The journey to amazing skin can be a long and confusing one. It's tricky—sometimes overwhelming—to achieve that perfect balance: clear, dewy, and not too oily or dry.
Once you add in changing seasons, shifting diets, spikes in stress, and natural aging, the struggle is real.
To help you put your best face forward, we compiled the most important steps in any comprehensive skin care plan.
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1. Start & End Each Day With Clean Skin
Ever wondered whether or not washing your face is a skippable step? It turns out that cleansing twice a day could be essential to looking younger, longer.
While your work might begin in the morning, your skin is tasked with repairing the day’s wears and tears while you sleep. Research has shown that our biological processes vary over 24 hours as a result of time-sensitive “clocks” within our cells—otherwise known as circadian rhythms. Some evidence exists linking circadian clocks to cell cycle (cells dividing to replenish dead ones) and DNA repair.
But, what does washing your face have to do with your skin knowing the difference between night and day?
It’s quite simple: Going to sleep with makeup, pollutants, or dirt coating your skin can inhibit its natural exfoliating process, leaving skin looking dull.
Plus, not washing can lead to permanently enlarged pores.
Consider that excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells, and pollution are sitting on your face. Not to mention makeup (and just because you don’t wear foundation is no excuse). A cleanser will emulsify all of these and remove them from the surface of your skin.
Not washing can lead to permanently enlarged pores.
But, if you don’t use one? All that gunk can clog up your pores. Once collagen levels start to decline, those pores don’t snap back as easily after they’re enlarged.
Additionally, nighttime cleansing is essential for allowing anti-aging ingredients to work. Nocturnal blood flow in the skin is higher. When blood flow is increased, so is absorption and penetration of ingredients.
Daytime cleansing can’t be skipped, either.
Why do you have to wash your face again if you went to bed with it clean?
As we just learned, overnight your skin recovers. Which means in the morning you have more dead skin cells to slough off. And more excess sebum to emulsify. These can’t be rinsed away with mere water.
A final reason to wash your face? Soaking skin is an important first step to making sure your moisturizer works. Moisturizers are like Saran wrap for your skin—they lock in dampness to keep you hydrated and glowing. But first, you need to give them moisture to lock in!
What kind of wash should you choose?
If you have dry skin that feels taut and deposits flakes when a piece of tape is pressed against it, seek out creamy moisture-rich cleansers with soothing plant extracts like seaweed. Oily or acne-prone? Use a wash with exfoliating fruit extracts (papaya, grapefruit) or salicylic acid daily, and slough dead skin cells with a gentle scrub twice a week. If your skin is sensitive with patches of redness, look for a natural cleansing oil or non-lathering face wash void of dyes and perfumes.
2. Find Balance With Toner
Toners are often misunderstood since their function has shifted throughout the years. Back when ladies would remove their daily face with thick potions such as cold creams, toners would complete the cleansing of the skin by removing any film that lingered around after. Unfortunately, for their reputation, toners were often effective due to harsh astringents or alcohols.
But, today’s toner has changed! Most are water-based liquids composed of specific active ingredients, including plant extracts and essential oils, tailored to address a variety of skin types.
Depending on which kind of cleanser you use to wash your face, toners can provide a couple of different benefits. If you use a bar soap or strong acne-fighting cleanser, toners help to restore your skin's pH balance—since those types of cleansers raise the skin's natural pH to a level that isn't good for your skin.
If you use a gentle, water-soluble cleanser, your skin's pH doesn't change appreciably. However, that doesn’t mean that toners don’t do an important duty.
That’s because even after the most gentle cleansing, your skin still needs a range of ingredients that restore and repair its surface. These include antioxidants and skin-repairing substances such as glycerin, fatty acids, and ceramides—all ingredients the right toner can deliver to keep you looking younger, fresher, and healthier throughout the day.
3. Don’t Forget That Moisturizing Matters
Unless you strive for facial skin that resembles a professor’s nubbly tweed elbow matches, never underestimate the power of moisturizer.
