Oftentimes, I get wrapped up in talking about new beauty or skincare products – wrapped up enough that I’ll forget: some people are still figuring out how to build a basic skincare routine.
No shame in starting from scratch, & no such thing as a dumb question…so, after a few requests, here’s a very simple routine/top shelfie that you can use for guidance. Let’s do it!
First, let me just make it clear: my skin type is dry/sensitive. Products that work really well for my skin type may not work as well for someone with oily or combo skin. It’s hard to accurately determine your skin type online – always best to go to a dermatologist – but if you can’t make it to one, try this skin type quiz by Soko Glam, an online K-Beauty retailer. Remember: online quizzes won’t give you the most accurate results, but they can be a good place to start.
With that in mind, let me outline a simple 3-step routine. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on your skin, but want to see some improvement, it’s a good place to start.
At the end of the day (or beginning), it really comes down to these three steps. Cleanse your face to refresh/remove dirt, oil, & other “bad stuff.” Tone to brighten, hydrate, & purify. Moisturize to keep your skin soft & hydrated all day or all night. Remember, even if you have oily skin, you should be moisturizing. Not moisturizing the skin can cause dehydration – dehydrated skin usually leads to micro-abrasions, which can let in bacteria. This leads to breakouts & acne. So – no matter what skin type you have, make sure you’re moisturizing!
Some of you might already know the three step routine, & that’s great – but you might not know when or how to use serums & oils. Here’s how the three step routine would look plus serums & oils. Remember: you don’t have to use serums or oils; they’re a great way to up your skin care game if you’re not completely happy with how your skin is looking or feeling, but they’re not the must-haves (in my opinion).
- Serums – if you’re using several, work your way from most “watery” to most “gel-like.” In my experience, watery serums will sink in faster & easier if you put them right after a toner. Gel-like serums take a little longer to sink in, so they could use a little extra time…after you’ve finished with the watery serum(s)
- Oil – just like with serums, work your way from most diluted to most rich. Any oil will have a different texture & consistency than a serum; that’s why they’re categorized differently
So that’s how you “up” your skin care game, if you’re already used to the three step method.
Without further ado, here are some of the products I use most often (as well as a few new ones). Almost all of them are under $30; there are two exceptions. Remember that you can get effective & affordable skin care products – these two qualities are not mutually exclusive!
Cleansers Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, CLĒ Cosmetics Oxygen Foam Cleanser
As you can see by the rather banged-up bottles, these are the two cleansers I reach for most often. Let’s start with Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, a product I’ve been using (& loving) for almost two years now. I love MJC because it’s such an effective non-foaming cleanser. Most foaming cleansers dry out my skin; Milky Jelly doesn’t lather up, but it does get rid of dirt & oil, just like any other cleanser would. The delicate floral scent is amazing, too. I like to use two pumps of it on dry skin in the morning, making sure to massage my face as I work the cleanser across my skin. It’s like a mini spa treatment – every single morning – & it only takes 2 minutes. I rinse off with luke-warm water, then move on to toner. Read my #MiniReview on Milky Jelly here!
As a bonus, here are some other options for non-foaming cleansers – for those of you who live in countries that Glossier doesn’t ship to, or for those of you who just aren’t interested in Milky Jelly:
- Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel
- Origins Original Skin™ Cleansing Makeup Removing Jelly with Willowherb
- Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Next up: CLĒ Cosmetics Oxygen Foam Cleanser: this is probably (okay, definitely) the only foaming cleanser I can use regularly without worrying about my skin drying out. I like to use this best in the evening – it does an amazing job of getting rid of any leftover makeup that my micellar water might have missed, & it’s admittedly very fun to use. When pushing down on the pump, a goopy substance similar in texture to Milky Jelly comes out (no scent!). Massage that over your face, & it quickly foams up. Leave on for 30-ish seconds, then wipe off with a damp towel, or rinse off with water (I prefer the latter). Most definitely the only foaming cleanser I can use without worrying about drying out my skin, even in the cold dry winter months. This cleanser is magic. Read my review of Oxygen Foam on CLĒ Cosmetic’s blog right here!
