This Is the Ideal Skin-Care Routine For Dry, 50-Something Skin

Robert Hundley

“As a person approaches their fifth decade of life, they often notice their skin becomes drier due to a natural reduction in hyaluronic acid and sebum production, which are skin’s natural moisturizers,” explains Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “For women, menopause can also make this phenomenon more pronounced, as the shifting hormones that occur during this time can have a dramatic effect on the skin. Many women experience dryness, less elasticity, an increase in wrinkles, and a loss of volume, all of which cause skin to appear thinner and more fragile. At this stage of life, decades of sun exposure may also begin to show up in the form of dark spots and pigmentation.”

The good news, Dr. Schlessinger continues, is that there are many effective products on the market for dry skin, which are also very helpful during those midlife years when skin begins to lose its own moisture. “A regimen for dry skin types nearing their 50s should focus on products that restore the skin’s protective barrier with rich, emollient ingredients like ceramides and lipids,” he adds. “And if you’re not using them already, cell-renewing ingredients like retinol and growth factors can help with wrinkles and crow’s-feet.” Here’s an ideal skin-care routine for someone in their 50s with dry skin, according to top dermatologists.

1. Cleanse

For those with dry skin, using a cleanser in the morning may not be necessary, and in most cases, a little splash of water will do the trick. However, if you sweat a lot in the night or just prefer to use a cleanser when you wake up, Dr. Schlessinger says a cream cleanser is essential for dry skin. “LovelySkin LUXE Gentle Cream Cleanser is my go-to for dry skin because it removes makeup and impurities without stripping skin’s natural oils. Most importantly, it gently yet effectively exfoliates with afaLUXE, an essential process that even dry skin benefits from.” Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD likes Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Cleansing Almond Milk ($28), which nourishes skin with a milky texture and a mix of jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and shea butter.

2. Use Antioxidants

“The morning is the time to put on antioxidant-rich products that protect skin from the ravages of ultraviolet exposure, as well as pollutants in the air,” says Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. “As a general rule, you apply your thinnest formula first, so I like to use a serum that contains vitamin C in the morning, as this will help support any antioxidant function of the skin.” A good one to try, which Dr. Waldorf recommends, is ISDIN Isdinceutics Flavo-C Ultraglican 30 Ampoules ($112), which “contain vitamin C for protection against free radicals and improved pigmentation, ultraglycans to support collagen, and hyaluronic acid for maintained hydration.” 

3. Hydrate

Next up is a hydrator, which is typically a hyaluronic acid product. “Hydration is critical as we age because it helps maintain the skin barrier, which improves the skin’s appearance and makes it less likely to be irritated by other products,” Dr. Waldorf explains, noting that hyaluronic acid is a potent humectant and essentially a microsponge to hold moisture in the stratum corneum. “Your HA product can be combined with anti-aging ingredients, too.” One she suggests for her patients with dry skin is Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($24), which she likes because it is well-priced and the serum base allows for a higher concentration of HA and easy layering without feeling greasy.

4. Moisturize

A good moisturizer is imperative for dry skin, and Dr. Shamban advises using one that contains lipids. “After the age of 40, the sebaceous glands on the face seem to produce less oil—our natural moisturizing factor—and the content of ceramides in our skin diminishes in our 50s. Therefore it’s important to supplement!”

Dr. Waldorf recommends two highly efficacious options, both from Alastin, a derm-favorite brand: “Restorative Skin Complex ($199) is a lighter, potent lotion that contains antioxidants and a peptide that support superficial fat, which helps with menopausal symptoms like fine lines and volume loss; and Ultra Nourishing Moisturizer ($72), which provides non-greasy hydration and the boost of the same peptide.” She also likes La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($21), a lightweight cream with ceramide-3, niacinamide and glycerin.

5. Protect

The last step in the routine should be sunscreen. “Sun protection continues to be necessary throughout life to improve old damage and prevent additional damage,” says Dr. Waldorf, who prefers ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ ($60). “It has an elegant feeling, it absorbs easily, and it contains zinc with 40 minutes of sun protection and a plant-derived DNA-repair enzyme that is shown to reduce the development of actinica keratoses, which are pre-skin cancers.”

