The Skincare Products That Actually Work


We all spend a huge amount of money on the latest skincare products that are meant to reverse or halt the signs of ageing. Our bathroom cabinets are full of them. However, as much as we hate to admit it, there is very little science that backs up the claims made by manufacturers.

Dermatologist Dr. Caitríona Ryan spoke to us about what is actually proven to work so you can get the absolute best from your skincare regimen. 

How important is a skincare routine?

Best face forward! Your skincare routine is incredibly important – in the short term to produce a glowing radiant complexion, but more importantly, in the long-term to reduce the signs of ageing.  

Two important messages: your skincare regimen does not need to be expensive and it does not need to be complicated.

Keeping it simple is key. Many women (and men!) spend far too much on their skincare products and are often only paying for the packaging. Everyone needs an individualized skincare regimen as everyone’s skin is different – those with oily skin should avoid oil based products and those with dry skin types may need more moisturizing regimens - but the basic steps of a great skincare regimen can be used by everyone.

The cornerstones of every skin regimen should be a zinc-containing moisturizing sunscreen every morning and a retinoid based product (retinol or tretinoin) at night time – these help prevent skin ageing, discoloration and protect against skin cancer.

Other beneficial products to combat the signs of ageing to produce more luminous, healthy skin include Vitamin C products, hyaluronic acid and serums containing growth factors and peptides.

If patients have a skin condition they should see a board-certified specialist dermatologist. I often meet patients struggling with acne or rosacea who have spent thousands on complex skin care regimens when they just needed simple medical treatment.

Is it still the same old adage; cleanse, tone moisturise?

The simple answer is no…. Cleansing and moisturizing are basic steps to every skin care regimen but toners are not typically necessary in most skin types. The alcohol-based astringent toners which were historically used can dry and irritate the skin, especially in those who suffer from eczema, rosacea or dryer skin. Toners can, however, can be a great adjunct to a skincare regimen in those that have very oily or acne-prone skin by removing excess oils and allowing other skin preparations to penetrate more easily.

Is there a difference between using a facial wash and a cleanser?

This really comes down to personal preference, but in general, facial washes are good for those with oilier skin whereas gentle cream cleansers are better in those with dry or sensitive skin, eczema and rosacea.

If you are prone to breakouts, what are the best products for your skin?

For those with occasional breakouts, make sure you use a retinoid-based product at night. Glycolic washes and moisturisers that contain salicylic acid can also help. Use oil-free or non-comedogenic make-up and concealers. For those with frequent breakouts, cystic lesions or scarring, see a board-certified dermatologist. There are great medicines such as isotretinoin which can permanently cure acne.


How important is a serum?

A serum is more efficient delivery system for targeted skin therapies. Serums contain a much higher concentration of active ingredient (up to 70%) so are much more potent in their effects and are typically water based, lacking the oily ingredients of typical moisturisers. Serums typically contain anti-oxidants, brightening agents, growth factors and peptides important for collagen production.

Are there anti-ageing products that work?

There are five major anti-ageing products that will improve your skin texture and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, my fantastic five: 1. Sunscreen 2. Retinol 3. Vitamin C  4. Growth Factors and 5. Hyaluronic acid

1. Sunscreen. This goes without saying. There are a multitude of reasons to use sunscreen every day. Apart from the obvious reduction in skin cancer risk, sunscreen prevents premature skin-ageing, blotchy discoloration of the face, the development of broken veins and reduces the production of UV- induced free radicals that inhibit normal collagen production.

Physical sunscreens containing Zinc or Titanium are best – they fully block against UVA which comes through windows, causes ageing and pigmentantion and much better for those with rosacea or sensitive skin where chemical sunblocks can cause flares or irritation.

2.Retinol or tretinoin (Retin-A), should be the cornerstone of every anti-ageing skincare regimen. These vitamin A derivatives target so many of our skin concerns – fine lines, discoloration, enlarged pores, blackheads, acne, and even has a mild protective action against skin cancer changes. Retinoids are the most effective topical therapies to reduce the skins of aging and to produce a glowing complexion by increasing collagen and normalizing skin cell turnover. The sooner you start, the better!

3. Vitamin C is an essential factor in the production of skin collagen and a potent antioxidant that can help rejuvenate and transform the skin, even out skin tone, improve hydration and keep the skin looking younger and more radiant.

4. Growth factors have been shown to increase collagen and elastin production in the skin while reducing inflammation to produce improved skin tone and a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles

5. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in abundance in the skin but declines with advancing age. It is a powerful moisture binding agent, enhancing skin hydration to produce plumper smoother skin, and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also has anti-oxidant properties to reduce UV-mediated skin damage. It is a product that benefits everyone, including those with oily or dry skin.

Many people can’t use Retinol or Retin-A because it makes their skin too dry – what can they do instead?

Many people are wary of the peeling produced by retinoids but almost everyone can tolerate Retinol if it is introduced in the correct way. Start with using a quarter pea-sized amount to your forehead and outer cheeks (avoid your nose and around your mouth), followed by a good moisturiser or serum every 2nd or 3rd night and gradually increase the frequency to every night.

Can you get Retin-A cream without a prescription?

Tretinoin (Retin-a) requires a prescription in the US and most European countries. Retinol is a milder retinoid which is sold over the counter (without a prescription) which has many of the benefits of tretinoin but is less drying and irritating.

What products would you recommend for every bathroom cabinet?

My fantastic five:

  1. Zinc containing sunscreen
  2. Vitamin C
  3. Retinol
  4. A serum containing antioxidants, growth factors and peptides
  5. Hyaluronic acid containing moisturiser or serum