If the year’s midpoint has you craving a beauty overhaul, you’re in luck: Kim Kardashian’s new skincare collection, SKKN BY KIM, releases later this month. Kardashian’s new venture comes less than a year after the announcement that KKW Beauty was no more, a move which devotees speculated was simply a step toward a rebrand.
But in KKW Beauty’s place, it seems, is something entirely new. Rather than market-minded make-up, SKKN is a (characteristically sleek) assemblage of high-end skin care, and a natural, elevated step in Kardashian’s minimalist-yet-aspirational offerings.
The brand’s line-up of nine sustainably minded (read: refillable, vegan, and cruelty-free) products each centre on innovative formulas designed to revitalise skin. Housed in seriously gorgeous architecturally-inspired packaging that demands shelfie space, SKKN’s offerings are all available for under $100 (£80), a boon in the world of luxury skin care.
The line was born of a desire to understand her own complexion: Kardashian struggles with psoriasis, an immune-mediated skin condition that affects more than 7.5 million adults in the U.S. alone, and results in dry red patches on the face and body. SKKN is the tangible result of years of working with and learning from dermatologists and aestheticians (including the likes of celebrity facialist Joanna Czech) and provides a top-to-bottom routine including a gentle foaming cleanser, a hyaluronic acid serum, and a nourishing night oil. SKKN BY KIM comes from Kardashian and Coty, and is set to drop on 21 June — mark your calendars.
Over the past few years, hyaluronic acid and retinol have become such skin-care staples that coming across a product without one or the other is rare. “In skin care, they’re the holy grail,” says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a dermatologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Sure, every few months a new wunderkind skin-care ingredient is discovered in some remote locale, and pretty soon it’s everywhere—in your masks, serums, foot creams, insert-step-in-your-beauty-routine-here. But at the end of the day, there are only a handful of ingredients that have stood the test of time and truly become essential.
Hyaluronic acid and retinol do deliver results—but what exactly those results are might still be confusing. (Understandably.)
Retinol: For Softening Wrinkles and Fighting Acne
If there’s one ingredient lauded more than any other for its wrinkle-fighting, complexion-perfecting abilities, it’s this derivative of vitamin A. “Here’s the deal with retinol,” explains Hirsch. “We were talking about it in 1975, and we’re still talking about it now because it works.” In study after study, retinol has been shown to build collagen, decrease fine lines, improve skin texture, and fight acne.
When it comes to incorporating a retinol into your skin-care routine, it’s better sooner than later. “Retinol works best as prevention, so don’t wait until wrinkles and dark spots occur to start using it,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. “Another misconception about retinols is that they ‘thin the skin.’ This could not be further from the truth. It actually thickens your skin by increasing production of glycosaminoglycans to keep the skin firm, taut, and smooth.”
The prescription version (which goes by retinoic acid, or Retin-A) acts fastest, but it’s pricey—and it can be drying. Over-the-counter retinol, however, take 8 to 10 weeks to show results compared with 6 weeks with an Rx, but is normally paired with anti-inflammatories to calm the redness, peeling, or dryness. It can also cost less than a prescription—which, depending on your insurance coverage, can generally start around $100.
Whichever type you use, you’ll want to ease into your retinol use slowly. “I start patients on the mildest version, one night a week at the onset,” says New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D. As your skin begins to tolerate a pea-size amount, you can eventually go up to two nights a week. But stay off harsh physical scrubs and peels while you’re using retinol; remember to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize; and use extra sunscreen for the first six months.
Hyaluronic Acid: For Serious Moisture
Despite its name, hyaluronic acid actually doesn’t exfoliate your skin (if you’re looking for one that does, try glycolic acid instead). This tiny molecule helps lubricate joints and keep skin plump, and is one of the world’s finest humectants, or molecules that attract and retain water. Since these molecules so effectively replenish skin with water, they’re beloved for their hydrating abilities.
In addition to being a terrific hydrator, Wechsler says, HA pairs well with other active skin-care ingredients (so you can layer it with retinol, for example, and use it daily). Not only that, but it also goes above and beyond its duties as a humectant. “Along with hydrating the skin and preventing dehydration, hyaluronic acid provides an environment that keeps wrinkles away,” says Hartman.
Bottom line: “The beauty of hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t have any fine print,” says Hirsch. “It benefits any skin type, at any age. And the truth is that everyone looks great with hydrated skin.”
What Are the Potential Side Effects?
As with any ingredient, no matter how ah-mazing they are, there are potential side effects that should be kept in mind when using. “When patients start a retinol, the hyper-exfoliation can oftentimes cause redness, peeling, and dryness during the first couple of weeks of use,” says New York City dermatologist Rita Linkner, M.D., founder of RVL Skincare.
If your skin tends to be more on the dry side, it’s worth considering how you can add that extra boost before and after applying your retinol to minimize excessive peeling as much as possible. (Newbies can also try the buffering trick to take down the sting.)
