Finding the right skincare products and routine can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience.
With the likes of the 10-step Korean skincare routine, $200 serums and thousands of cleansers available, it’s difficult to know what we really need (and what we can ignore).
Especially for the minimalists, beauty apprentices and frugal ones among us, the mere idea of a complicated, expensive skincare routine is enough to make us skip that morning cleanse altogether (which, as it turns out, may not be that bad).
What we need is a minimalist, no-fuss skincare routine suited to our different skin types. Let’s take out the guess work, fancy serums and overnight masks, and get back to basics.
This guide will give you essential skincare information and suggestions so you feel comfortable heading into any chemist and finding the right products for your skin type.
What are the different skin types?
Most people fall into five skin types — oily, combination, dry skin, sensitive and normal — explains Melanie Grant, a skin expert with more than 20 years’ experience whose clients include Lara Worthingon, Jessica Mauboy and Zoe Foster Blake.
- Oily skin type is often shiny, has large pores and is prone to blackheads, milia and breakouts. The upside: oily skin usually ages better as the sebum helps to keep the skin supple and lubricated.
- Combination skin type is oily on the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) and dry or normal across the cheeks. Combination skin can also change from oily to dry or normal depending on the season and climate.
- Dry skin can feel tight, rough or flaky, with visible fine lines around the eyes and forehead, even after applying moisturiser.
- Sensitive skin flushes easily and can often react to skincare with a stinging or burning sensation, bumps, pustules and erythema.
- Normal skin is not oily, dry and rarely breaks out. It usually tolerates most skincare products and has a smooth, even texture.
Many of us fall into a couple of skin types. It can keep things interesting.
A simple, effective skincare routine
Although ads and beauty gurus suggest otherwise, you don’t need to fork out hundreds of dollars (or much time) to have an effective skincare routine. In fact, “less is more”.
“Simple routines are the most successful routines,” Ms Grant says. “Skincare really doesn’t need to be complicated.”
Both Ms Grant and Saxon Smith, a dermatologist and clinical associate professor, say skincare is all about protecting your skin.
“Australia has one of the harshest climates in the world, so I’m a firm believer that everyone can benefit from protecting their skin — from the harsh effects of our sun, as well as pollution and other environmental aggressors,” Ms Grant says.
This means skincare goes beyond cleansers and moisturisers. It’s also about using regular sun protection like sunscreen and hats.
“It’s important to support our skin as it goes through various ageing processes, and because the impact of UV light over our lifetime changes the quality of our skin. This increases our risk as a community of skin cancer,” Dr Smith says.
So, what does a simple, preventative skincare routine look like? Three products: cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen. That’s it.
As someone who’s struggled with acne (and tried countless products that did more damage than good by stripping my skin), my best advice is to pare down your skincare routine. And be kind to your face.
Here’s a guide on each step.
When shopping for a face cleanser, look for keywords such as “pH balanced”, “sulphate-free” and “soap-free” as these indicate a cleanser is gentle and non-stripping.
Dr Smith also recommends opting for non-foaming cleansers, as those that lather often contain stripping surfactants like sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES).
As for how often we should cleanse our face, twice a day is the norm, particularly if you’re removing makeup or have oily skin. For dry or sensitive skin, washing your face with water in the morning and cleansing in the evening may be sufficient and help avoid irritation, Dr Smith explains.
The best moisturiser is one that suits your skin type.
The drier your skin, the thicker or more hydrating the moisturiser you need, Dr Smith explains. Look for keywords like “nourishing”, “hydrating” and “creme/cream”.
If you have oily skin look for moisturisers with keywords like “light/lightweight”, “non-greasy” and “oil-free”.
“A water-based moisturiser will help to maintain even tone of the skin and stop your skin from feeling too greasy,” Dr Smith says.
With sensitive skin, Ms Grant recommends opting for moisturisers that are free from alcohol and fragrances.
When choosing a sunscreen, always select a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB with SPF 30 or higher, and apply to your face, neck and decolletage.
“Wear sunscreen every single day of the year, no matter the weather,” Ms Grant says.
If you use SPF-containing makeup, adding it on top means you’ll get the additive benefits of the SPF component.
Even if you’re using the fanciest of serums to combat premature ageing, if you don’t use sunscreen daily then “you’re fighting a losing battle”, Dr Smith says.
Five simple skincare routines
Here’s a handy skincare guide for each skin type, with optional product and ingredient suggestions if you want to take your skincare routine to the next level.
It’s important to remember that actives (such as AHAs and BHAs) can cause more harm than good if they’re overused or not suited to your skin type or concern.
“If you want to include more targeted products, such as serums, oils or masks, I’d recommend seeking professional advice from your pharmacy or local skincare salon, or doing some research online before choosing active skincare products so you avoid causing any unwanted reactions, sensitivity or wasting your money,” Ms Grant says.
Skincare routine for oily skin
- AM: Gentle cleanser or gel cleanser, lightweight moisturiser and oil-free sunscreen.
- PM: Gentle cleanser or gel cleanser and lightweight moisturiser.
- Extras: AHA cleanser, BHA serum, exfoliating scrub. Look for serums/products with ingredients such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid.
Skincare routine for combination skin
- AM: Gentle cleanser, balancing water-based moisturiser and lightweight oil-free sunscreen.
- PM: Gentle cleanser and balancing water-based moisturiser.
- Extras: Lightweight hydrating serum. Look for serums/products with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, lactic acid or vitamin B.
Skincare routine for dry skin
- AM: Gentle cleanser or oil cleanser, nourishing moisturiser and sunscreen.
- PM: Gentle cleanser or oil cleanser, nourishing face oil and rich night cream.
- Extras: Look for ingredients serums/products with ingredients such as shea butter, squalene, moringa or rosehip oil.
Skincare routine for sensitive skin
- AM: Gentle cleanser (oil or milk cleanser), soothing moisturiser and sunscreen (physical zinc formulas may be best). All products should be free from alcohol, fragrance and actives such as glycolic acid or high-potency vitamin A.
- PM: Gentle cleanser (oil or milk cleanser) and soothing moisturiser.
- Extras: Calming serum. Look for serums/products with skin strengthening ingredients such as vitamin K, niacinamide, shea butter or squalene.
Skincare routine for normal skin
- AM: Gentle cleanser, lightweight moisturiser and sunscreen.
- PM: Gentle cleanser and nourishing night cream.
- Extras: Look for ingredients serums/products with ingredients such as vitamin C, AHA’s, hyaluronic acid or niacinamide.
Source: Routines from Melanie Grant.
- If using serums, apply after cleansing and before moisturising.
- If in doubt about how and when to use active ingredients, always seek professional advice.