For a few years, I religiously used the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, & Rosewater – yup, the one that everyone used (& still uses). Although I’ve seen a lot of people complain about it online (not pure, makes them break out) I’ve never had an issue with it – I just eventually encountered options that were more my style. It took me a while to convert to “cotton pad toners,” as I like to call them (as opposed to a spray, like Mario Badescu) but the one that sold me was Thayers Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner. I got it at Target for $11 in October – & I’m still on my first bottle. The alcohol-free option is really nice if you have sensitive skin, & lavender is especially soothing on my skin, so I was really happy when I saw that this was one of the few options left on the shelf. Witch hazel is a natural astringent, so it clarifies the skin – but it also soothes & reduces any inflammation that might be present. Also in the formula: aloe vera, plain old water, & glycerin – all calming & soothing for the skin. If you’re hyper-sensitive, Thayers has a non-scented version of their toner. If you still prefer spritz toners to cotton pad toners, Thayers now has a lot of their toners in spray bottle packaging – check them out here. Read my #MiniReview of this toner here!
(Side note: When using a cotton pad toner, I use Shiseido cotton pads. I know, I know – fancy…but seriously, they’re worth it. Even better, they’re actually quite affordable if you do it my way: cut them in half! Use one half for your morning routine & the other half for your evening routine. This way, you cut the cost in half, & you still feel all the benefits of using the Shiseido Facial Cotton (these truly are a huge upgrade from drugstore cotton rounds…trust me). If you have sensitive skin & feel like a lot of cotton pads/rounds are scratchy on your skin, these are for you.
Another “toner” I’ve been incorporating into my routine: the latest from Glossier: Glossier Solution. This is the brand’s first release of 2018, & it’s been getting a lot of attention – it’s one of the first Glossier products that really focuses on clearing & brightening skin, as well as reducing acne/hormonal breakouts. Solution is a chemical exfoliant, meant to be used once a day in replacement of a toner. The AHA/BHA/PHA blend dissolves dead skin cells, brightens, softens, & refreshes skin, as well as reducing redness, acne, & breakouts. Read the full scoop here; first, though, let me say this: if you’re using Solution – or any other chemical exfoliant – wear sunscreen! When using any kind of chemical exfoliant (this one included) your skin is more sensitive to the sun. You should wear sunscreen no matter what, but if you’ve been guiltily ignoring that, it’s time to start protecting yourself – especially if you’re using a chemical exfoliant. I’ll give you some of my favorite options in a moment. Stay tuned.
Finally – I mentioned that my first toner was a spritzer (by Mario Badescu). Here’s one that I’ve revisited & been really loving lately: the Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin. Think of it as the Mario Badescu Facial Spray…but make it purer. There are three ingredients in this: purified water, pure rose oil, & natural vegetable glycerin. If you’re worried about a cloying scent, worry no more. This has a very delicate, floral scent – similar to that of Glossier Milky Jelly. It’s described as “multi-purpose,” because it is. Use it for your hair, use it as a toner, use it as a setting spray, use it as a refresher when 3 pm hits & you still have a few hours to go (but your skin isn’t feeling it) – face, body, hair…go ham. Just don’t drink it. I haven’t used this for a minute, but I’ve been revisiting it – & I’ve appreciated it as a toner, a refresher, & a setting spray this past month. Oh – & it’s only $10. Find it online, in some Whole Foods, some Urban Outfitters, & perhaps even some Targets, if you’re lucky.
Like I mentioned when talking about how to build up your skin care routine to something more complex or “fancy” – serums aren’t necessary, but they can be great ways to really improve the texture, tone, & even the health of your skin. I typically don’t wear more than two serums at once – because too much of anything is a bad thing – & I usually wear different serums at night than I do in the day. I won’t delve into that, because this is just about how to build a simple routine – so here are a few serums that I’ve been enjoying. Some are old favorites, others are new discoveries – but they’re all under $30, which is great. Let me start with the Valjean Hydrate Serum – I have a #MiniReview on this, which I’ll link here. If you’re just looking for a super quick review, though, here are my two cents on it: I liked the texture of Glossier’s Super Bounce Serum (another hyaluronic acid serum), but wasn’t seeing results that made the $28 price tag worth it to me. I tried The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid serum (way cheaper) but like a bunch of their other serums, this one was tacky, dried down oddly, & I didn’t even feel like it was hydrating. Stumped, I kept hunting. I saw “Valjean Labs” pop up across a few photos on Instagram before I asked some friends about the serums, & I heard only good things. I got the Hydrate serum first – followed by Glow & Firm. I like Firm – it’s a hydrating & plumping serum that contains ferulic acid & Vitamin E – but I’m not a fan of Glow (a Vitamin C serum). It just didn’t really seem to do anything. So: Hydrate remains my favorite serum from Valjean. It’s a thin, watery texture, but doesn’t dry down tacky. It’s cooling & soothing – really helps reduce redness – & it feels like a cool drink of water for my skin. I use it morning & night. It layers under other serums/moisturizers really nicely, too. Pick it up for $15 at Urban Outfitters, or keep your eyes peeled at your local TJ Maxx – Valjean serums go for $4.99 at TJ.
