In a world full of complexity, the last thing you want to do is add more to it. However, approaching your skincare routine with intentionality and structure can enhance your results and even simplify your routine.
One tenet of effective skincare is the method and manner of application. Haphazard slathering just doesn’t cut it. Instead, a carefully-crafted skincare routine that maximizes product effectiveness can improve your desired results. Plus, a well-structured routine can bring a much-needed sense of calm both morning and night, saving you time and hassle. To get started, learn about the key components of a routine that supports healthy skin and your skincare goals.
Build Your Basic Skincare Routine With These Foundational Products
Whether you’re a skincare novice or devotee, a refresher on skincare basics is in order. It’s important to understand the basics you’ll need for healthy, clean skin. In general, you should apply products from thinnest to thickest — unless your dermatologist is having you use prescription medications and recommends another routine.
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Cleanser- Choose a gentle cleanser that’s non-stripping. If your skin is dry, look for hydrating formulas that contain ceramides and other moisture-improving components like glycerin or hyaluronic acid. For acne-prone skin, cleansers with active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be helpful.
Toner- Toners are a bit controversial amongst dermatologists and skin care experts. Lightweight and easy to apply, they should be used before other products. With basic formulas like witch hazel, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or Korean specialty toners, these products can exfoliate and prepare skin for your routine’s next steps, but they can also be drying and irritating
Serum- Serums are lightweight liquids usually applied with a dropper that can contain a variety of ingredients, including retinols, antioxidants, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, and other ingredients. They can deliver targeted improvements and anti-aging benefits that can help improve skin brightness, elasticity, and moisture retention.
Moisturizer- A lightweight or more substantive moisturizer — depending on the season and your skin type — can help lessen transepidermal water loss, improve your skin barrier, and provide a great base for makeup application. Similar to your cleanser, look for dermatologist favorites that include moisture-locking ceramides. This crucial ingredient can help lock in moisture all day and allow your treatments to do their work.
Sunscreen- An anti-aging and skin-cancer preventing essential, sun protection factor of at least 30 SPF is a must-have for preventing sun damage.
Enhance Your Regimen With Targeted Treatments
Now that you’ve built your basic skincare routine, it’s time to decide what targeted treatments you’ll need. No matter your age, there are products and treatments that can help you look as good as you feel.
Time, stress, lack of sleep, summer sunburns, smoking, and other life realities can affect the skin and bring on early aging. Thankfully, there are some science-based products that can target concerns such as fine lines, dark spots, breakouts from acne and rosacea, and pigment problems.
Serums- Potent serums like hyaluronic acid are beloved for their ability to moisturize effectively. Hydroquinone can target age-related dark spots, reducing their appearance gently with consistent use.
Antioxidants- Blends of powerful antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C can infuse benefits directly into the skin. Vitamin C can also help with dark spots, help boost collagen production, and as an added bonus, make sunscreen more effective.
Medical Treatments- If you have acne or rosacea, your dermatologist may prescribe medications to help control inflammation. Treatments for acne, under eye darkness, or other concerns provide targeted formulas for your unique concerns. Some acne products, like tretinoin cream, also have anti-aging properties, increasing cell turnover and diminishing fine lines and dark spots.
Oil- Depending on your skin type, you may want to add a face oil on top of your daily moisturizer. Some people may also prefer to use skin oil instead of moisturizer, depending on their skincare needs.
Eye cream- Often packed with specialized moisture and caffeine, and sometimes vitamin A, eye creams do a special job. By effectively moisturizing, these creams are designed to help deliver targeted treatments to this delicate skin.
Create a Routine That Maximizes Product Effectiveness and Results
In many areas of life, order matters. And in highly effective skincare, application order can make or break a routine. Aside from the obvious need to cleanse before applying treatments, it’s important to be aware of possible product interactions.
Some combinations can cause irritation, dry skin, or pigmentary change. For example, topical dapsone and benzoyl peroxide applied together can temporarily turn your skin orange. Other product interactions can render each other ineffective (like benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin), wasting both your time and high-quality products in the process. Read up on application best practices and use them as a guide to develop your healthy skin routine.
Morning: Start your day with clean, fresh skin that’s ready for whatever is in store. Whether you’re facing the day fresh-faced or preparing for a makeup routine, clean and moisturized skin should always be your foundation.
