When it comes to skincare, you’ll be surprised to learn that less is more. Instead of splurging on every new serum, balm, and cream that comes your way, you can focus on just the essentials. This means more time in your day and more money in your pocket — talk about a win-win.
And what are these bare necessities, you ask? For this, we turned to the experts to get their take on the most important skincare steps. You can find all of these below.
How To Build The Perfect Skincare Routine with 6 Products
Got anti-aging on the brain? Turn to retinol as your first line of defense.
“Retinols increase the skin’s cellular turnover, leading to a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, smaller pores, clearing of blemishes and breakouts, and brightening of unwanted pigmentation (whether it be from scarring, sun damage or a combination),” says Alexa Nicholls Costa, NP (Nurse Practitioner / CoFounder / CEO of LexRx) and Alexandra Rogers, NP (Nurse Practitioner / CoFounder / COO of LexRx).
If you’re looking to see results faster, try Retin-A. It’s a stronger form of retinoid, but unlike retinol, you’ll need a prescription from your dermatologist to get it: “Retin-A specifically inhibits an enzyme found in our skin called metalloproteinase enzyme, which causes the breakdown of collagen, says Double Board-Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon Dr. Jacob Steiger, M.D.
If you’re looking for a product that will penetrate the product deeper into the skin and address certain skin concerns, serums are the way to go.
But with so many different kinds on the market, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. To help navigate this buyer fatigue, Rish Sharma, CEO & Founder of Mallama Skincare, says to narrow down the focus on what kind of issues you’re looking to address. For instance, if you’re looking to soothe irritation, diminish fine lines and reduce pores, Sharma says that a hyaluronic acid serum can give instant results.
Another great option is a vitamin C serum since it works well with all different skin types (you can read more about its importance here). This is a step that Katie Johns, a Medical Esthetician, never skips. “Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that everyone should be using. It protects against sun damage, brightens the skin and helps fade hyperpigmentation.”
Eye serums are another important step, especially since the skin around the eyes is so delicate. “It loses elasticity, darkens, and wrinkles faster than anywhere else,” explains Sharma. To target common skin complaints around the eyes — undereye circles, fine lines, puffiness— you’ll want to find a serum that contains the right ingredients. “Products that contain ingredients such as fractionated hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, peptides, caffeine and retinol (to name a few!), are great for targeting many of these common complaints,” says Costa and Rogers.
Thanks to a lack of education, toners have become a commonly skipped skincare step — until now.
To help you get acquainted, consider this fact from Sharma: Your skin’s pH is around 5.5, and water is approximately 7 to 8. “Every time we cleanse our faces, it necessitates restoring the natural pH. That’s the job of the facial toner. It dials the notch down and brings it to be acidic.”
It’s also a great product to use after cleansing since Costa and Rogers suggest it removes any excess oil or debris left behind on the skin.
This essential step gives skin the pick-me-up that it needs to look (and feel) radiant.
“Think of healthy skin as a plant that needs watering, once a day,” explains Sharma. “The hydration, in this case, relies on ‘watering’ the skin with moisturizers.” [Editor's note: Pairing a moisturizer with a lactic acid product like Sunday Riley's Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment is always a good idea!]
Not sure which one to buy for your face? Dr. Rina Allawh, a Philadelphia-based Board-Certified Dermatologist, narrows it down to this criteria: “I find that a lightweight liquid formula, a buildable texture, non-greasy, noncomedogenic product is ideal for both darker and lighter skin types.”
From AM to PM, a good cleanser always has a place in your skincare routine. “It should be the first thing to touch your face in the morning, and it should be the first product you reach for in the evening,” says Sharma.
What kind of cleanser you need depends entirely on your skin type. Regardless of whether it’s sensitive, oily or acne-prone, Dr. Allawh recommends finding a cleanser that contains zinc picolinate. (This is an “ingredient that effectively cleanses debris and debris on the face while maintaining the skin’s natural pH.”)
For an extra dose of skin hydration, she says to look for one that contains hyaluronic acid. She explains to Livelythat this will help the skin maintain moisture and integrity of the protective skin barrier while effectively removing excess oils.
We’ve saved the best — and most important — step for last since Costa and Rogers put it simply: “SPF is your BFF.”
Rain or shine, the need for sun protection takes no breaks. Thankfully, sunscreen is a small habit that comes with big benefits.“SPF is vital in preventing premature signs of aging, and both the short-term and long-term harmful effects of UV damage to the skin,” says Costa and Rogers
There are two different types of sunscreen: mineral or chemical. Dr. Steiger suggests mineral sunscreen since it “physically blocks the sun and prevents it from entering your skin.” He says that chemical sunscreen is absorbed by the skin and not as effective in preventing sun damage.