Next up: an old favorite; an old friend: Glossier Super Pure Serum. The Glossier Supers hold a special place in my heart; Super Glow was the first serum I ever put on my face when the trio launched in fall of 2016. I’ve hopped back & forth between Super Pure & Super Glow as my favorites, but at this point I can confidently say that Super Pure is my favorite. This is a serum that is, in fact, worth the $28 price tag (for me). It calms redness & inflammation in the short-term; long-term, it reduces breakouts & just clarifies the skin overall. The water-gel consistency is not sticky or tacky; it doesn’t pill; it wears beautifully under makeup/moisturizers…I have no bad things to say. Check out my longer review here.
Finally – a brand-new addition to my routine: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%. It’s so new, in fact, that I’ve only used it twice so far. Before purchasing, I snooped around for some opinions, & immediately got some “NOOOO! IT IS SO SCRATCHY!” comments. Naturally, I was a bit scared when it arrived – but I’m glad I had that “background knowledge” of the texture of the serum before giving it a go myself, because it influenced the way in which I applied it. Obviously, I can’t give that big of a review, because I’ve only used it twice, but here are my first impressions: definitely the “oddest” serum I’ve used yet, mainly because it’s “water-free” – that means that it looks like a cream; maybe a runny moisturizer. The “scratchiness” comes from “dehydrated spheres” of hyaluronic acid, which “offer visible surface smoothing.” I wouldn’t call it scratchy; it doesn’t feel like a sugar/salt scrub; it feels more like someone put sand into a light moisturizer (I know that sounds odd). There’s no denying that it’s a bit abrasive, especially if I were to rub it into my face – but thanks to everyone’s warnings, I was able to avoid that situation. When applying, I put some on my fingertips, then gently press it into my skin. Wait a few minutes, & sure enough – the “dehydrated spheres” melted into my skin. Then, it’s simple: apply moisturizer, & be at peace. There’s no denying that it’s one of the oddest products I’ve tried so far, but I’m intrigued. The Ordinary has great prices, & it’s even more accessible, now that it’s being carried (online) at Sephora. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted.
I’m a fan of facial oils, but I’m not the biggest fan – basically, creams > oils in my opinion (& keep in mind: everyone’s skin is different). While creams are my priority, I found oils to be way more confusing, especially when first thinking about using one. Won’t it just make my skin greasy? Will I break out more? Why would you put oil on your face…?
The answer to the last question: there are many reasons for putting oil on your face, & if you remember that you’re not putting vegetable oil or bacon grease on your face – you’re putting rosehip oil, tea tree oil, marula oil & so on (all of which have their benefits) – the fear of breaking out or looking greasy will soon fade. Oils won’t make your face greasy – you just have to choose the right one. That depends on your skin type, & since I can’t tell every single one of you what your skin type is, I’d leave the serious oil recommendations to someone more qualified (ask a skin care consultant at Sephora, or go to your dermatologist, or just do some reading after you know a little more about your skin type), but I can tell you one oil that works really well for all skin types: rosehip!
Rosehip oil calms redness, reduces inflammation, & hydrates – of course. It’s lightweight, doesn’t feel heavy, sticky, or greasy, & it wears well under a cream. You can also put a little more on & forget a cream all together. One of the cheapest options out there is The Ordinary’s 100% Cold-Pressed Organic Rose Hip Seed Oil. Described as “a daily support formula for all skin types,” this oil is rich in various vitamins & fatty acids, all of which plumpen, hydrate, & boost skin’s circulation. It smells slightly floral, but I can hardly detect a scent. It’s not the highest-quality oil, but it’s under $10, I wouldn’t call it bad, & it’s a great way to experiment with facial oils without dropping a lot of money. Next on my list of things to try: Pai Skincare’s Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, which has rave reviews on many platforms. It’s a step up from the $10, but from what I’ve seen, it looks to be worth it.
