How to Create a Skincare Routine
From a Licensed Aesthetician
Skincare doesn't have to be difficult. You don't need a million products, though it can be tempting. This is a guide for creating a simple routine.
Makeup Removal and Cleansing
Cleansing is an important step in your skincare routine for obvious reasons. Keeping your skin free of unwanted dirt, debris, pollutants, and makeup will prepare your skin for all following steps in your routine. So, how do you choose a cleanser? And how often should you do it? It all depends on your skin type as well as your daily routine. It's recommended to cleanse twice a day - once in the morning, and once at night (remember those gross pollutants? They have probably settled on your skin throughout the day). I also recommend using a gentle cleansing wipe after sweating it out at the gym or swimming, or doing any other activities where your skin may get dirty or its natural barrier function is compromised. Don't go overboard, of course, as you don't want to dry it out.
To choose your cleanser, take a look at your skin. Is it dry? Oily? A bit of both? Are your pores large, or small? Is your skin sensitive at all? How long does it take your skin to feel dry after cleansing? Does it feel tight without moisturizer? Analyze it as best as you can. If you have acne or another skin condition, there are cleansers with ingredients that may be able to target your skin problems.
First, if you're wearing makeup, it's important to properly remove it. A cleansing cream or makeup remover is typically used to remove heavy makeup. Cleansing creams can also be used for individuals with extremely dry or mature skin. These creams are usually thicker than cleansing lotions and are water-in-oil emulsions, and makeup removers are generally oil based. The oil works to break down oils, makeup, and dirt. Use these as your first step to remove makeup, then follow with a cleanser that's suitable for your skin type. This process is called double cleansing, and it's recommended to do this whenever you're wearing makeup.
Oily skin is typically accompanied with large pores, and of course, excess oil. For oily or combination skin, a foamy gel cleanser is usually your best bet. These cleansers typically have a slightly more acidic pH and dissolve more oil than cleansing lotions or creams, so they can leave the skin feeling tight afterwards, but they shouldn't strip your skin completely. Make sure whatever cleanser you're using isn't too harsh or drying, which can actually cause the skin to overproduce oil. For those with acne prone skin, find a gel cleanser with an antimicrobial agent (green tea extract, mandelic acid, grape seed extract) added.
Dry skin typically feels tight and has little oil production, with smaller pores being common. A cleansing lotion is great for those with normal to dry skin. Milkier cleansers containing emollients (moisturizing ingredients) will soften the skin and keep your skin's natural acid mantle in good condition. These cleansers are water based and don't typically foam up, which can be a bit off-putting at first if you're used to those that do. But don't worry-- they are still cleansing your skin just as well! These kinds of cleansers are also great for skin that deals with sensitivity, capillary problems, or dehydration, since they aren't as harsh or stripping as gel cleansers.
A note on skin sensitivity: I fully believe sensitive skin isn't a type, but a condition. Using simple, gentle products that don't irritate the skin or compromise its barrier are essential to helping this issue.
What exactly is a toner? What does it do? And do you really need it?
A toner's main purpose is to restore the skin's pH after certain steps in your routine (such as cleansing, exfoliating), as well as to hydrate the skin. This makes it a pretty important step, although if you're using a pH balanced cleanser, it can be omitted. Toners are typically water + a humectant (ingredients that attract water molecules), but some may contain alcohol. I don't recommend using products with alcohol or astringents unless your skin is extremely oily or acne prone. Even then, use with caution. Your toner should be simple, and can be used after almost every step in your routine.
You may be wondering: What's the skin's natural pH? A healthy pH is around 5.5, making it acidic. One of your skin's jobs is to protect you from external factors, transepidermal water loss, and irritation, so protecting it's hydrolipidic film is super important, and should be the main goal of your routine.
Exfoliating should be done only a couple times per week, and should be avoided if your skin is sensitive or irritated. The main purpose of exfoliating is to slough off dead skin cells, which can build up over time. It is also beneficial for clogged pores, increasing the cell turnover rate, as well as improving product penetration and blood flow.
There are many different types of exfoliants. You're probably used to mechanical or physical exfoliants, which include scrubs (little beads, rice powders, etc) as well as brushes (cleansing brushes or dry brushing), and microdermabrasion. These work to remove dead cells off the skin, but can sometimes be a little rough and create microtears in the skin. For this reason, I don't recommend them as much as chemical exfoliants or enzymes. However, if you are going to use this type of exfoliant, scrubs containing super-fine granules such as almond meal or rice powder are best.
Chemical exfoliants use chemical agents such as AHAs to dissolve dead skin cells and desmosomes in order to exfoliate. AHAs penetrate the skin and loosen the bonds between cells. Some examples of AHAs include glycolic acid (which penetrates more deeply due to its smaller molecular size), lactic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, and others.
