How to get clear, brighter skin is the age-old beauty question — and for a lot of us, it always seems like we're fighting a losing battle. Sure, we can buy all those fancy creams and toners that are constantly being hocked on Instagram now, but do any of them actual do what they say? Well, yes, there are probably a select few products on the market that are helpful, but most of them are a waste of money. Getting glowy skin that isn't plagued with pimples and sun damage is all about sticking to a routine, keeping things clean, and treating your body right.
These expert tips are the surefire way to get you on the road to smooth skin.
1. Less is more
According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Krant — who is also founder of Art of Dermatology on 5th Avenue and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City — the first step to smoother skin is to basically stop doing everything you're already doing.
"Remember that sometimes less is more," says Dr. Krant. "With all the constant marketing of anti-aging products and systems now, sometimes we think the more we do, the younger we'll get. Sadly, sometimes that can work against you. Too many anti-aging products or procedures can actually make the skin more irritated, red, and flaky and produce the appearance of more fine lines due to deep dryness and microscopic swelling. So first, stop everything."
2. Wash less
You may think the key to smooth skin is a super clean face, but that's not true. In fact, too much washing will probably do more damage than good.
"It's important to gently remove makeup and actual dirt from the skin, but it's a bit of a myth that we have to scrub ourselves squeaky clean two or three times daily," advises Krant. "Sometimes overwashing can produce the same over-dryness and irritation that anti-aging products can create. When we wash too much and strip away the skin's natural, healthy, moisturizing oils, we create redness and flakiness, and the skin actually gets a counterproductive signal to start producing more oil to keep itself protected. This is how we can end up both dry and oily at the same time. Reduce the amount of cleansing and let the skin relax."
One more thing — when you do cleanse, NYC dermatologist and host of DermTV.com Dr. Neal Schultz says, "Make sure you use a toner after your cleanser to synergize with your cleanser in removing clogging dirt, debris, oil and dead skin cells and to remove cleanser that your water rinse didn't remove."
And Dr. Schultz is one to trust, being that he's creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz.
3. Don’t squeeze
We know it's tempting to squeeze and pick at any zits that happen to show up on your face, but don't.
"Manage acne gently, with help from your dermatologist, not your fingertips," says Dr. Krant. "Anything you pick and and try to solve yourself will only last much longer and risk being permanently scarred. The right dermatologist can help you with an easy, ongoing preventive regimen that will help more."
4. Exfoliate (but not too much)
If you really want smooth skin, get rid of the dead, flaky skin on the surface. "It's a myth that exfoliation can dry or thin the skin," says healthy skin care expert and Skin Authority CEO Celeste Hilling. "Regular exfoliation speeds up the cell turnover process, allowing the body to produce moisture-bearing properties like hyaluronic acid. Exfoliation also helps to plump the skin by churning up elastin and collagen production."
Hilling recommends using a natural resurfacing agent such as glycolic acid to gently dissolve dead surface skin cells so they can be replaced with new, plump ones.
Dr. Schultz agrees, saying, "Yes, exfoliating is important, but it must be with a glycolic exfoliant gentle enough to be able to use daily (yet still effective!) because the dulling dead cells re-accumulate each day."
5. Clean your brushes
How often do you clean your makeup brushes? Probably not often enough. Dirt, grime and oils left in the brushes can cause breakouts, leaving your skin far from smooth. Fortunately, it's easy enough to clean them yourself using a simple bar of soap.
Note: Steer away from scented body soaps and go for a natural soap like those offered by South of France Natural Body Care to remove the gunk without leaving anything behind.
6. Eat clean
Turns out that your mother was right — you really are what you eat, and your skin may be a perfect reflection of your inner health. According to Dr. Michelle Yagoda, NYC facial plastic surgeon, aesthetic integrative beauty expert and co-creator of BeautyScoop, "Foods rich in lean proteins and omega-3 fatty acids are especially effective at delivering smoother skin. They aid the skin in retaining moisture and fortify the skin's natural moisture barrier."
Dr. Yagoda says a diet with ample beauty super foods can enhance skin texture, hydration, firmness and smoothness. She suggests a diet of foods rich in lean protein (salmon, tofu, soy, sardines), Omega-3 fatty acids (almonds, salmon, sardines, walnuts, flax seed), antioxidants for rapid skin repair like vitamins A, C and E (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, berries), and minerals like magnesium and zinc, which facilitate hyaluronic acid production to provide unsurpassed skin hydration (soy, kale, carrots, pumpkin seeds, whole grains).
There are a million reasons you should reach for that glass of water, and smoother skin is one.
"To have smooth, soft skin, it's really important to drink enough water or other nondiuretic fluids during the day. When you are well hydrated, skin is smoother and more elastic," says Stephanie White, founder and president of Become International.
8. Use sunblock
We all know it's important to use sunblock for health reasons, but it'll go a long way toward keeping your skin smooth, too. "Use sunblock religiously," says White. "Sun damage creates wrinkles and coarsens the skin. Find a sunblock you like that is made for the face, preferably with natural ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide."
We can't say this enough: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, agrees.
"Moisturize twice daily," he said. "It will improve skin hydration and seal in cracks between dry cells on the surface of the skin."
This moisture factor can make or break the smoothness of your skin, especially depending on the season, says Dr. Omar Ibrahimi, founding medical director of the Connecticut Skin Institute in Stamford, Connecticut.
"Steaming hot showers, particularly in the winter time, drain the skin of important moisturizers such as ceremides. Taking lukewarm showers and religiously applying a gentle moisturizer within three minutes of getting out of the shower will help keep your skin nice and hydrated," he explains.
10. Go natural
The solution to smoother skin isn't always to be found on a drugstore shelf. Sometimes, the simplest, most natural products have the power to make you glow.
Alexis Wolfer, founding editor in chief of TheBeautyBean.com, has some suggestions for natural ways to get smoother skin.
"Make a yogurt mask," she suggests. "Apply a thin layer of full-fat Greek yogurt to your face and let it dry for about 20 minutes before rinsing with warm water. The lactic acid helps break down dead skin cells while the fat deeply moisturizes."
Vargas provides her own recipe that also uses yogurt as a preferred DIY skin-smoothing ingredient. She explains, "The yogurt in this mask acts as an anti-inflammatory, and the lactic acid peels the skin. Strawberry tightens the pores, and the almond powder is a gentle scrub to get the pores nice and clean. I recommend using it twice a week."
First, rub a cotton ball with raw apple cider vinegar on the area that is breaking out, and follow with this mask:
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1/2 cup mashed strawberry
- 1/2 cup almond powder
Mix together and apply to the entire face. Use the almond powder to scrub the t-zone, where it tends to be oilier and where teens have the most blackheads. Let the mask sit for 15 minutes and rinse.
11. Take extra care at night
Your skin needs extra care at night, so don't use your daytime moisturizer before you go to bed. According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, you should look for a moisturizer that includes a retinoid.
"It stimulates collagen growth and normalizes skin cell turnover," he says.
12. Try a treatment
When all else fails, there's no shame in your game if you feel that your skin needs some outside help.
While less may be more when it comes to daily skincare, as Dr. Krant points out, there are specific situations that may warrant a professional treatment — including discolorations, acne scarring, visible sun damage and the like. Used with many or all of the clear skin tips listed above, Dr. Ibrahimi believes that some professional treatments can help smooth any remaining blemishes that refuse to budge.
He says, "Blue low level light therapy has been clinically shown to be as effective as topical acne medications and is a nice adjunct to help obtain clearer skin."