The Guide to Effective Anti-Aging Skincare Essentials

Periodically over the last decade, I have received compliments on my skin. (The irony of my writing that last sentence while two pimples have emerged on my chin is not lost on me.) The sources they come from are unexpected and therefore truly genuine and unbiased (the make-up artist at my wedding, my hairdresser, my colleagues, strangers in the grocery store, etc.).  These compliments always take me by surprise, because while I have educated myself on skincare ingredients and maintain a consistent anti-aging skincare routine, my skin is not the first thing I would expect to be complimented. (That would be my sparkling wit and devish sense of humor, naturally.)

My skin is not perfect. I have lines on my forehead and around my eyes, and I break out every once in a while. In other words, I am a woman with hormones who has actually used the muscles in her face for the last thirty-five years.

Yet even with my perceived imperfections, people ask me what products I use. So I am letting everyone in on the secret today. I strive to find cost-efficient products that are nevertheless effective at their job. I am all for a good splurge, but I don’t see the point in paying a premium for something when there’s another product on the market that can perform just as well at a lower price point.

After cleansing, my routine consists of an exfoliant, retinol, Vitamin C, peptides, antioxidants, and sunscreen. If you feel like you need to consult a beauty dictionary for those terms, don´t worry! I’ll explain everything. Without further ado, here are the brands and products I use everyday in my anti-aging skincare routine.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you when you click on a link or make a purchase using the links in this post. 


The Guide to Effective Anti-Aging Skincare Essentials


Paula's Choice

Paula’s Choice is a brand that I’ve been using for the last seven years. It was founded by Paula Begoun. Known as the Cosmetics Cop, she began researching the ingredients in the skincare products she was using and advocated for the use of ingredients in skincare that have been subjected to peer reviewed research.

When I was in college, I became acquainted with her book, Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, in the beauty section of Barnes & Noble. Before buying a foundation or serum I had read about in a magazine, I would stop at the bookstore to see how Paula rated it. She now has an online review database at that reviews make-up and skincare products from a multitude of brands.


Exfoliant: Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid

I started using Paula’s Choice retinol products in my late twenties. One of the company’s products I use everyday is the SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid ($29). BHA stands for beta hydroxy acid, a.k.a salicylic acid (the same stuff used in your zit cream). BHA is an exfoliant that helps shed dead skin and unclog pores. This addresses both acne and aging concerns.

To use, pour a few drops onto a cotton pad and swipe over your face after cleansing. I do this morning and night and have found that it really helps reduce acne breakouts. I’ve regretted every time I’ve finished a bottle and decided to not reorder it with the rationalization that I’m in my thirties and am too old for acne, because gosh, darn it, only teenagers should get zits.

Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 1% BHA Liquid

Retinol: Paula's Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment

When I was younger, beauty editor after beauty editor espoused the importance of using retinol to prevent and treat fine lines and wrinkles, yet every product they recommended cost at least $100. As a new teacher living in high-cost Hawaii, I could not afford to risk $100 on something that might not work. At about that time, I discovered Paula’s Choice. I started out with her RESIST Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Serum. I can’t remember what it cost when I started using it, but it’s currently $42. That’s less than half what the fancy brands cost in the magazines I was reading.

Currently, I use the CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment ($56). I had to work my way up to using this product, as it is more potent than the RESIST Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Serum. Retinol can cause sensitivity and dryness in skin, so for the first few weeks you need to start small (a pea-size amount) and apply 1-3 times a week at night, gradually working your way up to every night. The great thing about this product is that you can use it around your eyes (not on your eyelids or in the corners of your eyes), so you don’t need to buy a separate eye cream. Final tip: Sunscreen is a must during the day. Since retinol thins the top layer of the skin, skin becomes more prone to sunburn.  

Paula's Choice: CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment



The Ordinary

The Ordinary is a company that came onto my radar last year. They are under the umbrella of a larger corporation called DECIEM, which dubs itself “The Abnormal Beauty Company”. The premise behind The Ordinary is to take ingredients proven to be effective and create formulas at reasonable prices. Most products are under $10! But as points out, they are usually “one-note” products, so you’ll probably get more bang for your buck if you use their products to supplement what you already use.


Vitamin C: The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%

Vitamin C is a skincare ingredient that brightens skin tone and lightens discolorations. I’ve used Paula’s Choice RESIST C15 Superbooster in the past and really liked it, but am giving The Ordinary’s Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% a try because it’s got a pretty great price tag of only $12.90! To use, apply a few drops to your face both morning and night.

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%


Peptides: The Ordinary Buffet

Peptides are an anti-aging ingredient that helps build collagen in skin and thus minimize wrinkles. Buffet ($14.80) contains a multitude of different peptides that are proven to reduce the signs of aging, and it is also provides hydration without being too heavy. To use, apply a few drops to your face in the morning and at night.

The Ordinary Buffet


Antioxidants: The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%

Antioxidants protect skin from environmental damage. Over time, the accumulation of environmental damage affects skin’s ability to recover when faced with more environmental stressors (such as the sun, pollution, wind, cold weather, heat, and humidity). The resveratrol  and ferulic acid in The Ordinary’s Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% ($7.90) are both antioxidants that combat environmental damage.

The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3%



EltaMD is a skincare brand that is recommended by physicians and other medical professionals. Their line includes wound healing, sunscreen, and skincare products.


Sunscreen: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Any anti-aging skincare routine must always finish with sunscreen in the morning. Sun is the leading cause of wrinkles. Fortunately, I’ve been slathering on sunscreen and seeking shade ever since I was a teenager, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the inside of a tanning bed.

When I was living on Maui, I became aware of how chemical sunscreens were killing coral reefs. I stopped using chemical sunscreen when I went to the beach, but then I got to thinking about the chemical sunscreen I used on my face when I wasn’t at the beach. At the end of the day, I was washing it off into the sink and back into the ocean via the water treatment plant.

I began looking for a mineral sunscreen, but I found most were really heavy and left me with a white pallor no matter how hard I rubbed them in. EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($32.50) was recommended in several magazines as being a great mineral sunscreen for acne-prone skin, so I decided to give it a shot despite its high price tag.

It’s a splurge I’m willing to continue making. It is completely invisible, so no more ghost face. It contains niacinamide, which has many benefits for skin, including minimizing the appearance of blemishes, discoloration, and photo damage. And it’s lightweight, making it feel like I’m not wearing any sunscreen at all.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46


All in all, I spend $153.10 every few months for my anti-aging skincare products, but I know that I could be spending a lot more for formulas with the same ingredients from different brands. I love luxury and indulgence, but at the end of the day I am a pragmatist at heart. Using effective, research-based products at reasonable prices appeases both my vanity and my practicality – I get to have my cake and eat it, too!

Did you find this guide helpful? What anti-aging skincare do you recommend?

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