Cleanser: "You don't even need to wash twice a day," says Heather Rogers, M.D., a cofounder of Modern Dermatology, in Seattle. "Your skin naturally acts as a barrier, keeping out the bad stuff, like dirt and pollution. When people overcleanse their faces and suds up too often, it strips skin of the good stuff—the oils that keep your complexion balanced. Just wash with water in the morning." You should, however, take the time to cleanse every night. "At the end of the day," she says, "you have to get all that grime and makeup off your face, even if you don't worry about breakouts. Otherwise nighttime treatments can't penetrate the skin." Rogers recommends Eucerin Gentle Hydrating Cleanser ($9 at amazon.com) because it foams and rinses away easily.
Sunscreen: "I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to apply sunscreen every single day," says Elizabeth Hale, M.D., a codirector of CompleteSkinMD, in Manhattan. "And using foundation with sunscreen doesn't count. You have to use a separate sun-blocking product." Because daily application means you'll go through a bottle rapidly, it makes sense to go with a fairly affordable option, and there are plenty. Try L'Oréal Paris Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition SPF 30 Day Lotion ($18 at target.com).
Retinoid: Retinoids help correct skin damage that has already occurred. Many dermatologists agree that topical vitamin A is the best anti-aging ingredient we have to date. And because normal-to-combination skin is better able than other types to tolerate this potentially irritating ingredient, you have a wider range of options, many of which are inexpensive. One cream often cited for its efficacy and affordability: ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($16 at amazon.com), which is meant to be applied before bed.
Cleansing Brush: Rogers and Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology, in New York City, both agree that those with combination skin, in particular, will reap big rewards by incorporating a brush into their regular routines. Why? Combination skin has a split personality, and the regimen outlined on these pages is geared more toward the normal half. Deep cleansing the T-zone with a brush two times a week can help keep that combination area clear of clogs. Then use the brush a third time each week, over the whole face, to remove dead skin cells. This will leave your skin smooth and pave the way for antioxidant and retinoid products. Try the Olay Professional ProX Advanced Cleansing System ($22 at amazon.com).