As for our hydrating superhero? “Hyaluronic acid is known to increase the permeability of the skin, making it more sieve-like—which is why it should be combined with a moisturizer to draw more water to itself,” she says.
What Are the Benefits of Combining the Two?
Good news: Retinol and hyaluronic acid actually have a synergistic effect. “They can be combined so that the benefits of retinol can be achieved more easily with concomitant use of hyaluronic acid, which helps to prevent retinol irritation,” says Hartman.
As for what that ultimately means when you look in the mirror: “Overall texture should improve when using the two actives, as well as fine lines,” says Linkner.
How to Get the Best Results
To max out your benefits, “I often recommend that patients use a hydrating serum like hyaluronic acid before they apply their retinol cream,” says Hartman. “Hyaluronic acid plays well with most ingredients, while caution must be taken when using retinol in combination with alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, and some types of vitamin C.”
Linkner echoes the tip about avoiding vitamin C. “I also wouldn’t advise using a vitamin C after hyaluronic acid, as it can increase the irritation effects of the ascorbic acid.” (Ascorbic acid, the chemical name for vitamin C, is still an acid, after all.)
If you’re new to this combo, it’s worth doing a patch test to see how your skin reacts to the amped-up duo. Because hyaluronic acid can increase the potency of the secondary product, Linkner says, it could potentially draw out the acclimation period when you first start using a retinol.
That said, retinol and hyaluronic acid are a match made in heaven. And if you’re looking to level-up your skin-care routine with even more effective products, here are some fan favourites.
La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum
Thanks to vitamin B3, which can help soothe inflammation, and the gradual-release formula, this retinol serum is gentle enough even for sensitive skin types. (As with most retinols, though, you’ll still want to do a patch test and start by applying at night.) During the day, don’t forget to layer on SPF to get the most anti-wrinkle benefits.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
“Hyaluronic acid is a sugar that your body makes inherently. It provides a plumping effect in the skin by drawing water to itself like a sponge,” says Linkner. This O.G. hyaluronic acid serum from The Ordinary delivers maximum hydration (thanks to the added B5) and comes in under $10.
Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Moisturizer
While you’ll want to be cautious about mixing hyaluronic acid with peptides, the payoff is pretty incredible if the combination is suitable for your skin. “Think of peptides as Legos—they’re protein building blocks,” says Hirsch of the skin strengtheners. Studies show certain peptides can boost collagen production and speed wound healing; or they can mimic the effect of Botox when applied topically. That means you’ll likely want to introduce peptides in your 30s, when you notice your skin doesn’t feel quite as firm or bouncy as it did in your 20s.
“Hydrating serums are useful because they bring hydration into the skin,” stresses New York City dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group. Because healing dry skin calls for both humectants and emollients (that draw in moisture and lock in moisture respectively), a good humectant like hyaluronic acid, which holds 1,000 times its weight in water, will draw hydration to the skin to bouncier, glowier effect.
“When the atmosphere is more arid, such as in wintertime, the dry air draws moisture out of our skin… so these barrier products prevent loss of moisture,” explains Nazarian. “Over time, as we age, our skin is less capable of drawing in and locking in moisture—so these skin habits are useful in the short-term seasonally and long-term because as we age, our skin weakens.” Below, some of the best serums for dry skin to help you lock in moisture all season long.
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra Intensive Hydration serum is an ultra-nourishing cocktail comprised of vitamin B5 and fruit ceramides to brighten and heal moisture-depleted skin.
Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Ampoules
To instantly jolt a weary complexion back to life, Dr. Barbara Sturm’s highly-concentrated, single dose ampoules team long- and short-chain hyaluronic molecules with her signature anti-inflammatory ingredient purslane.
SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel
SkinCeuticals’s sinks-right-in gel serum is a favorite for all skin types with its juicy concentration of hyaluronic acid and a heavy dose of hydrating b5 gel, which plumps the skin for a smoother, dewier complexion.
Kate Somerville Quench Hydrating Face Serum
To target signs of aging, Kate Somerville’s Quench Hydrating serum is laced with regenerating retinol, firming wheat germ, and skin barrier function-bolstering lipids for a plumper, more luminous skin.
Tatcha The Dewy Serum Resurfacing and Plumping Treatment
The Japanese beauty-inspired brand’s buzzed-about elixir is a milky serum that lifts impurities with lactic acid and quenches skin’s thirst with hyaluronic acid and sugarcane-derived squalane.
TruSkin Hyaluronic Acid
This hyaluronic acid formula has raked in thousands of Amazon review raves not only for its wallet-friendly price tag, but the radiant results it produces with help from antioxidant-rich vitamin c, protective vitamin e, and soothing aloe vera.
Moon Juice Plump Jelly
Moon Juice’s lightweight jelly hydrator teams hyaluronic acid with unique natural ingredients such as free radical-fighting reishi and healing tremella mushroom.
