How To Build A Routine

How to build a skincare routine you’ll actually stick to. The right skincare routine can be hard to figure out. Here's how to build a skincare routine you’ll actually stick to. Here’s what to do every day, week, and month for your skin

Putting together a skincare routine seems like it should be a pretty simple task, but when you actually get down to it, it can get kind of overwhelming: Does serum go on before or after moisturizer? What the heck is an essence? And should you exfoliate every day?

Don’t worry, every skincare newbie has been there. While you likely know that cleanser goes before moisturizer, adding in anything new may be a mystery to you. And it’s important to learn the right order for putting on products. Using them out of order can negate the effects of your products, but doing it correctly can help you experience max benefits and avoid potential irritation.

Still not sure where to start or when to use what? Keep reading for all the answers to your skincare routine questions.

Your Morning Skincare Routine: Stick to the basics.

You don’t have to commit to a 10-step Korean skincare routine when you wake up to keep your complexion in tip-top shape, says Steven Wang, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Dr. Wang Herbal Skincare. You can start small with your skincare routine, but before you apply makeup, you should definitely hit the basics: cleanse, moisturize, and add sunscreen. Ready? Let’s go.

Step 1: Cleanse.

Start with a clean slate so that the rest of your products are able to do their jobs. Some experts, like Wang and Elle Feldman, esthetician and co-owner of Good Skin Day, suggest using lukewarm water and your hands to apply a very gentle cleanser in the morning, regardless of skin type, since there shouldn’t be too much gunk remaining on your skin if you cleansed the night before.

Board-certified dermatologist Michele Green, MD, says cream cleansers are great for dry and sensitive skin because they feature nourishing ingredients (like oils). Cleansing milks are another good option for dry skin, says Pamela Maes, certified esthetician and spa director at Mirbeau Inn and Spa, because they’re light and gentle.

Refreshing gel cleansers are good options for oily and acne-prone skin as they offer a deeper clean, says Green. You can also look for a cleanser that’s labeled as matte with detoxifying ingredients like charcoal if you’re oily, says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California.

Finally, consider a cleanser with salicylic acid if you regularly break out, says Wang. This tried-and-true pimple-fighter exfoliates your skin to unclog pores and reduce oil production.

Step 2 (optional): Tone.

Toner preps your skin for the rest of your skincare products by opening your pores,” says Feldman. Some toners are made with alcohol, which is drying, so invest in one without it. “Look for micellar waters or alcohol-free toners with active ingredients like rosewater, chamomile, or green tea,” says Shainhouse. All three ingredients have soothing properties. “If you are acne prone, you may consider a salicylic acid–based toner,” says Shainhouse.

Apply toner immediately after cleansing when skin is damp to lock in moisture. Feldman says that because toners help balance your skin’s pH levels, protecting it from environmental aggressors, you really only need to use one in the morning.

Step 3 (optional): Apply Serum

“A serum is the power tool in a person’s skincare routine,” says Maes. Serums are lightweight, almost watery products that absorb quickly to offer potent anti-aging benefits. Because serums are so powerful, you want to apply them directly to your skin so that the ingredients will penetrate deeply, says Shainhouse.

When it comes to ingredients, look for Vitamin C, which fights free radical damage and is a dermatologist- and esthetician-approved antioxidant found in serums. Shainhouse also likes green tea and resveratrol, two other antioxidants, while Feldman is a fan of Swiss apple extract, which has been shown to reduce wrinkles.

Step 4: Moisturize.

Cleansers strip your skin of lipids (fatty acids), says Wang, so pat on a moisturizer after washing your face to replenish what you’ve lost. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, grab a lightweight, oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer, says Green, since this won’t clog pores. Maes adds that gel formulas are ideal for oily skin because they’re so light.

Maes says that you’ll benefit from a richer, thicker cream if you have dry skin. “Using something that has more hydrating benefits can aid in protecting dry skin,” says Maes. One ingredient to look for: hyaluronic acid, which helps skin retain moisture.

Step 5: Protect.

SPF is a non-negotiable part of your morning skincare routine. Using a dedicated sunscreen (as opposed to the SPF in foundation, for instance) is key for shielding your skin from UV rays, which can lead to burning, wrinkles, and skin cancer. For everyday use, choose an SPF of 15 or 30, and apply about nickel-sized amount all over your face, says Wang. Make sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum, says Wang, because that means it protects against UVA and UVB rays, both of which are damaging.

Seriously on the go?

“You can combine the last two steps in your morning skincare routine by using a moisturizer that contains sunscreen in it,” says Wang. Don’t forget to throw on a hat for protection, too, he adds. To ensure proper sun protection, sunscreen should be the last step in your morning skincare routine, says Shainhouse.

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