The Best Skincare Routine For Aging AND Acne-Prone Skin

by Gio
best skincare routine for aging acne-prone skin

Who said that acne is only for teenagers?

Sometimes, it sneaks up on you as soon as you hit menopause. Other times, it’s more impatient and gets you in your 30s.

Like you hadn’t enough on your plate already. Like, you know, wrinkles… How the heck do you deal with both at the same time?

If you fight acne aggressively, your skin will become so dry, your wrinkles will be more obvious than ever. If you treat wrinkles with rich creams or sunscreens, you’ll make your acne worse. Argh!

Fret not. You can treat both acne and wrinkles at the same time. Luckily, some of the best antiaging superstars double as acne fighters. You just need to introduce them into your skincare routine in the right way. Here’s how:



Morning Skincare Routine

1. Gentle Cleanser

The #1 mistake women make when dealing with acne? Picking a cleanser that’s way too harsh in an effort to dry the acne away.

It ALWAYS backfires. A harsh cleanser dries out the skin, which reacts by producing even more sebum. Skin is dried out alright, but the acne’s still there.

Instead, opt for a gentle foaming cleanser. Anything with sodium lauryl sulfate is banned. It’s too harsh and irritating. Stay away from bar soaps and milky cleansers, too. They can clog pores and worsen acne.

Best Picks:

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): ph 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.99): ph 6.2. Available at Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): ph 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice. 

Related: How To Pick The Right Cleanser For Your Skin Type

2. Exfoliant

Acne’s a job for salicylic acid (BHA). It’s the only exfoliant that gets deep inside the pores, removing all the excess sebum, dead skin cells and other crap that’s clogging them up.

It removes dead cells from the surface of the skin, so they won’t end up in the pores and clog them again. Basically, it keeps your pores clean so breakouts can’t happen.

By the way, salicylic acid must stay on your skin for hours to work its magic. Leave rinse-off products on the shelves. They won’t work as well.

PRO TIP: yes, you can use salicylic acid and glycolic acid (an antiaging superstar that boosts collagen production) together. The Drunk Elephant serum below has both. Or, you can buy two separate exfoliants and alternate them. Up to you.

Best picks:

Related: AHAs vs BHA: Which One Is Right For You?

3. Antioxidant Serum

Free radicals are your skin’s biggest enemy. These unstable molecules lack one electron. They desperately crave it. So, they crawl through your body looking for healthy molecules to attack and steal the electron from.

The attacked molecule is now a free radical, looking for another electron to steal. It’s the start of a deadly chain reaction that leads to wrinkles and dark spots.

Antioxidants stop free radicals in their tracks. Your body knows free radicals are coming, so it naturally produces antioxidants to destroy them before they can wreak havoc. 

But, your skin needs a lot more antioxidants than your body can naturally produce. That’s where a healthy diet and skincare come in.

You’ll find plenty of antioxidants in skincare products. Vitamin C. Vitamin E. Green tea. Resveratrol. Coenzyme Q10. Ferulic acid. Superoxide dismutase…

The best one? None of them. Just like your body doesn’t need only kale, your skin doesn’t need only green tea. The more antioxidants you feed it, the younger and healthier it is.

Best Picks:

Related: 5 Things You Need To Know About Antioxidants

4. Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet. It attracts the water in the air into the skin and binds it there. It’s so good, it can bind up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Another pro? Hyaluronic acid works well both in high and low humidity conditions. No matter where you are, it’ll do the job!

Some antioxidants serums or moisturizers already have enough hyaluronic acid to keep your skin happy. If not, use a separate hyaluronic acid serum now.

Best Picks: 

Related: Spotlight On Hyaluronic Acid: Why You Should Add It To Your Skincare Routine

5. Moisturizer With Niacinamide (Or Add It With A Booster)

This is the most challenging part. Your skin needs a moisturizer loaded with antioxidants to fight free radicals and hydrating enough not to turn your skin into a flaky mess.

And niacinamide. Plenty of niacinamide. It’s a form of vitamin B3 that fights wrinkles, fades dark spots, hydrates skin, soothes irrations and treats acne. There’s nothing it can’t do.

But, texture matters here. Anything that’s too rich and creamy is out of the question. That’ll clog your pores and worsen your acne. Instead, go for lightweight lotions and emulsions.

PRO TIP: don’t bother with moisturizers with SPF. You’d have to apply at least 7 layers to get the level of SPF stated on the packaging!