Moisturizers are made to hold water in the skin—most do so with a mix of humectants and emollients. Humectants, such as urea, glycerin, and alpha hydroxy acids, work by absorbing water from the air around you. Emollients, such as lanolin, mineral oil or petrolatum, fill in spaces between skin cells to smooth the appearance of rough skin.
No matter whether your skin type is dry, oily or sensitive, you shouldn't skip the moisturizing step in your skincare routine. Leaving it out might quickly cause redness or flaking, and in time, it can allow wrinkles and other aging signs to show up on your skin earlier than they otherwise might. Also, if you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, moisturizing regularly might help ease some of the irritation.
Look for different moisturizers for different parts of your day.
A good sunscreen is important for sun protection as well as protection against moisture loss, so look for a morning moisturizer with at least SPF 15. And, don’t forget that the sun shines all year long! Just because it’s below zero doesn’t mean you can skip sun protection.
Like we explained up top, nighttime is when skin does the bulk of its repairing, restoring, and regenerating while we sleep—so night creams are focused on moisture and recovery. They contain the most powerful, slow-absorbing moisturizers that are designed to penetrate over the course of several hours.
See Also: Making the Most Out of Your Moisturizer
Plus, since there’s little to no concern about sun exposure, they also contain the highest concentrations of anti-aging compounds ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid, which are able to do their work without interference from sunscreens.
Look for a nighttime moisturizer that is more emollient by checking for Vitamins A and C—both of which help skin replenish.
4. Keep an Eye Out for Anti-Aging Eye Creams
Whether or not to invest in an eye cream is a hot topic. We’ve previously reported that many beauty experts consider the extra step unnecessary, and a regular moisturizer will do.
Related: Stop Wasting Your Skincare Products
However, the skin composing the lower eyelid is significantly thinner than the rest of the face and is much more sensitive to topical products. While moisturizers can be used around the eye area, they may cause stinging or burning. The benefit of a cream specifically formulated for the eye area is that it will be milder, free of fragrances, and overall less irritating than a typical moisturizer.
With so many on the market, what to look for in an eye cream?
This is the perfect product to start incorporating anti-aging ingredients as early as possible. Check for hydrating hyaluronic acid, ceramides to help retain moisture, retinoids to promote new cell growth or regeneration, neuropeptides that increase the production of collagen and elastin production, vitamin C for collagen production, and vitamin E to nourish and soothe your skin.
5. (Gently) Scrub Away Your Skin’s Sins
Desquamation is the body’s natural process of exfoliation, or the shedding of dry, old, hardened skin cells so new cells can come to the surface.
However, as we age, our skin's natural ability to generate and shed skin cells slows down. In oily skin, desquamation can be slowed by the residue of sebum that glues dead cells to the skin’s surface. Without some extra exfoliation, dead cells can continue to cling to the topmost layers of your skin for up to a month, dulling your complexion and clogging pores.
Not only does weekly exfoliation stimulate the outer dermal layers to regenerate more quickly, but you also get the instant gratification of a smoother, more even-toned complexion.
There are two types of exfoliants: manual and chemical. Manual exfoliants includes scrubs and microbeads, while the alternative depends on AHAs, such as lactic acid to gently dissolve the shingle-like outer layers of dead skin cells.
For a budget-scrub, run a washcloth under warm water, and then wring it out and apply it to your face for 20-30 seconds. After allowing the warmth to open your pores, gently clean your face with small, circular motions—the soft nubs will gently slough away any dead skin.
6. Facial Masks Reveal Healthier Skin
Face masks are an excellent way to maintain beautiful skin—we recommend indulging in one at least once a week. But did you know there are some tricks to getting the most out of what one has to offer? Here are some tips for your next at-home facial:
- Figure out which mask you need: Face masks come in many varieties and forms, all of which cater to varying types of skin. If you’re not sure which face mask your skin would most benefit from, try visiting your local skin esthetician for a skin assessment.
- Steam is key: Steaming your face beforehand will open up your pores and soften the debris within your pores, making it easier for the dirt and oil to leave your skin.
