My Skincare Routine
As promised, here is my skincare routine! My skin type is combination, and I am acne prone. I am also prone to dehydration. I am 32 years old. I also live in Dallas, where it’s somewhat dry and very hot most of the year. I moved from Boston two years ago, and I’ve since adjusted my routine for the Texas climate. Your skincare routine should also reflect the climate you live in as well as your age, lifestyle and concerns.
While the products themselves change quite frequently, as I am testing and trying new things, the steps in my skincare routine really never change. Consistency is really key when it comes to skincare, and so I always recommend my clients stick to a routine if they want to see results. I’ve been doing this routine now for about two years— I have made tweaks here and there based on my increased knowledge in skincare, and as I’ve moved to a different part of the country.
**One thing I have noticed when I see clients is that they mis-diagnose their skin type most of the time. While this routine can be a helpful guide for you in terms of understanding the proper order to apply your skincare, and a general guide for setting up a routine, and why I select the products that I do, you need a customized skincare routine for your specific skin type, age, concerns, climate and lifestyle.
I also don’t recommend running out and buying an entirely new routine if you’re just starting out. Start with the basics— cleanser(s), a moisturizer, and a SPF for your skin type. These are the foundations of a solid routine. From there, you can start to add in the “actives” that will deliver the results you’re looking for, based on your specific needs and concerns. Slowly add products one at a time, to ensure you are not having any adverse reactions.
Cleanse - About two years ago I stopped actually washing my face with a cleanser and water in the morning, and have since switched to wiping my face down with a hydrating toner on a cotton round, instead. This is actually a technique I learned about from the French— they use thermal water sprays (pH balanced) to cleanse instead of tap water, based on the idea that tap water can be harsh and vary depending on where you are. I noticed that tap water made my skin extremely red and flushed— and undid all of the work I did overnight to even my skin tone. Since switching to this method, I’ve had zero redness! Which means I can wear less makeup. This is also something I’ve noticed a lot of dermatologists recommend if you’re normal to dry, as cleansing too much can make you more dry, and in the morning you are wiping your skin down to remove dust/debris from sleeping. You’re not actually cleansing your skin of products from the night before— they’ve absorbed into your skin. If you are oily, and find yourself waking up oily, cleansing in the morning may be beneficial for you.
Tone/Essence - Although I just wiped my face down with a hydrating toner/cleanser, I typically take another layer and shake some into my hand, and pat it into my skin. This adds immediate hydration to my skin, and preps my skin to better receive the rest of my products. I sometimes also use a mist during this step, still patting the moisture into my skin. Think of your skin like a sponge— when it’s damp, what you apply afterwards sinks in much easier.
Vitamin C Serum - Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals, and therefore helps boost your SPF protection. It aids in your skin’s natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells, helping with overall brightness, evens the skin tone, acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles etc. L-ascorbic acid is the most active and potent form of Vitamin C, and also the most studied in its effectiveness. While there are plenty of derivatives out there that are aimed to be more gentle to those who are sensitive to LAA, they must go through a conversion process to L-ascorbic acid to be used by the body, and in general are not well studied in their effectiveness. Therefore, if your skin can tolerate LAA, then this is the serum you should use. LAA is quite unstable on its own, so it is typically combined with ferulic acid and vitamin E (tocopherol).
Paula’s Choice C25 Super Booster (I use this as a spot treatment on dark spots I want to fade)
Hydrating Serum - I am prone to dehydration, so a hydrating serum is an essential for my skin, and help to make it look more firm, plump, glowing, and youthful. Hydration keeps our skin barrier functioning properly, which makes it more resilient to environmental stressors and irritants. Hydration prevents wrinkle formation, but also lessens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles that have already formed.
Hydrating serums are typically made of humectants that hold water on the skin. Some examples are hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea, sodium hyaluronate, etc. They must be applied to damp skin, and be sealed in with emollients and occlusives (found in moisturizers) in order to function properly, or can actually dehydrate you. If you are in a dry climate, humectants can cause your skin to become dehydrated by pulling moisture up from deeper layers and onto the surface, where they can evaporate into the air. Molecular weight of the humectants used in the serum is important, which is why I struggle with cheaper hydrating serums. Lower molecular weights sink into the skin, whereas higher molecular weights are much less elegant in texture, and sit on the surface of the skin. They can also cause pilling when you start layering other skincare on top. If you’ve ever used a cheaper hyaluronic acid serum, then one that is $50+, you quickly notice a difference.
Eye Cream - In the morning, I apply a hydrating eye cream that plumps the skin, and minimizes the appearance of fine lines. I don’t often suffer from puffiness, (again— let’s see how this changes, once I have baby!) but if you do you can use a cold jade roller or spoon under the eyes to help, or use an eye cream that contains caffeine. There’s unfortunately not much that can be done topically to help correct dark circles.
