Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Developing your personal skin care routine can seem like a daunting task when we look at the enormous variety in products available on the market today. With trends like “Gold Facials” and “Charcoal Masks” popping up left and right, most of us are left feeling like we have to buy a hundred different products to keep up with the next best thing in skin care. Not so!
While there are thousands of products available today (some with real benefits and some less so), we’ve created a simple list of the basic skin care items that everyone with a face MUST have in order to rejuvenate, nourish, and protect their skin.
1. Cleanser - Back to Basics
This is the foundational step on which all skin care routines are built and no, hand soap does not count as a quality cleanser. In fact, if you have maturing skin, using a harsh soap like most antibacterials that isn't specifically designed for the face can actually speed up the signs of aging. Do yourself a huge favor and invest in a quality facial cleanser.
This doesn’t have to be an expensive product but be sure to check the ingredients and know which ingredients are right for your skin type. Example, those with dry, maturing, or sensitive skin should avoid products with sulfur in them and stick to hydrating, gentle cleansers with ingredients like avocado extract, green tea, and jojoba oil.
On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with oily/acneic or combination skin will absolutely benefit from a sulfur-based cleanser that will help dry up excess sebum (oil). All skin types should avoid cleansers that contain alcohol or other harsh chemicals which are overly drying and irritating to the delicate skin on the face, neck, and chest.
Remember, our skin type often changes as we age so a cleanser that worked great for you when you had acne may not be the best choice now that your skin is maturing. When in doubt, ask a skin care specialist.
2. Exfoliant - Out With the Old and In With the New
Did you know that a new layer of skin forms all over your body every 28 days? This means that as the new layer of skin forms, dead skin cells start to accumulate on the surface of the skin, causing the complexion to look dull and lifeless while our pores and follicles become clogged by a mixture of sebum, dead skin, and external pollutants. Ew, right? That’s why an effective exfoliant must be a part of your regular skin care routine.
While some products on the market combine the cleansing and exfoliating steps into one, we prefer a dedicated exfoliant so that once the initial dirt/oil cocktail is removed from your skin’s surface by a cleanser, the exfoliating product is better able to penetrate the skin and dissolve away dead skin and oils that are trapped in follicles and pores.
Look for products with glycolic or salicylic acid to gently eat away at unwanted cellular build up to reveal the fresh and supple new layer of skin beneath. Glycolic acid is also great for brightening unwanted sun damage or dark spots and it’s naturally derived from sugar cane. Just don’t try to sweeten your coffee with it!
Because exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells and buildup from the skin’s surface, this should not be an everyday part of your skin care routine. Depending on your skin type, exfoliation should occur one to two times a week. If your skin starts to feel overly sensitive it’s time to back off on the exfoliation a bit.
While at home exfoliation is key to maintaining healthy skin, don’t expect to completely get rid of those stubborn sun spots with at-home treatment alone. We recommend a professional exfoliating treatment, such as microdermabrasion or a gentle chemical peel, be done every one to two months to stimulate cell turnover and remove the sun damage/hyperpigmentation that at-home exfoliants aren’t powerful enough to fully treat.
3. Serum - Skin Care on Steroids
What exactly is a serum and why should we care? So glad you asked! Serums are perhaps the most important (and most overlooked) part of a well-balanced skin care routine. A serum is a highly concentrated product designed to penetrate the skin with specific ingredients depending on which skin concerns are being addressed. Think of serums as a daily vitamin for your skin.
A great example of this concept is ceramide serums, which are rich in ceramides, obviously. These lipids are crucial to the skin’s ability to retain hydration and provide a protective barrier against outside pollutants and other skin damaging factors. As we age the skin begins to produce less ceramides and so it’s serums to the rescue!
Beyond ceramides, which we cannot stress the importance of enough, there are numerous serums to address the varying molecular deficiencies of the skin. Examples include eye serums rich in peptides to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, serums with hyaluronic acid to help the skin retain moisture, serums with vitamin C to help fight the signs of hyperpigmentation and promote collagen production, and many, many more.
Because there are so many types of serums with specific benefits to them, this step in your skin care routine can be the most challenging to get right. Certain serums, such as ceramide or hyaluronic, can benefit every skin type but others are more specific and can cause an unwanted reaction if improperly used. Don’t be discouraged! In this case it’s best to visit a skin care professional. Even if you aren’t looking to receive a facial or other professional treatment, a good esthetician will be able to analyze your skin and tell you exactly what ingredients to look for in an at home serum for optimum results.
4. Moisturizer - The Underappreciated Anti-aging MVP
Dry skin is not a pretty sight, not to mention it leads to premature fine lines and wrinkles. Without the proper moisturization skin is left looking dull and more susceptible to long term damage.
An effective moisturizer will not only provide the skin with moisture but also create a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to prevent the loss of moisture. This leads to plump and healthy-looking skin. A good moisturizer is especially important after applying a serum to help seal in the beneficial ingredients in your serum, because an effective skin care routine isn’t just about the quality of the products you use but also in how you apply your products to give you the most bang for your buck.
5. Sunscreen - Safety First
Whether you’re 17 or 75 a safe and effective SPF is crucial to protecting your skin. While there is much debate over what constitutes “safe and effective” we recommend the tried and true mineral sunscreens with zinc and titanium dioxide and don’t worry, there are zinc sunscreens that won’t give you that white chalky look. Mineral SPFs create a physical barrier against harmful UVA and UVB rays without penetrating the skin and entering your bloodstream the way many chemical sunscreens can.
While most of us know that prolonged sun exposure isn’t the best for our skin, it’s often later in life (once the damage is already done) that we start purchasing every lotion and potion that promises to reverse the signs of sun damage. Do yourself, your kids, and anyone who will listen a huge favor and preach preventative skin care. Whether it’s a quick trip to the grocery store or a day at the beach, don’t leave the house without sunscreen. Add it to that mental checklist we all have: keys, wallet, phone, sunscreen!
Hopefully this beginner's guide to skincare has helped you to feel a little more confident navigating your way through the world of skin care products. Regular visits to a professional are important but without a strong foundational at-home routine, you’ll never see the lasting results we all strive for. Remember, not all products are created equal so if you’re feeling uncertain, check with your esthetician to discuss the best product lines for your skin and happy hunting!