The Best Skin-Care Routine for Your 50s
17 items in this article 1 item on sale! Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers Turning
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
Turning 50 is a major milestone for your skin. While your 30s and 40s may have been about protecting collagen and keeping the pores clean and blemish-free, your 50s is when your skin-care routine needs to be more reactive to the body’s natural processes. “The cell-renewal process slows down as we enter our 50s, leaving older, duller cells that stay on the skin’s surface longer,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Humphreys Witch Hazel committee member. Your 50s also bring lots of hormonal changes, which also affects the skin. This could be when you start experiencing fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging, as the body is producing less collagen and skin’s elasticity declines. Dehydration is also a big concern at this point, because your skin barrier becomes drier as you age. “Dehydrated skin will highlight signs of aging, making wrinkles appear more prominent and spotlighting uneven texture and dullness,” says Engelman.
A solid skin-care routine can help with all of these things. If you’ve already mastered the basics (cleanse, moisturize, protect), now’s the time to incorporate some active ingredients into your routine that will help speed up cell turnover and increase collagen production. It’s also time to focus on moisture — and incorporate it where you can into your skin-care routine.
We spoke to top dermatologists and a celebrity esthetician whose clientele includes Angela Bassett and Sheryl Lee Ralph (both of whom have very beautiful skin) for their ideal skin-care routine for someone over the age of 50, which we’ve outlined below.
“Any skin-care routine should begin with a hydrating cleanser that does not damage the skin barrier and strip the surface of natural oils,” says Dr. Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin and Aesthetic Surgery in New York. Her recommendation is this foaming cleanser from dermatologist favorite CeraVe, which contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. Together, the ingredients cleanse the skin while moisturizing and supporting the skin’s moisture barrier. Niacinamide helps with softening wrinkles and improving uneven skin tone.
If you want your cleanser to do a bit more work, esthetician Sarah Akram recommends the Definitive Enzyme cleanser from Auteur, a luxury German skin-care brand that launched in 2021 and promises to accelerate cellular repair via concentrated, “esthetician-grade” active ingredients. Akram’s celebrity clients are obsessed with it. And although it’s very expensive, Akram attests that it delivers noticeable results and deeply cleanses without stripping the skin. “It works to remove impurities with the added bonus of refining the skin’s texture, brightening the complexion and preserving moisture levels,” she says. It contains a host of active ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, and an AHA complex, which when combined help with radiance and boosting cell turnover. It also contains ectoine, an antioxidant that helps with inflammation and cellular damage from the environment — two factors that contribute to dry, dull skin.
If you don’t want to spend that much on a cleanser but still want something that’s effective (and celebrity-approved), we like this one from iS Clinical, which we previously named the best exfoliating face wash for oily skin. It contains willow-bark-derived salicylic acid to speed up cell turnover along with chamomile and centella asiatica — antioxidants that heal damaged skin and protect from additional damage while also brightening the complexion overall.
“Consider a toner that helps balance the normal pH of the skin and deposits hydrating active ingredients like hyaluronic acid,” says Henry. This one from Humphreys Witch Hazel is a favorite of Engelman, who likes that it cleanses and balances the skin without drying it out. The brand has a few variations to choose from, but I recommend going with an alcohol-free option, as alcohol can dry out skin. Of those, I’m a fan of the aloe-and-witch-hazel formula, because aloe is known to soothe and hydrate the skin.
Rio Viera-Newton previously recommended this toner, which she uses in place of a cleanser in the morning. Its star ingredient is propolis or bee glue, a resinlike substance that bees collect from trees, shrubs, and plants. It has become very popular in the Korean beautysphere, thanks to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help to soothe and repair skin. “It does an equally good job of calming inflammation and redness (whether that be breakouts or just cold-weather flaky bits) as it does moisturizing my skin,” says Rio. It is also said to have wrinkle-smoothing and anti-aging properties due to high levels of antioxidants, which neutralize the effects of free radicals.
The serum you purchase should be specific to your skin-care goals and address those concerns. Generally, our experts recommend incorporating peptides into your routine. Peptides are amino acids that are the building blocks to the skin and when added to a skin-care product, it can stimulate your skin to make collagen. Akram recommends the Tri-Peptide Complex+ Avance Elixir from Environ. “It provides the skin with a more youthful and radiant complexion while assisting in improving the overall structure of the skin,” she says. She likes to pair it with the brand’s Frown Serum, which she says helps to reduce existing lines and wrinkles.
On the low end, there’s the Ordinary’s Multi-Peptide + HA Serum, which we’ve previously said is one of the best serums you can buy under $25. As the name suggests, it’s packed with peptides and hyaluronic acid. It helps to target signs of aging while also helping to moisturize skin.
Henry also recommends serums with vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that brightens skin and protects against UV damage. This is crucial, as oxidative and sun damage are major contributors to aging skin. Dr. Engelman agrees. “A vitamin-C serum is great for targeting dullness, fine lines, and wrinkles,” she says. Henry recommends this one from Kiehl’s, which contains both vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. It’s formulated with two types of vitamin C: L-ascorbic acid and ascorbyl glucoside, a vitamin-C derivative that’s known to be more gentle than L-ascorbic, which can cause irritation, especially at higher concentrations. By using both, this formula offers efficacy with a lower risk of irritation.