Moisturizer - I use a lightweight gel-cream or cream moisturizer. This helps to lock in everything, prevent water loss, and balance the skin.
Sunscreen - The most important skincare step in your routine. If you aren’t wearing SPF, then you cannot expect results from any of the other steps you’re doing. Protect your skincare investment, and wear a broad spectrum SPF every day, no matter what.
Supergoop Invincible Setting Powder (to reapply)
Supergoop Defense Refresh Setting Mist (to reapply)
First Cleanse - I’m not really married to one type of first cleanse. I enjoy oil cleansers, balm cleansers, cleansing waters, and it really just depends on what I’m testing. What I recommend is finding one that you love, and making sure you do it every night (even if you’re not wearing makeup). When I am wearing makeup, I actually sometimes do a triple cleanse— I’ll wipe off makeup with a cleansing water, use an oil or balm cleanser, then use a gel cleanser. I know this may seem crazy to some, but proper cleansing is the foundation to your skincare routine. If it’s not done properly, then the rest of your skincare cannot also do their job properly. It’s important to note here that there are also a lot of great cleansers out there that are gel-based, and do a fantastic job at removing makeup, and can function as both your first, second (and even third!) cleanse if needed. I recommend these for my clients who travel a lot, or want to minimize products or steps as much as possible. I mentioned this in my stories, but I am not really married to a specific first cleanse, which is why you’ll see a lot of options below.
Son & Park Beauty Water (cleansing water)
Bioderma Hydrabio H2O (cleansing water)
Honest Beauty Gel to Milk Cleanser (this is actually more of an oil to milk cleanser, great at makeup removal)
Second Cleanse - For this step, I typically reach for a gel cleanser (90% of the time), although if I am feeling more dry, I may reach for a cream cleanser. Skincare should really be intuitive, and I have learned to be able to listen to my skin and adjust my routine as needed!
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex (gel- but removes makeup and great for 1st & 2nd cleanse)
Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser (gel- but removes makeup and great for 1st & 2nd cleanse)
Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser (gel- but removes makeup and great for 1st & 2nd cleanse)
First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser (cream cleanser)
Acid Tone OR Retin-A (Vitamin A) - When it comes to acid, there are toners, serums and masks. My personal preference is to use a toner. I use this 2-3x a week. When I need some additional exfoliation, or want to ramp it up before an event, I will use a stronger acid in place of one of those toning sessions, i.e. I will use the acid toner 2x, and the stronger acid 1x in a week. On opposite nights that I am using acid, I use prescription tretinoin .1%, which is the strongest prescription tretinoin on the market. I have been using tretinoin since I was 15 years old (aging myself here, but for 17 years now), so my skin is well adjusted to handle this product 4 nights a week without any irritation. (**NOT CURRENTLY USING TRETINOIN AS I AM PREGNANT)
To help aid in some of the confusion around retinol, retinoids and retin-A, I will quickly explain the differences, but this really deserves an entire separate blog post. If curious, a google search will also provide you with tons of info!
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that supports skin, eye, reproductive health, and immune function. It’s also one of the most studied ingredients when it comes to skin health, and has been used since the 1960’s.
Tretinoin is all-trans-retinoic-acid or retin-a. It is prescription only, FDA approved to treat acne, wrinkles, limited psoriasis and other conditions. Retinol is available OTC, and used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, but the strongest retinol, is still not as strong as the weakest retin-a. Retinol has to be converted to retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level, but is known to be less irritating than retin-a.
Retinoids is simply just an umbrella term for retinol products, and there are tons of derivatives that are less effective but less irritating. Retinoids work by prompting skin surface cells to turnover, to make way for new growth underneath, slowing the breakdown of collagen and thickening the deeper layer of the skin where wrinkles start forming.
Tone/Essence - Again, I use this step the same way as I do in the morning— to dampen my skin, to better receive the rest of of my skincare. I do not use a cotton round, but press several drops into my skin. I have been using acids and retinol for a long time, so I typically go immediately into this step— but for many, hydrating after or before actives allow them to travel deeper into the skin and can cause irritation. In this step, I am always using a hydrating toner (vs. an exfoliating toner, which is what I used just before this step).
Hydrating Serum - Not much to say here— same as the morning!
Treatment Serum(s) - This is where I select a serum or two, depending on my concerns. My concerns are anti-aging (I hate this term, but it’s the easiest way to explain that I want my skin to remain to appear youthful, plump, and firm). I also am concerned with treating and preventing hyperpigmentation, an uneven skin tone, and breakouts. The great thing about serums is that they’re water-based and layer easily, so you can either mix a few together and apply, or layer them one-by-one. (FYI- An “oil serum” is not a thing, and should be treated as an oil, not a serum).
Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is a really important ingredient in my routine, as it helps fade hyperpigmentation, prevent breakouts, improves skin tone, refines the appearance of pores and skin texture, fine lines, and wrinkles. My skin tone is so much more even, with reduced redness when incorporated into my routine.
Peptides are also another ingredient I like to incorporate into my skincare routine, as they provide significant anti-aging benefits, targeting firmness, dullness, wrinkles and discoloration . I love this Paula’s Choice article on peptides in skincare, if you want to learn more.
PCA Skin Vitamin B3 Brightening Serum (Niacinamide)
Eye Cream - I test a lot of eye creams, so this is one area where the product changes fairly regularly. Again— I don’t have dark circles, and I rarely get puffiness. I am starting to see some fine lines at age 32, and so for me, this step is really about preventing wrinkles, and keeping my eye area hydrated.
Moisturizer or Sleeping Mask - I use a lightweight moisturizer OR a sleeping mask most of the time. I will sometimes switch to a heavier moisturizer in the very short Dallas winter, or use a sleeping mask in the winter. You can layer a sleeping mask over a moisturizer, but with my skin type and climate, I rarely, if ever, do this. **See my note below on facial oils and why they are not an absolute staple in my routine, but can be a nice complement. Again— this part of my routine is really intuitive, and changes based on how my skin is feeling on that particular day. While I rarely ever change my day-time moisturizer, because I am going to sleep after this, I worry less about being a little over-moisturized while I sleep.
Other Products (used as needed):
Mists - These are great to have around to keep your skin damp throughout your routine. You always want to apply product to damp skin. Think of your skin like a sponge— when it’s damp it is going to better absorb the product, and your skin will reap the benefits. The only times where you may not want to have your skin damp, is before or immediately after you apply acids, retinol, or other actives, as they will go deeper into the skin, and can cause irritation.
Face Oils - I rarely apply face oils directly to my skin, but prefer to mix a few drops into my moisturizer when I need it. Again, this is because my skin type is combo and I am acne prone. My skin often produces enough oil on its own, that I do not need more. I also live in Texas, where we have a very short winter. When I lived in Boston, face oils were an essential part of my routine in the winter at both day and night time. I also bring face oils with me when I travel to colder climates, usually adding drops into my moisturizer to customize the level of hydration. I also love face oils when I am giving myself a facial massage, or if my skin is looking a little dull— usually when I have been drinking too much, sleeping too little, traveling, and my diet isn’t at its best.
I wrote a blog post reviewing my top four facial oils, which can be found here!
Spot Treatments - I don’t believe in spot treatments, as I find they often make the skin worse— drying out the area, and causing further irritation, and impairing my skin barrier. I think it is a common misconception that drying out the pimple will make it heal faster, but it can actually cause more issues. A much better option than a spot treatment is applying a clarifying mask (Biologique Recherche Masque Vivant and Caudalie Instant Detox Mask— linked below under masks) just to the affected area. Then, I go along with my routine as normal, making sure my skin is staying hydrated and optimal for healing. If I have a whitehead, I will also apply a hydrocolloid pimple patch. Hydrocolloid patches are wound-healing, and actually great for all wounds. They create a moist environment on the skin, to pull out fluid and pus, often reducing the size, redness and inflammation. These will not work on blackheads or cystic acne. If you have a cystic pimple, the only thing you can do is wait it out, as they typically do not surface. If before a big event, you can see your dermatologist for a corticosteroid injection which will flatten the cyst overnight (I’ve done this only a few times in desperation, as they cost around $100/injection). Another option is high frequency, which you can purchase on Amazon or see your esthetician. High frequency kills bacteria and calms inflammation below the skin’s surface, and is my favorite tool for reducing the size and swelling of breakouts. It works on all kinds of acne. When it comes to blackheads, the best thing you can do is use BHA (Salicylic Acid), and see an aesthetician for extractions.
Face Masks - I am going to fully admit here— I am lazy when it comes to masks. I prefer either using “sleeping” masks that you don’t rinse off, or to mask when I am laying on another esthetician’s table, and they’re doing it for me. They’re great for soothing the skin and help sealing in treatments/serums that have been applied. Also, nothing beats a custom mask! When it comes to doing them at home vs a part of a facial/treatment, you are most likely not prepping the skin properly, and the effects from masking will be immediate and not long-lasting. If you feel like they’re fun and a form of self-care, go for it! But for me, there are really only a few masks that I think are worth the time and effort for me to do at home; otherwise I’d rather focus on my skincare routine, working out, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, along with taking proper supplements. These are things that have far more lasting impacts for skin, and are worth my time.