How to Get Flawless Skin: An Anti-Aging Skincare Guide

Want to look as young and energetic on the outside as you feel on the inside?

Want to fade dark spots and give your skin a healthy glow?

Fight fine lines?

Today we’ll take a look at an easy skincare routine that gets results!

I’ll show you how to use research-backed ingredients recommended by professionals to help you fight the signs of aging and put your best face forward. And you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to get glowing skin!

skincare routine products

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How to Start an Anti-Aging Skincare Routine for Flawless Skin

At one point I was so confused about what to use for my skin. I knew sun protection was important but what next?

I’ve come a long way since that point and I’m now a full-fledged skincare junkie! I love testing new products and adding to my collection of serums, moisturizers, and gadgets. I started this blog to be able to share some of what I’ve learned with you.

Today we’ll walk through three essential steps of a skincare routine: Cleanse, Treat and Protect. Skincare addicts (like me!) may add additional steps such as toners, serums, and acids to our routines but they definitely aren’t required. You can have healthy glowing skin with just these steps.

Good Skincare Doesn’t Have to be Expensive

Please keep in mind throughout this guide that both luxury and drugstore products can correct the signs of aging and prevent future damage.  Drugstore brands are often just as effective as more expensive products at a fraction of the cost. The important thing is to look for effective concentrations of research-backed ingredients. 

I do use some more expensive products mixed in with my drugstore favorites. Usually, it’s because I love how they feel on my skin or I can’t find anything else as effective. In those cases, I bite the bullet and shell out for a luxury item (Good Genes is my favorite splurge!).

But you can build a routine that gets results on a budget! I’ll give you some great choices for products below.

chart showing three essential steps to great skin, protect with sunscreen, protect and correct with antioxidants and correct with retinoids

Step 1: Cleanse

Regardless of your age, skin tone, or skin type, a cleanser should be the first step in your routine. Having clean skin will help prevent breakouts and allow your skincare products to penetrate your skin more effectively. 

Look for a cleanser that effectively removes makeup and impurities without drying out your skin.  You don’t want to strip your skin of the natural oils that protect it and give you the healthy glow you’re looking for. Dry skin is often dull skin.

You also want a cleanser that is free of artificial dyes and fragrances. Even though you may not feel anything, fragrances and dyes can still irritate your skin.

Some cleansers include additional ingredients such as alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Personally, I don’t think these aren’t too helpful in a cleanser as they aren’t on your skin long enough to be effective. If you feel your skin needs exfoliation I recommend using a separate alpha or beta hydroxy acid product.

I’ve listed some cleansers below that I have personally used and recommend. These are easy to find at drugstores or Amazon.


Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser – A great pick for normal to dry skin, this has been a regular cleanser in my rotation for years. Gentle and effective, this leaves your skin feeling clean but not dry. It’s a good value and often recommended by dermatologists.

Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser – Suitable for normal to oily skin, this cleanser will leave your face clean without stripping it.

St Ives Chamomile Daily Calming Cleanser – I’ve gone through several bottles of this gentle cleanser from St. Ives. Extremely affordable and effective, it contains none of the artificial fragrances that many other St. Ives products contain.

Step 2: Treat

This is your chance to incorporate products that will prevent future damage to your skin as well as help address existing problems such as wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and sunspots.  


Anti-Aging Tip: Antioxidants are one of the best weapons against aging skin. Check out my article here about green tea, one of the most powerful antioxidants in skincare.

Antioxidants protect your skin from damaging UV rays and air pollution, making them a great choice for your morning routine. Vitamins C and E, ferulic acid, resveratrol, and green tea are all great choices. Vitamin C has also been shown to help stimulate collagen growth. Collagen is one of the essential building blocks of the skin. Unfortunately, our production of collagen begins to decline in our 30’s, leading to fine lines and wrinkles.

I’ve written an article on the best Vitamin C serums here. Take a look for a more in-depth discussion of vitamin C and its benefits.


Retinoids are another great treatment and are a perfect fit for your evening skincare routine. They increase the speed at which your skin cells turnover and slough off. This increased cell turnover speed gives you a healthy glow and helps fight acne and wrinkles. Retinoids also have been shown to increase collagen production.

A weaker retinoid commonly found in over-the-counter creams and serums is retinol. Retinol t can be found in varying strengths. Tretinoin, a stronger form, is available by prescription only in the United States and many other countries (often referred to by the brand name Retin-A).

Retinoids can cause side effects such as peeling and irritation. It’s best to start off slowly and build up to everyday use. Always use at least SPF 30 every day with retinoids as they cause your skin to become more sensitive to the sun.

I highly recommend beginning with a retinol product at first. If your skin tolerates it well then you can consult a dermatologist for a prescription for Tretinoin.

Antioxidants and Retinoids:

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum – This serum includes a form of vitamin C, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, that is stable and non-irritating. It also includes antioxidants such as vitamin E and ferulic acid along with hyaluronic acid for moisture. 

Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C +E Ferulic Acid Serum – This serum is shipped fresh when ordered directly from the Timeless website. I recently received a bottle that had been manufactured just 2 weeks prior. 20% is a high percentage of vitamin C that can be very effective but can also cause irritation. Timeless also offers a 10% vitamin C serum which can be a better choice for those with sensitive skin.

