Welcome to my first post in my series, “Evaluating Your Routine.”
If you’ve ever eagerly picked up a new skincare product and slathered it on, only to be greeted with a skin reaction (allergic or acne), this series is for you. In each post, I’ll be breaking down a step within the classic skincare routine and helping you evaluate your current routine so you can make changes where it may be best rather than scrapping everything all at once.
Most people already have a routine, even if it begins and ends with cleansing their skin in the shower. Just because your routine is not expensive or ten steps does not mean it is bad. However, since you are here, I can assume that you would like to change something about your skin (and thus your routine). Much of these changes will come with time and individual experimentation, but having a solid foundation will make this process easier.
A Note on Patch Testing
I know, I know. I’m no fun at parties. However, if you have allergies or sensitive skin, this will be critical. I’ve used serums from a well-trusted brand only to wake up to hives all over my face. I’ve used Korean beauty favorites only to end up with breakouts so swollen and extreme that my right eye was nearly swelled shut by my puffy eyebrow. Ever since, I’ve used new products on only one temple for the first week.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve never patch tested a product before, or you’re asking the screen, “But what is patch testing?”, let me explain. Patch testing means taking a small amount of the product and applying it to a portion of your skin that is typically reactive but otherwise hidden from view. For instance, when testing people for allergies, the allergens are usually applied all over the subject’s back. When patch testing a new makeup product or facial skincare product, consider testing on your forearm for allergic reactions first, and then a portion of your face that is not usually affected by hormonal or stress breakouts. For me, this is my temples. Apply a small amount of product to this location once a day (or twice, if this is how you’d normally use the product) and see how your skin reacts over the next couple days. I’ve used photos on my phone to track this so I know if it is causing something less visible than simply enormous breakouts.
Where To Begin
It’s tempting to throw everything you have into the trash and buy a bunch of new things at the latest Sephora sale, but this is completely unnecessary to get started. It’s possible to identify the holes in your routine by asking yourself some questions.
- What does your skin feel like after you cleanse? Does it feel dry – parched and tender? Does it feel dry but quickly become oily? In my experience, this is usually a cleanser issue. It’s generally recommended that everyone should use “creamy” cleansers (these are usually cleansers that do not suds due to lacking the sudsing ingredients of sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate), and are advertised as “gentle,” “hydrating,” and “creamy”), and there are more options than ever within this category, from CeraVe to Skin Laundry. However, if you find that creamier cleansers give you problems, you may need something that is a bit more translucent in appearance (meaning less moisturizing agents). These can be a bit tougher to find that fit within the usually-strict guidelines of no SLS/SLES (sodium lauryl sulfate or it’s gentler cousin, sodium laureth sulfate), so I usually advise people to experiment with what works. For me, this is Paula’s Choice Hydralight Cleanser, but there are also options like La Roche Posay Effaclar or Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser.
- What does your skin feel like after you moisturize? Does it still feel parched? Does it burn? Does it feel tingly? Does it get very red and not return to a more normalized flush after a few minutes? This is usually due to an incompatible moisturizer.
There are several reasons this may happen. Most often than not, it is due to too many irritants or too few of the ingredients your skin needs.
Common irritants include fragrance (or perfum), alcohol (or alcohol SD-40 – not to be confused with ingredients like cetyl alcohol, which are technically “fatty alcohols” — something I’ll get into in another post), menthol or camphor (cold and “tingly” feeling ingredients), clove extract, essential oils, or citrus oils. Of course nothing is ever truly hypoallergenic or non-irritating, and you may have problems with otherwise “good” ingredients, but starting by ruling out common irritants is a good place to start.
If your skin feels dry after moisturizing, your moisturizer may contain too few of the ingredients your skin needs, such as good fats and oils. Try using a heavier moisturizer (such as a cream instead of a lotion). If you’ve already done this but your skin is still thirsting for moisture, try sleeping with a humidifier near your bed and using an occlusive (water-trapping ingredient), such as Vaseline, on your driest areas at night.
- What does your skin texture look like? Do you get acne, small red bumps, or red patches? Skin conditions and texture can be genetic, but sometimes it can be due to exfoliating habits. When you cleanse, are you scrubbing your face with a washcloth, facial scrub brush, sponge, scrub, or Clarisonic? Scrubbing and rubbing can be very irritating to some skin types. Try dropping these cleansing tools and/or products for a couple weeks, using only your hands to cleanse. Watch how your skin reacts. If it begins to improve, you can try slowly re-introducing these cleansing and exfoliating tools. You could also try a chemical exfoliant (something that, again, I’ll get into in another post) and ditch physical exfoliation all together.
- Does your skin look dull? If you have skin that is dull in appearance, it is usually due to not enough exfoliation or lack of antioxidants. This is generally a more “advanced” solve that I’ll help you tackle later.
- Do you have unwanted freckling, dark spots, or irritation only on the driving side of your face? This is usually due to the lack of sunscreen, or using an inadequate sunscreen. There are a lot of things to consider when buying a sunscreen, but a general rule of thumb is to make sure you’re applying a full 1/4 teaspoon of the product to your face to receive the coverage listed on the bottle and to wear a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or above.
A Basic Routine
Now I know you’re probably wondering, “What is a basic routine then? What should I be doing?” This is highly individual, but generally, you should be using a cleanser that can remove whatever you wear during the day (two cleansers for makeup, one for day-to-day products like moisturizer and sunscreen), a moisturizer that seals in the moisture of your skin, and a sunscreen during the day (yes, seriously – skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, outnumbering all other forms of cancer combined, and sun damage can seriously wreak havoc on how skin looks and functions). Your AM/PM skin routine should look something like this:
Once you have a small number of products that work for you, you can begin experimenting and building upon your routine.