Paula Begoun, the founder of Paula's Choice and author of over 20 books about skin-care and cosmetics, knows her stuff. She's spent more than two decades calling out subpar products on the market and offers an "Ingredient Dictionary" on her site that spells out exactly what various skin-care ingredients do, how effective they are and whether they are recommended — all backed up by thorough scientific vetting. So when we tasked Begoun with selecting the very best skin-care ingredients that she considers must-haves for anyone in search of good skin, it was a tall order.
"There are so many wonderful skin-care ingredients, it's hard to know where to begin," says Begoun. So rather than get too specific — after all, different people may require different skin-care regimens — she approaches it from more of a big-picture, perspective. "I think of skin-care ingredients in categories rather than specific ones. Just like your diet needs certain food groups for the nutrients they provide your body, skin is the same way. There are far more than five or 10 ingredients or foods your body needs to be healthy, and that is true for skin as well."
She urges people to take a hands-on approach to caring for their complexions and think in the long term. "Skin is the largest organ of the body and it has complex needs to keep it looking beautiful day after day and year after year. So rather than just concentrating on specific ingredients, thinking of the categories is more realistic," she explains.
Below, Begoun breaks down the five categories of ingredients you should absolutely work into your skin-care routine – at least if you want a glowy, dewy, smooth, Beyoncé-level complexion. Then we paired each of her recommendations with some of our own favorite product picks so you can channel all your newfound skin knowledge toward some beauty shopping. Study up!
Antioxidants and Skin Protectants
"Skin is in critical need of antioxidants to interrupt environmental damage," says Begoun. "There are so many of these ranging from vitamin C, to grape, green tea, resveratrol, beta glucan, licorice, vitamin E, quercetin, nonfragrant plant oils and adenosine, to mention just a few."
Products to try: Marie Veronique Balancing HypoTonic (contains beta glucan and licorice root); Youth to The People Age Prevention Superfood Serum (contains vitamin C and green tea); The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% (contains vitamin C).
"Skin-restoring ingredients (sometimes called cell-communicating ingredients) actually tell skin cells to make better, younger cells. This category of ingredients are phenomenally important and fascinating," says Begoun. "A wide variety of peptides do this brilliantly, but retinol and niacinamide are the most well researched of them all."
Products to try: Glossier Super Pure Serum (contains niacinamide), Paula's Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster (contains niacinamide), Honest Beauty Younger + Clearer Night Serum (contains retinol); Differin Gel (contains retinol).
"Hydrating or skin-repairing ingredients are fundamental to keeping the barrier of skin healthy, smooth and young. They re-build the structures of skin to keep the barrier functioning as youthful skin does. These include ceramides, glycerin, lecithin, hyaluronic acid and omega fatty acids," notes Begoun.
Products to try: Niod Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex (contains hyaluronic acid); Paula's Choice Resist Hyaluronic Acid Booster (contains hyaluronic acid); Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel (contains glycerin and ceramides); Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel (contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin).
Alpha- and Beta-Hydroxy Acids
"For daily resurfacing of skin to help skin cells shed like they did before age and sun damage got in the way, an AHA or BHA ingredient in the right concentrations can change skin overnight in ways you never thought possible," says Begoun.
Products to try: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Liquid Exfoliant (contains BHA); The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution (contains AHA and BHA); Pixi Overnight Glow Serum (contains AHA); Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari BabyFacial (contains AHA).
"Sunscreen ingredients go without saying, because without these everything else is really for naught. Sort of like thinking you can eat healthy and still smoke cigarettes and not get lung disease or other health problems."
Products to try: Glossier Invisibe Shield (contains avobenzone, homosalate and octisalate); Paula's Choice Resist Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30 (contains zinc oxide); SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 (contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide); CeraVe Face Lotion SPF 50 (contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).
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