Skin-Care Tips

‘I’m a Product Formulator, and These Are the Only Skin-Care Ingredients Worth Spending Money On’

Photo: Getty Images/ Prostock-Studio
Putting together a skin-care routine can often make you feel like you're playing cosmetic chemist in your bathroom. There are so many different ingredient options out there that it can be hard to suss out which ones deserve a spot in your regimen, which is why we tracked down an actual product formulator— Dr. Sumita Butani, SVP of Innovation at Rodan + Fields—to help make the job easier.

First things first: It's important to know that there isn't really a singular ingredient that can magically reverse a particular skin concern. “Instead, it’s a combination of ingredients in formulas that enhance their efficacy and create visibly transformative results,” says Dr. Butani. Because of this, she recommends including a number of tried-and-true, dermatologically-proven actives in your skincare routine. This multi-faceted approach, she says, will give you maximum results... as long as you've got the right formulas.

Ahead, nine ingredients Dr. Butani says are worth spending money on for the sake of smooth, plump, hydrated, and—most importantly—healthy-looking skin.

1. Retinol

Rodan and Fields Redefine Intensive Renewal Serum — $120.00

“Retinoids are an important ingredient in any skin-care routine—it’s the OG when it comes to preventing and addressing the visible signs of aging,” says Dr. Butani. The ingredient works by stimulating cellular turnover to replace the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin with healthy new ones, helping with issues including acne, discoloration, and wrinkles.

If you have particularly dry or sensitive skin, it’s worth noting that the ingredient can be irritating, so you may want to opt for retinal, a gentle alternative that’s better tolerated and still effective. “Rodan + Fields has a proprietary technology called Retinal MD Technology, which is more effective than traditional retinol without the irritation that often comes with it,” says Dr. Butani.


2. Exfoliating acids

Photo: The Ordinary
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Exfoliating Peeling Solution — $7.00

If your goal is smooth, radiant skin, exfoliants are a must. “Exfoliating skin is a key to achieving an even-looking, smooth complexion, as exfoliants work to buff and remove dead surface skin cells,” explains Dr. Butani.

Rather than shopping for abrasive physical exfoliants, consider gentler exfoliating acids. Alpha hydroxy acids (including lactic, glycolic, and mandelic) work on the surface of your skin, while beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic) get way down deep into your pores to clear away dirt and debris from the inside out. This $7 serum from The Ordinary combines the best of both to leave you with a clear, healthy complexion.


3. Hyaluronic Acid

How to use hyaluronic acid serum
Photo: Glow Recipe
Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Serum — $65.00

Hyaluronic acid is known to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, so it not only hydrates the skin but plumps it, too. “For moisture, hyaluronic acid is a must, as it works to supercharge skin with moisture to alleviate any dryness,” says Dr. Butani. “Hyaluronic Acid also has anti-aging benefits, helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

This serum combines five weights of hyaluronic acid (each of which penetrates your skin at a different level for deeper, more complete hydration) with antioxidant-rich plum for a “juicy” complexion that’s equal parts plumped and moisturized.


4. SPF

Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 PA+++ — $65.00

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: SPF is non-negotiable for all skin types, all year-round. “Sun exacerbates thinning of the skin, as well as causes brown spots and uneven pigmentation, making skin aging more and more apparent,” Dr. Butani explains.

As a general rule, most dermatologists say to use at least SPF 30 or higher to protect against UV rays. This mineral-based sunscreen offers mineral protection of SPF 35 (meaning that it physically blocks your skin from sun damage with zinc oxide), and includes calming, antioxidant-rich ingredients like Japanese wild rose and green tea.


5. Peptides

Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21® Wrinkle Resist Moisturizer — $95.00

Peptides are amino acids that occur naturally in our skin, and serve as the building blocks for collagen and elastin. “But they deplete as we age, making this powerhouse ingredient a must-have in our skin-care routine,” says Dr. Butani. “Peptides work to minimize the visible signs of aging we all experience, like the appearance of fine lines and deep wrinkles. They also work to firm skin.”


6. Antioxidants

Fresh Vitamin Nectar Antioxidant Face Mist — $44.00

“Antioxidants help protect skin from environmental aggressors, like pollution and UV/UVB rays, and free radicals, both of which lead to aging of the skin, making it an important ingredient for any anti-aging routine,” says Dr. Butani. For a quick spritz of antioxidants before or after your full skincare routine, consider Fresh’s top-rated face mist.


7. Vitamin C

Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma™ Fresh Day Serum — $78.00

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, but it stands out from the rest thanks to its notable brightening abilities. “Vitamin C is a must-have ingredient for those with visible skin discoloration, often caused by sun damage,” says Dr. Butani. “Vitamin C works to even out tone and brightens skin, resulting in a more luminous complexion.”

Vitamin C can be difficult to stabilize, though, so it’s important to find products in thoughtful, opaque packaging that protects the formula’s integrity, like Drunk Elephant’s fan-favorite C serum.


8. Niacinamide

Inn Beauty Project Down to Tone Resurfacing Toner — $22.00

Acid exfoliation isn’t the only way to decongest pores, Dr. Butani says that adding niacinamide to your routine can do the trick, too. “Niacinamide is an essential nutrient that works to decongest skin to visibly even the appearance of skin tone, delivering a youthful, glowing complexion,” she explains. Because of its effectiveness with decongesting pores, Niacinamide is often found in toners, like this resurfacing option from Inn Beauty Project.

To see what products a derm uses in her everyday routine, check out the video below. 

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