Great skin is not simply a matter of DNA — your daily habits, in fact, have a big impact on what you see in the mirror. But depending on which product reviews you read or doctors you consult, there is a dizzying number of opinions on everything from how to moisturize to how to protect yourself from UV rays. Ultimately, caring for your skin is simply personal. Here’s what you should keep in mind to sort through all the noise.
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Skin Care Tips Before You Start
Three Main Steps
Think of your skin-care routine as consisting of three main steps:
- Cleansing — Washing your face.
- Toning — Balancing the skin.
- Moisturizing — Hydrating and softening the skin.
The goal of any skin-care routine is to tune up your complexion so it’s functioning at its best, and also troubleshoot or target any areas you want to work on. “Beauty routines are an opportunity to notice changes within yourself,” says the San Francisco skin-care specialist Kristina Holey. As your skin needs shifts with age, so will your products. Still, she adds, “it’s not about creating perfection.” Allow these three steps to become your daily ritual that fortifies your skin and grounds your day.
Give it Time
The science behind skin-care products has come a long way but there’s still no such thing as an instant fix — you need time to reap the benefits, says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a Manhattan dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. “Results are only seen through consistent use,” she explains. Generally, aim to use a product over at least six weeks, once or twice daily, to notice a difference.
Tip: With any skin-care product, apply in order of consistency — from thinnest to thickest. For example, cleanser, toner (if you use it), serum, and then moisturizer.
Washing your face is the most basic and essential step of any routine, says the New York City dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles. “Our skin comes in contact with environmental pollutants, dirt and other factors each day that should be gently removed.” Wash twice a day, morning and night, to avoid clogged pores, dullness and acne.
Find Your Facial Cleanser
The right formula cleanses your skin without stripping essential, healthy oils. Take it easy with exfoliating scrubs (use once a week) and avoid those with crushed walnut shells or abrasive ingredients.
For everyday cleansing, here’s what to look for:
What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean Exactly?
This term frequently appears on product labels and is used by skin-care experts but not always defined in simple, clear language. Here’s a quick explanation: If a product claims to be non-comedogenic it means that it shouldn’t clog pores or trigger acne — either by occluding the skin, blocking glands or irritating the hair follicle. The claim is not regulated by the F.D.A., however, and many companies do their own internal tests to determine whether a product should be considered comedogenic or not. (Some common known comedogenic ingredients are coconut oil and cocoa butter.) Typically, the fewer ingredients a product has, the easier it is to determine if it will cause any reactions.
How to Use Toner
For many, the word “toner” brings to mind stinging astringents from the ’80s. “The original was an alcohol-based product that was used to dry up oily skin and remove any leftover dirt following cleansing,” Dr. Nazarian says. Today’s formulas, however, have evolved. Think of them as supplements — these thin liquids deliver an extra shot of nutrients, helping the other products in your regimen absorb better, while still balancing your complexion. Most experts, the New York City aesthetician says, consider toner to be optional: “It can be a good way to add in specific ingredients that you may not have in your other products or add another layer of skin-replenishment.” If you have the time and inclination, here are some hero ingredients to look for:
- Alpha and beta hydroxy acids to gently remove dead skin cells that can clog pores, improve sun-damaged skin and minimize dullness.
- Hyaluronic acid to boost hydration, seal in dewiness and plump skin to subtly treat fine lines.
- Rose water and green tea to calm irritation and reduce redness with an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Vitamin E and C to fight daily exposure to free radicals that can age your skin.
What is Toner?
“Toners should be done after cleansing and before putting on anything else,” Mattioli says. The traditional application method is to saturate a cotton pad and pass it over your face. But, as Mattioli points out, “You end up losing a lot of product.”
Tip: “Applying toner with clean hands is the most efficient. Just pour a few drops in your palm, then swipe it on.” Or if you prefer, you can pull apart a cotton pad “so it’s not so thick before putting toner on it,” Mattioli advises. Most formulas can be used morning and night, but you might want to use those with exfoliating acids only at night or every other day.