Whether you have a three- or nine-step routine, there’s one thing anyone can do to improve their skincare, which is to apply products in the proper order. No matter your skin concerns, you’ll want to start with a clean, toned base, then apply concentrated, active ingredients, and finish by sealing in moisture—and, of course, SPF in the daytime. Great skin is not simply a matter of DNA — your daily habits significantly impact what you see in the mirror. But depending on which product reviews you read or doctors you consult, there is a dizzying number of opinions on everything from how to moisturize to how to protect yourself from UV rays. Ultimately, caring for your skin is simply personal. Here’s what you should keep in mind to sort through all the noise.
Think of your skin-care routine as consisting of three main steps:
• Cleansing — Washing your face.
• Toning — balancing the skin.
• Moisturizing — Hydrating and softening the skin.
Washing your face is the most basic and essential step of any routine. “Our skin comes in contact with environmental pollutants, dirt, and other factors each day that should be gently removed.” Wash twice a day, morning and night, to avoid clogged pores, dullness, and acne.
The right formula cleanses your skin without stripping essential, healthy oils. Take it easy with exfoliating scrubs (use once a week) and avoid those with crushed walnut shells or abrasive ingredients.
For many, the word “toner” brings to mind stinging astringents from the ’80s. “The original was an alcohol-based product used to dry up oily skin and remove any leftover dirt following cleansing. Today’s formulas, however, have evolved. Think of them as supplements — these thin liquids deliver an extra shot of nutrients, helping the other products in your regimen absorb better while still balancing your complexion.
• Alpha and beta hydroxy acids gently remove dead skin cells that can clog pores, improve sun-damaged skin and minimize dullness.
• Hyaluronic acid to boost hydration, seal in dewiness, and plump skin to subtly treat fine lines.
• Rose water and green tea to calm irritation and reduce redness with an anti-inflammatory effect.
• Vitamin E and C to fight daily exposure to free radicals that can age your skin.
Toners should be done after cleansing and before putting on anything else. The traditional application method saturates a cotton pad and passes it over your face. Applying toner with clean hands is the most efficient. Just pour a few drops in your palm, and then swipe it on. Or, if you prefer, you can pull apart a cotton pad so it’s not so thick before putting toner on it. Most formulas can be used morning and night, but you might want to use those with exfoliating acids only at night or every other day.
TREATING WITH SERUMS
Simply put, serums are powerful skin allies. These elixirs are filled with concentrated doses of active ingredients and can mitigate several issues, from dark spots to wrinkles. “Even if you don’t have any specific issues, everyone still needs a general antioxidant serum in the morning to protect from daily aggressors. In contrast, there are “limitless options” for ingredients. To handle specific issues, look for these products:
• Hyaluronic acid to seal in hydration and strengthen the barrier function (the top layer of your skin) to prevent moisture loss.
• Vitamin C to help brighten dull skin and decrease dark spots with continued use.
• Retinol, vitamin B3, peptides stimulate collagen and elastin, proteins in the body that help prevent lines and skin sagging.
• Colloidal sulfur, niacinamide to calm redness and irritation by decreasing inflammation and improving acne with its antimicrobial effects.
The most basic function is to hydrate and soften the skin. “Essentially, moisturizers assist in preventing water loss through the outer layers of skin. They can also complement the naturally found protective oils and other building blocks within the skin, such as ceramides.” This is one product that doctors recommend using year-round for all skin types. PROTECT WITH
There’s a lot of debate over which sunscreens are best and safest for your complexion. You have two types of ingredients in formulas: oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are absorbed into your skin to counteract the damage from ultraviolet light
Pros: Lightweight, easy to apply, and transparent on the skin.
Cons: Can irritate and cause reactions in those with sensitive skin.
Certain ingredients like oxybenzone have raised health concerns and carry a “high hazard” rating on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Physical ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, that sit on top of your skin to deflect or prevent UV rays from entering your body.
Serums contain a high concentration of certain ingredients. An antioxidant-based serum will protect skin against damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Vitamins C and E are common antioxidants used to improve texture and firmness. Others to look out for include green tea, resveratrol, and caffeine.