Currently, I’m using two moisturizers: a day cream & a night cream. If you use one & your skin is happy – great! My dry/sensitive skin gets a little finicky, especially when it comes to hydration, so my skin most definitely appreciates the two different moisturizers I use.
For daytime, I use the Dr Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream. I held off for a very long time on buying this, mainly because I looked at the amount of product in the tube & rolled my eyes. I wouldn’t be forking over that amount for this little tube of cream…but then, I got it as a free sample with a Sephora order I made over winter break, & when I tried it out, I finally understood. This is an extremely dense cream; it’s almost like an ointment. This was worrying to me, at first: would it feel greasy? Would it clog my pores? The answer to both of these questions: nope! It most definitely doesn’t feel greasy, it certainly doesn’t clog my pores, & I’m glad I chose this sample, because by the time I ran out of the baby version, I was convinced that the full-size was truly worth it.
You need the tiniest amount – the tube looks like a tube of toothpaste, & that’s just about how much I use for my face: imagine that you’re putting a smear of toothpaste onto your toothbrush, & that should just about cover it for your whole face. I put the ointment between my fingertips to let it warm up a little, then gently press it into my skin. If I have the time, I’ll follow that up with a quick facial massage with my jade roller. If I don’t – I’m still good. The cream has really helped reduce any redness, which is something I struggle with (especially in the winter time). I would constantly complain about the dry area under my nose – not after a week of using this cream, though. January is one of the hardest months on my skin…& this year, I have zero dryness/irritation in my usual dry patches, my skin is relatively redness-free, & I get to use a very cool toothpaste-y product that smells like freshly-mown grass. Worth it? Definitely.
For night time, I use Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich – a product I’ve been religiously using & refilling since Glossier put it up for sale in January 2017. Basically: I’ll never stop screaming about this (screaming in a good way). I’ve been through a few jars, but I don’t go through it outrageously quickly, because it truly is “rich.” “Rich,” yes. Oily? Not even a little bit. I have dry skin & love it; I know people with oily skin who love it equally. People in the middle? Yup, PMR has your back, too. Red algae reduces redness, lavender makes you feel like you’re in an aromatherapy session, & the cream has this incredible buttercream texture that’s addicting. Every night, I smooth a little spoonful (I use the NIOD Stainless Steel Spoon to keep my creams sanitary) into my skin, I massage my face with my hands &/or my jade roller, & then I sink into my pillows with a sigh of relief. It’s the perfect way for me to end my day.
One of the most important – but one of the most ignored – steps in a skincare routine is protecting your face from the sun. Even if you don’t work outside…even if you’re not going for a long walk…even if you live in a country where you don’t see much sunlight during the winter…you should still be wearing sunscreen. UV rays cause long-term damage, & you might not ever feel a sunburn – but you may still be at risk for skin cancer if you don’t take the proper steps to protect yourself. That sounds like a threat, but it’s just me saying be careful! You can greatly reduce the risk of skin cancer simply by throwing on some sunscreen every single day.
The two I swear by are Glossier Invisible Shield (SPF 35) & Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day UV Sunscreen Broad Spectrum (SPF 50). These products are quite different from one another, though ultimately, they both do a good job of protecting your skin from harmful sun exposure.
What’s the difference? The Glossier sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen; the Dr. Jart+ sunscreen is a physical sunscreen. “Chemical” sounds scary in most situations, but just as is the case with “chemical exfoliation,” “chemical sunscreen” is not dangerous or harmful for your skin. It just operates in a different way than “physical sunscreen.”
Chemical sunscreens contain organic, carbon-based compounds which create a chemical (hence the name) reaction, changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. No – you won’t get burned, & no – it doesn’t feel hot upon application. Don’t worry.
Physical sunscreens like the Dr. Jart+ one contain active mineral ingredients, also referred to as physical blockers (again – hence the name). Most commonly, the physical blockers are titanium dioxide or zinc dioxide – that’s what gives physical sunscreen its famous (or, if you’re like me, infamous) scent. These blockers sit on top of the skin, deflecting & scattering UV rays away from the skin.
So – which do I prefer? Personally, after I tried a chemical sunscreen, I heavily lean towards that side of the spectrum. Most physical sunscreens feel very sticky & heavy on my skin & I’ve broken out from quite a few. Most don’t wear very well under makeup for me, either. I prefer the gel-like texture of a chemical sunscreen. Also – it’s much easier to reapply, since you don’t have to massage it into the face as intensely as you might have to with a physical sunscreen – chemical sunscreens leave no white cast on the skin, which is another bonus.
