Long gone are the days when skincare meant just soap and water. Nowadays, skincare is a booming industry that has expanded its product offerings to things like oils, serums, acids, creams, gels, and more. To those new to the updated varieties of skincare products, those packed drugstore and specialty store shelves can seem overwhelming — to simplify, know that most of the various tubs, bottles, and sprays can be placed into five categories of products: cleansers, toners, treatments, moisturizers, and sun protection. Below are the five essential steps to building a skincare regimen that can be tailored to different skin types and concerns.
The first step in skincare is to gently remove makeup, dirt, and oils from the skin. Most formulations will be oil-based (best for removing stubborn makeup) or water-based, and either creamy or foaming. Hydrating washes work well on normal to dry skin types, while clarifying formulas are good for oily or combination skin types. To keep your options simple, pick one that is within your price point and doesn’t irritate your skin. There are also cleansers out there offering benefits like fighting acne or exfoliating with the inclusion of chemical or physical scrubbers.
Double cleansing involves two types of cleansers, the first of which targets stubborn makeup, often leaving a film of product on the skin. The second step goes deeper into the pores, involving a more traditional lather of soap and water to remove residue.
After cleaning, skin needs to be prepped to receive treatments and moisturizers, and although toners are sometimes seen as an optional step, they make a major difference in how skin absorbs successive products. Previous generations of toners were harsh, alcohol-based products that stripped the skin of its natural oils. Thankfully, toners today are mainly hydrating and calming. Some also have pore-clearing and acne-fighting ingredients like AHA (alpha hydroxy acid — great for dry skin) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid — great for oily skin). Spritz some on the skin directly or apply with cotton pads to gently prep the surface for treatments and moisturizers.
Serums, masks, and spot treatments target specific skin concerns. They are usually concentrated applications of hydration, vitamins, antioxidants, and other good-for-you nutrients. Typically, lighter formulations should be applied first before moving on to heavier ones. Among the lighter products are watery essences, potent ampoules, and slick serums, which all do very similar things by offering skin-friendly nutrients. Finally, blemish treatments, anti-aging creams, and spot brighteners can be dabbed onto the target areas of the face with clean applicators or fingertips. Make sure you let each layer of product dry for a few minutes before applying the next one to get the full benefits of each treatment.
A crucial step in skincare is hydration. Moisturizers are important to protect the skin and to lock in all the good stuff from previous treatments. Light lotions and gel products are great for sweaty summers while heavier creams are perfect for dry winters. A couple of great ingredients to keep an eye out for are hyaluronic acid and (plant-derived) squalane, both of which are naturally produced by the body, helping the skin absorb the hydrating products nicely.
Beyond face creams, dedicated eye creams are a must at any age. In the morning, products with depuffing ingredients (like caffeine) or cooling applicators (steel-tip roller balls) are great for reducing undereye bags. In the evening, some light hydration is all you need for the delicate area around the eyes. Anti-wrinkle options, of course, are also worth considering.
For morning routines, always end with sunblock. Wait for all the other products to have time to sink in and then apply a minimum of 30 SPF. Some creams in previous steps may have SPF already, but it’s best to have full protection. If you are worried about throwing off the delicate balance of applied products with a heavy, greasy layer of sunscreen, know that there are many new formulations available, including spray-on, solid, and invisible gels. Find one that feels good and avoid sun damage, which leads to skin discolouration, early wrinkles, and risk of skin cancer.
Build Your Own Regimen
After reading this handy guide to skincare, it should be easier to build a tailored regimen by selecting products for each of the five basic steps. Add or remove steps according to preference.
A hot tip: don’t be afraid to ask store employees for advice when shopping for products — they know what is popular, effective, and worth shelling out money for. When unsure about two similar-sounding cleansers or creams, ask for samples to try at home. Examine the effects on your skin over time and avoid anything that causes redness or breakouts. Enjoy building a routine that suits your skin and lifestyle!
Rose Ho | Assistant Editor