It’s hard to look at a pristine #shelfie full of beautiful luxury skin-care products and not think I need all of this on my face immediately. Or maybe you’re someone who would love to have an actual skin-care routine but just thinking about setting foot in a Sephora is overwhelming.
Either way, you’ll be glad to know that experts tell us a real honest-to-goodness skin-care regimen only needs a few important elements. And in fact, most of us would probably be better off sticking to the simpler end of things.
What steps should a skin-care routine include?
The basic steps of a skin-care routine are a gentle cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen, Emily Newsom, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF. Seriously, that’s all you have to do. “I like to keep things pretty simple,” she says. “It might not make for great blogging, but it’s fine.”
In fact, there are very few situations in which people need to use a bunch of products, Temitayo Ogunleye, M.D., assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, tells SELF, explaining that if patients are coming to her with skin issues, she’ll often have them bring all of their products into the office so she can tell them what’s truly necessary. “I go through and I say, ‘Stop using this, stop using that, and you can use these three,’ ” she says.
Although there’s no inherent problem with using a ton of products if you enjoy them and they aren’t irritating, she says, “first you have to try these very simple things and then we’ll see.”
You’ll need a cleanser to wash off the dirt, makeup, excess oil, dead skin cells, and environmental impurities that end up on your face naturally throughout the day. Moisturizer will help keep the skin’s protective barrier functioning properly and your skin feeling smooth and soft. And arguably the most important element, sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer as well as cosmetic sun damage.
In the morning, wash with cleanser and then follow it with moisturizer and sunscreen (or combine the two with a moisturizer that has broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher). At night, wash with the cleanser again and apply moisturizer. Yes, you can use your SPF moisturizer at night if you’d like, Dr. Ogunleye says. You might find that you prefer something thicker at night, but there’s no rule against using the one with SPF before bed, she says.
From there, it’s important to pay attention to the way your skin reacts both immediately after using the product and in the following days. Do you notice tightness, greasiness, redness, or breakouts?
If it’s on the oily side, you may find that you need to moisturize less often or to use a lighter formula, for instance. If it’s on the dry side, you may need to use a heavier moisturizer. If your skin is very dry or sensitive, you may only need to wash your face with cleanser once a day in the evening while rinsing with water or micellar water in the morning. But if your skin is especially oily or you wear a lot of heavy makeup, you may need to cleanse more often—or even double-cleanse at the end of the day.
If your skin is sensitive, you might notice some irritation (redness, itching, flaking), which is a sign that you should back off and call in a dermatologist. You’ll probably have to be careful in the future about avoiding products with certain ingredients, such as fragrances, that are likely to be irritating.