If you stick to a regular diet or exercise routine, you know that it takes both knowledge and discipline to reap the benefits. Skin care is no different. A thoughtfully formulated skin care routine, combined with a little discipline, will go a long way to help you feel and look healthy and vibrant now and as your body ages. Just like any healthy regimen, there are some essential factors to consider when building an effective skin care routine, which we’ll address in this article. These are: individual skin type, product ingredients and application sequence.
Unless you’ve thoroughly shut away all memory of your school days (like that weirdly square-shaped cafeteria pizza), you may recollect from science class that the skin is the body’s largest organ. Not only does our skin contribute to the overall effect of our appearance, it serves as a barrier to protect us from microorganisms, toxins, allergens and ultraviolet light, among other potentially harmful pollutants. Our skin also helps us regulate our body temperature and prevent dehydration. Given the importance of skin to our overall health, why do so many of us know very little about how to properly care for it?
Know the skin you’re in
Skin types vary just as hair and eye color do. Before building a skin care routine, it’s necessary to understand your own skin type, as this will determine the types of products that you use (and save you time from staring blankly at the shelves of products at your local drugstore).
While everyone’s skin is unique, most people will fall into one of four basic categories: normal (well-balanced), dry, oily, and combination (oily in some spots and dry in others). Other skin types, such as sensitive and mature, are often included among these categories.
Determining your skin type is fairly straightforward. If your complexion is reasonably uniform with small pores and is not particularly sensitive or prone to blemishes, you likely have “normal” skin (yes, this is a bit of a misnomer). On the other hand, if your skin feels tight, has a rough or patchy texture, and is prone to itchiness, your skin is dry. Oily skin is easy to identify as it appears shiny on the forehead, nose, cheeks and chin. The pores appear enlarged and the skin may be prone to acne. Finally, combination skin typically appears shiny on the forehead, nose and chin while having a normal to dry texture on the cheeks.
This is a simplistic breakdown of the various skin types, and skin texture can certainly change due to environmental factors, medical conditions and aging, but is imperative that you identify your basic skin type when building a skin care routine. Using the wrong products for your skin will be ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
Building an effective routine
Before exploring the overwhelming array of products on the market, we first need to identify the key elements that make up an effective skin care routine. Any skin care regimen, regardless of age or skin type, should include at least three steps:
- Toning, and
Other products, such as exfoliants, serums and eye creams, can be added as needed.
Step 1: Clean up!
It goes without saying that our face needs a good cleaning at the end of the day, since it acts as a filter to the dust, dirt and other pollutants that we encounter daily – not to mention makeup, natural oils, and sweat. Without a thorough cleansing, these materials clog pores and can cause blemishes and a dull complexion.
However, cleansing the skin should never resemble our effort to scrub grease off a frying pan. Though it’s tempting to wash your face with hot, sudsy water to achieve that squeaky-clean sensation, this practice does more harm than good. Our skin holds a delicate balance of oil, water and fats, and has a specific pH (about 5.5 to be precise) that protects us from harmful bacteria. Using harsh cleansers containing drying ingredients like alcohol, menthol, and sulfates can strip the skin of natural oils that help maintain its moisture balance. Likewise, skip the fancy loofahs and brushes (which irritate the skin) in favor of using your fingers. Enjoy lingering in a hot shower? This, too, is actually quite harmful for the skin, as it increases transepidermal water loss; that is, evaporation of water from within the skin. Even if your skin is the oily type, water loss and harsh cleansers cause irritation, leading the skin to compensate by increasing oil production, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
So, what’s the answer then?
You’ll want to stick with a gentle cleanser formulated for your skin type. For dry or normal skin types (including mature skin, which tends towards dryness), choose a cleanser that is cream or gel-based.
If you have oily skin, your best option is a foaming cleanser that will penetrate and unclog your pores (just make sure it doesn’t contain the aforementioned drying ingredients).
For skin that is acne prone, a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid will do wonders without over-drying your skin. Those with combination skin can use a foaming cleanser, but make sure to choose a gentle formula, preferably one that is gel-based.
If you have mature or very sensitive skin, consider cleansing your skin only at night and simply rinse your face with warm water in the morning before moving on to the next step.
With the right cleanser and lukewarm water, cleansing your skin daily will go a long way toward blemish-free, healthy skin.
Step 2: Tone it down
Applying a toner is usually the most overlooked part of an effective skin care routine. While you might think this step is unnecessary, toning the skin has numerous benefits. It can further cleanse the skin by sweeping up residual particles left behind by a regular cleanser (which is why this is step #2) and balances the skin’s pH.