Cerave Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid – A great option that is readily available in stores. This contains 10% vitamin C along with hyaluronic acid and skin-replenishing ceramides. The tube keeps the formula stable, which can often be a problem for Vitamin C serums. 

The Ordinary 1% Retinol in Squalane – The Ordinary makes affordable products that are effective and usually safe for sensitive skin. This formula contains a potent 1% retinol along with moisturizing squalane and jojoba oil to help hydrate skin.

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment – It’s a little pricier than the drugstore options, but Paula’s Choice uses research-backed ingredients with no irritating additions such as fragrances or dyes. This light lotion contains soothing licorice extract, hyaluronic acid, and several antioxidants in addition to the 1% retinol. This is one product that is worth the splurge.

Sunscreen bottle beach towel
Photo: Batch by Wisconsin

Step 3: Protect

In the morning it is essential to use sunscreen as the final step in your skincare routine. This is the most important step of your routine!

I mentioned above this one the one thing I already knew when I really became interested in skincare. My mother impressed upon me from an early age to wear sunscreen every day. Yes, I was the only 13-year-old in Junior High using daily SPF but, you know what? I am so glad now that I did!

Take a look below at a truck driver who didn’t use sunscreen over his 28-year career. It’s clear which side of his face was near the window being damaged by the sun’s UV rays.

truck drive sun damage on one side of face
Copyright New England Journal of Medicine

If you haven’t been using sunscreen don’t panic. No matter what your age it’s never too late to begin to start. Starting now will prevent future damage and help your treatments work to reduce wrinkles and even skin tone. 

Look for at least SPF 30 for daily use and SPF 50 on days you’ll be spending more time in the sun. If you feel your skin needs additional moisture in the morning, use your moisturizer prior to your sunscreen.

In the evening the protection step will be a moisturizer. It’s best to use a moisturizer after your retinoid so you can make sure your skin fully absorbs it. Look for ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, shea butter, and skin-friendly oils such as jojoba or squalane.  

Sunscreens and Moisturizers:

 Thinksport Everyday Face Sunscreen; Naturally Tinted SPF30 – A hydrating formula with 20% zinc oxide and a tint to hide the white cast that zinc sunscreens often have. This formula is gentle enough for sensitive skin and water-resistant for 80 minutes. A staple in my skincare routine.

Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF 30 – This is one of my all-time favorite sunscreens. It’s similar to the ThinkSport I listed above in that it’s a zinc sunscreen with a tint but this one is more matte. It’s great if you have oily skin and also amazing for sensitive skin. The tint is very sheet and doesn’t provide much coverage. I have gone through many, many bottles of this!

Cerave PM Lotion – This light lotion is moisturizing without feeling heavy on the skin, making it a great choice for oily complexions. It contains ceramides as well as niacinamide, an ingredient shown to be effective at reducing redness and fighting acne

Cerave Moisturizing Cream – A little goes a long way for this thick cream, which contains ceramides and glycerin to moisturize your skin. It provides long-lasting moisture without potentially irritating ingredients such as fragrance or dyes. This can be found in both a tub and a squeeze tube.

Bonus Step: Exfoliation

Ok, I’m sorry! I know I told you there would only be 3 steps for this routine. The truth is this is truly a bonus step that isn’t absolutely necessary. This step is for those of you who like extra credit. And in this case, extra credit will give you glowing, smooth skin.

So what is exfoliation? Exfoliation is the process of removing old, dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. These dead cells are making your complexion dull and potentially clogging your pores.

Exfoliation can be done manually, with a scrub or sponge, or chemically with alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids. while it may sound scary to be putting acids on your skin, it’s actually the form of exfoliation that I recommend. In fact, I believe it’s actually the more gentle of the two and is safe for sensitive skin.

Types of Acids

The most common forms of acids used for exfoliation are glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid. Glycolic and Lactic acids are Alpha hydroxy acids and salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. In general, salicylic acid is considered better for oily skin types as it can penetrate through the oil into the pore. Alpha hydroxy acids are considered better for fighting dark spots and fine lines and wrinkles.

You may need to experiment to find the right type of acid for you. If you have sensitive skin I recommend starting with a 5% or 10% lactic acid, as lactic acid has a larger molecule size and therefore is more gentle than glycolic acid. If you have oily skin try a 2% salicylic acid product.

One of my all-time favorite products is Sunday Riley Good Genes. It’s a very gentle lactic acid product with tons of skin-soothing ingredients added. It has no artificial fragrance added but the natural lemongrass included gives it an amazing scent. It’s definitely a splurge but worth it!

There are several good options available though for those on a budget. The Ordinary offers both a 5% and 10% lactic acid product at an amazing price. Hyaluronic acid provides extra hydration in both formulas.

For a great salicylic acid product, I look to Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant. This does double duty by both exfoliating the skin and fighting acne at the same time. I’ve used this on my own sensitive skin with no irritation. It’s also great for fighting bumps on your arms and smoothing rough skin on elbows and hands.

Final Thoughts on Creating a Skincare Routine

Well, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for your time! I hope you’ve found this guide helpful.

I truly believe these three easy steps will help you get that glowing skin we all want.

There are many types of skincare products and gadgets out there for those of us who love them. But don’t be overwhelmed by the choices. I hope this has helped you feel confident that you can take the first steps on your skincare journey today.

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