I mentioned once before that we are in the Age of Skincare in the beauty world, and with it comes many self-proclaimed experts. Rather, sometimes, people confuse enthusiasts, like me, with an expert, which can lead to all sorts of problems.
But what I’ve really noticed, from following such experts and enthusiasts, it’s this – A skincare routine is now made out to be far more complicated than it used to be.
But it doesn’t have to be.
I’m not saying of course, that the original 3-step skincare routine popularized by Clinique should be the way to go. While those 3 steps form the basic pillars of a skincare routine, I do believe that they can be supplemented and further strengthened by additional pillars.
I just don’t believe that you have to think so hard about it, nor believe that a complicated, multi-product, multi-layered skincare routine will be the best thing for your skin :P
I personally believe that brands aren’t helping us traverse this jungle that is skincare. Some brands take on such a hippy approach, with their essential oils and whimsical packaging and designs. Others take a hardline scientific approach, blinding and confusing us with scientific names of ingredients.
Knowledge is a good thing. But too much knowledge can be dangerous and this is where I believe the issue is. When first dipping your toes into this mysterious world of beauty products, it is normal to want to read up on everything, and to try everything. Is the 14-step skincare routine trendy? Let’s do it! Is this new brand of skincare cheap and effective? Let’s have a go! Does beauty guru X use 15 items in her skincare routine? I want to do that too!
But you see, skincare is not complicated and it does not have to be complicated. You just have to bear a few key points in mind.
Know your own skin
Before you even start that 15-product skincare routine, think for a minute. Do you have dry skin? Do you have oily skin? What is the skin type of the beauty guru you idolize? Does she have the same skin type? Does she live in the same country or have the same climate as you?
What so many people fail to tell you, is that you MUST know your own skin first before you can proceed. Is there a product that makes your skin feel better or look better? Is there an ingredient that you find irritating? Everyone loves cleansing oils, but does it make your skin feel dry?
Remember that we are all individuals. We all have different skin types and preferences and budgets. Always work within your restrictions. A 15-step routine may be a blessing in a cold, dry climate. In a hot, tropical climate, it could well be far too heavy for your skin. Facial oils are a boon for dry skin, or in a dry climate. If you have oily skin, it can feel uncomfortable. Without knowing your limitations, and being aware of your own skin and surroundings, you will always find skincare a complicated affair. It will seem like nothing works. Yet, all it takes is just a little bit of thought :)
The 6 Pillars of skincare
To me, there are 6 key pillars of skincare that you should consider having in your skincare routine. This technically means you only really need 6, or maybe 7 products in your routine. Let me explain :)
Skincare Pillar #1: Cleanse
Cleansing is important. In the evening, it helps remove the grime of the day, and if you use it, your makeup. Your skincare can only work properly on well-cleansed skin, so this step is not to be looked at lightly. In the morning, I know of those who don’t use a cleanser nor even wash your face – that is your choice. I personally think you should :)
First, pick a cleanser that is gentle and non-drying. For those who share my drier skin type, or who have sensitive skin I suggest using milk or cream cleansers as they are less stripping to dry and sensitive skin. But for those who prefer a foaming type cleanser, or those with oily or combination skin types, pick one that does not strip the skin. Remember, you do not need your skin to feel squeaky clean after you wash. If it does, it’s likely stripped.
Next, pick a cleansing oil or cleansing balm, or if you aren’t sure, here’s some guidelines on which to pick. This is for your evening routine, when a double cleanse is a good idea. Do note that if you don’t use makeup, you should still double cleanse. This first cleanse, usually with an oil based cleanser (balms are oil based, just richer), helps deep cleanse your skin and remove grime, dirt, makeup, sunscreen, and the like more easily. The second cleanse will be the cleanser you first picked. Double cleansing is nothing new to me, having learnt about it way back before I started blogging (first shared it here) and it has been a foundation of Japanese brand skincare routines for years. They make some of the best, affordable cleansing oils in the market!
The reason I suggest you pick a gentle cleanser first, is because you can use the same cleanser in your morning and evening routine, thereby saving you one product.
Skincare Pillar #2 : Tone
A while ago, I said on the blog that I didn’t believe in using a toner. But that was back when toners were not well explained, and were alcohol-filled, drying lotions. Today, I do believe in using a toner, but sparingly, depending on your skin type.