How to Use It: Pat a few drops onto your face and neck.
Pros: Antioxidant serums can help reduce redness, wrinkles, and damage to your skin.
Cons: Some serums, such as those containing acids, may irritate when combined with other acid-containing skin care products.
WHAT SHOULD I USE AT NIGHT?
Focus on repairing the damage done during the day with thicker products at night. This is also the time to use anything that makes skin sensitive to sunlight, including physical exfoliants and chemical peels.
1. OIL-BASED MAKEUP REMOVER
As well as dissolving the natural oils produced by your skin, an oil-based cleanser can break down oily ingredients found in makeup.
How to Use It: Follow the specific product instructions. They may advise you to apply the makeup remover on wet or dry skin. Once applied, massage in until skin is clean, then rinse with water.
Pros: Using a makeup remover helps remove makeup residue and impurities from your skin.
Cons: Not entirely removing excess oil from your skin may clog pores.
2. WATER-BASED CLEANSER
Water-based cleansers react with makeup and dirt on the skin in a way that allows everything to be rinsed away with water.
How to use it: Follow the instructions. Usually, you’ll apply it to wet skin, massage it, and rinse off. Choose a gentle formula with a low or neutral pH. This helps maintain the health of your skin’s natural barrier. Avoid scrubbing your face too hard when cleaning. Using too much force can irritate your skin.
Pros: Double cleansing can help remove any residue left behind by your makeup remover or oil cleanser.
Cons: Some formulas may have ingredients that can dry out your skin. If you experience dryness or irritation, switch to another product.
3. EXFOLIATOR OR CLAY MASK
Exfoliation removes dead skin cells while clearing pores. Clay masks work to unclog pores but can also absorb excess oil. These masks are best applied at night to remove leftover dirt and help the skin soak up other products.
How to Use It: Exfoliator have different application methods, following product instructions. Once or twice per week, apply the mask all over or to specific problem areas for clay masks. Leave on for the recommended time, then rinse with warm water and pat dry. Avoid the overuse of physical and chemical exfoliator, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), especially if you have sensitive skin. Stop use if any irritation occurs. Exfoliator may affect your sun sensitivity, so be sure to wear sunblock during the day after exfoliating.
Pros: Exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Some chemical exfoliator can also remove impurities deeper into your skin and prevent breakouts.
Cons: Some physical exfoliator, such as those containing coarse sugar or salt, maybe abrasive on sensitive skin and irritate. If a product leaves your skin irritated, stop use and swap it out for another option once your skin has healed.
4. HYDRATING MIST OR TONER
A hydrating mist or toner marks the end of your nighttime cleansing routine. It would help if you looked out for humectants ingredients — lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, and glycerine — to give skin a moisture boost.
How to Use It: Spritz mists over your face. Apply the product to a cotton pad for toners and swipe over the skin. Avoid overuse of toners with high levels of alcohol, as they may cause irritation or damage to your skin’s barrier.
Pros: Toners can help remove leftover residue from other steps in your routine and balance your skin’s pH.
Cons: Alcohol-based products may irritate individuals with sensitive skin.
5. ACID TREATMENT
Dousing your face in acid may sound scary, but this skincare treatment can encourage cell turnover. Beginners may want to try glycolic acid. Other options include acne-busting salicylic acid and moisturizing hyaluronic acid. Over time, you should notice a brighter and more even complexion.
How to Use It: Start once per week to use every night. Do a patch test at least 24 hours before first use. Add a few drops of the solution to a cotton pad and sweep across the face. Make sure to avoid the eye area.
Pros: Acids can help reduce signs of aging, scarring, and acne and even out your skin tone.
Cons: Acids may make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Be sure to use sunblock during the day following acid treatment.
6. SERUMS AND ESSENCES
Serums deliver potent ingredients directly to the skin. Essence is simply a watered-down version. Vitamin E is great for dry skin, while antioxidants like green tea extract can be used on dull complexions. If you’re prone to breakouts, try retinol or vitamin C.
