How to Build a Skincare Routine
We all want to look and feel our best physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter where our starting point is. Glowing, healthy radiant skin that you feel confident in is not just down to DNA, but rather consistent lifelong skincare and lifestyle habits.
The goal of a skincare routine is to take care of the health and resilience of your skin so you can look and feel your best at any age. A skincare routine is about building and maintaining resilient skin while working on troublesome areas, rebalancing skin, and using targeting ingredients to help your skin heal itself and prevent premature aging. The skin is the largest organ in the body and it suffers both from exposure to the outer environment, but also from aging factors in our inner environment. It's worth it to take time and figure out what your skin’s needs are and how products and lifestyle habits affect it. There are so many ingredients out there, so creating a skincare routine may take some time and research, but longterm results will be worth it.
A skincare routine doesn’t need to be an elaborate 12-step process to be effective, it can be a simple process that brings ritual and grounding to your day. For many people, a skincare routine is one way to show love and care for their bodies and it helps them build healthy habits.
The first step to building a skincare routine is to determine your skin needs while keeping in mind your skin’s needs change as a result of aging, stress, pollution levels, seasons, diet, sleep patterns, and hormonal fluctuations like pregnancy, stress, perimenopause, and menopause. The second step is to know what types of products you need to use, what they do, when they should be applied, and what kind of results you can expect.
Insider tip #1: Give a product time to work. Don’t expect an overnight miracle. Consistent use of products and maintenance of rituals will bring the best results. Give products at least four weeks to work and use them according to their recommended frequency.
That sounds like a lot, but it is still possible to keep it simple.
This is the first essential step to any routine. Our skin comes into daily contact with dirt, makeup, and many environmental pollutants that must be washed off. Skin needs to be clean and free of oil and grime to properly absorb any ingredients and treatments put on it.
Double cleansing at night is a game-changer. It is the best way to remove pollutants and chemicals that age your skin and there is plenty of evidence suggesting environmental pollutants contribute to the skin’s aging process. If makeup and the day’s pollution is left on your skin overnight, then your skin doesn't have a chance to regenerate during its natural rebuilding cycles at night. Any botanical activities or ingredients like retinol that you may be using at night to target problems will not absorb properly and you won’t get the benefits of these functional ingredients.
The first step is to use a cleansing balm or oil-based cleanser. Oil dissolves oil and breaks down makeup, sunscreen, and sebum on your skin. Oil-based cleansers are more gentle to your skin because they don’t strip the natural protective oils from it, leaving it feeling tight, dehydrated, and irritated.
The second step of double cleansing is using a water-based cleanser that goes deeper into the pores and removes impurities there. To preserve the health of your skin, stay clear from soap and antibacterial face washes as they disrupt the microbiome found on your skin. Just like in your gut, a vast array of microbes are responsible for the health of your skin.
Cleansers should be massaged into the skin for at least a minute to effectively clean your skin. Slapping a cleanser onto your face and immediately washing it off won’t have the desired effect. Many people find the act of double cleansing in the evening to be ritualistic and therapeutic. They turn it into a relaxing self-care indulgence at the end of the day rather than yet another chore to get through before sleep.
Double cleansing in the evening works wonders if you live and work in polluted areas, wear lots of makeup and sunscreen. It may not be for you if you have dry, dehydrated skin and don’t wear much makeup. If that's the case, a simple and gentle water-based cleanser could be enough. If you are prone to oily skin and acne a gentle cleanse that is pH balanced is a good start.
In the morning, some people use just warm water to cleanse and perk up the skin before laying their products and makeup for the day. A simple and gentle cleanser can is also effective.
Insider tip #2: apply in order of consistency and start at thinnest to the thickest product.
Toning is not about astringing and tightening skin and toners are not meant to sit around on your skin like a layer of product. Toning is for preparing the skin for the efficient absorption of serums and moisturizers. Toners can be nutrient-rich, hydrating, clarifying, and can add an extra boost to your skin. Most toners can be used day and night, but those with exfoliating acids should be used a few days a week and not at the same time of day as retinol. There are many targeted toners on the market, so it should be easy to find the correct one for your skin’s needs.
For hydration: a toner with hyaluronic acid will help to help boost hydration and plump skin.
For exfoliation: alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids (more on those below) will help to refine the skin texture and brighten the skin through removing dead skin cells that can clog pores. If you plan on using a retinol at night, skip the hydroxy acid toner in the morning, as both products can over-exfoliate the skin.
For anti-inflammatory activity: look for mild herbal toner that contains ingredients like licorice, burdock root, rose, chamomile, calendula, and echinacea root, all of which have anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.
For antioxidants: look for toners with added Vitamin C, CoEnzyme Q10, or green tea, among many other ingredients with potent antioxidant activity.
Exfoliating is a key step in your skincare routine because it removes the build-up of dead skin cells, resurfaces the skin, and helps with the absorption of other products. Leave-on exfoliants or masks can make a big difference to your skin, leaving it glowing, smooth, and with bright and even tone. Exfoliants reduce the appearance of lines, firm and hydrate the skin, and improve the look of dull and uneven skin tone.
Both AHAs and BHAs loosen the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface, allowing our skin to shed those dead cells. Over time, the use of AHAs and BHAs reveals smoother and younger-looking skin.
AHAs: alpha-hydroxy acids work on the surface to make dead skin cells easier to remove. They are water soluble, so they don’t penetrate below the surface of the skin, but they can help the appearance of fine lines, stimulate collagen production, acne scars, and uneven skin tone. The most common ones are glycolic, citric, mandelic and lactic acids.
BHAs: beta-hydroxy acid is also known as salicylic acid. It is oil soluble so it penetrates beneath this skin’s surface. It dissolves excess sebum in the pores and it is recommended for oily and blemish-prone skin.
