Walk into any skincare lover’s bathroom and you’re likely to find a whole hoard of skincare products decorating their shelf, counter, or vanity. It’s no surprise given that consumers are increasingly informed about active ingredients (from AHA to retinol) while brands aren’t shy about offering (and encouraging) multi-step routines. For those of us who recognize those amply stocked bathrooms as our own, we can attest that our investments of time and hard-earned cash into our skin have indeed garnered results—even if our complexions don’t always behave perfectly.
But do we really need all of those bottle, pots, and tubes? All at once? Opinions on the matter vary widely—and it’s as easy to see the appeal of very minimalist skincare as it is the lure of a complicated, maximalist approach. Some dermatologists argue, however, that our skin may benefit the most from a somewhat middle-of-the-road routine that eschews the use of, say, multiple eye creams while embracing a well-rounded regimen punctuated with thoughtfully applied active ingredients. Here’s how to do it yourself.
Establish a “Core” Skincare Routine.
Healthy skin begins with proper (gentle) cleansing, moisturizing, hydration, and protection (sunscreen—and antioxidants like vitamin C if you’re up for it). Dermatologist Karyn Grossman emphasizes the importance of keeping up with the basics. “What you do every day is so important,” she explains. “I have all those machines at my clinic, but home care is still really vital.” Joanna Czech echoes this sentiment: “It’s the day in, day out that makes good skin.”
What you’ll need: A cleanser for your skin type that effectively removes makeup and grime without stripping skin of its natural oil; a face lotion or cream that combines a non-comedogenic oil with a humectant (like hyaluronic acid); and a sunscreen for daytime. If a lotion or cream isn’t moisturizing enough, the addition of a face oil can help lock in moisture. (Here’s more on how to quench dry and dehydrated skin.) Bonus: add a vitamin C serum to the routine.
Use One Active Ingredient at a Time.
Fortunately for those of us on a tight budget (or schedule!), we don’t have to layer multiple active ingredients to get the results we desire. In fact, dermo-pharmacist Colette Haydon recommends that we don’t layer too much and instead focus on one type of treatment at a time: “There is core skincare—cleansers, vitamin C, hydrators, and moisturizers—for everyday use,” she explains, “and then there are the potent active products such as retinol, peels, and peptides that change and improve skin. It’s these things that work better when used in short, targeted programs.”
Haydon stresses that our complexions improve the most when they’re not forced to multitask. “Skin has a renewal pattern that’s generally spread over a three-month period. This is why we often try something new and think it’s wonderful but after time, it doesn’t seem to work anymore,” she says. “The skin is a little manufacturing plant that’s constantly in action, but this takes energy, and so it gets tired, plateaus and stops. Give it a break and it stores up energy and starts up again.”
While a seasoned skincare lover may wish to begin with three weeks of a mild exfoliating acid, followed by a week off, followed by three weeks of retinol use (Haydon’s recommenced 8-week complexion reset), one may also wish to keep things even simpler by using one active ingredient regularly for three weeks, take a week off from everything but the very basics, and then return to using an active ingredients for another three weeks. This latter approach can help you really target particular issues like hyperpigmentation, dullness, and unevenness.
Finally, Tune Out Noise.
It’s easy to get caught up in which skincare products and brands our favorite celebs (or Instagrammers) use. Take a moment to consider your skin type (or types—as one can be dehydrated and acneic at the same time), and entertain only those product recommendations that correspond to your skin.
Do you use active ingredients in your skincare regimen? What skincare products do you swear by?
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Photo: Timothy Paul Smith on Unsplash; rawpixel on Unsplash