- Don’t forget the neck: Your neck and décolletage are just as important as your face, so don’t neglect your neck when applying a face mask.
- Don’t wait for clay to dry: If you’re using a clay mask, don’t wait for it to completely dry before wiping it off. If you wait for the mask to get dry and flaky, the mask can actually start to draw moisture from your skin, which can cause irritation.
- Avoid over moisturizing: If you end up leaving a face mask on for too long, your instinct may be to lather on the moisturizer, but try not to do that. On fresh and clean skin, too much moisturizer may end up suffocating your pores, so just put on your standard amount.
- Sheet masks are similar to serums: Unlike other cream and clay masks, you can leave sheet masks on for as long as you’d like. Once you remove the mask, keep the remaining serum on your skin and let your face reap the benefits.
- Patch test: If you have very sensitive skin, try out the mask before applying it to your face by doing a small patch test first. This way, you know whether or not your skin is going to react negatively to the mask.
7. Avoid Powder Makeup
Powder is fine for reducing shine on the nose and the chin, but on other parts of the face, it exaggerates wrinkles and sucks out moisture—making skin look prematurely dry. In fact, some professional makeup artists suggest that women over 40 avoid the old standby altogether.
No matter your age, one unbreakable rule applies: Avoid powdering your eye area completely, lest you unnecessarily dry out and crinkle your delicate lids.
8. Treat Your Skin Gently
Much like it’s easier to care for a garment instead of repairing it, the same goes for your skin.
Wash your face as if it were made of silk fabric; using a gentle, circular motion, sweep cleanser upward from your neck and décolleté rather than vigorously rubbing and pulling. Applying too much pressure can yield a temporary rosy glow but can damage capillaries and stretch out skin in the long run.
9. Don’t Forget Your Neck, Hands & Lips
Quick! What’s one of the most used but least cared for parts of our bodies? So many of us spend large chunks of time and money on our hair and face but forget about our hands. However, when it comes to hiding age, hands can be one of the most revealing parts of the body, especially if they’re continuously neglected.
That goes double for your neck. After all, what good is an ageless complexion if it’s starkly contrasted against sun-damaged or dry skin?
As you start to incorporate the above steps into your regular routine, don’t forget that your face isn’t the only area that shows aging—and that neck, hands, and lips deserve equal care.
10. Finally, Don’t Forget That You Are What You Eat
It’s always been said that youth is wasted on the young, but the same could likely be said for skin-saving estrogen. Estrogen keeps skin supple, but declines over age—its decline is what makes additional hydration essential for a youthful appearance.
While you can’t turn back the clock, you can start to supplement the loss of natural estrogen with plant estrogens, rich in green veggies like broccoli. These also contain glow-getting antioxidants like vitamins A and C.
And, don’t forget those other must-have foods for healthy skin: omega-3 fatty acids. These "good fats" have recently been credited with increasing heart health as well as helping your skin look healthier. The foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids? Topping the list are seafoods (especially tuna and salmon), walnuts, canola oil, and flax seeds.
Finally, more than concentrating on just those few vitamins and fats, remember this: Before you spend on a skin product that promises to nourish your skin from the top down, take a look at your overall diet to ensure that you’re first feeding your skin from within.
Helping Your Skin Look Its Best Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Skin care has advanced by leaps and bounds over the several decades, giving consumers the chance to choose from oodles of well-formulated products. While none are magic potions that can turn back time, many really can treat even the most stubborn skin issues, from acne to dark spots, wrinkles, rosacea, uneven skin tone, blackheads, large pores, dry skin, oily skin, and, to a minor extent, even sagging skin.
However, no single product—or slough of them—can work to your skin’s best advantage unless used consistently. And remember, not even the best products can take the place of a healthy lifestyle that includes the above-mentioned balanced diet, a solid eight hours of sleep each night, and circulation-improving exercise for a glow that beats what you’ll get from any bottle.
More on Skincare:
- Is This Stuff Working? A Look at Anti-Aging Creams
- How to Find the Perfect Face Mask for Your Skin
- 19 Cardinal Rules for Wrinkle Prevention
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