It’s no wonder the beauty industry is one of the most profitable in the world – women are constantly after the next it product, and brands are constantly coming out with new “ingredients” and marketing gimmicks to get us to buy their latest release. So the question is, do we really need all these products? Today I want to share with you my no-bs take on what you actually need to build your skincare routine.
The entry level skincare routine
You’re just starting out. You just want something that works and covers the basics. You don’t care for the latest and greatest, and you definitely don’t care for slathering 20 different products on your face. Good news, you can get away with just 4 products:
- Cleanser. Do I really need to explain this? Please don’t be gross and wash your face at least once a day before bed. Also, please pick a pH-balanced cleanser so you’re not literally washing your skin off. My favorites are the CeraVe cleansers as they check off all the requirements for a good cleanser, and it’s super affordable.
- Serum/Essence. If you have a specific skin-goal in mind (firming, anti-aging, brightening, the list goes on), you’ll want to incorporate a serum in your routine. They’re usually lighter than moisturizer, but pack a lot more punch in one drop. The Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum is less than $20 but does a great job of all-around nourishing + hydrating the skin.
- Moisturizer. No matter what your skin type, you need a moisturizer. The key is finding the right one for your skin type. For the winter I loved my I’m From Honey Cream, but now that it’s warmer, I’m moving towards something lighter as well. But moisturizers are critical for keeping the water in your skin and protecting it against the elements.
- Sunscreen. You need to wear sunscreen everyday, period, no exception. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I don’t care if you’re indoors all day – unless you’re in a windowless room, your skin is exposed to UVA/UVB rays. Ever seen a raisin? Do you know how grapes turn into raisins? Do you want to turn into a human raisin? No, good. Now go get yourself some broad spectrum sunscreen and apply 1/4 tsp every morning. Foundation does NOT count, unless you want to smear 1/4 tsp of that onto your face and look like a clown (or Kim Kardashian, but I digress).
But I need more!
Do you really? Or have you fallen victim to what the magazines and ads are telling you? The key to building a good skincare routine is first understanding your skin type and then determining what your skin goals are. Otherwise you’re just a headless chicken in [insert favorite store here], buying things willy-nilly.
My advice? Start off with the entry-level, no-fuss skincare routine above. It’s much easier (and gentler on your skin) to slowly introduce new products than to suddenly overwhelm your skin with 20 things and then try to figure out which ones aren’t working. When you’re ready to expand your routine, consider adding:
- A cleansing balm/oil. I love the idea of double cleansing – first with a cleansing balm/oil to remove my sunscreen and/or makeup, then a gentle second cleanser to wash away any remaining residue. This is especially important if you wear waterproof sunscreen or makeup, as most regular cleansers will have difficulty removing those completely.
- An exfoliant. This can be chemical or physical, though people tend to get too enthusiastic with the physical exfoliants (aka scrubs) and damage their skin by scrubbing too hard. Chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid (AHA) and salicylic acid (BHA) work by increasing the skin cell turn over rate, but be careful with these too. Always start off slowly and follow the instructions of the products to prevent over-exfoliation.
- A toner. Not all toners are stripping and full of alcohol. As a matter of fact, most Asian toners are full of hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and can help prep the skin for subsequent product absorption. Plus it feels refreshing on the skin!
- A mask. Masks are my bae, especially sheet masks – I consider them serums on steroids. I would add this to the entry-level routine, but they can get expensive if you use them regularly. Plus they’re not exactly the most hassle-free product to use.
- An eye cream. The skin around your eyes are thinner and more delicate, which means they’re also the first to show signs of aging . So, it makes sense that your eye need a bit more TLC than the rest of your face. Even if you don’t have any fine lines around your eyes, it’s never too early to start
- Facial oil. Oils are so hot right, so hot. It’s great for your skin, and come in a wide variety of flavors – from dry to rich – depending on your skin type and needs. I will also tell you that so far the facial oils I’ve really enjoyed are hybrids, eg. the Goodal Water Oil Firming Camellia and the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate, and even then I use them sparingly. Everything else has been way too greasy for my skin.
I personally consider 4/5 of these necessities (facial oil only in the winter time), but again, that’s my skin, not yours. After figuring out your skin type and needs and then slowly introducing additional products to your routine, you may end up with something like this:
Some products in my current rotation. #noshame
Morning: cleanser – toner – essence/serum – moisturizer/facial oil – sunscreen.
Evening: cleansing oil/balm – cleanser – exfoliant – toner – essence/serum – moisturizer/facial oil
A couple things to keep in mind about the order of your routine:
- Unless explicitly stated by the product instructions, you should layer the lightest and thinnest products first and the heaviest products last. So depending on the texture of your moisturizer and facial oil, the lighter one would go before the heavier one. Same goes with serums/essence if you decide to incorporate multiple in your routine.
- Most chemical exfoliant (AHA/BHA/Retinol) are better used at night because they increase the photosensitivity of your skin. One more reason why you need to use sunscreen.
- Wash off masks should be used after the cleanser before you start the rest of your routine. Sheet masks can be used anytime after the toner to before the moisturizer (I prefer the latter). Sleeping masks are best used at the end of your evening routine, and can replace your moisturizer.
Which products do I buy?
Now that you’ve figured out what types of products you’ll need, the next step is to find out which ones to buy. The options are overwhelming, and it’s both a blessing and a curse. Some tips if you feel you are in over your head:
- Really know your skin. Products are often categorized by skin types, so knowing that is crucial. The more you take care of your skin, the more you’ll understand its preferences (skin can be finicky like that), and that will help you weed out unsuitable products.
- Reviews are your best friend. Read lots of reviews, especially from those with a similar skin type.
- Learn to recognize some common ingredients and what they do. Asides from the awesome ingredients dictionary here (with cited sources!), the one from Paula’s Choice is a good place to start. Another one is CosDNA, where you can look up product ingredients.
- Stick with tried-and-true brands/products that have a lot of positive reviews. While there’s a chance you can strike gold with an obscure product, there’s also a higher chance you can end up with a total dud.
- When in doubt, buy the smallest size possible or request a sample. Sephora gives you up to 3 product samples in store, and most department store cosmetics counters will do the same.
- Take advantage of the return policy. One more reason I love shopping at Sephora. If I come across a dud, I can return it, no problem. That’s not to say you should abuse the system and just keep returning products, because that’d be totally uncool.
- The products should make you happy. This may sound silly, but the only way you’ll stick to your routine is if you actually enjoy doing it. If that means spending extra for a product with pretty packaging, go for it. If you like scented products, as long as your skin isn’t sensitive to fragrance, why not? Consistently using an average product that you love is better than never using a great product because you (for whatever reason) hate it.
Know your skin type and skin needs. Start off with a simple routine, and then expand on that based on your skincare goals. Always wear sunscreen. Don’t blindly jump on bandwagons. Read product reviews. Wear sunscreen.
As long you follow the fundamentals, there is no right or wrong routine. There are only routines that work for your skin, and ones that don’t.
What does your current skincare routine look like? Do you have any tips for how you’ve built your current routine? Any products that you think are a must have? If you have any questions/comments related to skincare, please share!