Trust me, I know it's difficult to whittle your stock of skincare products down to just the essentials. I have more jars, bottles, and tubes in my bathroom than most. But, just like with your closet, it's important to clean out and update your beauty regime every few months. The extra storage is great, sure, but more than that, knowing the few products that actually work for your skin type is paramount in curating an effective lineup. And the added room in your medicine cabinet (and on your shelves, under your bed, and in every drawer, as the case may be) doesn't suck either.
"I have patients who arrive at their initial consultation with a large bag full of products they either use never, sporadically, or all at once. Because of that, they can't tell which one is the problem and those that are actually working for them," explains Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a top dermatologist in NYC. We are inundated with so much information about different skincare ingredients, regimens, and treatments that it is difficult to distinguish which ones are best for our individual skin type.
That, and using too many products at once can cancel out the effects and exacerbate your skin.
So, in the interest of maintaining skin health with the least amount of products, we've decided to Marie Kondo our skincare routines and help you do the same. We reached out to two of our favorite skincare gurus for their expert advice. From there, we'll figure out which products bring us joy and thank those that don't before setting them free. Below, find the most important formulas for each skin type and recommended products for each. Use it as a guide as you work through your own routine. Before you keep scrolling, though, know there are two skincare products pretty much every dermatologist and esthetician will recommend you use, no matter your skin type: toner and SPF.
"After cleansing," celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau says, "you have a 60-second window to seal in moisture with a toner." She continues, "Everyone should apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every single day." See more of their thoughts below.
"If you suffer from dry skin, you’ll want to add products to your routine that are deeply hydrating," recommends Rouleau. And, make sure to have at least one that'll exfoliate away dead skin cells. "Consider tossing any products with harsh ingredients, particularly certain alcohols that can be very drying, including SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol," she adds. Though, make certain to note not all alcohols are the same. A few beneficial alcohols commonly used in skincare are: retinol, cetyl alcohol, and oleyl alcohol.
1. Gentle cleanser. Gentle, creamy face wash formulas are great for dry skin. "Avoid sulfate-based foaming face washes," suggests Rouleau. "The additive that causes the foaming creates a lather with a high pH, which can be too drying for your skin, Nussbaum recommends La Prairie's Purifying Cream Cleanser ($90) as it will gently cleanse without stripping your skin of any oils.
2. Serum. "Look for one that contains lactic acid," Rouleau says. "Lactic Acid is a skin-smoothing, moisture barrier-repairing exfoliant, which makes it great for dry skin. Ingredients that help repair the skin barrier are great for dry skin as this can help resolve the dryness issues you are suffering from," she explains. We love Sunday Riley's Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment ($105) and Nussbaum recommends Drunk Elephant's B-Hydra Intenstive Hydration Serum ($52).
3. Moisturizer. "Always use a moisturizer with barrier repair benefits. If you have very dry skin, you may think you need a super heavy, thick moisturizer, but what you really should be looking for is ingredients that repair your skin barrier. This doesn’t have anything to do with the weight of the product itself," Rouleau laments. Look for ingredients that mimic the natural lipids found in skin like carrot oil, cranberry oil, evening primrose oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil and sweet almond oil.
She adds: "I also recommend looking for an oil that contains some of these ingredients because of their great barrier repair benefits." Nussbaum suggests Skinceuticals' Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 ($128), which we love dearly, or CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream ($14).
1. Gel cleanser. "Avoid using a harsh, acne-focused cleansers," Rouleau says, unless a dermatologist recommends a specific product. "Many—not all—acne cleansers are loaded up with harsh detergents and strong ingredients. Instead, try antiseptic exfoliating gel cleanser to decongest your pores while still nourishing your skin, it'll offer anti-inflammatory benefits for soothing acne conditions. Nussbaum recommends Skinceuticals' LHA Cleanser Gel ($40) as it contains lipo-hydroxy acid, as well glycolic and salicylic acids.
Paula's Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser ($13) also works wonders.
