With so many different products out there, choosing a routine that works for your skin can be confusing and overwhelming. So much so, that some of us don’t have a routine at all. I get it, but it’s not ok. In this time of Spring Cleaning, for those looking to streamline the process for a much simpler approach, let’s get down to the basics on the “must-haves” for a great skin care routine.

Step One: The Cleanser

Cleansing is by far the most important step in proper skin hygiene. It removes makeup, dirt and debris and allows for the products that follow to perform better. Look for low-foaming, gentle cleansers. Even oily skin types should steer clear of cleansers that offer that “squeaky clean” feeling. Typically the more lather, the more drying.  Cleansing should be done morning and at night.

Step Two: The Toner

Toners can be a little tricky because they are often misunderstood, thus underused. There are different types of toners that offer the following benefits:

  • They remove crap found in tap water. Some chemicals found in tap water can be very drying to the skin (hence the term “hard water”), a good toner will remove it.
  • They plump and hydrate skin with water.
  • They offer skin enhancements. Depending on the toner and its ingredients, they can calm, control oil, provide antioxidants, or destroy acne causing bacteria.

Any toner worth using should be alcohol-free. Any toner you use must be alcohol-free. I typed it twice because it’s that important. Alcohol dries out your skin and can reverse the awesome work you’ve already done. Also, because it’s suggested to use toner morning and evening – typically with highly absorbent cotton balls- you can run through the product fairly quickly. I typically transfer mine into a spray bottle and mist my skin and follow with a cotton round to avoid most of it being absorbed by the cotton. This practice is not OK for exfoliating toners! Some product lines have developed toning cloths to reduce product waste. I’m not that fancy yet.


Most of us can’t handle this in the morning.

Step Three: The Moisturizer & Protector

Research shows that the number one cause of wrinkles and premature aging in general is sun exposure. Unfortunately, most of that exposure is incidental – that sneaky exposure that happens when you don’t think you’re actually in the sun; while driving or just chilling at home or daydreaming next to the window at the office. Sunscreen should be worn every day. I am a big fan of moisturizers with sun protection already in them. Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as they offer superior broad spectrum protection while still being pretty lightweight. There are tons of great products available including mineral powders, setting sprays and Murad’s Invisiblur.

  • The Night Cream

At night, it’s essential to follow cleansing and toning with a moisturizer that does not contain sunscreen. This encourages skin repair while you sleep. Oiler skin types should look for “oil free” formulas. Drier skin types need extra nourishment, so look for formulas labeled specifically for dry skin.

Step Four: The Exfoliant

A facial exfoliant assists in the removal of dead, dry skin to allow better product penetration, soften skin (especially dry and/or flaky) and relieve clogged pores. Exfoliators can be used twice a week in the morning or evening. To save on time, I sometimes add my exfoliant (if using a scrub formula) to my cleanser. You want to avoid harsh scrubs (yes, like the apricot scrub we all grew up using that is now classified as witchcraft), seeds/shells that can scratch and irritate the skin and can assist in spreading bacteria. Chemical exfoliants are great and can be very beneficial to sensitive skin types.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that a good skin care routine does not have to complicate your day or require you to wake up two hours earlier. Assuring that your skin is properly cleansed, moisturized and protected with the proper products for your skin type (and condition) will lead to healthy, glowing skin.

Nia is a licensed esthetician, creator of @SkinByNia and the Skincare Editor of 1938. When she isn’t performing services, or researching and buying all things skin, she works in construction. Really.

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