It's important not to overuse exfoliating products because they can be too much of a good thing! Some products are formulated to be gentle enough to be used every day, even still, it is a good idea to work up to daily usage. Every other day is plenty for uncomplicated skin (depending on the strength of course!). For problem skin, exfoliators can be cycled throughout the week, or one type can be used in the morning and one type in the evening.
In general, on the days you are using AHAs and BHAs, then avoid using retinol. Too many active ingredients can be irritating and can cause an imbalance in the skin. Finally, there is no one best way to use AHAs and BHAs, it's best to experiment and find what works best for you.
Serums are the workhorses of your skin routine. They contain targeted, concentrated active ingredients to help with skin issues ranging from acne, uneven skin tone, fine lines, premature aging, wrinkles, inflammation, and everything in between. If you have a number of skin concerns, you can use different products, either by layering them at the same time, using one in the morning and one at night, or by alternating targeted serums every few days. Again it may take some experimentation and research to discover products that work best for you.
There are seemingly limitless choices for serums, so choose what skin conditions you want to target and narrow down your options from there. During the day the priority should be serums that protect the skin from oxidizing stressors and environmental pollutants.
Vitamin C serum should be incorporated pretty much every skincare routine. Vitamin C is a well-researched potent antioxidant that helps to protect skin from oxidative damage, pigmentation, and premature aging. People with sensitive skin can find it to be a little strong, so using it every other day instead of daily can help to reduce some sensitivity to it.
If you have dry and dehydrated skin, serums with the humectant hyaluronic acid will draw water to the skin and help prevent further moisture loss. There are many corrective serums targeting specific concerns like premature aging, discoloration, damage, scarring, and hydration.
At night, serums should assist your skin’s reparative and regenerative process. Retinol serum is used for wrinkles, collagen production, and exfoliation. Retinoids speed up cell turnover, enabling smoother, less wrinkled skin over time. They are the closest thing to a magic anti-aging wand available and should be used regularly and indefinitely. Retinoids should only be used at night and you need to use an SPF during the day. The sun makes retinol less effective because it breaks down vitamin A, but it also makes your skin more susceptible to sun damage because of retinol’s exfoliating action. Use an SPF. For a deep-dive into retinoid use, explore this site.
Insider tip #3: if you are pregnant, stay away from brightening ingredients, most essential oils, and retinoids. Always check with your doctor if you are unsure.
Eye creams are not essential! If you want to keep your skincare routine simple and products to a minimum, then skip the eye cream and use your serum and moisturizer instead.
The skin around the eye area is delicate and more sensitive and is more likely to react to irritating ingredients, essential oils, strong retinoids, and fragrance. You may want to include eye cream in your routine if you have specific concerns such as hyperpigmentation, puffiness, or patches of dryness in the eye area. If this is the case, then your eye cream will need to be applied before your moisturizer.
Caffeine from coffee beans or green tea is a great ingredient if you wake up with puffy eyes and fluid retention as it helps to alleviate fluid retention while providing antioxidants to the delicate eye area.
Moisturizers prevent water loss through the skin and should be used all year round, changing them up with the seasons and as we age. Moisturizers also help seal in the serum products underneath to make them more effective. There is no one ingredient in a moisturizer that is best for the skin, there are hundreds of ingredients out there, and knowing your skin and how it reacts to the seasons, stress, diet and lifestyle can help you narrow it down to one that works for you. It's important to change moisturizers as your skin’s needs change and not stick to the same one.
Day moisturizer should be light and non-greasy. A top hydrating ingredient to look out for is hyaluronic acid, which will moisturize your skin and leave it looking plump and feeling hydrated. Emollients such as plant oils, fatty acids and some plant butters, help prevent water loss and have softening and smoothing effects on the skin. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, green tea, resveratrol, superoxide dismutase, and many other phytochemicals found in plants are another group of ingredients to look for. Antioxidants help protect the skin from environmental oxidants we inevitably face during the day.
Skin loses a lot of water at night, so night creams are thicker, and contain more emollients and are more hydrating and moisturizing than day creams. Night creams are usually formulated to help the skin’s regenerative abilities, so they are usually packed with retinoids, phytochemicals, and other ingredients to speed up cell turnover and build collagen.
A night moisturizer should be filled with ingredients that help the skin’s reparative processes such as proteins and essential fatty acids. If a retinol serum is too strong for you, a retinol cream could be a gentler, less irritating option. The same SPF rules apply!
Face oils seal in all the ingredients and prevent water loss. Plant oils contain fatty acids that feed the skin and regulate sebum production. Oils can easily penetrate moisturizers, serums, and other treatments, but because oils are occlusive, other products can’t penetrate oils, so they need to be applied last. They are usually packed with antioxidants, phytochemicals, and actives to nourish and protect the skin.
Oils are not just for dry skin, although many do work wonders for dry and damaged skin. Oils like rosehip and borage can also be calming to sensitive and irritated skin. If you have oily or greasy skin, oils like black seed, rosehip and squalane can help to regulate sebum production and with regular use can make your skin less greasy and prone to breakouts.
Insider tip #4: don’t mix your products together in order to save time. Layer your products one by one, allowing each one to absorb properly.
Sunscreen goes on last and is your barrier and protection against damaging UVA and UVB light. Consistent and correct use of sunscreen will help to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, and changes in the texture of the skin. It also helps to prevent certain skin cancers.
Sunscreen should be added about 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapplied every two hours. If you have an SPF in your moisturizer and if it is only an SPF 15, then it is not enough. Dermatologists recommend an SPF of 30 as a minimum.
Finally, stress, anger, frustration, and negative thoughts show on your face over time. Exercise, sleeping well, eating well, and having a positive outlook will also contribute to how you look, no matter the products used.