Instagram seems to be exploding with complex skincare routines that claim to be absolutely essential for the health of the skin. On the opposite side of the spectrum are skincare minimalists advocating for a minimal routine, or to avoid skincare altogether (“I wash my face with soap”) either because of the fear of chemicals or just ignoring the need for care.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. Over-obsession is equally as dangerous as ignoring skincare. The excessive use of skincare products might mean exposing skin to extra chemicals, hurting the environment (as it leads to massive overuse of natural resources), packaging waste, and releasing chemical compounds into the environment.
To be precise, there is no magic number of steps that bring to good skin. At some points, overemphasizing the absolute need for some products is a marketing trick. So these are at least partly marketing myths: “You should be using toner to balance the pH of your skin” or, “If you are not exfoliating at least once per week, your skin will get worse”.
The truth is that you might have a gentle cleanser that does not significantly alter the pH of your skin, and if your skin does not have special needs (like extra dryness), then you might not need a toner and can go straight to the moisturization. If you have sensitive or very dry skin and use a gentle cleanser, you might not need any exfoliation. So the key is to look at the needs of your skin. Your skin’s needs change depending on the season, your own state (stress, nutrition, changes in the lifestyle, etc.) and even your hormonal cycle.
For example, my skin is normal with a tendency for dryness. And in summer it is in the best condition, so I skip many steps and focus on maintaining the moisture. In summer, I cleanse my skin with cleansing oil + gel once per day in the evening and also apply a blend of oils. I don`t use a cleanser in the morning, only moisturize with oil and then apply sun protection.
Sometimes, even in the summer, I might have special needs that require extra products. For example, pregnancy can cause dark spots on the skin. To address that, I might use a brightening lotion or serum a couple of times a week.
However, things change in colder times, especially when the heat is on. My skin gets extra dry, even flaky. Applying oil is not enough, and I add moisturizing lotion or cream with humectants, use toner, and try to do a nourishing mask at least once per week. As you can see, the difference in routine is quite substantial, so is the skin condition.
For other skin types, the situation is quite different. You might find your skin extra oily in the summer and less in the winter. You might want to have some anti-aging treatments in your routine or feel that you need some exfoliation. These are all optional depending on your needs, but not mandatory to have healthy skin.
To simplify things, let's consider the routine that is foundational and then the additional options that could be added, depending on your needs. The routine should, in essence, consist of cleansing, moisturizing, and sun protection. Anything above that is extra, depending on your skin condition.
Morning Skincare Ritual
- Cleansing - If you don`t have issues with sebum overproduction (very oily skin), and properly cleaned your skin the night before (which you absolutely need to do), just splashing the face with water might be enough. If you feel that you still need some cleansing product, opt for gentle, low-pH options that do not strip out your skin.
- Moisturizing - Any type of moisturizer should work, or you can choose a combination of two products if the skin is extra dry. For example, light lotion with humectants (ingredients that attract water), plus oil to form a layer to act as occlusive (protects from water evaporation), and emollient (softens the skin).
- Sun protection - This is key to keep your skin healthy. I will not discuss chemical and physical sunscreens here, or discuss their safety, but make sure that you explore this issue and choose sun protection that suits your skin type and the level of sun exposure you get. If you live in an area with a lot of sun, don`t disregard additional physical protection like hats, sunglasses, etc.
- I would add care for the skin around the eyes, but that could be a part of your evening routine. However, applying good moisturizing or special treatment products around the eyes, twice per day, will not hurt.
Evening Skincare Ritual
- Cleansing is crucial for your evening skincare routine. Even if you don’t use makeup, dirt still builds up on your skin throughout the day, coupled with the skin’s byproducts (sebum, dead cells, etc.). Choose gentle products that don`t give the stripping feeling after use. Cleansing oils that turn into milk are a great choice. If the cleansing oil leaves a greasy feeling, then you can opt for double-cleansing using the cleansing gel after oil. However, our cleansing oil does not require double cleansing as it completely washes out as it turns into a milk when washing with warm water.
- Moisturizing - The same as your morning routine.
- The care for the skin around the eyes - Even if you don`t have puffy eyes or dark circles, the gentle skin around your eyes should be moisturized at least once per day. If you have one of the issues listed, then opt for special treatment products.
Optional (special treatments)
- Face masks - Purifying, nourishing, refreshing - Any type of mask will be good to use once or twice per week. Especially in stressful periods, during winter, or to address your specific skin issues. In addition, a face mask can be a good way of relaxation and self-care. However, do consider the environmental implications of too much use of the face masks, especially if you use disposable sheet masks that are made of non-compostable materials. Also, consider whether the face mask contains any of questionable synthetic ingredients that will adversely affect your skin (as it will stay on it enough to get absorbed) or the environment (as it will be washed off to get exposed to sewage water, and consequently land or oceans).
- Exfoliation - There is a widespread message these days that our skin has some dead cells that stay on the surface, clog pores, and make our skin look worse. The truth is that when skin cells reach the top layer of skin (stratum corneum), they are all practically dead and gradually slough off the surface. The process is called desquamation and is a normal part of the skin lifecycle. So for normally functioning skin, the need for additional exfoliation is minimal. However, if the water content of the skin falls below 10-20%, then the activity of the enzymes that are responsible for the degradation of the dead cells decreases, leading to an excess of dead cells on the surface. This is a situation when additional exfoliation might be needed. And this goes not only to dry skin but also oily skin, as water content can be decreased in oily skin as well (the reduction of water content is often the reason for excess sebum production, as it is the way for the skin to compensate for the water loss). In other words, use exfoliation when you need it, not because everyone says that exfoliation is absolutely necessary. Exfoliation can also be used when you want to accelerate the skin surface renewal process. For example, to get rid of dark spots quicker, or just to freshen the skin. In this case, be very careful not to over-exfoliate as it will damage the skin barrier, make the skin sensitive, and overly expose it to external factors. Use protective facial oils after exfoliation to repair the skin barrier and ensure proper sun protection as usual.
- Toner - This is a good addition to the skincare routine if you need additional cleansing, moisturization, or refreshment.
- Serums and other special treatments - Add them to your routine if you want to address specific needs, that are not addressed by your other products. For example, brightening, anti-aging, etc. However, many lotions and creams nowadays have those benefits while providing moisturization. When possible, choose high-functioning, multitasking products - that will be both sustainable for the environment and for you.
I hope our short guide to skincare routines will help you design the best skincare ritual for you, taking into consideration all of your skin’s needs, and also being conscious about the planet and the effect that marketing has on us these days.