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How to build a skin care routine

Published: March 21, 2023

Written by: Rachel Zoldan

Young woman with clear, freckled skin, smiling.

What's a must-have and what's a nice-to-have when it comes to tender, loving care for your skin? Three doctors help guide you to a choice that fits your unique needs.

With so many skin care products available, it’s hard to know which ones you need for your particular skin. After all, what is a good skin care routine for you? For guidance, we assembled a panel of three doctors and asked about the skin care products they feel are essential and which are only nice-to-haves.

The decision is up to you, of course, depending on your skin goals, preferences and budget - not to mention your individual health needs and restrictions. (As always, consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.) We consulted with three dermatologists: Michele Farber, MD, in Philadelphia; Hadley King, MD, in New York City; and Joshua Zeichner, MD, in New York City.

En este artículo:

How to choose a face cleanser

For this panel, it’s unanimous: If you can use one product, a face cleanser should be the staple of a good skin care routine. "It's important to wash makeup, sunscreen, oil and debris off of the skin every day," says Dr. Farber. "A hydrating cleanser with active ingredients, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, is best for dry or sensitive skin, while foaming cleansers - or ones with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide - are helpful for acneic skin."

If you’re prone to dryness, try a gentle cleanser, such as La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser, which contains the aforementioned ceramides, or consider a daily facial cleanser help minimize the appearance of pores. An oil cleanser can also help nourish dry skin. Those susceptible to breakouts, on the other hand, may benefit from an acne cleanser for oily skin with salicylic acid, which is a chemical exfoliant that can help clear clogged pores.

If you use makeup, Dr. Farber also suggests bolstering your nighttime routine by adding in a micellar water to do a first sweep at removing the makeup from your skin. (Micellar water uses micelles, which are tiny clusters of molecules that gently lift away grime, debris and makeup - even waterproof formulas.)

How to choose a moisturizer

Our panel of dermatologists agreed that a daily hidratante is a must-have for most people's daily routines. And the reason is straightforward: "It's important to hydrate the skin, support the skin barrier and lock in moisture," explains Dr. King.

The type of moisturizer you choose should be tailored to your individual skin type. "Choosing a lotion for oily skin is ideal, while thicker cream formulations are good for dry skin," says Dr. Farber. And if your skin is on the sensitive spectrum, she recommends opting for a fragrance-free formula to potentially avoid any irritation.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Matte Face Moisturizer has a mattifying effect to potentially reduce shine, making it ideal for oily types. For those prone to breakouts, try a moisturizer that is noncomedogenic (meaning it typically won’t clog pores) and infused with salicylic acid, which may help to unblock pores.

How to choose a sunscreen

This won't come as a surprise, but it bears repeating: "UV radiation is the number one factor contributing to skin cancer risk and premature aging of the skin, and much of the UV radiation we are subjected to is from daily incidental exposure," says Dr. King. "So, practicing sun-smart behaviors - including applying sunscreen - is important on an everyday basis." Clearly, it's one of those skin care routine steps that shouldn't be skipped before going outside.

It helps to have a formula you enjoy wearing, and one that's designed for your skin type. Those prone to oily skin, for instance, might want to try Cetaphil Daily Oil-Free Facial Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen, because it’s oil free, while others dealing with dryness may prefer a moisturizer with sunscreen that contains ceramides.

If you already have signs of sun damage, such as lines, wrinkles and dark spots, consider a face sunscreen lotion that pairs sun protection with antioxidants (which can help to repair skin). 

How to choose an exfoliant

Exfoliants are excellent to use after a good cleansing, which is why facial exfoliants fall in the helpful bucket, according to our panel. "It's good to exfoliate to get rid of excess debris on the skin," says Dr. Farber. That said, she notes that exfoliation can lead to dry skin if used in combination with additional exfoliating ingredients, such as retinoids. Look for scrubs that use only fine particles to buff away dead skin, such as La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Face Scrub.

Another option is a leave-on exfoliating treatment for your nighttime skin care routine, which contains a blend of chemical exfoliants that gently dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together. For dealing with dark spots and uneven skin tone, try a dark spot corrector.

Dr. King agrees that while gentle exfoliation is important in a skin care routine, it can also be achieved with a warm, wet washcloth — so a specific exfoliating product isn’t always necessary.

How to choose a daily eye cream

Eye creams are specifically formulated for the delicate area of your skin, says Dr. King. However, she also notes that a facial moisturizer can absolutely do double duty as your eye cream.

"The only time you really should be using a specialized eye cream is when you are trying to target a particular issue with a specific active ingredient," adds Dr. Zeichner. One such ingredient? Retinoids, which can help smooth and firm skin around the eye area (and which, Dr. Farber notes, should only be used at night).

Also beneficial for the eye area are ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which may provide moisture. Another option is to choose an eye cream for sensitive skin.

How to choose a serum

For a more targeted treatment, consider trying a face serum. "Serums are your workhorses," says Dr. Zeichner. "They get a specific job done, depending on what type of product you are using and what your skin needs are."

Dr. Farber is partial to two essential active ingredients when it comes to nailing down your routine: vitamin C,* which is an antioxidant, and retinoids. "Antioxidant serums help protect in the morning, and retinoids may help regenerate skin overnight," she says. Another good bet is hyaluronic acid, which may help hydrate skin.

En algunos face serums, hyaluronic acid is paired with ceramides. The hyaluronic acid draws water into the skin, while the ceramides fortify the skin's protective barrier to better retain it. Meanwhile, La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Face Serum uses hyaluronic acid to plump skin and smooth fine lines.

Este contenido es solo para fines informativos y no constituye un asesoramiento médico. Consulte con su proveedor de cuidado de la salud antes de tomar alguna vitamina o suplemento y antes de comenzar o cambiar alguna práctica relacionada con el cuidado de su salud.

*FOR VITAMIN C: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Estos productos no están hechos para diagnosticar, tratar, curar ni prevenir ninguna enfermedad.