2. Alcohol-free toner. "Toners are so misunderstood," Rouleau asserts, "toning is often not viewed as an important step, but I’m here to tell you it is—especially for oily and acne-prone skin." It's an especially effective way to deeply hydrate your skin, as well as promote cell turnover and help to clean out your pores. We like Ole Henriksen's Balancing Force Oil Control Toner ($26)
3. Reparative moisturizer. Add a hydrating and soothing moisturizer to your routine. "I recommend Skin Recovery Lotion for anyone suffering from acne-prone, sensitive, or irritated skin," Rouleau says. "Many people who are acne-prone worry that using a moisturizer with cause them further breakouts, but this is a step in your routine you absolutely cannot skip," she adds. See, skipping moisturizer disrupts your skin’s proper water levels, and this dehydration process stimulates more oil production.
"That can potentially cause more breakouts, as it encourages the formation of bacteria and the buildup of dead cells within the pores," Rouleau explains. Nussbaum suggests Differin Gel ($14), as you only need a pea-size amount to decrease breakouts and increase cellular turnover, and CeraVe's PM Face Moisturizer ($16) because it contains niacinamide to repair and reduce redness.
4. Spot treatment. "Keep an acne spot treatment on-hand," Rouleau says. She recommends her cult-favorite Anti-Bump Solution ($48). "It’s a powerful spot treatment formulated to provide a quick recovery for reducing visible inflammation of stubborn cystic acne bumps that develop deep within the skin," Rouleau says. I'm also a huge fan of Osmia Organics' Spot Treatment ($22)—it works to combat bacteria but won't strip your skin or leave it flaky and crusted as it heals.
1. Cleansing milk. Look for an anti-pollution cleansing lotion, like Biologique Recherche's Lait VIP O2 ($22). "Cleanliness is godliness for me," says Danuta Mieloch, an esthetician and the owner of Rescue Spa. "This oxygenating cleanser will allow your skin to breathe." The milky formula works to eliminate impurities, calm your skin, as well as brighten and even your complexion. It's ideal for combination skin types—it's soothing and anti-inflammatory as well as skin-balancing. It's especially great if you've been traveling or stressed.
2. Treatment serum. "It’s important to treat combination skin correctly," says Rouleau. "That way, you can keep it clear, balanced, and healthy-looking skin with fewer visible lines, wrinkles, and breakouts," she explains. The best serum for you should include a combination of gentle exfoliation and soothing hydration. Skinceuticals' CE Ferulic ($166) provides a dose of vitamin C to lighten discoloration and brighten your skin, along with vitamin E for its hydrating, comforting antioxidant abilities.
3. Brightening mask. "Use a brightening and firming mask weekly to deliver antioxidants and nourishing botanicals," instructs Rouleau. "It'll work to brighten and renew tired-looking, dull skin," she adds. Maximize the results by using an exfoliant beforehand, like Triple Berry Smoothing Peel ($89)—which is a Byrdie editor favorite—to remove surface build-up and to allow the mask's benefits to penetrate your skin more effectively. We like Peter Thomas Roth's 24K Gold Mask Pure Luxury Lift & Firm Mask ($80) and Youth to the People's Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask ($48).
1. Moisture-protecting cleanser. "Sensitive skin has special needs," says Rouleau. "When you have sensitive skin, never use a bar of soap for cleansing. The binders that hold together soap have a high pH balance, which will strip all the water and natural oils out of your skin—this causes even more sensitivity and dehydration," she says. So, always use a low-foaming cleansing gel to wash your skin (Rouleau suggests her Moisture Protecting Cleanser ($37), as it has a gel-to-milk texture to gently remove makeup and impurities while leaving your moisture barrier perfectly intact.
2. Calming serum. "Sensitive skin-specific products are formulated with calming components for their anti-inflammatory properties. Look for ingredients such as chamomile, sea whip, azulene and white tea for naturally comforting benefits," Rouleau says. We love Dr. Barbara Sturm's Calming Serum ($250).
3. Anti-inflammatory balm. If your skin is especially sensitive, opt for a balm that'll nourish your skin, stimulate lipid production, and strengthen your skin's protective barrier. We're obsessed with Ren Clean Skincare’s Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm ($48), as it uses enzymatically activated oils (sourced from olive, almond, borage, and linseed) to deeply feed and repair your skin overnight. It's incredible for redness reduction and inflamed skin.
Opening images by @caseyzhang.
These are the best drugstore skincare products, based on your skin type.