How to create a simple and effective skin care routine, step by step

The best skincare advice we can offer: establish a thoughtful, personalized skincare routine and stick to it. Consistency is key, as is patience. It takes time, typically four weeks, for skincare formulas to start showing results, says New York-based board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD.

Following a routine seems easy enough, but for many it’s surprisingly difficult. The world of skincare, a nearly $100 billion industry, has more new product options than ever before, and each one promises to work wonders. “The most common challenge my patients face is navigating the sheer volume of choice, marketing, and messaging,” says Erum Ilyas, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. This not only leads to impulse purchases and information overload, but also to skin problems, as using too many different products can lead to dryness and irritation.

Bottom line: ignore the noise and focus on getting the routine right for you. To do this, identify your current skin problems (dryness? Dark spots? Acne? Fine lines?) and your skin goals (more radiant skin? More firmness?). These keywords will guide you to the products you need, says Adam Tinklepaugh, MD, board-certified dermatologist of MDCS Dermatology. We go into more detail on what to look for, and the correct order to apply them, below.

How to Build a Skincare Routine

Your routine should have three goals: cleanse, treat and protect the skin, says Azadeh Shirazi, MD, board-certified dermatologist. Learn how to choose products for each step, ahead.

Step 1: Cleanser

Look for a mild formula instead of one with lots of active ingredients, Ilyas says. The purpose of cleaning is to reduce the buildup of oil from the day before or impurities that have accumulated throughout the day. “Some people like to have a cleanser that exfoliates or treats problem areas, but the ingredients need to be on your skin for at least a minute to have an impact,” says Shirazi. “Just putting it on and rinsing it out doesn’t do much.”

If you have oily skin, opt for a foam or gel formula, which will provide you with deep cleansing. If you have dry or sensitive skin, try a cleansing cream. If you wear makeup, you might want to double cleanse at night. You’ll first apply an oil-based cleansing balm, which breaks down makeup, and then your foam, gel, or cream cleanser, says Rabach.

Regardless of your skin type, do not cleanse more than twice a day, as this can strip your skin’s natural oils. “The oil on our skin is healthy and normal. It keeps us from drying out,” says Tinklepaugh.

Ideal for combination skin

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

Ideal for dry skin

Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser
Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser

Ideal for all skin types

Confidence in a Cleanser Hydrating Facial Cleanser
IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Cleanser Hydrating Facial Cleanser

Ideal for oily skin

Keep It Clean Hydrating Gel Cleanser
iNNBEAUTY PROJECT Keep It Clean Moisturizing Cleansing Gel

best cleansing oil

Neroli Cleansing Oil
Angela Caglia Neroli Cleansing Oil

Step 2: Treatment

Now that your skin is clean, you want to apply a formula that targets your specific skin concern. It should contain an active ingredient, such as vitamin C, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, niacinamide or retinol, Shirazi says. Ingredients like these have been proven to treat dullness, dryness, uneven texture, pimples, fine lines, dark spots, or loss of firmness.

To lighten the skin, look for kojic acid, vitamin C or niacinamide.
To moisturize, look for ceramides, squalane, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, panthenol (pro-vitamin B5), shea butter or oat complexes.
To soften fine lines or wrinkles or help firm skin, use a retinol, a retinol alternative like bakuchiol or glycolic acid.
To treat acne, try salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinol.

Look for a toner, essence or serum. These are lightweight and meant to sink into your skin. “Applying actives to freshly cleansed skin increases their effectiveness,” says Ilyas.

A word of warning: “Many people try to apply multiple treatments. But this can overwhelm the skin,” says Shirazi. “It’s always best to stick with one active treatment product for at least four weeks before adding a second. And don’t combine multiple exfoliants, like glycolic acid and a retinol, for example. You’ll damage the skin barrier.

Ideal for acne-prone skin

2% BHA Skin Perfecting Liquid Exfoliator
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliator

Ideal for aging issues

Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum
Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

Ideal for brightening

Brightening serum
Perricone MD Brightening Serum

Ideal for dry skin

Humidity Maker

Step 3: Protection

Moisturizing your skin is the third critical step. “In the morning, make sure your moisturizer contains SPF to protect against UV and blue light,” says Ilyas. For the evening, use a moisturizer with top-notch moisturizers that repair skin overnight. “If your skin is on the oily side, opt for a lightweight moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid,” Ilyas recommends.

“For anti-aging, I favor a moisturizer that contains stem cells, niacinamide, resveratrol, or caffeine to help support cell turnover,” says Shirazi.

Best moisturizing night cream

Indigo Overnight Repair Serum in Cream Treatment
Tatcha Indigo Night Repair Serum in Cream Treatment

Best moisturizer with SPF

Regenerist Whip Moisturizing Face Cream SPF 25
Olay Regenerist Whip Facial Moisturizer SPF 25

Now 17% off

Best lightweight moisturizer

Daily Greens Oil-Free Hydrating Gel
Farmacy Daily Greens Oil Free Hydrating Gel

Ideal for aging issues

Absolue Revitalizing & Brightening Rich Cream
Lancôme Absolue Revitalizing & Brightening Rich Cream

Now 25% off

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, on their website.

About Sally Dominguez

Check Also

Norwest Venture Partners invests in Acne Skincare Brand Face Reality – WWD

Norwest Venture Partners enters acne care. The San Francisco-based investment firm has made a majority …