Cleanser- Use your gentle cleanser to remove the evening’s skincare treatment with light, circular motions from the middle out. Include your neck and delicate collar bone area as well. Then pat dry with a soft, clean towel or air dry.
Toner- If using toner, it is best applied under other, thicker products. Dispense water-like toner onto clean fingertips to reduce waste, tapping it from the middle out. Apply to your neck to extend their effectiveness. If you find your skin to be dry, especially if you are using products to treat acne, this may be a step to skip.
Serum- Powerful, concentrated serums like vitamin C can help your sunscreen function more effectively, help treat melasma, and even help collagen stimulation. Allow serums to settle into skin for about a minute before moving to your next product.
Treatments- Spot treatments for acne, under eye darkness, or other concerns come next. These formulas can be thicker, so be careful to apply sparingly and allow them to mattify before moving on. While in general products should be applied in order of thinnest to thickest, your provider may want you to use prescription products as the first step of your routine.
Moisturizer- If your skin is especially dry you may want to apply moisturizer before your sunscreen. Select a non-comedogenic formula that’s right for your skin type to avoid breakouts, especially if you plan to apply cosmetics.
Facial Oil- Target dry spots or add moisture-locking oil during cold seasons. If you’re using gua sha tools or doing facial massage, oil provides essential slip for your tools.
Sunscreen- Many daytime moisturizers include SPF, but if yours doesn’t, apply a separate facial sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Makeup can be applied on top of sunscreen. If you plan to be outside regularly, bring a facial sunscreen with you and reapply every 90 minutes. Powder and compact sunscreens can make reapplication easier on top of makeup.
Evening: After taking on your day, your skin is ready for a reset. The goal of your evening routine should be to cleanse your skin, removing daytime products, makeup, and any accumulated residue from a busy day. Additionally, several formulas that are deactivated when exposed to sun (like retinol and retinoids) can be applied at this time. Because some of these compounds can be drying, a good moisturizer is helpful in the evening too. Use your nighttime routine to relax, even enjoying a caffeine-free tea and calming music while you wind down for the night.
Cleanser- Your morning cleanser may be able to do the job here, but be sure to remove all traces of makeup first. Use micellar water for gentle makeup removal, whose tiny particles gently lift even waterproof formulas. Next, cleanse with gentle circular motions with your fingers. Silicone cleansing tools or gentle brushes can add to the experience, but take care to avoid overuse, which can irritate the skin. Same as your morning routine, pat dry with a soft, clean towel or let it air dry after rinsing and before your next step.
Eye cream- Pat eye cream on gently, using your ring finger for the lightest touch. Apply from the inside corner out, avoiding application transfer into the eye. Extend your application into the area beside the eye, where crow’s feet wrinkles often appear. Allow it to sink in before settling into bed or putting on a sleep or eye mask.
Treatments- Just like your body needs to rest and recharge overnight, so does your face. Apply powerful treatments like retinol or retinoids toward the end of your routine, avoiding the sensitive eye area. Retinol and retinoids can sometimes be drying. If your skin is too dry, take a break for a few days and try using it every other day instead. Mixing it with your moisturizer can also be a way to combat dryness.
Review your prescription to ensure your other products don’t have negative interactions. Sometimes alpha and beta hydroxy acids can be irritating when used on the same evenings as retinoids. If using, consider cycling these with your retinoids to avoid irritation and pursue healthy skin results.
Moisturizer- Lock in your skincare efforts with a powerful moisturizer. Take advantage of the hours you’re sleeping and apply a thicker formula that can sink into your skin and protect your treatment application.
You might consider taking your moisture pursuits a step further and apply a thin layer of Vaseline over your completed routine. This practice, also known as slugging, is a gentle and accessible way to lock everything in. In the morning, wipe off any excess before cleansing to reveal a refreshed, healthy complexion. If you develop little hard white bumps on your face — also known as milia — consider backing off on the moisturizer and vaseline.
Cultivate Healthy, Vibrant Skin for Life
Your skin is your body’s largest organ and the one responsible for protecting its interior from the outside world. Consistent sun exposure, certain facial expressions, and the environment means your life shows on your face. As the most delicate part of your skin, it also takes the most impact from your environment.
Nourish your skin and combat the signs of aging through quality skincare and treatment. Customized treatments, curated regimens, and best practices are more accessible than ever, making today a great time to get started. Better, healthier skin is within reach with an intentional routine, the right products for your goals, and smart product layering.