How to Use It: Carry out a patch test 24 hours before using a new serum or essence. If the skin looks good, dispense the product into your hand and press it into your skin. You can layer multiple products. Just apply water-based ones before oil-based and wait around 30 seconds between each. Be sure to choose a serum that delivers benefits to your skin needs, whether it focuses on pro-aging support, moisturizing, brightening, or spot reduction.
Pros: Serums deliver highly concentrated skin benefits. Because of their formula type, more of the product penetrates your skin’s surface.
Cons: Some serums can be pricey — but you don’t need to spend a fortune to reap the benefits. And remember, compared to moisturizer, you only use a small amount of serum, so a little goes a long way.
7. HYDRATING SERUM OR MASK
Some products can clog pores, but hydrating serums aren’t one of them. With the ability to pack a real moisture punch, they’re lovely for dry skin.
How to Use It: This powerful hydration can come in various forms. Some are serums. Others are thicker masks. And some are even designed to be left on overnight. If this is the case, apply it at the end of your routine. Just follow the instructions on the pack, and you’re good to go.
Pros: A mask keeps beneficial and hydrating ingredients in close contact with your skin and can remove excess sebum.
Cons: As with all new skincare products, test masks on a small area of skin before applying, as they may contain ingredients that irritate your skin.
8. EYE CREAM
A more decadent nighttime eye cream can help improve appearance-related issues, like tiredness and fine lines. Look for a high concentration of peptides and antioxidants.
How to Use It: Apply a small amount of cream to the eye area and dab in. Apply eye cream with clean hands or a clean applicator and gently pat into skin, rather than rubbing — which can contribute to skin aging and damage.
Pros: Applying overnight gives the product a chance to penetrate your skin. Plus, specific formulas can help boost collagen production and delay the signs of aging.
Cons: Dedicated eye creams can be expensive. But there are affordable options that can also make a difference for your skin.
9. FACE OIL
Nighttime oil is excellent for dehydrated skin. The evening is the best time to apply thicker oils that may result in an unwanted shiny complexion.
How to Use It: Pat a few drops into the skin. Make sure no other product is applied on top for the best results. Cleanse the following morning thoroughly to remove residue from heavier products.
Pros: Oils may change the effectiveness of your sunscreen during the day so that nighttime application may be best for specific products.
Cons: Heavier oil may not be the best fit for those with oily skin or acne. Everyone’s skin is different, so find a product that works for you.
10. NIGHT CREAM OR SLEEP MASK
Night creams are an optional last step, but they can be worthwhile. While day creams protect the skin, these rich moisturizers help cell repair. On the other hand, sleep masks seal in all your other products and contain hydrating ingredients mild enough to be kept on overnight.
How to Use It: Warm a small amount of product in your hands before distributing it evenly across your face. Test a small amount before an overnight application to see how your skin reacts.
Pros: Applying a night cream or sleep mask allows the product time to penetrate the skin barrier.
Cons: Some people may not like the feel of sleeping with heavier products on. If that’s the case, you can still take advantage of a more lightweight formula.
• WHAT ROUTINE SHOULD I FOLLOW FOR DRY SKIN?
If your skin is dry, focus your routine on hydration and building a healthy skin barrier. Follow the steps above but swap out products that may be too harsh or acidic for those that add moisture to your skin and help it retain that moisture.
• WHAT IS A BASIC SKINCARE ROUTINE?
A basic skincare routine has fewer steps than an expanded one but keeps your skin clean and healthy. The steps can depend on your needs and the amount of time you have. Usually, a basic routine includes:
• Removing makeup.
• Cleansing your face.
• Applying a spot treatment for any blemishes.
• Using sunblock during the day.
• Putting on moisturizer.
• AT WHAT AGE SHOULD YOU START A SKINCARE ROUTINE?
It’s never too early — or late — to start a skincare routine. Even kids can practice taking care of their skin by washing their faces when they wake up and before bed and applying sunscreen during the day.
But, choose the steps and specific products in your routine for your skin concerns and age. Adolescents, for example, may need a routine built on products to help manage blemishes and oily skin. Adults may focus more on products that support their skin as it ages. Build a routine that’s right for you.
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