All skin types can benefit from using a toning lotion that contains AHAs and/or BHAs. These help expedite skin cell turnover so your skin renews itself more quickly, and also helps clean your pores. This can help your pores look smaller, and your skin look more refined. However, I will caution against using these acid based toners too often, as they can potentially dry out your skin. Also remember, that unless recommended by a dermatologist, very high percentages of acids isn’t necessarily better for your skin. Sometimes, it is better to use something milder, but more often.
I suggest using this as part of your night time skincare routine, and skip it in the day. Not only does it shorten your morning routine, it also prevents your skin from drying out too much (granted, based on personal experience). These days, there are decent products to suit most budgets. Go for Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 if you can afford it. But if it’s out of reach, consider the Pixi Glow Tonic or even the Hada Labo Mild Peeling Lotion with AHA and BHA.
Skincare Pillar #3 : Hydrate
If you can afford it, get a facial mist and a hydrating lotion in your routine. If you can’t, include either one into your routine. If you get one like the Mamonde Rose Floral Water, you can use it as a lotion, and decant some into a spritz bottle to use as a mist. It’s still one product! :)
The reason I say this is a pillar of a skincare routine is because hydration is often overlooked, in the quest to treat skin problems. Yet, personal experience has taught me that well hydrated and moisturised skin will practically heal itself, and it will look better. This is true of all skin types. Hydration can help oily skin balance itself better so it isn’t dehydrated, and dry skin will naturally benefit from more hydration. I even find that my pigmentation problems look less noticeable when my skin is well hydrated and moisturised.
Once you get your hydration product, learn to layer it like a moisture sandwich. You don’t need the 7-skin technique or even the 3-skin technique, modified or not. That to me, is overkill. What you need to do, is to layer your hydration under every layer of skincare that you apply. You can use multiple products for this purpose, or you can use just the one facial mist or hydrating lotion.
Skincare Pillar #4 : Treat
The next thing you should consider is a product to treat your skin. This naturally may increase as you age or have different skin issues. But if budget is a problem, just get the one treatment product that you can use both day and night.
“Treatment” here refers to a serum, which usually has a higher concentration of active ingredients. This is why it is more expensive. There are some brands that are more affordable. Work within your budget for what you need.
There are a few treatment or serum options in this category that you can consider. This list may or may not be exhaustive, as I may not be aware of every product/ingredient/category in the market.
- Hydration – get a serum with hyaluronic acid, and be sure you apply it properly
- Brightening – consider a product with Vitamin C for general skin brightening and clarity and overall skin health. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and can help protect skin from environmental aggressors
- Whitening – not politically correct, but I know people want products that actually make their skin look lighter or to fade dark spots. Consider a product with kojic acid, alpha arbutin, mulberry or gluthatione. If you want anything stronger, see a dermatologist because you will never get anything super effective over the counter. But if you’re using a whitening product, always amp up your hydration because they can be drying
- Pimples, spots or acne – For serious cases, it is best to see a doctor. But if you want to try skincare products anyway, consider products that contain salicylic acid, AHAs (glycolic or lactic acid), benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, retinoids e.g tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene
- Fine lines and wrinkles (aging) – This is a general catch all category, but some ingredients you could look out for are retinoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, AHAs, BHAs, PHA, Coenzyme Q10, peptides and/or Niacinamide. Most serums targeted at anti-aging usually contain a combination of ingredients
I like to separate my skincare routine into two halves, so I use different treatment products day and night. In the day, I focus on hydration and brightening so I go for products that contain hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C. At night, I focus on anti-aging and use the necessary products. Remember that products containing retinoids or retinol should always be used at night as they can make skin sensitive to the sun and UV rays. Always wear a good sunscreen.
If budget is a concern, get one serum that you can use both day and night. If you want hydration, there are now many inexpensive hyaluronic acid based lotions and serums in the market. If you use the moisture sandwich method and layer your product, you can actually significantly boost your hydration levels, without even using a serum – just a lotion, and you can then focus on a different skin concern :)
Skincare Pillar #5 : Moisture
This is where I’d put your facial oils and moisturisers. You could use both, or if you feel it’s sufficient, either. I treat a moisturiser as a sealant, sealing in the goodness of all those layers of skincare that you have just applied. It can be infused with treatment ingredients, or it can be just a basic moisturiser. To me, it doesn’t quite matter :P
Remember that your skin epidermis is very thin, just about 0.1mm. If you saturate all that with lotion as in the 7-skin technique, there is very little more that the skin can absorb. This is why I suggest layering your lotions between the other key pillars of skincare for better results.
