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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Skin Care Routine

If there is one certainty among the many, many uncertainties in our world right now, it is this: Taking the time to care for ourselves should no longer be considered an indulgence, or even a luxury. Rather, for so many reasons, it’s a necessity — now more than ever. With skin care, though, there is another undeniable truth: It can often feel overwhelming.

“The skin-care market has really boomed in the last few years,” explains Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “While this is great because it gives us a variety of new ingredients and formulations, this can be really confusing for the consumer — especially a newbie.”

Though everyone has different skin — and therefore different skin issues, concerns, goals, etc. — there are certain skin-routine rules that generally apply across the board. These are otherwise known as the basics, and we consulted a slew of dermatologists to confirm exactly what they are and share skin-care tips that apply to all of us, novices and experts alike. If you’re unsure about how to put together a skin-care routine (no judgment here), or you’re looking to brush up on the basics, here is your expert-backed beginner’s guide to skin care.

Put together — and stick to — a simple daily routine

“In creating your first skin-care routine, keep it simple,” advises Michele Farber, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Divya Shokeen, board-certified dermatologist in Torrance, California, agrees. “The most important skin-care advice would be to keep it simple,” Shokeen says. “Start with your basics and expand as you see fit.”

Those basics should always include the following three steps, performed in the following order:

Step 1: Cleanse

The general rule of thumb here is that cleansing your complexion twice per day — once in the morning, once in the evening — is ideal. Cleansing in the morning will help to remove any evidence of sweat or oil left from your pillow and hair during your beauty sleep, Shokeen explains.

There is one common exception to the twice-daily rule: Dry skin. “If you tend to be dry, it’s OK to use plain water in the morning,” Farber says.

Cleansing your skin in the evening, however, should never be compromised or skipped. “At the end of the day, it’s important to cleanse to remove not only skin-care products and makeup that you applied in the morning, but also excess oil, sweat, dead skin cells, pollutants, and other debris that collect on the skin throughout the day,” Shah explains.

When choosing a facial cleanser, experts say that beginners should opt for a gentle, hydrating one. “Any skin type will tolerate a hydrating cleanser,” Farber explains. Additionally, she says look for one that is fragrance-free, has minimal ingredients (to avoid irritation), and has ceramides and glycerin to restore and maintain the skin barrier.

Step 2: Moisturize

Next, use a moisturizer, or a moisturizing product. “I typically recommend an oil-free, fragrance-free moisturizer,” Farber says, “as this will be well tolerated in [all] skin types, from acne-prone to sensitive.”

Beyond these parameters, you can also utilize this step to simultaneously address specific skin concerns by seeking out a moisturizer that’s formulated with additional ingredients that target specific needs. The general list of skin-care ingredients is a very long and ever-changing one, so for the purpose of this article, here are some of the top ones to know as they pertain to moisturizer:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Plumps skin and restores lost hydration.
  • Ceramides: Crucial for skin-barrier strength and overall health (and important for those with dry skin and eczema).
  • Vitamin C: Provides antioxidant protection and overall skin brightening.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, don’t think you can (or should) bypass daily moisturizer use. “Over-washing without the appropriate use of a moisturizer will actually trigger an over-production of oil on your skin,” Shokeen explains.

Farber concurs: “No matter how oily or acne-prone your skin may feel, it will become dry without rehydration, and dried-out skin is irritated skin.”

Step 3: Protect

“Sunscreen is your first line of defense and protection against skin cancer,” Farber explains. “If you were to do nothing else for your skin, sun protection is the most important.”

Opt for a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, and apply it daily (even when it’s cloudy), always as the final step in your skin-care routine.

When choosing which type of sunscreen to apply, there are two routes to go: Chemical or mineral-based (in some cases, both are combined into one formula). Mineral sunscreens work as a shield, blocking the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin, thanks to ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, protect the skin against UV rays by absorbing them, relying on ingredients such as octocrylene or avobenzone.