Like many other things in my life, my interest in skincare ranges from casual to utterly obsessive. I go through phases where I only have a bare-bones morning and night routine as part of my usual hygiene regimen, and phases where I research ingredients and products every day and do a varying 10-step hour-long project on my face every evening as my main hobby. While I would never presume to force my hobbies on anyone else, someone I know recently admitted to me that they use rubbing alcohol to clean their face, and despite my ongoing gentle reminders over the last decade my husband still does not use sunscreen or moisturize regularly, so I realized maybe not everyone even knows the basics and a guide may be helpful.
I’ll keep it simple.
Whether you have dry, oily, aging, acne-prone, sensitive, or any other type of skin, everyone can benefit from having a basic skincare routine. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. For happy, healthy skin you just need three things: a cleanser, a moisturizer, and a sunscreen. If even that feels a little overwhelming, I get it! There are so many options out there! But have no fear. I can break it down further.
Your cleanser is for cleaning, obviously. This is your face wash. You don’t need to spend money on a cleanser with a bunch of fancy ingredients because you rinse it all off immediately! If you’ve used bar soap on your face for your entire life and you’re happy with it, more power to you! I’ve even heard of people using hand soap (not my thing but go off) and dish soap (no judgment but I’m begging you to stop immediately!!). It really is all about doing what works for you, but if you’re looking to get serious about skincare and want something a bit more face-specific, starting out is simple. If you have oily skin, try a foaming cleanser. If you don’t have oily skin, or if a foaming face wash makes your skin feel tight, tingly, itchy, or burny, switch to a gentle or hydrating cleanser in a cream or gel consistency. The best brands to start with are the ones that are affordable, accessible (easy to find at your drugstore), and dermatologist-recommended. In my opinion, CeraVe, Cetaphil, and Vanicream are your best bet.
If you find the simple cleansers don’t remove your makeup fully, I recommend “double cleansing” (probably self-explanatory, it just means using two cleansers!) in the evenings. Start with a makeup-removing oil, balm, or micellar water, then follow with your gentle cleanser.
It’s time to get past your aversion to the word “moist”, sorry. Grow up! Your skin wants moisture! It longs to be moist! Moisturizer is used to lock water into your skin. Keeping your skin moist and hydrated leaves it full, elastic and happy. Even oily skin needs a moisturizer. In fact, excessive oil is often a symptom of your skin overcompensating for the fact that it is dehydrated. Plus, the drier your skin is, the more likely it is to crease and wrinkle and sink in to hollow places. Think of a grape. When it is juicy it is round and smooth and delicious. When it is dehydrated it shrivels and wrinkles and becomes a raisin. You want your face to be a plump refreshing plum so you don’t turn into a prune princess. Moisturizer is necessary year-round, but it becomes an ABSOLUTE HARD-LINE MUST in the cold dry air of winter. Oily skin can benefit from a moisturizer in a gel consistency, while those with drier skin may prefer an extra rich cream.
If you’re a skincare novice and have never used a facial moisturizer before, stick with the previously mentioned brands. In addition to having gentle, affordable, simple cleansers, they also make gentle, affordable, simple face lotions.
Unless you have plans to transform into a weathered old crone the day you turn 55, it’s time to use SPF 30 or higher every single day, even if you aren’t planning to go outside. I know we’ve all heard “WEAR SUNSCREEN” our whole lives but if you haven’t been taking it seriously, it’s never too late to start. The time is now! Don’t forget to put it on your neck and chest as well as your entire face. We all like looking sunkissed I’m sure but you don’t want to look down at your décolletage one day and realize it suddenly matches your favorite leather handbag. When you’re done applying your SPF, rub the excess into your hands instead of wiping it off. Our hands age just as quickly as our faces! As far as products go, any facial sunscreen will work. Just be sure it’s formulated for faces so you don’t have to deal with it melting into your eyes and striking you blind in the middle of the day. If you really want to keep it simple, many moisturizers have sun protection built-in, so you can turn your three-step routine into a two-step. When you feel more like an advanced beginner and you’re ready to take it to the next level, you may want to research the difference between chemical sunscreen and physical sunscreen and figure out which you prefer.
Ideally you have two slightly different routines: your morning routine and your evening routine. Again, feel free to change it up according to what works for you, but the basic outline is this: in the morning you cleanse, or even just rinse with cool or warm (NEVER HOT!) water if your skin is sensitive to over-cleansing, moisturize, then apply sunscreen. In the evening you cleanse (or double-cleanse) and moisturize. That’s it!
Those are the basics. Once you have that locked in, you can explore the whole world of skincare including retinoids, exfoliants, serums, masks, toners, slugging, and on and on and on. It’s a great big beautiful skincare world and I intend to write a part 2 with more details for those ready to level up. But for today, start simple. I like to think of my skincare routines as a sort of meditative practice, a gentle reset for my mind and body every morning when I wake up and every night before bed. Remember to always introduce new products one at a time to prevent irritation and consult a dermatologist for any specific concerns.