And finally, enzymes work to eat away at dead skin cells on your skin's surface. They are much less harsh than chemical exfoliants, making them acceptable for skin with more sensitivity. They typically come in mask or gommage forms. Enzyme masks are typically left on the skin similarily to treatment masks and are washed or peeled off. Gommages are a combination of mechanical and enzyme exfoliation methods - the product is applied and pills up when massaged across the skin. Enzymes typically contain ingredients like papain (papaya), and bromelain (pumpkin and pineapple).
Pro Tip: use an enzyme mask while showering (7-10 min) - the steam will help to activate the enzyme! You can also manipulate the product with your fingers.
Using Treatment Masks
With all the benefits face masks provide, it's no wonder they're all the rage! Masks are used to target specific skin conditions. Depending on the ingredients, treatment masks can hydrate, nourish, calm, tighten, tone, brighten, and rejuvenate the skin, as well as draw out toxins and impurities, and clear up blemishes.
Nonsetting masks are masks that stay moist once applied to the skin. They are typically made with gel-like or creamy, emollient ingredients and are better for moisturizing and nourishing the skin. Because of this, they are great for sensitive, dry, dehydrated and mature skin. Some may also include collagen, which is the most prevalent protein in the body. Collagen plumps the skin, giving it elasticity and preventing premature aging. Sheet masks are also an example of nonsetting masks.
Setting masks are masks that dry and harden on the skin. Clay masks are the most common example of this. Clay masks are great for drawing out impurities, as well as to tighten the skin and stimulate circulation. They also cause the pores to contract for a short amount of time. These are commonly used on oily skin or acneic skin. Another example of a setting mask is parrafin wax, which helps to penetrate products.
To use a mask, apply it to the skin and leave it on for 7-10 minutes. If using a clay mask, use steam or a warm towel to first soften the mask, then remove with a warm towel or cotton pads. Masks may be used a couple times a week.
Applying Serums or Treatments
Serums are liquids with concentrated ingredients meant to target specific skin conditions or goals. They are designed with smaller molecules so that they can easily penetrate the skin, and should be formulated with high performance and effective ingredients.
Moisturizing is an essential step in your skincare routine. Moisturizers typically contain humectant and emollient ingredients to hydrate, moisturize, and create balance in the skin’s oil-water content. Using them should be fairly simple. Though you can get certain moisturizers to target specific areas of concern, there’s really no need to splurge on an expensive moisturizer. Individuals with oily skin may be tempted to skip this step, but doing so will actually cause the skin to overcompensate and create more sebum. For this skin type (as well as combo skin), try out a water-based moisturizer, as opposed to an oil-based one, which is more appropriate for dry skin.
The last, but certainly not least (as it’s arguably the most important), step is to use an SPF. I know, you’ve heard it a million times, but it really is crucial to protect your skin from the sun’s harsh UV rays. Sun exposure is the number one cause of premature aging in the skin. Not to mention, these rays can cause skin cancer, which is not something to be taken lightly. It is recommended to use a full spectrum (meaning it protects against UVA & UVB rays) SPF of at least 30 or higher, and should be reapplied throughout the day, ideally every hour. There are two types of sunscreens - physical, and chemical. Physical sunscreens are broad spectrum and reflect the UV rays off the skin, which is why I prefer them (opt for zinc). Chemical sunscreens absorb the rays then convert them to heat to be released by the skin. Nowadays, there are many products on the market that are either tinted or won’t leave a white cast, something that normally prevents people from wearing their much-needed sunscreen. There are also oil free options for those with oily skin. No more making excuses!
Putting It All Together
Sounds like a lot, right? Let me just say that you certainly don’t need every product listed. The absolute essentials I recommend if you don’t want a full on routine are:
Cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF. Maybe a toner, if you’re feeling fancy. These products should be used (at least) daily.
As for exfoliants, masks, and serums? Adding these to your routine a couple times a week can definitely help you achieve your skincare goals, but again, they aren’t exactly necessary.
Now, here’s my step by step (in depth) guide:
*to be done only a couple times per week
First off, wash your hands before touching your face! Don’t overlook this step. Then, take your cleanser and a bit of water and massage the product over your face for about a minute (giving credit to 60-second-rule-creator Nayamka Roberts-Smith), then rinse clean and pat dry with a clean towel. Spray or wipe on some toner with cotton pads, then get to exfoliating. Again, make sure you’re not using anything too harsh. If you’re using an enzyme mask, leave it on for 7-10 minutes (and as I recommended before, you can do this in the shower or add some steam). If you’re using a liquid exfoliant (such as the Skin Perfecting one from Paula’s Choice), you can just leave it on your skin, otherwise, rinse and dry. Tone again. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can give yourself a nice facial massage with a non comedogenic (meaning it doesn’t clog pores; examples include grapeseed, rose hip, hemp seed oils) oil. Next, apply your face mask and leave this on for another 7-10 minutes. Rinse this off, softening first with steam if need be, then apply your toner, followed by any serums/treatments, your moisturizer, and finally, your SPF for daytime!
And there you have it! Your comprehensive guide to skincare! I hope this helped you learn a little more about your skin, and which products suit you best. Please feel free to contact me for questions you may have, or even product recommendations.
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