Furthermore, toner helps to prep the skin to better absorb ingredients from subsequent products you may be using, since moist skin is able to absorb products more efficiently.
Finally, using a toner is a great way to add specific ingredients to your skin care routine, depending on your needs.
Traditionally used to treat oily, acne prone skin, modern toners still deliver skin-clearing properties, particularly if you choose one that contains pore-clearing salicylic acid. And don’t worry if the word toner conjures up images of smearing rubbing alcohol on your face – there are many toners on the market today that target the needs of people with dry or sensitive skin as well.
For superior hydration, look for a toner that contains humectants. Humectants are a category of substances that hold on to water. Common humectants used in skin care products include glycerin, propylene glycol and hyaluronic acid.
For mature skin, you’ll not only want to look for moisturizing ingredients, but other softening and wrinkle-reducing ingredients as well. For example, Valice Skin Care’s Collagen Boost + Toner contains hyaluronic acid for moisturizing as well as Coenzyme Q-10, which has firming and antioxidant properties to revitalize and tighten dry, aging skin.
The best way to apply a toner is to soak a cotton ball or pad and sweep it across the face, although applying it with your fingers or a spritzer is also effective.
Toning will not only ensure that your skin is completely free from pore-clogging dirt and makeup, it will balance your skin’s pH and leave it fresh and rehydrated.
Step 3: Moisturize
The third and final step of your daily skin care routine should be moisturizer. This is an obvious step for those with dry or normal skin, but even oily skin needs moisturization to stay healthy. Oily does not necessarily equal hydrated, especially if you are in the habit of trying to combat shininess by using harsh cleansers and toners.
As previously mentioned, drying out the skin tends to increase oil production. If you have oily skin, opt for a lightweight moisturizer (such as a gel-based solution) that does not contain occlusive ingredients like cocoa butter, mineral oils, paraffin, or petrolatum. Occlusives seal water into the skin and prevent evaporation, but they can also clog pores, so look for products labeled “non comedogenic” (aka non pore-clogging) to avoid potential breakouts.
If dry skin is your problem, you can use a product that is heavier or contains oils, but your best bet is to select a moisturizer that contains humectants to draw water into the skin.
Hyaluronic acid has become one of the most well-known and powerful humectants in the skin care industry, and for good reason. This substance is naturally found in the body and acts to lubricate and cushion our joints. Commonly listed as sodium hyaluronate in skin care products, it plumps the skin as it hydrates, reducing the appearance of fine lines. It’s a great ingredient to look for, regardless of your skin type, but it is especially useful for those with mature skin.
Whichever moisturizer you choose, be sure to apply it to damp skin, as this will allow for better absorption. With daily consistency, moisturizing your skin will leave it supple, youthful, and glowing.
But what about all those fancy masks and creams?
Other products to consider
We’ve covered the three steps that should be part of everyone’s basic skin care routine, but there are many other products that you can add to your regimen to address your specific needs and keep your skin healthy and beautiful. For a little extra oomf, consider the following:
Exfoliation is the act of removing dead cells from the surface of the skin. While our skin has a natural process of shedding itself, some people – especially those with oily, acne prone skin – can suffer from a buildup of dead cells that get trapped in oil and clog pores. As we age, our cell turnover rate declines, so mature skin can benefit from exfoliators as well. In fact, people of all ages and skin types should consider adding an exfoliator to their routine as it can lead to clearer, softer, more radiant skin.
However, take heed!
There are two types of exfoliators: those that use mechanical means to slough off dead cells, and those that use acids to remove them. Many exfoliators on the market use mechanical means – such as tiny beads or other granular materials (like walnut shells, ouch!) – to scrub away dead skin cells. Special brushes are also advertised as helpful for exfoliating. However, using these types of products should be avoided because they can damage the surface of the skin. Instead, choose an exfoliator that contains either an alpha or beta hydroxy acid. Rather than sloughing off the skin like mechanical exfoliators do, hydroxy acids work by loosening the bonds that cause cells to clump together, thereby allowing them to be more easily swept away from the skin. Although applying an acid to your face sounds terrifying, hydroxy acids are actually very gentle and provide many healthful benefits to the skin.
What are hydroxy acids and why should you care?
Alpha hydroxy acids ( or AHAs) are found in foods like fruits and sugar cane. They are known to reduce mild pigmentation and fine lines and wrinkles, correct uneven skin tone and improve the skin’s texture 1. Glycolic acid is the AHA most commonly used in skin care products because its small molecules easily penetrate the skin.
Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is an organic compound derived from willow bark that is listed in skin care products as salicylic acid. This acid is recommended as a treatment for acne because it is oil soluble and able to penetrate and clear pores. Acne occurs when dead skin cells and other debris become clogged in the oil within the pores, trapping bacteria, so using a product with salicylic acid can help by clearing pores and preventing new blemishes from occurring.
So which hydroxy acid should you choose?
If you have oily or acne prone skin, you’ll see results from an exfoliator that contains salicylic acid. In addition to clearing blemishes and reducing pore size, salicylic acid has been shown to reduce inflammation.
AHAs, on the other hand, are ideal for people with dry or mature skin. Glycolic acid, in particular, increases moisture in the skin while providing many anti-aging benefits.
Regardless of which you choose, both AHAs and BHA make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen when using products containing these ingredients. It is also important to note that exfoliators can be drying if overused, so this is not a step that you’ll want to include in your daily routine. Aim for exfoliating 2-3 times per week at most.
If you have specific skin concerns that may not be addressed by a basic skin care routine, you should consider adding a serum to your regimen. Serums are a diverse range of products designed to treat conditions like:
- wrinkles and
- loss of elasticity
In essence, serums are akin to vitamins for the skin. They can add important ingredients that are otherwise missing from your skin care routine. And, due to the smaller molecules found in serums, these active ingredients better penetrate the skin, leading to more noticeable, transformative results than just toners and moisturizers alone. Because there are so many different types of serums on the market, you’ll need to do a little research to find the right one that will target your particular concerns. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid for moisturization and vitamin C for skin brightening are ingredients commonly found in serums. Peptides and Retinol are also popular in serums because they promote collagen production and increase skin elasticity. Both are important in reducing the signs of aging. Check out Valice Skin Care’s variety of serums for more info on specific ingredients you might consider adding to your routine.
Our eyes can reveal a lot about our health, and the delicate skin surrounding the eyes is often the first place where signs of age and fatigue appear. Eye cream is another product that can be beneficial for people who want to address specific issues with the skin around their eyes (which, let’s face it, is the overwhelming majority of us). Vastly underrated, these products can pack a powerful punch by adding extra nourishment to an area of the skin that needs it most. Like serums, there are many different eye creams to choose from, so look for ingredients that target problems like dark circles, dryness, and fine lines. As we’ve mentioned, hyaluronic acid is a good ingredient to look for in an eye cream, as are peptides, which will smooth and plump the skin. For dark circles, look for products that contain caffeine or vitamin C. Antioxidants disarm free radicals, which damage cells, while calming and soothing the skin. It’s worth the extra money and effort to add this simple step to your nightly routine.
We’d be remiss not mention sunscreen, since prevention is the best method to combat skin irritation and signs of aging, not to mention more serious conditions like skin cancer. Sunscreen should be worn daily, even if you live in Seattle, where there is approximately one day of sunshine per year. Even on cloudy days, harmful UV rays can wreak havoc on your skin, so do yourself a favor and don’t skimp on the SPF!
Correct sequence of products
Now that we’ve discussed the elements of an effective but simple skin care routine, it’s important to point out that the order in which you apply these products is crucial. For maximum absorption (and therefore maximum benefit), products should be applied in the following order: cleanser, toner, moisturizer. Sunscreen should be applied last. If you use additional products like serums, masks, or eye creams, a good rule of thumb to follow is to apply products thinnest to thickest, which will allow each product to be efficiently absorbed into the skin. Here is a helpful info graphic that illustrates the correct order for product application:
While your routine might vary significantly from this example, it should give you an idea of how to build your routine. Keep in mind that all these steps do not need to be performed every day.
There is a lot to know about how to properly care for your skin, but once you’ve determined the right ingredients and products for you, building and maintaining a skin care routine shouldn’t be complicated. As we’ve explained, an effective skin care regimen only needs to involve the basics of cleansing, toning and moisturizing. However, given that our skin changes over time, the products that you use in your 60s will likely differ from those that you use in your 30s, so you’ll want to pay attention to your skin’s condition as you age and adjust accordingly. At the end of the day, the key to healthy, vibrant skin is consistency.
Studies have shown that using the products mentioned above, such as moisturizers, have little effect unless they are used consistently over the long run. And if you’ve been neglecting your skin up to this point, not to worry! It’s never too late to start a routine, whether you’re 35 or 75. Resolve now to start and maintain a daily skin care regimen. Your skin will thank you.