These are the only 3 products you really need in your skincare routine

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Forget having a cupboard overflowing with products. This scientifically proven trio is all you need to get the best skin of your life.

Have you ever counted how many skincare products are on your shelves? Or bothered to add up how many steps your routine actually has? The serums, oils and essences, maybe there’s a face mask or two thrown in for good measure. 

But what if we said you don’t need a shelf (or, more likely, shelves) bursting with products to keep your skin healthy and looking its best? What if, actually, you only really needed three incredible hero products?

If you speak to any dermatologist or skincare expert, they’ll agree that vitamin C, SPF and retinol (a form of vitamin A) are the ‘magic three’ – and are the only scientifically proven ingredients that can impact how skin ages. 

That’s not to say masks or oils are redundant – you can use them if you enjoy them – but they categorically will not affect your skin in the same way using active ingredients will. 

SPF, vitamin C and retinol really are the three most important items to incorporate into your routine,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk.

“There’s a strong track record for their benefits in medical literature, confirmed by multiple studies.” Harley Street’s Dr Sam Bunting concurs, adding, “If you have no specific issues (such as eczema), those ingredients are the Holy Trinity.”

You’ve heard it before, but a minimum of SPF30 with UVA and UVB protection should be worn all year. “UV rays account for 90% of skin ageing, and studies show sunscreen alone doesn’t protect against all of the free radicals caused by UV radiation,” says Victoria Hiscock, product and education specialist at cosmeceutical brand AlumierMD

It’s for this reason that a powerhouse antioxidant, such as vitamin C, should be applied beforehand. “Vitamin C helps shield skin from free radical damage caused by pollution and sun exposure,” explains Dan Isaacs, formulation and development director at Medik8. But ensure the vitamin C you’re using is effective. It’s notoriously unstable and oxidises when exposed to light and air. When this happens it’ll turn a brownish colour and is no longer beneficial for skin. 

There are different types of vitamin C, but the most effective is L-ascorbic acid. Usually found in serums, it’s the most potent form. It’s also Bunting’s favourite: “Products containing it can be more expensive, but are a worthwhile investment,” she says.

Then, in the evening, use retinol. It has a bad reputation thanks to temporary dryness and potential irritation while skin adjusts, but, as Isaacs explains, it’s worth it. “Retinol is hailed as the gold standard of anti-ageing and works by stimulating collagen production,” he says. “It helps to accelerate skin cell turnover which smooths out fine lines, enhances skin texture and corrects pigmentation.”

Here, we run through the best vitamin C, SPF and retinol products to add to your skincare routine.

The best daily Vitamin C products

  • AlumierMD EverActive C&E

    alumiermd-ever-active-ce1

    Premixed formulas can oxidise quite quickly, but unique technology (that took four years to perfect) means the 15% L-ascorbic acid is only released into the serum when you’re ready to use it. Each pack contains three bottles which you open and use one at a time. 

    AlumierMD EverActive C&E, £149

  • Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster With Pure Vitamin C 10%

    clinique-fresh-pressed-daily-vitamin-c-booster

    10% L-ascorbic acid is housed in special ‘stay fresh’ packaging that isolates the pure vitamin C until it’s activated. Add a couple of drops to moisturiser or use it alone. Each set comes with four bottles, which last around a week once opened. 

    Clinique Fresh Pressed Daily Booster With Pure Vitamin C 10%, £58

  • Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

    drunk-elephant-c-firma-day-serum1

    Combined with ferulic acid and vitamin E, two ingredients that work in conjunction with vitamin C, Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson told Stylist she stores her day serum in the fridge to help keep the active ingredients fresh for longer. 

    Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, £67

  • Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C Serum 23% + Ferulic Acid

    garden-of-wisdom-vitamin-c-ferulic-acid

    Ferulic acid helps protect vitamin C from oxidisation. Combined with the airless pump that dispenses the formula, it means that this is a total antioxidant powerhouse. Plus, it’s free from alcohol, silicones and fragrance. 

    Garden of Wisdom Vitamin C Serum 23% + Ferulic Acid, £10

  • Lixir Vitamin C Paste

    lixir vitamin c paste

    A one-of-a-kind formula, apply a layer of Vitamin C Paste in the morning, leave it on for a few minutes, then rinse it off. This morning mask will brighten dull skin by neutralising oxidised sebum, as well as working as a shield against UVA and UVB rays (use SPF too, though). 

    Lixir Vitamin C Paste, £32

The best daily SPF products

The best retinol serums

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Images: Harry Pedersen / courtesy of brands

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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