Moisturiser seals all that in, so pick one that suits your budget. In fact, it does not even have to be very expensive, as long as it feels comfortable. I have tried moisturisers that are affordable for most, and even those that cost an arm, leg and kidney. I’ll tell you that from my experience, it doesn’t matter, because what they’re supposed to do is deliver moisture to your skin, and seal in the rest of your skincare. I’d spend the bulk of my money on the Treatment step, and save here.
That said, despite advice to the contrary, I’d say to use a moisturiser, to prevent all that hydration you so painstakingly put into your skin from dissipating quickly. The moisturiser, being heavier in texture generally, holds it in, to give it time to absorb and work. I know that sometimes, a serum can feel heavy, or sufficient but I don’t think it is. Still, you’re entitled to your opinion, and if that works for your skin, then go with it. See Point #1 above :)
Skincare Pillar #6 : Sunscreen
If you truly care for your skin, then this step is non-negotiable. I often see people with large followings say that they don’t use sunscreen, or that they just rely on their creams with SPF, or they don’t even encourage the use of sunscreen. That truly pains me :P
There is no point using all your expensive lotions, serums and cream and then forgoing sunscreen. UV rays are omnipresent, and they will damage your skin. You are not stronger than the sun, so don’t even try :P
Remember, sunscreen is not makeup. It is skincare. Your primer or foundation or BB cream with SPF does not take the place of a proper sunscreen. Your cream that contains SPF does not take the place of sunscreen.
I personally use SPF50+ everyday, rain or shine, summer or winter. If you think that’s too much, then consider SPF30 maybe in winter, and scale up to an SPF50 in summer. If you live in high altitudes, the UV rays have a shorter distance to travel to damage your skin. So you can get UV damage even though it feels like you don’t get a lot of sun. When I was in Tibet, which is situated at a high altitude, we were advised to wear and reapply our sunscreen often. Those who didn’t bother, experienced sunburn even though it was cold. I really did want to say “I told you so” then :P I sometimes feel that the term “sunscreen” is a bit of a misnomer. If they call it “UV Protection”, I think it would be better received, especially by those who don’t see much of the sun at some times of the year.
There are so many sunscreen brands in the market today that it is easy to pick one that will work for you. My preference lies with the Japanese brands because I feel that they are the most elegantly formulated sunscreens in the market, and effective. There is one for every budget, so pick one, and be generous.
This is not the time to stint on product. Just because a product is lightweight does not mean you should use just a few drops. What you need is a generous amount, all over, for maximum UV protection. If you feel that eats into your skincare budget, then find a brand that doesn’t pinch your wallet so hard.
What about masks?
Well, I think they are absolutely lovely, and if you are diligent, they are effective. At present, they are also very in, so there are many brands with many different types of masks targeting different skin concerns in the market. But I will go out on a limb to say that I don’t consider them a skincare pillar. This is especially so if you’re on a budget.
If you have the budget for masks, then use them. They are a nice treat for your senses and your skin. But if you have budgetary concerns, I’d channel that money into one of the skincare pillars I’ve detailed above for a more long-term benefit for your skin.
I am, I repeat, not an expert, merely a skincare enthusiast. So, you may take what I say with a grain of salt, as I encourage you to. But I do think that these 6 skincare pillars should form the foundation of your skincare routine, and most products will slot easily into any of them. Ignore the trends and the catchwords floating around. If all that confuses you, go back to the basics – you will not go wrong then :)
To Recap: The 6 Pillars of Skincare
The 6 Pillars of skincare are Cleanse, Tone, Hydrate, Treat, Moisturise and Sunscreen (in the day). This is my suggested method for use, as I use them:
AM: Cleanse -> Tone (optional) -> Hydrate -> Treat -> Hydrate -> Moisturise -> Sunscreen
PM: First Cleanse -> Second Cleanse -> Tone -> Hydrate -> Treat -> Hydrate -> Moisturise
Did you find this helpful?
Remember, skincare does not have to be complicated. You just need to be able to build off the basic building blocks, to get something that works for your skin :)