A Beauty Writer’s 6 Burning Skin-Care Questions, Answered by a Top Dermatologist

Fact: Being a beauty writer doesn't come without its perks. Beyond getting to test-drive products before they hit the shelves and being inundated with daily beauty unboxings (tough gig, I know), we have access to some of the best, most knowledgeable pros in the industry. As for me, I'm constantly in what feels like a round of speed dating with derms, estheticians, and skin-care experts, tapping into their know-how and retaining some of the best beauty tips, tricks, and hacks I've ever heard. And while I could instantly tell you the skin-boosting benefits of niacinamide or how to build an effective skin-care routine, I don't pretend to know it all. Recently, I've found myself trying to rack my brain around certain skin-care qualms that I can't seem to shake off. So, to get some answers, I turned to board-certified dermatologist Todd Minars, MD, of Minars Dermatology.

Keep reading for his take on 6 of my burning skin-care questions.

1. Should I be exfoliating my neck?

Confession: My neck-care routine is rather, erm, weak. I tend to pay more attention to the skin on my face, and my negligence to giving my neck that same TLC stems from pure laziness (this really isn't my proudest moment, guys). Turns out, though, that a proper anti-aging routine shouldn't end at the jawline—it should actually continue on to the neck and chest.

According to Dr. Minars, exfoliation is crucial for not only skin rejuvenation, but for letting your skin reap the benefits of a proper moisturizer, too. "If you want youthful skin that glows, you should exfoliate the neck at least once a week to rid it of dead, dull cells," he says, adding that the skin on the neck is thinner and thus, more sensitive. To avoid aggravating the skin, he recommends opting for an enzyme-based exfoliator (think papaya) or a gentle chemical exfoliant such as lactic or malic acid. Needless to say, if you can't find me, I'll be tending to my neck.

2. When should I start using anti-aging products?

Anti-aging products used to be associated with 40-somethings, but they've become increasingly popular among younger age groups. When should we actually start using such products, and is it ever too late? Dr. Minars' answer is pretty simple: "Some patients use anti-aging products before any signs of damage, which is great, but most patients begin when they start seeing permanent changes to their appearance," he says. "If you have the foresight and commitment to do so, beginning proper skin-care routines in early adulthood is fantastic and you'll likely thank your younger self in the future."

When it comes to products, every single dermatologist I've interviewed has never spoken about anti-aging without linking it back to one product type: SPF. "The best and most cost-effective anti-aging option for any patient is applying SPF topicals regularly," says Dr. Minars. "It doesn't matter if it's a combination moisturizer with SPF or simply just an SPF—that protective barrier from the harmful sun rays is your best long-term preventative option."

3. Should I be switching out my skin-care products regularly so that my skin doesn’t get used to them?

We often hear that our hair can get used to the shampoos we use, thus making them less effective. It's only natural to assume that the same rings true for our skin-care. Dr. Minars assures me that while the idea of a product losing efficacy due to sustained use does make sense, he hasn't seen this be true for over-the-counter skin-care products, especially when it comes to retinoids. "Retinoids continue to have increasing results over the first six months of use and actually require the patient to continue regular use to maintain results," he notes. Bottom line, Dr. Minars maintains that you're in the clear to continue using your favorite formulas so long as your skin isn't responding with adverse effects.

4. How should I exfoliate if I have acne?

Exfoliating can be confusing if you have acne. On one hand, if you neglect to exfoliate pore-clogging build-up, a pimple may rear its head. On the other hand, if you do exfoliate when you have breakouts, you run the risk of exacerbating said breakouts. What gives? Dr. Minars relates it all back to the act of over-exfoliating. "Exfoliation should not be overdone—patients end up creating flare-ups or a negative feedback loop of issues they're trying to remedy by overdoing it," he says. Instead, he recommends starting slowly (once a week) and only titrating up based on how your skin responds.

If you're blemish-prone, opt for a salicylic acid-based exfoliant—it's touted in the beauty world as acne's best friend, and for good reason. "Salicylic acid rarely irritates and is lipophilic (meaning, it cuts through the oil in the hair follicle of acne-prone skin)," notes Dr. Minars.

5. Are serums really necessary?

Skin care is always a guessing game of trial and error with fingers crossed that you've scored a winning combination. But between my eye cream, toner, facial essence, serum, and moisturizer, I could afford to nix a step in my multi-step skin-care regimen. My desert-dry skin fares well with a good, thick moisturizer, which leads me to question if I could get away with skipping serums altogether.

According to Dr. Minars, serums are an integral part of the skin-care routine. "Because they contain smaller molecules, serums are able to penetrate deeply into the skin and deliver a higher concentration of active ingredients," he says. "Antioxidants such as vitamin C or green tea restore collagen, fight against free-radical damage, and brighten the complexion." There's an endless supply of serums on the market, and all target a different area of concern. Dr. Minars suggests using moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid and vitamin E if your skin skews dry, and salicylic or glycolic acid as exfoliating serums for duller complexions.

6. Do I need different products for morning and evening?

The simple answer? No. (Other than adding a makeup remover to your nighttime routine.) Dr. Minars is a proponent of keeping it simple. "As long as your daily moisturizer is working (not causing more problems you're trying to combat) and normal cleanser is not irritating your eyes with rinsing, it's fine for use and you don't need to invest in more specialty products, which have varying levels of success in general," he says. "I and other dermatologists love to see as few products as possible being applied to your skin." Duly noted.

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