Know your type

Even Tom Ford does his homework before adding any new products to his skin-care regimen. His exacting advice: “Get a magnifying mirror and look at your face. Do you have broken capillaries? Pale or sallow skin?” Point being: Analyze your skin type and skin issues before you buy. “Think of your skin as having different ecosystems,” says Kate Somerville, an L.A.-based aesthetician who caters to celebrities such as Katherine Heigl. “Are you dry around the eyes but experience hormonal breakouts on your chin? It’s all about treating these areas with the right products.” Not sure about your skin’s most pressing needs? See a derm or head to your nearest beauty counter to try some on-site skin diagnostic tools. Somerville says that there are two things to keep in mind, regardless of your skin type or issues: “Hydration is key, and if you have really oily skin, look for an oil-free product with hyaluronic acid.”

Don’t be fooled

Before you buy, read the fine print. Be sure to scan the label for legit claims, and beware of wording such as “improves the appearance of” followed by your skin gripe (pores, fine lines, dark circles). “Instead, look for the concentration of active ingredients,” suggests Dr. Julia Carroll, a Toronto-based dermatologist. “If there’s a sufficient amount, the number will be on the label. You’ll see 0.5 percent retinol, 2 percent salicylic acid, 10 percent glycolic acid or 10 percent vitamin C.” However, drugstore products may not contain the same level of active ingredients as prescription versions, so “look for important words such as ‘exfoliating,’ ‘hydrating’ or ‘mattifying’ and then match the product to your skin’s needs,” says Fiona Stiles, a celebrity makeup artist for Mark whose clients include Lucy Hale and Elizabeth Banks.

Spend wisely
“Abide by the following skin-care commandments: cleanse, moisturize, protect and treat,” says Carroll. “No matter what your age, you should use a basic cleanser (like Cetaphil) that doesn’t strip the skin and a broad-spectrum SPF 30. ‘Treatment’ is where I’d invest my money.” A fail-safe daytime go-to treatment? Vitamin C. “Topical vitamin C, a.k.a. L-ascorbic acid, is anti-aging, and there’s some evidence that it can help guard against sun damage,” she says. “For it to be effective, it should contain at least 10 percent L-ascorbic acid.” Carroll recommends using glycolic acid or retinol at night, or prescription Retin-A to help smooth lines and wrinkles and fade discoloration. When do you know if your money was well spent? “You’ll see plumper skin straight away from nearly any good moisturizer,” says Somerville. But, advises Carroll, “seeing an improvement in acne, discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles can take up to eight weeks.”

Trial and error
Tried-and-true favourites aside, it’s always a good idea to sample skin-care freebies—or try the products in the store, like you can at the Beauty Hall in Holt Renfrew at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. (More beauty spaces will soon be rolled out at HRs across Canada.) Counters have been eliminated so you can explore and experiment with brands like Aesop and Bobbi Brown more readily and get pampered in swish new skin-care suites testing facials or mini-treatments from La Mer and Sisley. Similarly, Shoppers Drug Mart offers new digital tools to track your past favourites so its beauty advisers can help guide future purchases. Beauty alert: In August, Chanel counters started popping up in upgraded Shoppers Drug Mart beauty boutiques across the country.

Practise prevention

“My biggest pet peeve is women who throw tons of money at their skin care but continue to smoke or sit in the sun and not wear sunscreen,” says Stiles. “Living in Los Angeles, I see so many women who are clearly desperately trying to reverse the damage that years and years of sun worshipping has done, when all they had to do was stay in the shade. Put on a hat and some sunscreen and toss the cigarettes. You’ll look decades younger.”