Dermatologists prescribe products to their patients all day long, but have you ever wondered which ones they personally use? Welcome to Derm Diaries, a new series where dermatologists share their skin woes—and solutions—so you can steal secrets from their skincare routines.
Julie Russak, MD, FAAD, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic and Russak+ Aesthetic Center in NYC, has dealt with rosacea all of her life. Since she grew up in Russia with a family of medical professionals, she was taught early to care for herself and her skin. Her focus on dermatology came to fruition when she attended medical school in the U.S. and studied genetics and cancer–specifically melanoma. Now, in addition to having her own practice, Dr. Russak also works as the Consulting Dermatologist at Covey, a new skincare brand that provides a minimalist full skincare routine with just three products.
“One of the most common misconceptions around skin issues like rosacea and eczema is that they require an arsenal of products to treat them," Dr. Russak says. "But the reality is that if you are using eight, 10, or 12 steps on your skin, you may be causing more irritation."
Dr. Russak herself has taken time to learn what works for her skin. “I have to be extremely selective with the products that I use because of how reactive my skin can be,” Dr. Russak notes. Her rosacea flares up when she is under any sort of stress, and she develops itchy, red patches on her face. Anything she puts on her skin during this time will irritate her skin much more than it would normally. Keep reading for exactly what Dr. Russak uses in her own skincare routine to manage her own skin concerns, like rosacea.
She believes less is more.
All she uses in her routine is “a gentle cleanser, a vitamin C serum, and a moisturizer that both hydrates and moisturizes and SPF.” For her extra needs, she notes, “I use prescription products in conjunction with that core routine to treat my rosacea and fine lines.”
She’s a big fan of Vitamin C serum.
She thinks of Vitamin C as “a workhouse ingredient” “because it both protects and repairs skin.” You may be wondering how she does that with such sensitive skin, and the secret is that it's a variation called THD ascorbate. “While many with sensitive skin may shy away from other types of vitamin C, THD ascorbate is so gentle that it allows you to reap vitamin C’s reparative and protective benefits without the irritation, yet it’s 50 times more effective than more commonly used L-ascorbic acid,” she says. Another pro: Dr. Russak claims it is more shelf-stable and won’t start to oxidize once you open it.
She uses the same skincare products in the morning and the evening.
Yes, even her vitamin C serum, which is a gentler form of vitamin C and much less irritating to the skin. “When used during the day, a vitamin C serum protects skin from environmental aggressors, like UV rays and free radicals. At night, it encourages collagen production during skin’s most reparative time: sleep. When I use this serum, my skin instantly looks brighter,” she notes.
She aims for a sulfate-free cleanser.
“It’s important to choose a cleanser that is free of sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS strips the skin of its natural oils, which can cause dry skin, irritation and allergic reactions, and can also be irritating to the eyes," Dr. Russak says. She actually helped develop her own cleanser, which contains soothing babassu oil and aloe leaf juice and uses a "uses a natural, plant-based surfactant system instead of a sulfate system to cleanse, making it much gentler than your typical face wash."
She applies azelaic acid in the morning.
To treat her rosacea, she uses Finacea, a prescription topical foam that contains 15% azelaic acid, after applying her vitamin C serum. "Many clinical studies show that azelaic acid visibly reduces inflammation in the skin. In general, azelaic acid is also much gentler than typical AHAs, which is ideal for those with sensitive skin or skin conditions like rosacea," Dr. Russak notes.
She takes care of the skin around her eyes.
Each morning, she uses Russak Dermatology Instant Firming Eye Gels. “I put them on and lay flat on my back, without a pillow, for 5-10 minutes. The gels firm, depuff, brighten, tighten and hydrate the eye area,” she notes.
She then uses Revision DEJ Eye Cream morning and night on her upper and lower eyelids. "This cream strengthens the DEJ (dermal epidermal junction) of the skin where much aging occurs and it contains peptides to firm the skin,” Dr. Russak says.
She goes for a high SPF.
In the morning after she moisturizes, she applies Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50. She favors mineral-based sunscreens because they are less irritating to the skin and create a physical barrier to block UV rays.
She uses retinol–but not daily.
At night, only three times a week, Dr. Russak mixes in prescription retinol into her moisturizer. “Because I have sensitive skin, mixing retinol into a moisturizer dilutes it without sacrificing retinol’s amazing benefits, like improving skin texture and reducing fine lines,” she says.