Cleanse, tone, moisturize.
Put on serum and sunscreen.
Use a sheet mask.
Don’t forget to exfoliate.
And have you heard of essences?
Even pre-serums are a thing now!
Geez, your skincare routine is getting longer every day! Can’t brands stop releasing a new “innovative” product every 5 minutes?!
But, wait. Do you really need to spend 20 minutes every morning to put 10+ products on your face not to compromise on results?
Nope. While skin can benefit from the extra product or two, there are just 3 products it truly needs on a daily basis.
These 3 oldies but goodies form the base of any good skincare routine. Everything’s else just a welcome addition:
Essential Skincare Product #1: Cleanser To Remove Dirt And Impurities
I know, cleansers are hardly exciting. All they do is remove dirt from your face. But that happens to be the foundation of a good skincare routine.
Because, who wants dirt on their face? Plus, what’s the point of applying your precious serums or moisturizers if they comfortably sit on a thick layer of dirt and grime and can’t get through to the skin?
If you want your skincare routine to do the job, cleanse your face (yes, even after a late night of partying!).
- Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): pH 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
- Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Cleanser One Step Face Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Paula’s Choice.
- Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice.
Related: How To Choose The Right Type Of Cleanser For Your Skin Type
Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):
Essential Skincare Product #2: Antioxidant Serum To Prevent Wrinkles
Antioxidants are your skin’s BFF. They promote collagen production, fight free radicals, and can even help treat sun damage. All things that keep wrinkles and sun spots away from your skin.
Every brand has its darling, but the truth is there’s no super antioxidant that’s better than all the rest. Just like your body doesn’t only need kale, your skin doesn’t only need vitamin C.
A combiation of antioxidants is the way to go. My fave is vitamin C + vitamin E + ferulic acid (CEF). Studies show they enhance one another’s effectiveness and boost sun protection.
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($49.00): available at Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
Related: What Are The Best Antioxidant Serums?
Essential Skincare Product #3: Sunscreen To Prevent 90% Of Sun Damage
The last, but by no means least, essential skincare product is sunscreen. It prevents all kinds of sun damage, including fine lines and wrinkles, darks spots, and skin cancer.
You can use all the best skincare products in the world, but, if you stubbornly insist on skipping sunscreen, you’re sabotaging your efforts and throwing your money away.
All my fave sunscreens have zinc oxide. This white mineral provides broad spectrum protection without irritating skin.
The only “problem”? It can leave a white cast behind. If that bothers you, opt for a tinted formula.
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($34.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora, and SpaceNK
- Elta MD UV Pure Broad Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore, SkincareRX and Walmart.
- Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ WetForce For Sensitive Skin And Children ($42.00): available at Nordstrom and Sephora
Thanks for this, Gio. I think the Korean skincare craze has everyone thinking they need a dozen products every night! But in my experience, it’s better to spend money on good quality basics that get the job done. On serums: may I recommend Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum? I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and it’s very effective — and half the price of SkinCeuticals!
Laurie, I agree. A few well-formulated basics can work much better than a long, complicated routine. Everything else is just a bonus.
That’s for the recommendation. I’ve been hearing quite a lot about that brand lately. Really must check it out soon.
You definitely should check out Drunk Elephant. Although quite pricey, their products are effective, non-irritating, and quite unique. I use their Glycolic Night Serum and Intensive Hydration Gel. Both are absolutely lovely! The Serum contains glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acid but is completely non-irritating. The Gel has the most amazing texture, your face just drinks it right up! It is perfect for oily skin.
Raman, sound fab! I’m starting to wonder what I’m waiting for *heading to their website now*
Have you ever used japanese sunscreens such as Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence? If you have, what’s your take on their effectiveness? I find them so much easier to apply than western sunblocks, but I’m concerned about the fact that most of them are chemical sunscreens.
HML, I haven’t used many Japanese sunscreens because they were hard to find in Italy, and since then I became addicted to mineral sunscreens. I find, thought, that in Asia, customers want lightweight formulas, and they’re very difficult to formulate with mineral sunscreen agents. But chemical ones aren’t as bad as they’re often made out to be. If I prefer mineral sunscreens is only because they don’t degrade as quickly, so you don’t have to reapply them as often, and they’re less likely to cause an allergy.
Thanks for the reply. I like mineral sunscreens for the same reasons, but I’m not very into the texture or the white cast, even though I have a very pale complexion.
HML, I know, that can be annoying. Have you tried a tinted one? I know there aren’t many around, but it’s worth looking for one anyway. My fave is Sunumbra Sunkids SPF40. It’s very gentle and contains lots of antioxidants, too.
Yassss! In Asia it is sooo hard to find 100% physical sunscreen. Most of them are either mixed with chemical sunscreen, or has very low percentage of zinc oxide (mostly 5-8% zinc oxide only). It honestly frustates me because I have to buy it from overseas and international shipping fees and importing fees are no joke. I finally buy sunscreens for surfers at Bali (20% zinc oxide, those solid-ish balm sunscreen in the tin surfers usually use) but of course they don’t work well under makeup and gave me cystic acne due to high content of coconut oil.
Audrey, oh no, how frustrating! Sunscreen is the most important product you can use. It’s infuriating it is so expensive and hard to find!
I’ll try to find the Sunumbra sunscreen you recommended 🙂 They sound amazing!
Audrey, let me know how you like them. They don’t have the same luxurious texture as chemical sunscreens, but they’re pretty awesome anyway. I love they’re tinted, too.
uhh… So you’re saying that exfoliator is not an essential product? Doesn’t it mean to rip off the dead skin or something? Should I stop using exfoliators?
Thao, yes exfoliator removes dead cells from the surface of your skin but it’s not an essential. Your skin is perfectly capable of exfoliating on its own. Unfortunately, this process doesn’t work as well as you’re getting older or are having some skin conditions like acne. Use it if you need it. If not, no need to bother with it.
Your emphasis on sticking with the basics is refreshing–I find all the products we supposedly “need” overwhelming (and I imagine our skin does, too!)–but I was surprised you didn’t include moisturizer the list. My vitamin C serum says to apply it after using the serum, which can be drying.
Unless your moisturizer is also a sunscreen (or vice versa), why no moisturizer on this list?
Christine, thank you! I do think that less is more for your skin. Skin is an organ and, unless it’s sick (acne, damaged protective barrier), it knows what to do. You could actually make things worse by using 10+ products. So many chances something could go wrong!
I didn’t include moisturiser because I don’t think everyone needs it. The purpose of a moisturiser is to add moisture to the skin. If you have oily or normal skin, your skin already has all the moisture it needs. Or if you use a moisturising sunscreen, you can skip moisturiser. Basically, unless you feel your skin getting dry and tight during the day, you may not need a moisturiser at all.