The Top 5 Holy Grail Skincare Products…and When To Start Using Them

I get asked all the time by young customers when they should start using certain products. Some ingredients the experts agree upon, and some have differing opinions. So, with all the conflicting advice, what should you do? Here is my opinion based on 20 years in the business, and my take on what the experts are saying.

1. Hyaluronic Acid

I’m starting with the one the experts all agree upon. You really can’t start this ingredient too early. Hyaluronic acid is a molecule that holds a thousand times its weight in water. Its ability to hydrate the skin is unparalleled. Hydrated skin is less likely to show signs of aging because it stays plump. Dry skin alone doesn’t cause aging, but it does lead to flaky patches. Those patches then beg to be exfoliated off. Vigorous and continuous physical exfoliation can lead to inflammation, which does cause aging. The more hydrated the skin, the less need for over-exfoliation at a young age. I say start this early and stick with it.


2. Vitamin C

This is the next least controversial. Again, the experts pretty much agree that vitamin C can’t be started too early. However, Vitamin C is only effective if the delivery system is effective…and that combination doesn’t come cheap. As you all know, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Phloretin CF are the holy grail on that one, in my opinion. But at $166 dollars for a four-month supply, when do you NEED to start using it? Age 25. I know…I know…that’s crazy, right? Not if you want to avoid wrinkles and age spots. At age 25, you start to lose collagen at the rate of 1-1.7 percent a year.  That may not seem like a lot, but by age 35 it has added up. If I had a dollar for every 35-year-old woman who said to me, “it’s like the wrinkles showed up overnight,” well, let’s just say…I’d have a beach house somewhere.

I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had said “that dress is cute, but how many times will you wear it before you’re over it? You’ll wear your face forever.” I’m not sure I would have listened, but I might have. If you’re 25 and you’re reading this…I’m telling you now. Your 35-year-old self will thank you. Hell, your 50-year-old self will rejoice.


3. Alpha Hydroxy Acid

For those of us who grew up using St. Ives Walnut Apricot Scrub, we didn’t know there was something better out there. I first heard Dr. Perricone talk about micro-tearing of the skin more than 17 years ago and thought he might be a little alarmist. Then a year or two later, all the skin care companies starting using micro-beads instead of crushed nuts in their exfoliators and I realized that he really was on to something. It’s pretty well settled now that physical exfoliation with anything non-spherical leads to inflammation and possible micro-tearing of the skin. That causes a breakdown in the cell structure and premature aging.

Better exfoliation is achieved chemically through alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, like lactic acid and glycolic acid. These slough away the dead skin cells by eating away at the “glue,” if you will, that holds the dead skin cells to the fresher cells underneath. So, when should you start using these? That depends. If you’re 18 and you’re using a physical exfoliator, then stop and start using an AHA, but just once a week so you don’t start over-exfoliating. If you’re in your twenties, twice a week is sufficient. Your skin cells turnover every two weeks as a newborn, every three to four weeks as a teenager, and every month and half to two and half months after age 50. Once in your fifties, you have to amp up your exfoliation. Three to five times a week is recommended. A daily peel pad is a great way to get the desired results.


4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the new hero on the block when it comes to skincare. It is essential to strengthening the skin’s barrier as it has the ability to regenerate skin cells and repair damage. Compromised skin and healthy skin alike see an evening out in skin tone and texture. Those with psoriasis, eczema, or sensitive skin should start using this immediately. Those with normal skin function should consider adding this to their skincare regimen around age 40.


5. Retinol

I’ve saved the most controversial ingredient for last. It is settled science that retinol will make skin appear smoother and lessen fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol encourages cell turnover by dividing cells, pushing the new cells to the surface, and causing the old cells to flake off.  Sounds great doesn’t it? It is. The question is when should you start this process? Some dermatologists say that your mid to late twenties is the perfect time as this is when cell turnover starts to slow. By encouraging cell turnover, you keep age spots as well as fine lines and wrinkles at bay.

Other dermatologists disagree. They claim that your cells only have the ability to divide about 50 times in their lifetime. By beginning too early, you use up your ability to refresh your cells before you actually need to. Furthermore, you push new cells to the surface at a quicker rate than they otherwise would have arrived there. Those cells have not had time to create the barrier function of older cells and thus you are more photo-sensitive and your skin is thinner. Thin skin is more susceptible to inflammation and micro-tearing, which leads to premature aging.

So, with these differing opinions, what should you do?

After having talked to scores of women over the years, those who have used retinol all their lives and those who started later in life, I have come to my own conclusion. I think starting a retinol in your mid to late twenties is advisable, but at a low dose and only a couple times a week. This counteracts the effects of the natural slowdown of cell turnover without increasing it too much. This will keep the fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots at bay without over-sensitizing or thinning the skin. At age 30, I would up the use to three times a week and at a slightly higher concentration. At age 40 I would either up the concentration or move to daily application. I myself am at a lower concentration, but daily application. Waiting until late thirties, in my opinion, significantly decreases your ability to stave off wrinkles and age spots in the first place, which is so much easier than trying to rid yourself of them once they’ve appeared.


  • The latest from Angela
I have been a beauty junkie for what seems like forever, but before I did anything about it, I went to law school. (Yes, my life is a little like the reverse of Legally Blonde.) Then, I worked as a prosecutor in Sonoma County after which I moved to the DC area with my husband in ’97. I served as Majority Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee followed by a year-long stint at a lobbying firm. You get the picture. It was then that I decided to act on my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Finding my favorite beauty products proved to be impossible without stepping foot in a mall–the horror. So, I decided to bring my favorites to Alexandria. A few trips to New York and a flight to France and Bellacara was born in March 2000.

Located in historic Old Town Alexandria, for more than 17 years Bellacara has been Northern Virginia's preeminent boutique for high end cosmetic, skincare and haircare products. At Bellacara you will find premiere beauty products that have been carefully edited by the store’s owner, Angela Sitilides, who personally tests all the products sold in store. The boutique carries only the best product lines – Kiehl’s, Jouer, Dr. Dennis Gross, Christophe Robin, Moroccan Oil, Bumble & Bumble, Fresh, Molton Brown, Skinceuticals, Smashbox, Stila, Mario Badescu, Clarins, Dermalogica, Kevyn Aucoin, Kai, Child, St. Tropez, Smith and Cult, and many more.

1000 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314



  1. Avatar Chelsea I Henderson says:

    I have to say I’m a big fan of the alpha hydroxy peels, but as a person concerned about the environment and the waste generated by these products, I just can’t do them anymore. It would be great if there was a different application mechanism other than a saturated pad that after one minute goes into the waste bin. If you know of anyone who makes the “liquid” part of the product that can be used on reusable cloth pads (I get those on Etsy to minimize waste) I’d love to know!


  2. Angela Sitilides Angela Sitilides says:

    As luck would have it, Dr. Gross just created an at home two step clinical grade peel. You can absolutely use that in place of the peel pads.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get your daily dose of all things fashion, beauty, fitness, and design. Locally sourced and locally styled!