Best Picks:

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Niacinamide In Skincare

6. Sunscreen

Another challenge! The best sunscreens use zinc oxide, but it’s so thick and greasy, it may cause breakouts. You can totally give it a try and see how it goes.

But, don’t limit yourself. In this case, it may be worth to go for a sunscreen hybrid that mixes zinc oxide with safe synthetic filters. Or, if your skin is super oily, go down the synthetic route entirely.

Just make sure there’s no alcohol in sight. Alcohol is often used to turn rich and creamy formulas into almost-runny, thin concoctions. But, it’s terribly drying and could trick your skin into producing even more oil. That’s the last thing you want.

Best Picks:

  • EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): available at  Nordstrom and Ulta
  • Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 ($34.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore

Night Time Skincare Routine

1. Double Cleaser

Time to take the makeup off, ladies! I love oils for this. I know, I know. But, hear me out.

Remember what your chemistry teacher said about “like attracting like?” Oils like jojoba oil attract the oils in your makeup and sunscreen, making it easier to rinse them off the skin.

My fave oil for acne-prone skin is jojoba. It’s very similar to human sebum so it doesn’t clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s an old friend.

Yes, it leaves a residue behind. If it bothers you, remove it with your morning foaming cleanser. Done.

P.S. Some foaming cleansers have oils in there too and can remove makeup. Check the ingredient list before  splurging on a second cleanser.

Related: What Is The Oil Cleansing Method?

2. Vitamin A

Why use one treatment for acne and one for wrinkles when the one will do? With vitamin A, you can kill two birds with one stone. Here’s why:

Vitamin A comes in many forms. You can go down the prescription route and get yourself some tretinoin or you can stick to OTC serums with retinol. Retinol works more slowly, but it’s gentler on the skin.

Mind you, both will irritate and dry out your skin at first. That’s why it’s best to start slowly. Use it only two or three times a week to start with and increase frequency gradually.

It’s also not a bad idea to start with a small concentration of retinol (believe it or not, 1% is A LOT) and work your way up slowly.

PRO TIP: vitamin A makes skin more prone to sun damage. Use it at night only.

Best Picks:

Related: Which Strength Of Retinol Do You Need?

3. Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Again, this is optional. If you’re already getting your hyaluronic acid somewhere else, you can skip this. But if your skin’s on the dry side when you wake up in the morning, use a separate hyaluronic acid serum at night.

4. Moisturizer With Niacinamide

No, you don’t need a different moisturizer at night. Your skin needs at night what it needs in the morning. Just buy the one and use it twice a day.

Related: Day VS Night Moisturizer: Is There Really A Difference?

Want easy access to this routine? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and receive the “Acne + Aging Skincare Routine” cheatsheet:

What is your skincare routine for aging and acne-prone skin? Let me know in the comments below!

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145 comments

Stephanie Copeland February 2, 2019 - 10:48 pm

Hi! I was wondering if you could recommend a moisturizer with hydraulic acid for a 37 year old with acne prone skin. Thanks! I loved the article.

Reply
Gio February 8, 2019 - 3:55 pm

Stephanie, have you tried Neutrogena Hydro Boost?

Reply
Rachel Duffy February 4, 2019 - 9:44 pm

Hi Gio! Thank you so much for your post! I’ve been struggling with cystic acne since my teens and I’m hopeful that this new routine will help me finally get it under control while I start to combat signs of aging now that I’m in my 30s. I recently received a 60 day supply of Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta universal daily peel. I’ve heard great things about it and am wondering if I can incorporate this into the routine you’ve outlined here. Thanks!

Reply
Gio February 8, 2019 - 6:04 pm

Rachel, I am sure this routine will help. I’m not really a fan of Dr Dennis Gross peel. It’s too harsh for some skin types. If you want to use it anyway, do it after you’ve dealt with the cystic acne.

Reply
Leila Salehi Easters February 10, 2019 - 4:31 pm

Hi, I don’t think I’m able to use a retinol currently since we’re trying to get pregnant. Any other suggestions for night time other than a retinol? Could I just use the AHA/BHA serum again?

Reply
Gio February 15, 2019 - 12:36 pm

Leila, I agree it’s best to stay away from retinol then. AHA/BHA are controversial. Some says that AHA/BHA peels can cause problems, while others that theyr’e safe in small doses. You can find out more about it here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/skincare-ingredients-avoid-pregnancy/

In the end, whether you use it or not is up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

Reply
Andreana Todorova February 11, 2019 - 11:19 pm

Thank you very much, Gio! Didn’t know this about retinol, will add a moisturizer when using it.

