Considering factors like changing seasons, shifting diets, spikes in stress, and natural aging, it might seem impossible to achieve skin that’s perfectly balanced, clear, dewy, and not too oily or dry.
To help you avoid confusion and put your best face forward, we’ve compiled the most important steps in any comprehensive skincare plan.
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1. Start and End Each Day with Clean Skin
Ever wondered whether or not washing your face is a skippable step? As it turns out, cleansing twice a day could be essential for looking younger, longer. Why?
While your work might begin in the morning, your skin is tasked with repairing the day’s wear and tear 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. And there’s some evidence linking circadian clocks to cell division 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 it looking dull.
Plus, although it’s an extreme example and extraordinarily uncommon according to dermatologists, going a long time without washing can lead to permanently enlarged pores.
Consider that excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells, and pollution is 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.
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 cleaning 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, your skin recovers overnight. This 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 for making sure your moisturizer works.
Dermatologist Ranella Hirsch explains, “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 press a piece of tape against your face and remove it, does it pull away flakes? With dry, taut skin like this, plant extracts like seaweed can work wonders for adding moisture and delivering a soothing sensation.
On the other hand, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for washes that contain salicylic acid and/or fruit extracts of papaya and grapefruit. Used twice per week, they can help exfoliate dead cells from the surface of your skin.
What about sensitive, red, or otherwise patchy skin? Stick with cleansing oils or non-lathering face washes that are as natural as possible, without dyes or fragrances.
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 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 gentlest cleansing, your skin still needs a variety of ingredients that aid in its repair and restoration.
According to Bryan Barron, skincare expert and co-author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, these “include antioxidants and skin-repairing substances such as glycerin, fatty acids, and ceramides”—all of which the appropriate 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.
The Mayo Clinic reports that moisturizers are made to hold water in the skin, which most accomplish using a mix of humectants and emollients.
Humectants, they explain, such as urea, glycerin, and alpha hydroxy acids, “work by absorbing water from the air around you.”
Emollients, on the other hand, 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 lead to redness or flaking, and over time, it can even cause signs of aging—like wrinkles—to appear prematurely.
Furthermore, moisturizing regularly could help reduce irritation related to sensitive skin or other skin conditions.
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.
Also, as Gwendolen Fairfax reports for More.com, “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.”
Plus, she continues explaining, “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.
However, plastic surgeon Dr. Marck Malek emphasizes that “the skin composing the lower eyelid is significantly thinner than the rest of the face and is much more sensitive to topical products.
“Moisturizers can be used around the eye area, but they may cause stinging or burning. The benefit of a cream specifically formulated for the eye area is that it will be less irritating than a typical moisturizer.”
With so many eye creams available, Dr. Malek recommends narrowing your options by considering those with hydrating hyaluronic acid, ceramides to help retain moisture, retinoids to regenerate old cells and promote the growth of new ones, neuropeptides that boost collagen (vitamin C also accomplishes this) and elastin production, and vitamin E to nourish and soothe your skin.
» For Further Reading: Do Anti-Aging Wrinkle Creams Really Work and Are They Worth the Money?
5. Gently Scrub Away Your Skin’s Sins
Dictionary.com defines desquamation as “to peel or come off in scales;” a term often used when referring to certain skin diseases, but one that can also describe how the body naturally sheds dry, old, hardened skin cells and replaces them with fresh, new cells.
However, as we get older, our skin's natural ability to accomplish this 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 include 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:
Figuring out your needs: Face masks come in a wide variety of forms, all of which cater to different skin types, so it can be difficult to know where to start. A quick skin assessment with an esthetician can work wonders for pointing you in the right direction.
The importance of steam: Applying steam to your face before using a mask will help create the ideal circumstances for removing dirt, oil, and other debris from your pores.
Don’t neglect your neck: The skin on your neck and décolletage are equally as important as the skin on your face. Go ahead and apply a mask to these areas as well.
Don’t over-dry your skin with clay: Once a clay mask dries, it can begin drawing moisture away from your skin and lead to irritation, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Be sure to wipe it off before this occurs.
Only standard moisturizing, please: Applying excessive moisturizer to fresh, clean skin following a face mask can deprive pores of the oxygen they need.
Leave sheet masks on for as long as you’d like: Then, keep the serum on your skin after removing the mask to optimize any potential benefits.
Try before you apply: Patch testing a small area can help you discern the likelihood of any negative reactions. This is especially important if you have very sensitive skin.
7. Avoid Powder Makeup
The 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.
Instead of rubbing too vigorously and pulling your skin unnecessarily, which can cause meaningful damage to capillaries and stretch the skin, treat your skin as if you were handling silk fabric by gently sweeping cleanser upward from your neck.
9. Don’t Forget Your Neck, Hands, and 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 the 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.
» For Further Reading: Best Anti-Aging Creams for Hands Buying Guide
10. 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 as we age, which 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, which is 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 is seafood (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 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.
» For Further Reading: Best Foods for Healthy, Clear, Glowing Skin Recommended by Experts
Taking Care of Your Skin Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Skincare has advanced by leaps and bounds over 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 a 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:
- Top 5 Causes of Premature Aging, What to Avoid & Treatments That Work
- Best Natural Treatments and Home Remedies for Under Eye Bags
- 19 Cardinal Rules for Wrinkle Prevention