Great skin is smooth, even toned, and glowing. To get those results, first address your biggest concerns by treating them with targeted, proven skin-care ingredients. Creams and serums with retinol, salicylic acid, vitamin C, and caffeine minimize―and in some cases reverse―the following common issues. Make them part of your regular skin-care routine.
Lack of sleep can contribute to dark circles, but it’s rarely the main culprit.
If yours are purplish blue and temporarily disappear when pressed firmly with a finger, they are probably caused by blood vessels that are visible through genetically thin skin. To combat this, apply daily a cream that contains caffeine, such as Topix Replenix Cream CF ($67, skinstore.com). “Caffeine temporarily constricts blood vessels to make them less visible,” says Heidi Waldorf, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.
If the darkness is brown, hyper-pigmentation (often caused by minor trauma, such as rubbing your eyes) is probably to blame. Every night, apply an eye cream with retinol, like RoC Multi-Correxion Eye Treatment ($25 at drugstores). This can lighten the area by sloughing off surface cells, but it also helps thicken thin skin, so it will benefit those with visible blood vessels, too.
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It’s no coincidence that pimples show up when tension is high. “Recently I’ve seen many patients who never break out experience stress-induced acne,” notes Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in New York City. Another related factor: too little sleep. As you rest, anti-inflammatory hormones help lower surging levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can cause breakouts. Be vigilant about getting enough sleep, then stick to an easy skin-clearing regimen.
Wash twice daily with a nonsoap cleanser, and follow with an oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer. To treat and cover spots during the day, use a concealer that contains salicylic acid, like Neutrogena Skin-Clearing Oil-Free Concealer ($8 at drugstores). And at least twice a week, use a 2 percent salicylic acid treatment, like Clearasil Ultra Deep Pore Cleansing Pads ($8 at drugstores), to remove debris from pores.
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Of all the imperfections that make skin look less than youthful, dark splotches are the worst offenders. “Research shows that if your skin tone is uneven, people may perceive you to be at least 7 to 10 years older than you are,” says Debra Jaliman, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.
Splotches are typically caused by UV damage. To minimize them, apply an antioxidant serum containing vitamin C or E every morning, such as Aveda Enbrightenment Brightening Correcting Serum ($53, aveda.com), and top it with a moisturizer of SPF 15 or higher.
At night, smooth on a moisturizer that contains soy, an ingredient that helps fade excess pigment. For more pronounced spots, see a dermatologist for a prescription-strength hydroquinone cream.
Troubleshoot Fine Lines
Even with the countless wrinkle fighters available today, retinol is still considered the go-to ingredient. That’s because it has been proven to stimulate collagen and help smooth out skin’s texture.
Apply a retinol cream, like L’Oréal Paris Advanced RevitaLift Deep-Set Wrinkle Repair Night Creme ($20 at drugstores), before bed, since sunlight can render retinol ineffective. If your skin is ultra-sensitive, enlist peptides, another tried-and-true line minimizer, nightly. Consider Kinerase C8 Peptide Intensive Treatment ($70, amazon.com).
And don’t forget to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. Retinol treatments can make skin especially vulnerable to UV damage.
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Pick Your Cover-up Formulation
The most important tool for making skin appear flawless is foundation. But forget the thick, masklike versions of yore: “Today’s best formulas are wearable and natural looking,” says New York City makeup artist Jenna Anton. When looking for the right formula, consider your skin type and the level of coverage you want. Then apply it only where you need it―around the eyes, nose, and chin, or lightly all over if you have redness or dark spots.
For Oily Skin
Sheer Coverage 1. MAC Mineralize SPF 15 Foundation (in nine shades, $33, maccosmetics.com): Its finely milled mineral powder evens out tone and absorbs oil, too.
Medium Coverage 2. Clinique Superfit Makeup (in 15 shades, $20.50, clinique.com): This oil-free gel feels comfortable on the skin and wicks away midday shine.
Full Coverage 3. BareMinerals SPF 15 Foundation (in 15 shades, $27, bareescentuals.com): Apply this classic mineral powder in layers to achieve your desired level of opacity.
For Normal Skin
Sheer Coverage 4. Estée Lauder Double Wear Light Stay-in-Place Makeup SPF 10 (in six shades, $35, esteelauder.com): The smooth liquid contains light diffusers to make skin look radiant.
Medium Coverage 5. Armani Lasting Silk UV Foundation SPF 20 (in eight shades, $59, giorgioarmanibeauty.com): Makeup artists swear by this ultra-blendable medium-weight base.
Full Coverage 6. Laura Mercier Stick Foundation SPF 15 (in eight shades, $40, lauramercier.com for info): The twist-up stick allows you to spot-apply easily.
For Dry Skin
Sheer Coverage 7. Revlon Age Defying Spa Foundation SPF 18 (in eight shades, $14 at drugstores): Its brush-tipped tube makes application simple.
Medium Coverage 8. Clarins Instant Smooth Foundation (in seven shades, $38, us.clarins.com): The creamy whipped formula hydrates as it covers imperfections.
Full Coverage 9. Unfortunately, Shu Uemura Face Architect Remodeling Cream Foundation is no longer available.
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Choose Your Color
Make a Match
To find the right foundation color, apply a stripe to your jawline and step into natural light, says Tim Quinn, head makeup artist for Giorgio Armani Beauty, in New York City. It should blend imperceptibly into your skin. (When shopping at a drugstore, be sure the store allows for returns, in case the color is wrong at home.)
Prime Skin if Necessary
If you have oily skin or enlarged pores or your foundation disappears by midday, apply a silicone-based primer under your makeup, says New York City makeup artist Nick Barose. Try (1) Pro-Prime Multi-Protect Primer SPF 30 ($32, neimanmarcus.com).
Select the Right Tool
For the most professional effect, apply liquid base with a foundation brush, suggests Los Angeles makeup artist Pati Dubroff. Consider the (2) MAC 190 Foundation Brush ($33, maccosmetics.com). Work from the nose outward in small, featherlight strokes. If you use powdered-mineral foundation, choose a kabuki brush, like the (3) Sephora Professionnel Kabuki Brush #50 ($24, sephora.com). Its densely packed bristles distribute powder evenly. To get full coverage with liquid foundation, press the base onto the skin with a sponge like (4) Ricky’s NYC Mattése Sponges Non-Latex Wedges ($3 for 12, rickysnyc.com for info). And to achieve the sheerest effect, use your fingers. Their warmth helps work in lightweight foundations and tinted moisturizers.
Add the Finishes Touches
Apply concealer after foundation. “You will end up using much less or realize you don’t even need it,” says Dubroff. For blemishes, use the (5) Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage Brush ($26, 888-637-2437) to dot on and blend in concealer. To hide dark circles, brush on (6) Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer ($23, bobbibrown.com) or use the (7) Dior Skinflash Radiance Booster Pen ($37, sephora.com) and pat in with a ring finger. Set makeup with (8) Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Powder ($32, sephora.com).