How to Upgrade Any Skincare Routine (Even If You Don't Have One)
"I want to start taking care of my skin," a friend texted me recently. "Teach me your ways." Three typed pages of instructions, a 10-pound box of products, and one relatively expensive trip to the post office later, I realized that maybe—maybe—I had gone just a little overboard. Developing my own routine has been a years-long process, and I had basically attempted to condense everything I've learned about skincare in one rather overwhelming crash course. My friend was just trying to get a feel for the basics, and I had thrown her right into the master class. (Sure enough, she had plenty of follow-up questions once her package arrived.)
Asking anyone to go from using the occasional cleansing wipe to a 10-step regimen overnight is just unreasonable—it takes time to understand your complexion and how it reacts to different products and ingredients, not to mention the proper technique of using different formulas together. Even those of us who have the basics down pat are constantly looking for ways to take our routine up a notch.
The solution? Approach it in simple stages, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Our step-by-step guide makes it easy.
The key to making skincare a priority—and an enjoyable one, at that—is approaching it as a ritual. Begin setting aside a few minutes in the morning and evening for these three daily steps, and relish the time you're taking for yourself to wake up and wind down. It sounds easier said than done (especially when factoring the reality of a busy schedule), but trust—it becomes addictive almost immediately, because that's how quickly you can see and feel the impact on your skin. And anyway, three steps? Totally doable.
Another important strategy: Find products you love. This might take a bit of experimentation, but consider breaking out of your norm and trying out new formulas—swapping a cream cleanser for your go-to acne scrub, for example—to see the effect on your complexion. Speaking from experience, using the wrong products may ultimately be a huge factor in why you've had trouble establishing a skincare habit. We love a cream cleanser/muslin cloth duo (products by Eve Lom and Liz Earle are both great), since they're gentle and moisturizing but still thorough in removing makeup and grime. If you're a devoted fan of foam, gel, or micellar cleansing, consider using an oil or balm to specifically remove stubborn eye makeup, since the skin in that area is very delicate and you want to avoid tugging it as much as possible. (Oil-based formulas help it all slide off with ease.)
Always follow any cleansing with a toner, since it helps grab any additional dirt you might have missed, restores your skin's pH balance (which, when out of whack, can contribute to breakouts), and helps your moisturizer penetrate more deeply into the surface of your face. While your face is still damp from the toner, apply your moisturizer: a cream, oil, or serum, depending on your personal preferences and skin type. (Generally speaking, you may want to use something a bit heavier at night than during the day.)
Finally, give your face some extra TLC once a week with a treatment mask, which will help fill in any holes that your daily routine isn't (anti-aging, deep moisture, color correction—you name it). A sheet mask makes it easy and mess-free. Once this all becomes habitual and you find yourself really noticing how your skin reacts to different products and techniques, you're ready to graduate to the next level.
Your Shopping List: Beginner
No big leaps here—just a few extra steps to help you refine your complexion even further. An exfoliator will literally help with that, as will re-examining everything you thought you knew about exfoliating to begin with. Sloughing away dead cells is essential to uncovering your healthiest, brightest, freshest skin (and regulating acne and oil production, among other things), but doing it daily is too much on your complexion, and can lead to hyperpigmentation, dryness, and acne, and even speed up the aging process. Stick to once or twice a week (and that means making sure your go-to cleanser isn't a scrub).
That being said, a scrub is not the only—nor even the best—kind of exfoliator available. Most experts swear instead by chemical exfoliators and peels, which use acids and other active ingredients to more effectively (and less abrasively) stimulate the regeneration process.
Follow exfoliation (or your toner, on most days) with a serum, which we'd differentiate from your go-to moisturizer—serums are typically formulated with antioxidants and other concentrated ingredients to help treat any issues and deeply hydrate on a daily basis. Typically, adding a serum makes for an immediate and very visible difference to your skin. It's also a great way to take a preventative approach to your routine, even if you're not necessarily thinking about actively anti-aging just yet.
But if stalling the clock is on the agenda, begin incorporating an anti-aging treatment in your nightly routine. This can still be an anti-aging serum or night cream, or a retinol if you'd like something a little more active and your skin can tolerate it. (Never apply a retinol during the day, as it is very reactive to sunlight and can thus damage your skin.)
As you get more and more comfortable with your routine in general, begin familiarizing yourself with ingredients and product labels. Know which synthetics to avoid and which vitamins and antioxidants to embrace. Monitor how your lifestyle and diet relate with your complexion. While we're providing the general blueprint, skincare is extremely personal, and everything you learn about these things and how they impact your skin plays a role in making your routine your own.
Your shopping list: Intermediate
So you're on the cusp of being a skincare pro. Congrats! Now it's time to focus on technique, which, while underrated, is really what sets the experts apart. For example, are you applying your toner the right way? (Just dabbing or splashing it on is fine, but the most effective method is smoothing it on, in small, circular motions.) How about your moisturizer or eye cream? (Tap it gently with your fingers.) Also consider facial massage, which helps boost circulation, fight puffiness, provide an instant glow, and help your products penetrate more deeply. It's a beyond easy (and free!) way to lend your daily routine a professional touch.
Another way to do this is begin incorporating expert-loved tools, like a dermaroller—it's a thrifty, non-invasive way of sending collagen production into overdrive, and it's no secret that we swear by it for everything from targeting fine lines to getting rid of under-eye bags. You might even find yourself eyeing more hardcore devices like NuFace ($325), which helps effectively contour and tone the face at home.
Or you could just brush up on facial basics, like safely extracting your own blemishes and blackheads. (Yes, you're allowed to do it if you know the proper method.) On the other hand, most skincare junkies know that regular professional advice is immensely helpful in maintaining a great complexion. Consider going in for a facial once a month or even just a few times a year to make sure things are in order. Whereas this used to require a hefty investment, the success of convenience-oriented beauty services like DryBar and Glamsquad has begun to breed imitators on the skincare front, too.
Your Shopping list: Advanced
How did you develop your skincare routine? Give us details in the comments below!