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Beautiful Skin Simplified: 7 Step Guide to Gorgeous Skin

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Gorgeous skin - the basics

Who doesn't want glowing, luminous, even-toned skin? And who isn't confused by the sheer volume and variety of lotions and potions that promise perfect complexion? So we did the hard work for you by eliminating all the extras and focusing on just 6 essential steps to glowing skin. Read on for exact, step by step instructions: on what 100% vegan products to use; how to use them and in what order; which ones you should splurge on, and which ones you can buy on the cheap.

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1. Cleanse

The first rule in your beauty routine should be cleanse your skin right. First, make sure you get all your hair out of your face before you splash with warm water. Lather a small amount of cleanser in your hands before rubbing on your face, paying special attention to the forehead, nose, under the chin, and around your hairline. Finish by rinsing off with warm, then cold water to tighten pores. If you thoroughly cleanse your skin this way, you likely won't have to use a washcloth--which can inflame sensitive skin.

Splurge or Save? Cleanser is the product that you don't want to skimp on. Cheap cleansers contain known endocrine-disruptors like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and also palm oil (most often labeled Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate; check here for reasons why you shouldn't use palm oil).

For most anti-aging benefits, look for cleansers formulated with antioxidant Vitamin C, which will brighten discoloration and even tones. Ole Henriksen African Red Tea Foaming Cleanser ($30) has plenty of Vitamin C from grapefruit, orange, and tangerine to brighten skin, plus nourishing red tea extract.

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2. Tone and balance

Toner is not a step that you want to skip! Simple swipe of toner balances your skin's pH levels after cleansing, mildly exfoliates, and evens skin's surface for better makeup application.

Splurge or Steal? Simpler is better with toners. Affordable toners made with organic botanical ingredients only are the way to go. I love Everyday Coconut Coconut Water Toner (near left). Spritz liberally over face and neck, and wipe away gently with organic cotton round.

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3. Moisturize and Protect

The best way to avoid sunspots and premature wrinkles is to put on sunblock. Nowadays, anything from tinted moisturizers, BB creams, to foundations are labeled with some UV protection; but most women don't use enough product to get adequate protection from tinted products alone, so it's crucial not to skip this step. Go for a daytime moisturizer with at least SPF 15, and apply liberally, including neck and chest.

Splurge or Save? Save your money and make a trip to your natural grocery store for an affordable moisturizer. Desert Essence Gentle Nourishing Day Cream SPF 15 ($13.29) is formulated with nourishing Moroccan argan oil, soothing aloe vera, and brightening white tea extract, and is 100% vegan, harsh chemical-free and cruelty-free--all at a fraction of the price of high-end creams.

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4. Even Out Skin Tone

The latest formulations like BB creams and CC creams provide a more natural coverage and lighter texture with active ingredients to even and brighten skin tone. The key is to cover only as much as you need. Start with a dime-sized amount on the back of your hand (less or more, depending on your needs) and dab a bit onto your forehead and nose, followed by your cheeks, around your mouth, and chin. Blend well with your finger tips. If you still need more coverage on blemishes or spots, you can dab with a concealer over the BB cream, and set with pressed powder.

Save or Splurge? Whether you choose BB cream or foundation for more coverage, do choose higher-end products that have better color match and pigmentation so you won't have to use a lot of product for coverage. We like Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 20($36), which has Vitamins A, C, E and buildable coverage--and like all Tarte products, it's free of SDL, harsh chemicals, or animal cruelty.

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5. Illuminate and Highlight

If you think skin illuminators are only for special occasions, think again. The new generation of highlighters can lift the corners of your eyes and lips, define cheekbones, widen your eyes, and make you look younger and more restful--rather than like a teenager going to prom. The key is to choose highlighters that have subtle shimmer. Dab a tiny amount to your finger tip, and lightly place on the following areas: inner corners of your eyes, just above your eyebrow (not below), along the bridge of your nose, at the very top of your cheekbones, and the bow of your upper lip. You will look so rejuvenated that you won't even need to put under-eye concealer, which can call attention to the problem rather than fixing it.

Splurge or Steal? Feel free to go for more affordable highlighters as long as the shimmer is fine, rather than chunky and glittery. We like The Body Shop Radiant Highlighter($14), which gives that subtle luminous glow at half the price of some brands.

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6. Exfoliate

If you are not already using an exfoliator, add it to your nighttime skincare routine once a week: even if you're buying the most expensive lotions and creams, it won't be effective if your dead skin cells are making a barrier. Dull skin cells also look, well, dull, uneven, and rough.

Splurge or Save? No offense to St. Ives, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the powerful effects from using high-end exfoliators. Fresh Soy Face Exfoliant($42) provides all-natural microdermabrasion with jojoba, rose hip, and soy proteins, revealing a softer, younger, radiant skin--not ruddy cheeks. This is one product that is worth every penny.

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7. Treat and Nourish

After cleansing and exfoliating, you are finally ready for treating any specific skin woes. The most effective solution is to apply treatment serum on fresh skin, then to seal with nighttime moisturizer or cream--but if you are pressed for time (i.e. would rather go to bed 3 minutes earlier than spend more time in the bathroom), look for night creams with active ingredients that target your specific needs. Vitamin C is a must for those concerned with discoloration, and Vitamin A (found in carrots, rose hip, etc) is a powerful anti-aging ingredient.
A note of caution: when choosing anti-aging cream, be sure to buy one specifically from cruelty-free, vegan brand, since retinol and collagen are both animal-derived.

Splurge or Save? Choose the right night cream with powerful active ingredients will make it so much quicker to see results in your skin--so by all means, invest in a better cream. Korres Wild Rose Moisturising and Brightening Cream($35) contains wild rose oil, which has highly concentrated Vitamin C for banishing dullness, fine lines, and discoloration, making the additional treatment/essence step optional. Bonus: the luscious rose scent will make you feel like a sleeping beauty!

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Last but not least...

But all these products won't be effective if you don't take care of your body first. Remember these rules:
-Sleep at least 7 hours a night
-Drink 64 oz of water a day
-Minimize alcoholic drinks
-Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
-Wash your pillow cases at least once a week
-Laugh, de-compress, have some fun!

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