Here's a dirty little secret every photo editor knows: Nobody's skin is perfect. Not Natalie Portman's. Not Katy Perry's. Not even CoverGirl's top cover girl, Queen Latifah. If their complexions were flawless, magazines wouldn't have retouchers. (Yes, they do more than slim thighs and whittle waists.) Why do you think "Stars Without Makeup" is a tabloid-cover line that never stops working? We all like to see that, just like us, celebs can have dull, flaky skin; acne; and very visible fine lines. But, unlike us, they have makeup artists and skin docs on speed dial who always take their calls.
Manhattan dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD—author of The Mind-Beauty Connection—has been on the receiving end of those calls. Here, she shares the best nonprescription solutions for your skin troubles. Get ready for your close-up.
1. Problem: Persistent Whiteheads, Blackheads, and Occasional Pimples
Beauty solution: Regular cleansing with benzoyl peroxide (BPO). Wash your face with the highest strength BPO cleanser your skin can tolerate once a day: morning, night, or after exercise. Start with 2.5% and work your way up. (If your chest and back are a problem, too, 10% is usually best for them.) Rinse really, really well. Give this 2 to 3 weeks to work.
If that's not enough: For more help, follow up your BPO cleansing with a toner that contains salicylic acid (also known as beta-hydroxy acid or BHA); you can use it as a spot treatment, too. The toner will slough away dead, dry skin cells that can clog pores, and it can also calm inflammation, which makes pimples stand out.
2. Problem: Dull, Dry Skin
Beauty solution: Moisturizers that contain glycerin, a potent "humectant" that draws water from the atmosphere into the skin's outer layer. Apply twice a day after cleansing or using a potentially irritating exfoliating product, like one containing glycolic acid.
Any glycerin-based moisturizer that also contains silicone, which makes the moisturizer glide smoothly onto even rough skin and bolsters the water-loss barrier, so your skin's less likely to dry out, says Dr. Amy.
3. Problem: Fine Lines
Beauty solution: Serums or creams that contain retinol, a form of vitamin A. Though not as potent a rejuvenator as its prescription-strength cousins, Retin-A and Tazorac -- which go after serious sun damage and wrinkles -- retinol can improve fine lines with far less irritation than the Rx forms cause. Apply to just-washed skin once a day.
If that's not enough: Try retinol treatments that also contain polyphenols, antioxidants extracted from green tea or coffee berry. They take the cell-damaging punch out of free radicals created by sunburn and inflammation, which helps prevent deeper wrinkling. Even more important, polyphenols appear to stimulate collagen production, which puts the bounce back in skin. Apply to clean skin.