Reply
Gio February 15, 2019 - 1:25 pm

Andreana, you’re welcome. 🙂

Reply
Jeannnine February 15, 2019 - 10:09 pm

Hi thanks for your advice! All this skincare stuff is new to me! I am 32 and seem to have weak skin on my cheeks where I have had acne and scarring from past breakouts. I don’t have many breakouts now just hormonal pimples. I have started using acids and notice a big difference! But I am worried that I’m not using them in the correct order.
1.Cleanser
2.salic acid 2% (spots only) if I don’t have spots should I use it? I have sebum bumps which are fewer but still there
3.Niacinamide 10% and zinc 1%
4. Hyaluronic acid 2%
5.Moisturizer
PM same but replacing Niacinamide with Lactic Acid 5% 1-2 times a week

Where do I add Ascobyl Gluocide 12%?
Rosehip oil does it belong?

Reply
Gio February 20, 2019 - 6:12 pm

Jeannnine, yes. You can use salicylic acid all over the face, so you don’t need lactic acid anymore. You’re making your skin happy and saving some money, too.

You can use salicylic acid every night after cleansing and Ascorbyl Glucoside every morning after cleansing.

Reply
Fruzsi March 30, 2019 - 7:59 am

Hi Gio,
I am so happy I found your blog, it is life changing! I am putting a new skin care routine together based on this post and I found the Super Spot Remover™ Acne Treatment Gel from Origins very helpful on spots, so I want to keep it. Where do I fit it into the routine? Thank you for your reply 🙂

Reply
Gio April 4, 2019 - 11:40 am

Fruzsi, you can use it on clean skin after cleansing/exfoliating. But I don’t recommend it because it’s full of irritants.

Reply
Sar April 3, 2019 - 6:15 am

Will all this help with rosacea?

Reply
Gio April 4, 2019 - 11:44 am

Sar, check this post for rosacea treatment: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/best-rosacea-treatment/

Reply
Sophia April 14, 2019 - 6:05 pm

Hi!
Im a little confused as some of the products you are suggesting, as some of them should not be mixed? Like salicylic acid and vitamin c as well as niacinamide.

Reply
Gio April 20, 2019 - 3:42 pm

Sophia, who says they should not be mixed? I’ve debunked the myth you can’t use vitamin C and Niacinamide together here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/use-vitamin-c-niacinamide-together/

Reply
Cami Greene April 18, 2019 - 5:36 pm

I have purchased all of your recommendations from this article, except for the ones containing salicylic acid. I develop an itchy rash every time I have tried using it (including the one from Paula’s Choice). What other product would you recommend in place of the salicylic? I am in my 40’s and still get hormonal acne.

Reply
Gio April 20, 2019 - 3:25 pm

Cami, try mandolin acid. 🙂

Reply
Lauren April 30, 2019 - 7:46 pm

I’ve been using the Paula’s Choice products for about 6 weeks now, introducing them gradually, but my skin looks worse than usual. Especially around the hair line, red spots/blotches. I’m not sure what product or where it all went wrong. I’m 32 with oily acne prone skin & wanted to get a jump on the anti-aging process. I’m starting to regret the small fortune I spent…

Reply
Gio June 4, 2019 - 9:15 pm

Lauren, oh no, I’m sorry this is happening to you. Could it be a purge?

Reply
Gio August 8, 2019 - 3:06 pm

Angulic, try Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Moisturiser for oily skin.

Reply
Jennifer June 13, 2019 - 4:16 pm

This post changed my life. I know it sounds dramatic, but for 30 years I’ve struggled with acne and I never ever found a product that could help me hydrate while staving off acne. I went through and bought all the stuff on your list and I’m thrilled. Thank you!

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 12:32 pm

Jennifer, I’m so happy to know this post helped you so much! That’s why I’m doing all this. 🙂

Reply
Angulic Stem July 17, 2019 - 5:59 am

Hi
I love all this information because I’ve never used anything really for my skin and now that I’m 43 I notice looser skin, wrinkles. Acne, and my skin is sensitive. What moisturizer do you recommend for that skin type?

Reply
Moreskin August 30, 2019 - 4:18 am

Thank you very much, Gio! Didn’t know this about retinol, will add a moisturizer when using it.

Reply
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