Dermatologists prescribe products to their patients all day long, but have you ever wondered which ones they personally use? Welcome to Derm Diaries, a new series where dermatologists share their skin woes—and solutions—so you can steal secrets from their skincare routines.
Shari Marchbein, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU, knows what it’s like to deal with problem skin. “I have both acne and eczema so I have that combination of sensitive yet breakout prone skin,” she explains. “Since I’m on a full prescription treatment routine to keep my skin breakout free, all of my other skincare products have to be oil free, non-comedogenic, and gentle.” Here are skincare the rules she lives by—and the products she swears by—that don’t leave her skin angry.
She uses a gentle cleanser twice daily.
Dr. Marchbein approves of cleansing morning and night, but very gently. “I wash my face with an ultra gentle cleanser twice daily,” she says. Doing more than twice a day and “using overly harsh cleansers can actually lead to more breakouts.” Dr. Marchbein suggests looking for cleansers labeled hypoallergenic or fragrance-free to ensure you’re getting the most gentle option. Also, look for hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to make sure your cleanser isn’t stripping the skin of essential healthy fats which can lead to irritation. “Remember, squeaky clean means that you’ve actually over-cleansed and are probably using something that’s too harsh,” Dr. Marchbein warns.
She applies an antioxidant serum every morning.
“I apply an antioxidant serum every morning, before moisturizer and sunscreen, to help protect and repair free radical damage,” says Dr. Marchbein. “I always choose one that uses vitamin C because it helps lighten pigmentation and dark spots that acne can leave behind.” While she says her two favorites (shop them below) are good for all skin types, she especially loves them for acne-prone skin because they don’t cause breakouts like some creamy serums can.
She chooses a sunscreen formula that’s really moisturizing.
This will not only save you a step, but your dried out, acne-prone skin will also drink it up. “All of my products are focused on hydrating and moisturizing my skin since so many acne medications leave my skin dry and irritated,” says Dr. Marchbein. She recommends looking for moisturizers that are at least 30 SPF, oil free, and non-comedogenic. “Sunscreen is an essential step in any skin care routine and can help acne-prone skin in that some acne medications (orally and topically) can make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s especially important to make sure your skin is protected,” adds Dr. Marchbein. “Additionally, sun exposure will worsen existing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne so daily sun protection is critical for those whose acne leaves them with dark marks.”
She puts on a heavier moisturizer at night.
“At night, after gentle cleansing, I apply a prescription retinoid (I use Retin A micro) and then a super hydrating moisturizer to help prevent dryness from the retinoid as well as boost hydration,” explains Dr. Marchbein. “Many people who suffer with acne are afraid to moisturize their face because they’re worried it’s going to make them breakout more, but that’s not true!” She says the key is to look for ones labeled “non-comedogenic” which means that it won’t clog your pores.
She exfoliates at least three times a week.
There are two ways to exfoliate—physical and chemical. Physical uses an ingredient like sugar or salt to physically slough away dead skin while chemical uses acids like salicylic acid or glycolic acid to dissolve dead skin cells. “Those with oily or combination skin can often tolerate using both types of exfoliating,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble beta hydroxy acid which penetrates deeper into pores than alpha hydroxy acids (i.e. glycolic, lactic, and citric), making it ideal for unclogging them and treating mild acne.” Dr. Marchbein also loves peel pads for when she’s traveling, “these pads from Skinbetter use a mix of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids, as well as retinol for a major exfoliating punch.”
She treats body acne with benzoyl peroxide.
“Benzoyl peroxide is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and treats blackheads as well as more inflammatory breakouts so it’s my preferred topical for body acne,” explains Dr. Marchbein. Because it’s drying, she recommends using it after your normal hydrating body wash and only in the areas that you need it. “I use a gentle cleanser first like Dove then quickly wash and rinse chest and back with my benzoyl peroxide cleanser before getting out of the shower.” And don’t forget to rinse thoroughly to prevent bleaching your towels!
She prioritizes a solid regimen of five prescription medications for acne.
“I’m on a monophasic combination birth control pill, Spironolactone, and two oral medications that control large cystic (hormonal) breakouts. In addition to Retin A micro at night, I use a topical benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin gel in the morning and topical dapsone gel at night,” says Dr. Marchbein. She recommends consulting your dermatologist to see what prescription products might be right for you.