Still, I really like the Dr. Jart+ one. After I started taking immunosuppressive drugs that make my skin even more sensitive to sun, my mama & I panicked & looked for the most powerful & best sunscreen out there. SPF 50 is pretty much as high as you can get, & this Dr. Jart+ option is probably my favorite physical sunscreen. It’s very lightweight, it lacks that odd scent that so many physical sunscreens have, & it doesn’t feel greasy or sticky – doesn’t break me out, either. If you’re not into chemical sunscreens, this is a physical sunscreen that I truly do like. The price isn’t half bad, either – especially for a Dr. Jart+ product.
As for the Glossier Invisible Shield – like I said, I now prefer chemical sunscreens, after having tried both, & this one is a great choice. Recently, Glossier reduced the price to $25, which I feel is a much fairer price than the original $34. In my opinion, there isn’t enough product in the Invisible Shield bottle to justify spending $34 on it; now, with the adjusted price, I can give Invisible Shield 5 stars without feeling like it’s just a biiiit too expensive to rate so highly. I use about 3-4 pumps, & gently swipe the gel over my face after I’ve finished moisturizing (but before I’ve applied makeup). I let it sit for a few moments; it has a cooling sensation which is really soothing. I like the citrus-y scent, too.
A lot of people ask what the best amount of SPF is. Most dermatologists agree that anything between SPF 30 & SPF 50 is going to give you the same results. SPF 50 isn’t really going to give you more protection than SPF 30 – in fact, some people get less protection even while wearing SPF 50, since they feel like they don’t need to apply as much product. No matter what, be sure to reapply sunscreen if you’re spending periods of time outside, & don’t stress about SPF 50 working better (or worse) than SPF 35 or SPF 40. In the end, as long as it’s over 30, you’re good. Stay protected!!!
Oh – almost forgot about this very important category. For a while, I was a non-believer. It seemed as though everyone swore by the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion; I’d given it a few goes & hadn’t seen anything special. Overnight results? Sounded unrealistic…& I never got that from the Drying Lotion.
For the past 7-8 months, I’ve been using & loving the Origins Super Spot Remover. It’s a clear gel spot treatment, which is nice – it sinks into the skin instead of rubbing off on your pillowcase (sound familiar?). It can also be worn under makeup, which, again: something the Drying Lotion cannot do.
When I ran out of my second little tube of the Origins treatment, I headed to grab a refill – only to see that it was sold out both online & in store. A Sephora employee redirected me to the Tarte Blemish Bully Acne Spot Treatment – same consistency, same texture, same end results. The formula seems to be essentially the same; I did notice that the Tarte formula contains caffeine, though, which is nice – it aids in depuffing whatever area you’re trying to target. I’ve been using it for about a week now, & have no complaints thus far. It seems to work just as well as the Origins treatment, & you get a little more product for the same amount, too. I’ll see how this one lasts in the long run, but for now…I’m liking it. Side note: the Origins spot treatment is now back in stock on Sephora’s website.
Sometimes, one product just doesn’t work – if I’m really having a problem blemish (or two) I’ll layer two products: first, a thin layer of the gel spot treatment – in the past, Origins; currently, Tarte. After the gel has dried down, I’ll pat a small amount of Mario Badescu Drying Cream on top. That’s right – cream, not lotion. They are two different products. The Drying Lotion is the one you see most often: the pink sediment at the bottom of a vial of clear liquid. The Drying Cream is a yellow-beige paste that comes in a little jar. Described as “a unique spot treatment featuring sulfur,” the Drying Cream is ideal for under-the-surface bumps as well as good old blemishes. Sulfur & zinc oxide draw out impurities, but ingredients like aloe vera & Vitamin E ensure that you won’t wake up with a painful dry patch of skin where your blemish used to be. This does transfer, so if you wear it overnight, just be aware that some might rub off on your pillowcase. It’s worth it, though – I can’t say that this combo always works overnight, but it comes pretty damn close.
Well – that’s the finale! If you’re new to skincare, I hope I helped you figure things out a little more; maybe you have something to work with now. It can be very overwhelming when starting to be “serious” about skincare or makeup, simply because there are so many products. I can’t say that all of these will work as well for you as they do for me, but I hope I help at least a few of you. What’re some of your holy grail skincare items – whether you’re new or old to the skincare game?
Catch you next time! Let’s talk about face masks next, shall we?