Skincare regimen…what does it include exactly? if you ask some overzealous saleslady, “EVERYTHING!” they will say while happily pushing dozens of “must-haves” onto you while your credit card shifts uncomfortably in your wallet. Every brands try to cover every skin type and every problem. You just need the products that covers YOUR problem. At minimum, you just need a cleanser and a moisturizer (+ an SPF for day), then add more as needed. The more things you add, the more complicated it gets with layering and what to apply when, so that’s what we will be covering today.
In general the most lightweight/liquidy product goes first since they are more easily absorbed and you don’t want the thicker cream/product to block all those good active ingredients you paid for from doing their job on your skin.
- Remove makeup: Always always remember to remove your makeup! Some cleanser are formulated to cleanse your skin but not remove makeup, and others are formulated to do both. If you just wore a light dust of powder or such, then you can probably use a makeup removing cleanser and be fine. Anymore than that, using a makeup remover before cleansing is recommended (and one of the reason why people think makeup ages the skin, not taking it off properly and have traces of it cake/clog your skin is probably the culprit). Try to dab/rub it on and give it a couple second to soak and breakdown the makeup before you wipe. For heavy duty makeup, a cleansing cream/balm is probably your best bet. For sensitive area like the waterline, my favorite is cleansing water on a cotton swab.
- Cleansing: while there is no need to splurge for an expensive cleanser, you should pick one that is appropriate to your skin type. If you have dry skin, go for a cleansing oil, milk or gel. If you have oily skin, then you can go for foamy cleansers and too moisturizing of a cleanser may clog your pore. If you have sensitive skin, then I would recommend avoid exfoliating cleansers (at least for everyday use). Do not EVER use an exfoliating cleanser with Clarasonic.
- Masks/treatment: Usually it’s good to use an exfoliator 1-3 times a week to help get rid of dead skin cells so the products you applied later will sink in better. The more intense ones will also help with acne scars and even skintones. What kind of exfoliation (scrubs, microdermabrasion, peels) and how often to use depends on the strength and your skin type. If you have sensitive skin then go for a thick/creamy solution with round beads, peeling gel or enzyme/chemical exfoliation. If you have large pore/oily skin, a clay/mud/charcoal mask will be beneficial in oil control and unclog the pores. If you are prone to dry skin, a hydrating mask will keep your skin soft and hydrated. Some mask/treatment are multi-tasking and it’s best to follow whatever instruction on the tube.
- Toning: toning is kind of a handwavy step (balances the pH of your skin). Basically it’s used after cleanser/masks to swipe away any residue and prep your skin for the next step. There are exfoliating toners that contain salicylic acid and alcohol to help with oil control and hydrating toners with extract and vitamins to nourish the skin. If you don’t need either then no harm in skipping it. Some brand calls them toners, some call it lotion and some call it emulsions (which are more common in Asian brand and half ventures into serum category). It’s usually meant to be applied with a cotton ball or cotton pad. For emulsions, which are more common in Asian brands, the consistency is thicker and it almost ventures into serum category, so the instruction may be to apply with finger instead.
- Serum: If you have normal skin with no problem whatsoever, this is a step you can skip. Serum contain most active ingredients and can be potent, which is why it should be applied in a thin layer patted/smoothed on with your finger instead of slathered on, and some product even recommend it be used as a spot treatment instead of all over the face. It is used to target specific problems, like acne, anti-aging, brightening, and dehydration. Moisturizers don’t contain a lot of active ingredients since their main job is to moisturize, so if you want the most bang for your bucks with your problem, splurge on a serum instead of moisturizer. Just like those vitamins for your drinks, you can think of it as a booster for whatever skin concerns you have.
- Eye moisturizer: Your eye area is thinner and more delicate than the skin on your face, so if you are using a rich facial moisturizer it won’t absorb as well and if your facial moisturizer contains strong active ingredients it might irritate your eye area. If you don’t have any eye area concerns then whatever med/lightweight basic face moisturizer you are using will probably do the job. Unless you have a problem you want to fix (dark circles, puffy/undereye bag, dry skin), then you don’t really need it until your early/mid twenties to prevent aging. Not only should you use the one that addresses your concern, be sure to also pick one that fits your skin type (treatment/gel for oily skin and cream/balm for dry skin). Because the eye area is so delicate, you should dot/dab the product on and avoid too much rubbing.
- Facial moisturizer: while there are moisturizers that address skin problems, their main job is to hydrate and protect the skin (which is why a lot of them contains silicone in some form, it act as a barrier between your skin and the environment). If your skin problem/concern is serious, you will want to look for a serum that address those instead. Skin of all types should use a moisturizer, there are super lightweight gel/lotion for very oily skin and heavy balm/oil for very dry skin.
- Spot treatment: There are spot treatment for acne, dark spot, wrinkles etc etc. Some claim it goes before your serum/moisturizer and some claim it goes after. Different spot treatment have different rules and there are good logic for each depending on what is it that you are trying to treat. Instead of some universal rule, I recommend following the instructions on your treatment instead. Some masks that targets acne can also be used as spot treatment.
- Lip balms: last but not least, don’t neglect your lips! Always remember to swipe on some lip balm at night to avoid dry/flaky lips in the morning. (if you tend to have random dry spot that your moisturizer don’t cover, I always rub a bit of lip balm on it afterward, as long as it doesn’t contain menthol or tingling/plumping stuff it should be fine).
UPDATE (10/17/2015): With more and more international skincare products flooding the market, there are two more category to add to the list. Essence is usually used after toning and before serum, read here for more details/product recommendations. And while sleeping masks can be used as substitute for moisturizers, they can also be applied on top of/after your moisturizer for more hydration in the winter. Lastly, facial oils can be used as moisturizer or mixed into moisturizer to give them a moisturizing boost depending on the consistency, aside from what’s reviewed on the blog, here’s an early comparison I did of several popular ones.
Multi-taskers: Some clay/sulfer/mud mask will say they can double as spot treatment for blemishes (but not on the whole face since that can dry your skin out) and some hydrating masks will say they can be left on overnight over your moisturizer etc.
Day vs. night: Night is the time that the body (including your skin) repairs yourself, which is why a good night time regimen (as well as plenty of sleep) is particularly important, and why most treatment are best saved for night when it’s more effective and easily absorbed. The only exception is antioxidants, which fights free radicals and environmental stress so it gives your daytime skincare a boost. Day time regimen varies by skin type and individual. You should cleanse thoroughly at night because of all the makeup, dirt and oil accumulated during the day. In the morning the only thing on your face are oil produced by your skin at night and residual skincare. If you have dry/combo skin then there’s not much need to cleanse, I usually just wipe with a cold water/towel then apply SPF moisturizer (the basic, and you can add more step as you see fit).
And that, is the whole nine yard. Make sure to store your skincares away from heat or sunlight and close the lid properly so all the good stuff/active ingredients won’t break down. If you are using products with many different active ingredients, you have to be aware that they don’t negatively interact with each other or cause irritation (don’t pile on the peels/acids/retinols). Always introduce products one at a time, test for at least a week to make sure it’s ok before moving onto the next thing. It might take a couple of days for your skin to show a reaction, and any brightening/smoothing/anti-aging effect usually takes weeks to show. So, what’s your skincare like?