The Best Over-the-Counter Face Creams

Woman applying lotion

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Reaching age 21 is a major milestone -- then the harsh realization that your skin needs more attention sets in. As you address the needs of your skin, note that a top priority for basic skin care is moisturizing. The cream that our skin responds so well to in our 20s, however, is not necessarily appropriate for our skin when we're in our 40s or 50s. Fortunately, there is an ever-increasing abundance of excellent over-the-counter face creams for every age.

In Your 20s

In your early 20s you may still be plagued with oily skin or breakouts. The best over-the-counter moisturizers for day will contain ingredients that mattify skin and control breakouts while providing needed moisture. For day or night cream, your shopping list should contain oil-free moisturizing formulas with ingredients like salicylic acid to beat pimples and oil-reducing botanicals like bamboo extract and sesame seed extract. Twenty-somethings with normal to dry skin can conversely use "richer" creams -- ones that contain lush oils, butters and humectants like shea butter, lanolin, glycerin and lactic acid. Double-duty creams with an SPF are ideal, but if yours does not contain an SPF, be sure to apply a layer of sunscreen before or after you moisturize in the morning.

In Your 30s

Once you enter your 30s, focus on an anti-aging regimen. The best creams will contain ingredients that prevent lines, minimize pore size, inhibit hyperpigmentation and resurface your skin's texture. Moisturizers containing vitamin C -- a powerful antioxidant that stays in the skin for up to 24 hours -- help to maintain even skin tone and texture. For day or night, creams containing alpha-hydroxy acids are best for minimizing pores and resurfacing your skin, and you should limit your application to once daily as you build a tolerance to the product. Use retinoids (vitamin A) in over-the-counter cream at night to prevent and reduce lines and wrinkles. When trying a new drugstore brand of retinoid, follow the label instructions carefully, and if redness, burning or stinging occur, use your product every other day until your skin acclimates. If irritation persists, discontinue use. As always, sunscreen is your best defense against the aging effects of the sun, so look for an SPF of at least 15 in your day cream, or apply a separate layer of sunscreen after you moisturize.

In Your 40s

The 40s are a time in life when many women hit their strides. This is the time to add treatment creams into your current skin-care regimen. Multi-tasking creams that moisturize, treat and protect are the best formulas for both day and night. Continue to moisturize according to your skin type (dry, oily, combination or normal), but treat your concerns -- fine lines, dark spots or slightly lax skin -- with a double- or even triple-duty moisturizer. For day use, your cream should contain vitamins or other antioxidants, alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, plus an SPF. At night, your best moisturizer option will contain a retinoid (vitamin A) which will reduce lines and even skin tone.

In Your 50s

With hormonal changes, 50-somethings may notice their skin has become increasingly dry and dull, and there may be some sagging, uneven skin tone and dark spots. The best face creams for this age contain hyaluronic acid, a humectant that holds up to 1,000 times its weight in moisture. Creams with vitamins A, C and E will help smooth and brighten skin. Retinoids (vitamin A) reduce lines and promote cellular turnover, thereby improving the appearance of uneven skin tone. Another benefit of a cream with vitamin A is exfoliation, which skin in its 50s needs due to a slower desquamation (natural exfoliation) process. Alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid, in your moisturizer also gently exfoliate, and ingredients like kojic acid and licorice acid are important for brightening skin with age spots. The best cream for firming the skin is one with vitamin C or peptides, which promote collagen production. For daytime skin care, be sure an SPF is in your moisturizer, or apply one before or after using your moisturizer.