The world of skin care is exciting, ever changing, and for many consumers, very confusing. So let’s start with a basic understanding of an exhaustive list of products that people tend to use in their routine and most importantly, what order in which to use them and why.
An excellent skin care routine or regimen includes the following three basic steps, which can be done both in the morning and evening.
- Cleanse to remove impurities.
- Treat to troubleshoot specific skin issues that you want to work on.
- Protect to enhance your skin’s innate ability to maintain itself.
Important note: Products marked by a * are not generally endorsed by dermatologists, as they have no proven benefits to the skin. However, they are included here for the sake of completeness. And of course, all skin regimens should be approved by a board certified dermatologist to make sure it fits your unique skin.
In the morning, a routine can include, in this order:
- Cleanser → Non-comedogenic (non-clogging) cleansers remove impurities and overnight build up of oils on the skin.
- Toner* aka exfoliator → Toners include alpha (glycolic, lactic, citric) and beta hydroxy acid (salicylic) based products that exfoliate accumulated skin cells. Exfoliating the skin is useful for patients with oily skin or tone issues, but should be avoided in those with sensitive, redness prone skin. It is important to note that these are distinct from astringents, which are more drying and can be irritating.
Certain treatments are best performed in the morning.
- Acne treatments → Morning is a great time to use acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide which decreases bacteria and inflammation that causes acne. This will also avoid deactivation of your nighttime retinoid by benzoyl peroxide.
- Serums → Vitamin C serum is best used in the morning, as the antioxidant effect can protect your skin all day from free radicals that damage your skin. AHA/BHA serums are also preferentially used in the morning to avoid irritation with nighttime retinoid use. Hyaluronic acid, peptides, or other vitamin serums can be applied in the morning or evening.
- Moisturizer & Sunscreen → Protecting the skin with moisturizer and sunscreen can prevent photoaging and skin damage. Sunscreen and moisturizer can be used as a combined product, or if separate, with moisturizer first and then sunscreen on top.
- Makeup can be applied as the last step of the routine, which can be set with a hydrating mist.
In the evening, a routine can include, in this order:
- Cleanser → An evening cleanser should remove makeup and cleanse the skin. For those who wear heavy makeup or eye makeup, micellar water or dedicated makeup removing pads can be used, and followed by a general cleanser. Removing makeup will free the pores of buildup.
The evening is a good time to apply treatments as they can soak into the skin overnight. They can be performed in the following order:
- Retinoids → This should be the first product applied to clean skin. Retinoids exfoliate, remove oil, reverse photo-aging and normalize tone.
- Serums → This can be placed after the retinoid to coat the skin and rejuvenate overnight. Excellent serum ingredients include hyaluronic acid for skin volume restoration, and hydroquinone for tone correction. The latter can be used as a spot treatment if desired and is best used at night to avoid breakdown of the product from light.
- *Face masks → Masks can hydrate, occlude the above ingredients to enhance penetration, or exfoliate.
- Eye cream* → If you choose to use eye cream, it can be gently applied before general moisturizer.
- Moisturizer → Protecting with skin with cream based moisturizer overnight can help to heal the skin from daily photodamage and from excessive exfoliation and irritation from the above treatments. An excellent overnight moisturizer can include niacinamide, ceramide, and other healing agents.
- Face oils* → Face oils are useful for extremely dry skin and can be used instead of cream based moisturizers.
So there you have it! The three basic steps of skin care: cleanse, treat, protect. Consistent use with these three steps will result in healthy, happy skin.