Building a skincare routine can be really intimidating, especially when you are a beginner. And to top it all off there is a lot of information out there, some saying to do a 10-step routine, 5-steps, 3-steps or even skip care!
It can get really confusing really quickly and it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why I was inspired to start this beginner’s skincare guide to building a routine.
Now, you aren’t going to see product recommendations or examples of a routine here. I really can’t recommend products in this guide because everyone’s skin is different.
Instead, I want to arm you with some skincare knowledge that will allow you to choose products wisely, and some foundational steps that will help you order those products effectively into a routine.
This guide doesn’t embrace any philosophy on the number of steps in your routine, it doesn’t favor K-beauty over other products, nor does it require a lot of money to execute. This guide really is about learning more about your skin and the foundational steps of effective routines before you buy skincare products. This is intuitive skincare at its most basic level.
Let’s start with the Skin Questionnaire:
1. What is Your Skin Type?
This is fairly straightforward, but in the wonderful world of a million holy-grail products, it can be hard to remember to consider your skin type when researching products.
There are traditionally 3 skin types and I will add in a 4th, hidden skin type, to this list:
- Oily Skin — Skin that has an excess of sebum production all over.
- Dry Skin — Skin that is dry, lacking in oil. Often has dry, flaky patches on skin.
- Combination Skin — Both oily and dry. Often oily in the T-zone and dry in U-zone (although not always the case). Important to remember that the dry and oily parts of the face are separate areas.
- Dehydrated Skin — This is the hidden skin type, as many people don’t know about it (although that is starting to slowly change). Dehydrated skin is skin that is dry from the inside (lacking in water, not oil) and is often very oily on top. This differs from combination skin because the dry feeling and oiliness occurs in the same area of the face at the same time.
These are pretty basic descriptions and certainly don’t paint the picture that skin is very individual and often in a state of change.
Is it possible for your skin type to change with the season? Yes, it’s possible to experience say, oily skin in the summer and dry skin in the winter.
Is it possible to have a combination of skin types? Yes, not all skin will fit into the traditional definition of combination skin. Some suffer a dehydrated U-zone and purely oily T-zone (that’s often this author’s skin type).
I find skin types a good place to start, really the only place to start, but I find they paint a limited picture of our skin and we need to go deeper.
2. What is Your Skin Condition?
Didn’t we just cover this with skin types? Nope, skin conditions are a little bit deeper than skin types; they lend more descriptive detail to the picture of our skin.
The thing about skin types is that they often limit our thinking to a narrow idea of our skin, but baby won’t be put in a corner and your skin is just way more individual than that.
Skin conditions are the more complete picture of what is going on currently with your skin. This is really the whole premise of intuitive skincare, knowing what’s going on with your skin in real time.
Look into the mirror at your bare skin and give it a good assessment. Some things you might see could include:
Acne, clogged pores, blackheads, enlarged pores, sun damage, hyper pigmentation, dry patches, dark marks, fine lines…
This by no means is a complete or even a comprehensive list, but these are a few ideas of some of the visible things you can see on the top layer of your skin that give us an idea about the condition of your skin.
But I want you to go deeper. Don’t just think about the outside appearance of your skin; you need to think about how your skin feels, too.
Does your skin feel dry? Does it feel parched? Does your skin feel like it’s tingling or burning? Does it feel sensitive or irritated? Do you have a weakened moisture barrier function?
Some of this may feel like a lot of detail, but do your best to give your skin a full assessment.
3. What are Your Skincare Goals?
Again, this may seem like an obvious question, but it can be one we fail to answer in our excitement to shop for products.
While many products out there claim to solve our every problem, at the end of the day our skincare products can only deliver so much, and that’s why it’s important to choose them wisely.
In order to choose effective products, we need to decide what skincare goals we want to address in our routine.
Of course I’d like to fight fine lines, increase collagen production, lighten dark marks, address clogged pores, clean out my blackheads, even out my skin tone and heal my weak moisture barrier. But that’s a pretty tall order to fill.
In fact, some of those goals can even contradict each other (e.g., use chemical exfoliation and vitamin C for congestion and anti-aging, but those products will slow down the progress of healing my moisture barrier).
That’s why it’s important to pick 2, maybe 3, goals to focus in on at a time. This makes shopping for products and assessing your progress (and the product’s effectiveness) a lot easier.
Skincare goals are often derived from your skin conditions. Do you want to address your acne, fine lines, weak moisture barrier or lighten your hyper pigmentation?