Dr. Engelman recommends this formula from Brandefy because it boosts brightness overall. It has similar ingredients to the very popular (and very expensive) Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, but is less than half the price. Brandefy’s formula contains a high concentration of pure vitamin C (15 percent) along with tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), and 0.5 percent ferulic acid, an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals and also stabilizes vitamin C and E. It also contains propanediol, a humectant that helps skin to retain moisture. It should be noted that propanediol has been flagged by the Environmental Working Group as a potential skin irritant, but it is relatively low risk in topical skin-care products.
Retinols are the gold standard in anti-aging and have been recommended by dermatologists for virtually all skin stages. That’s because vitamin A is a multitasker. It encourages skin turnover, thickens skin, increases collagen production, and smooths fine lines. Retinol works by stimulating fibroblast and collagen fiber production and improving skin elasticity. Retinol is also one of the best ways to “reduce the appearance of fine lines, crow’s feet, and wrinkles,” says Henry. It’s a must in your 50s if you haven’t already been using it. Engelman says prescription-strength retinols are “vital” at this stage. But if you’re unable to get to a dermatologist for a prescription, she likes the Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum for an over-the-counter option. “It provides targeted anti-aging benefits like minimizing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin texture,” she says. Similarly to vitamin C, retinol is known to be unstable and can be rendered ineffective when exposed to oxygen and light or even certain pH levels. That’s where encapsulated retinol comes in. Each dosage is self-contained in single-use capsules that you open and apply to the skin. This ensures optimal freshness, which increases the benefit to skin. It also contains ceramides to help reinforce the skin’s barrier.
Dr. Henry recommends this formula from RoC that’s made with a high concentration of the brand’s retinol. It also comes in capsule form and is a bit cheaper than the Elizabeth Arden formula. In addition to retinol, it contains a blend of antioxidants to help protect skin from further damage. Another bonus: The capsules are biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about adding more unrecyclable plastic to your skin-care routine.
“At 50, I recommend introducing thicker products as well as layering products to increase moisture retention,” says Engelman. “It is extremely important to use a moisturizer that will penetrate deep into the skin barrier.” She likes this moisturizer from SkinMedica in particular, which she says has a gel-like consistency and contains five different types of hyaluronic acids and works to retain water in the skin barrier. This helps to plump up skin and diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles while also giving skin a healthy glow. It also contains a peptide complex, which further helps to support the skin’s structure.
For an added boost of collagen production, Engelman recommends GloSkin Bio-Renew EGF Cream, which she helped to formulate. It contains all of the anti-aging superstars, including peptides, epidermal growth factor, and phyto-retinols, a plant-based retinol alternative that’s similarly effective but much less irritating. Unlike retinol, phyto-retinols don’t increase sun sensitivity, so you can use this in the daytime alongside your nighttime retinol for additional results.
Dr. Henry recommends the dermatologist-favorite Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore moisturizer, which we’ve written about many times before. We dubbed it the best option for dry, mature skin, with Dr. Julie Russak saying it “restores the natural physiological composition of our cell wall” so that “younger, healthier cells can take over.” It contains both ceramides and antioxidants along with fatty acids and cholesterol, and deeply moisturizes without clogging pores. Dr. Marisa Garshick said it helps her patients better tolerate their retinol because it’s so hydrating: “It does a great job keeping the skin moisturized.”
Sunscreen is nonnegotiable at any age, but especially as you get older. Skin is much more vulnerable to damage as the years go by — not to mention the damage that has already taken place. You should opt for a formula with at least an SPF of 30, which blocks 97 percent of UVB rays. Henry likes the La Roche-Posay Anthelios mineral sunscreen, which has an SPF of 50. Mineral formulas use physical blockers like zinc and titanium oxide, bouncing the sun’s rays off of skin. It’s a good option if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, because the formula sits on top of your skin rather than being absorbed by it. This particular formula also contains moisturizing glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which add yet another layer of moisture at the end of your routine.
Mineral sunscreens are known for leaving skin with a white cast due to the zinc and titanium. This isn’t ideal if you have a deeper skin tone or want to wear your sunscreen under makeup. An alternative option is this oft-recommended sunscreen from Elta MD, a favorite of dermatologists and Strategist editors. It offers both physical and chemical protection and dries down to an almost matte, nongreasy finish. There’s also a small amount of lactic acid to help gently exfoliate and keep skin healthy looking and glowy.
While skin care on its own is great, Akram recommends adding in “highly efficient, noninvasive” at-home devices to enhance results. “They should definitely become a priority if you haven’t already introduced any into your routine,” she says. She’s a fan of the OmniLux Contour Face, a red-light therapy mask that uses two wavelengths of red light (red 633-nm. and near-infrared 830-nm.). Red light penetrates deeper than other forms of visible light and stimulates the mitochondria to produce new collagen. By generating new skin cells, it also reduces wrinkles and helps with sun damage. Red light is thought to reduce inflammation as well, a contributing factor to redness, itchy skin, and dryness. If you struggle with any of these, a red-light therapy mask can help. Akram recommends using it for 15 minutes in the middle of your skin-care routine, post-toner but before moisturizer. It’s also nice that it’s hands free, so you can do other things while it gets to work.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.