Dr. Shamban prefers using a tinted sunscreen that she can “float over the moisturizer and use as a very light makeup base.” A popular pick in the derm community continues to be EltaMD UV Restore SPF 40, which comes in both a tinted ($41) and regular version ($39). “Habitual sunscreen use should start well before your 50s to prevent sun damage and skin cancer,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “It’s important to find a formula that not only fully protects your skin, but is also highly wearable and works with your skin type. Dry, aging skin benefits from a sunscreen that also nourishes skin while addressing signs of aging like this one from EltaMD.”

1. Cleane

This will be the same cleanser as your morning routine, unless it doesn’t remove makeup. In that case, swap your cleanser for one that removes makeup and daily grime, or use a double-cleanse method with a makeup remover (hydrating micellar waters are great, too) and then a traditional cleanser.

2. Exfoliate (Once or Twice per Week)

“A combination of a regular exfoliation along with a well thought-out skin-care regimen can make the skin look and act like it’s much younger self,” says Dr. Peredo. “At night, the concept of skin cycling is extremely appropriate here. So one night a week, you may use a gentle exfoliant, either physical or chemical—the chemical would be an alphahydroxy acid. This will clean out any pollutants that are there sticking to the skin, as well as exfoliate off a crusty stratum corneum. Also, a little exfoliation will allow better penetration of topical creams you apply next.”

3. Use Retinol (Twice per Week)

Just because you have dry skin, doesn’t mean you should avoid retinol. It does mean, however, that you should make sure you’re using a formula that’s well-balanced and also contains hydrating and moisturizing ingredients. “Overnight is the time for repair, and without UV exposure, it’s the time to use a retinoid,” says Dr. Waldorf. “Other than sunscreens, retinoids are the ingredients with the most data supporting anti-aging activity—they retinoids improve hyperpigmentation, texture and tone by acting on both the epidermis and dermis.”

One of Dr. Waldorf’s favorite retinol formulas is Alastin Renewal Retinol, which comes in either 0.25-percent ($60) or 0.5-percent ($64) so you can choose according to your skin’s tolerance. “It encapsulates the retinol in a lipid to improve delivery without irritation, as well as botanical humectants and calming oat extract. I also love Skinbetter Science AlphaRet ($130), which combines alphahydroxy acids and retinoids as a way to reduce irritation and improve cell turnover and hydration. My favorite prescription retinoid for this age group is Altreno, 0.5{5c5ba01e4f28b4dd64874166358f62106ea5bcda869a94e59d702fa1c9707720} tretinoin lotion. It’s easy to spread a small quantity and contains hyaluronic acid, collagen and glycerin, which are all humectants that pull in and hold moisture to reduce the irritation common with retinoids.”

Dr. Schlessinger agrees that retinol is considered the gold standard anti-aging ingredient, but higher concentrations can often be irritating to dry skin types. “PCA Skin Intensive Age-Refining Treatment: 0.5{5c5ba01e4f28b4dd64874166358f62106ea5bcda869a94e59d702fa1c9707720} Pure Retinol ($115) starts at a lower 0.5-percent concentration and combines retinol with moisturizers like squalane, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to help keep skin more comfortable.”

4. Hydrate and Moisturize

Pull from your morning arsenal and layer your hyaluronic acid serum next, with your moisturizer on top if your skin is very dry. Another option Dr. Waldorf favors is Caudalie Premier Cru The Cream ($119), which she describes as a “clean” moisturizer with hydrating hyaluronic acid and resveratrol, an antioxidant that interacts with the sirtuin anti-aging genes. You don’t need a designated “night cream,” though some of them are considered more beneficial because they’re made to work with your circadian rhythm and repair damage.

5. Apply Eye Cream

“Signs of aging often show up around the eyes before anywhere else on the face,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “The skin near the eyes is thin and fragile by nature and doesn’t contain sebaceous glands, so crepiness, pigmentation, crow’s-feet and sagging eyelids all begin to become more pronounced, especially in our 50s. Neocutis Lumiere Firm Riche Extra Moisturizing Illuminating & Tightening Eye Cream ($118) is great for those in their 50s with dry skin because it contains growth factors and peptides to improve all signs of aging around the eyes in just 14 days.”