It’s best to make a master list, like I did above, and pick your top 2 or 3 to focus in on.
And it’s a good idea to revisit all three questions of the skincare questionnaire every 3 months. That’s enough time to see some real progress on your goals. I’s also the average life span of most products, so you may be in the market to buy new products anyways. This is the best time to reassess your skin type and condition (it’s possible it can change) and update your skincare goals.
Okay, now that we’ve finished the Skincare Questionnaire, we can move on to learning the foundational steps of a skincare routine.
Foundations of a Skincare Routine
I know I told you that this guide wasn’t going to give you a magic number of steps that you must have in your routine, but I am going to give you the foundational steps that I believe create an effective routine.
Please remember these are guidelines, not rules; you do you, boo!
I think this one is pretty obvious but that’s why it’s foundational! Whether you subscribe to the double cleansing method or facial cleansing devices, facial cleansers are the first step to creating a great skincare routine. Remember, your face needs to be a clean canvas for all your other skincare products to work effectively.
2. Chemical Exfoliation
Chemical exfoliation is one of those steps that can deliver some of the most visible and powerful results. Whether you have anti-aging goals, acne fighting goals, or even skin tone goals, chemical exfoliation will help you achieve them.
There are many types of chemical exfoliation, so I will give some brief descriptions to help you find the one that will best address your goals:
- AHA (alpha hydroxy acids): Includes popular acids like lactic, mandalic, glycolic and many others. AHA chemical exfoliants work on the top layer of your skin to help resurface it. This is perfect to address hyper pigmentation, uneven skin tone and anti-aging concerns.
- BHA (beta hydroxy acids): Includes popular acids like salicylic, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic and many more. BHA chemical exfoliants work deeper than AHAs and have the ability to address impurities inside of the pores. BHAs are perfect for acne, blackheads, clogged and enlarged pores.
- Vitamin C: Pure vitamin C, often listed as L-ascorbic or ascorbic acid, is excellent to address issues of wrinkles, loss of elasticity or sagging skin because it can stimulate collagen production on our skin. Vitamin C is also a powerful skin brightener, particularly good for hyper pigmentation and sun damage.
- Enzymes: Often derived from fruit or pumpkin, these are gentler forms of chemical exfoliation with effects and benefits similar to those of AHA without as much irritation as a traditional chemical exfoliant.
*A word about chemical exfoliation: While chemical exfoliation can deliver amazing results, it’s important to remember it’s a powerful product. Make sure to carefully add these into your routine and don’t get over zealous in their application, because skin irritation and damage is very possible with overuse.
3. Targeted Treatment Steps
This is where you’ll find toners, essences or serums. Now you don’t need all three, in fact, one really good one should do the trick. However, your skin type and condition will always inform how you want to proceed in this area.
As an example, someone with dehydrated skin may want to use both a toner and an essence as they need to focus on adding more water into their skin, where someone with dry skin may only opt to use a serum.
What you need to know:
- Toners: These are watery, first steps. There are many different kinds but they can either help prep your skin for other skincare layers or hydrate the skin.
- Essences: These are thicker than toners, often gel-like. Essences often have a greater concentration of beneficial ingredients than toners.
- Serums: Serums are highly concentrated formulas that help target your skincare goals. Serums are often thicker than toners and essences and often are less hydrating (adding back water to the skin).
4. Final Layers
We all need to lock down and seal in our skincare with a final layer. This can be an oil, lotion, moisturizer or cream.
Traditionally, you’d only use one final layer but, as we are learning, your skin type and condition will play into this.
Example: Dry skin types might opt to use both an oil and a moisturizer to help add in much needed moisture (additional oil) to the skin. Oily skin types will probably opt for a very lightweight lotion only as their final layer as they don’t lack moisture (oil) in their skin.
Do I need to say more? You need to be wearing daily sunscreen because you don’t want to go through the ordeal of skin cancer.
AND — If you have skincare goals, know that if you are getting unprotected UV exposure, you’re setting your goals back every single time you aren’t wearing sunscreen.
UV exposure contributes to fine lines, hyper pigmentation, decreased collagen production, uneven skin tone, and can weaken your moisture barrier. If you are using chemical exfoliation, the damage from unprotected exposure to UV rays will be worse.
Just wear it already.
I hope this guide has helped you get a better idea of your skin, what your skincare goals are and how to structure your skincare routines. Sometimes we need to do a little homework before we can start the fun process of searching for new products!