightly oilier areas more prone to blackheads and build-up. Rinse off both at once for a perfectly customized level of exfoliation. Want to simplify your sloughing? "If your skin is normal or combination, it can tolerate more regular exfoliation," points out Mariwalla. "Swap out your regular cleanser for an exfoliating formula every other day." Our pick: Restorsea PRO Foaming Facial Cleanser ($65; at physician's offices, restorsea.com for locations). We have Your Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation.
Fade Sun Spots
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A mottled complexion can instantly add years to your look—even if skin if flawless otherwise. To fade existing spots, there's a plethora of botanical ingredients that can help address problematic pigmentation, with very little likelihood of irritation. "Look for ingredients such as licorice extract, soy, and arbutin," says Zeichner. While these all work slightly differently in helping to break up and control the production of excess pigment, the end result is an overall brighter, more even skin tone. Find soy in Aveeno Positively Radiant Targeted Tone Corrector ($17; ulta.com) and licorice in Skyn Iceland White Cloud Spot Corrector ($45; skyniceland.com).