Step 1: Cleanse
Though it might seem unnecessary to wash your face first thing in the morning, some sort of refresh will ensure that your skin starts with a totally clean slate. The buildup of any products you leave on your skin overnight can clog your pores, especially if you work out in the morning.
Step 2: Serum
Serum is a necessity. “While the specific type of serum you might need depends on your skin type, everyone can benefit from using one that contains protective ingredients like vitamin C, niancinamide and ferulic acid to protect skin against free radicals and has antioxidant properties.”
Step 3: Moisturiser
Even if you have oily skin, moisturiser is an absolute must in your routine. It helps maintain your skin’s moisture barrier throughout the day and it seals in all the serums underneath. The best moisturisers provide all these benefits without looking or feeling greasy or heavy. Many moisturisers even work well as a base layer for makeup so that you don’t have to use a primer.
Step 4: Sunscreen
You’ve probably heard this a million times in the past few years, but it bears repeating: Sunscreen is a must. Every single day. Not every once in a while. Every day. SPF protects your skin against any potential damage that can come from sun exposure, which includes premature aging, dark spots and skin cancers. And while there are many two-in-one moisturiser-sunscreen combos out there, using separate products ensures that you are completely protecting your skin from UV damage.
There are two main types of SPF—physical and chemical—with pros and cons for each. In general, physical sunscreens are better tolerated by sensitive skin, while chemical sunscreens tend to hold up better for oilier skin (or people who are very active).
The four steps above are the absolute bare minimum to include in your daily morning routine, but you can add a few supplemental products if you need help troubleshooting specific skin concerns.
Essence: Adopted from eastern Asian beauty routines, essences have slowly trickled into the mainstream market. These thin, sometimes viscous liquids are meant to be the first step in your skincare routine after cleansing (and before serums). They add more moisture and help prepare your skin for the following steps.
Eye Cream: Experts believe that eye cream is a must-have product in your morning regimen. Others insist that you can achieve the same effects with a layer of moisturiser under your eyes. If you decide to use an eye cream, its recommends applying it before your moisturizer.
Face Oil: Many people with oilier skin avoid face oils—especially during the day—but if you’re on the drier side and need a little extra moisture, an oil can help. Oils form an occlusive seal to keep in all the goodness from the rest of your skincare routine so that you don’t get as dry or flaky throughout the day. Be sure to use it after your moisturiser to reap the benefits. The dewy finish is a bonus.
Step 1: Cleanser
There are two ways you can go about this at night: single cleansing or double cleansing. Single cleansing is exactly what it sounds like—washing your face once with a cleanser (preceded by a makeup remover for more stubborn products like waterproof mascara). Double cleansing means you’ll use an oil cleanser to break down your makeup before lathering up with a regular face wash. Though both methods are effective, Experts advocates for a double cleanse. “Even if you don’t wear makeup, and even if you have oily skin, using an oil cleanser first will help dissolve any impurities and draw out excess sebum, prepping it for the next cleanse.”
Step 2: Exfoliation
While exfoliation should be a part of your routine only a few times a week (and even less if you have sensitive skin), Experts agree that this necessary step should take place at night. You can choose to chemically exfoliate with an acid treatment or physically exfoliate with a scrub or cleansing device. Exfoliation helps lift the dead skin cells away to expedite cell turnover and allow products to penetrate better into the skin. Experts recommends steering clear of any abrasive scrubs, as they can further sensitize the skin.
Step 3: Serum
Your skin does most of its cell turnover at night, so this is when your products really get to work. If you have specific issues like dryness or dark spots that you’re trying to remedy, look for serums that target those areas of concern. Speaking of targeting, you don’t have to apply your serums to your entire face. For example, if you need extra moisture in your cheeks but want to control the oils in your T-zone , apply a hydrating serum just to the spots that need it and allow it to sink in before applying your next and final step.
Step 4: Moisturiser
Nighttime moisturisers are typically heavier than daytime moisturisers. That said, opt for creamy products over gel formulas, because creams are more effective at stopping transepidermal water loss and will help keep moisture in while you sleep.
The four steps above are the absolute minimum to include in your evening routine. For additional help, you can add one of the following products as needed.
Mask: If you plan to apply a mask, the best time to do it is right after you’ve finished cleansing (and exfoliating, if it’s part of your routine that night). While masks aren’t a necessity, they can give your skin a little extra TLC if you’re in need of a boost. Experts recommends using a hydrating sheet mask after exfoliating to help soothe the skin if it has become sensitized, or you can use a spreadable mask to target other issues, like dryness, darkness or hyperpigmentation.
Retinol: This ingredient—which is a derivative of vitamin A—is touted as the holy grail for all things anti-aging. Note that it’s meant to be applied directly after cleansing. Because retinol can leave your skin a bit sensitive, it’s best not to use it on the same days as exfoliation. To get started, Experts recommends using it only once a week so your skin can get acclimated, and then you can increase the frequency over time. If your skin is too sensitive for retinol, try bakuchiol, which is a plant-based alternative that offers similar results.
Spot Treatment: Whether it’s a zit or a dry patch, spot treatments can help address your skin concerns as they pop up. Like retinols, spot treatments should be the closest layer to your skin to ensure maximum efficiency, so apply them right after you cleanse and don't use retinols on the same day that you spot treat.
Eye Cream: Some people really see a difference when they use the right eye cream, so if you find one that works for you, feel free to incorporate it into your routine. Cautions that if the formula is too heavy, it can cause milia (small bumps around your eyes), so you’ll want to find one that’s heavy enough to hydrate yet light enough to layer.
Face Oil: Last but not least, face oils serve the same purpose in the daytime as they do at night, though you can use a thicker oil at nighttime. Experts recommends either layering this on top of your moisturiser or mixing the two together before applying for a hydrating boost.