Chanel Hydra Beauty Intense Smoothing Eye Gel
Given that dark circles become that much more notorious during the winter months—a 2011 study found that 82 percent of women believe they have dark circles in the winter versus 38 percent in summer—you can brighten and de-puff the under-eye area with a serum like Chanel’s smoothing Hydra Beauty Intense eye gel, which sinks right in thanks to its patented micro-droplet technology.
La Mer The Hydrating Infused Emulsion
An instant, fast-absorbing dose of hydration, La Mer’s lightweight serum-lotion is spiked with its famed sea kelp-based Miracle Broth to heal and replenish, while fatty acid-packed soy and antioxidant-rich lime tea concentrate work their magic.
innisfree Green Tea Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Innisfree’s best-selling hydrating serum got a fresh update. The newly minted formulation includes different types of hyaluronic acid and a special green tea probiotic complex that hydrates and helps support the skin microbiome.
If you suffer from dark circles, you know that finding a brightening eye cream that actually works isn’t always an easy feat. This is especially the case if you’re on the hunt for a formula with natural ingredients. Well, that was before the True Botanicals Resurrection Radiance Eye Cream came on the scene last June. Since then, it has become a go-to for celebrities among the likes of Olivia Wilde and Brooke Shields, who called it “pure magic in a jar” as it “works wonders for my dark circles and I wake up looking so well-rested.”
With such glowing A-list testimonials, it comes as no surprise that the Resurrection Radiance Eye Cream sold out hours after it launched. Now after months of waiting, it’s finally back in stock — and our dark circles couldn’t be happier.
So, what makes this eye cream so special? It features an innovative combination of illuminating ingredients to restore radiance and moisture back to the sensitive under-eyes. At the center of it all is Resurrection Plant extract, which is used in the brand’s bioactive moisture retention complex to lock in hydration, reduce puffiness, and make tired eyes instantly look more awake. It works in harmony with tree bark extract to create smoother and brighter-looking under-eyes.
“This new product from True Botanicals is bananas,” Wilde said in an Instagram video back in June. “It also has turmeric, and coffee, and licorice extract, and tree bark extract, which is really good for the redness [and] dark circles — which I know quite a lot about.”
She continues, “People used to call me Wednesday Addams — like ever since I was, like, 8. So, I’ve been waiting for this product for a long time, and it’s amazing. I’ve been editing, I have kids, I don’t sleep. But this stuff is really helping. And I’m going to use a lot more of it.“
Both Wilde and Shields pair the eye cream with the True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil and Chebula Active Serum, which target common signs of aging while supporting the skin barrier with hydrating and nourishing ingredients. “This is my holy grail,” Shields says of the Chebula Active Serum. “It’s a dream for anyone like me who is trying to avoid the excessive use of injections and fillers.”
You can have the best skincare routine, but if you don’t have any products that take care of dry and irritated skin, then your skin is missing out on essential hydration. The best serums penetrate deeply into the skin and deliver a dose of nourishment and moisture. One to add to your cart? This gel-cream serum that works for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin.
The Aveeno Calm and Restore Triple Oat Hydrating Face Serum is a great match for those with sensitive skin and others experiencing dryness or irritation. Its formula has a proprietary nourishing blend of three oat complexes: oat flour, extract and oil, and calming feverfew. Although it might sound like a unique ingredient to infuse into a serum, oats actually have benefits for the skin.
Dr. Hadley King, M.D. previously told InStyle why oatmeal-infused products are beneficial in a skincare routine. “Oatmeal can help restore normal pH in skin conditions where pH has increased. In this setting, it acts as a buffering agent, thereby aiding in the maintenance of a healthy skin barrier,” she explained.
Working in conjunction with the serum’s formula, the oats help to strengthen the skin’s barrier and relieve dry and irritated patches, resulting in a healthy glow. It also won’t clog pores or add any excess oil, which can lead to breakouts and a greasy finish. Instead, the serum instantly absorbs into the skin, leaving a smooth finish behind.
One shopper called the soothing serum a “must for the cold winter months.” “It’s working perfectly so far. My skin doesn’t have that tight feeling after a couple of hours like it normally does,” they added. “The gel-type cream applies easily and dries down to a semi-matte finish. It’s completely fragrance-free and very soothing. I feel like my face has a layer of protectiveness on it. I highly recommend it if you have sensitive [skin] or any [other] skin type.”
“[It] absorbs perfectly and leaves my skin soft and smooth, and moisturizes adequately,” another wrote. “Even the texture of it feels so good on my skin as I’m applying it. It calmed my irritated, red, dry patches. As an added bonus, my combination skin does not get shiny at all throughout the day like most moisturizers make it do.”
Other shoppers reported that the hydrating serum is “perfect for sensitive skin.” A final five-star reviewer explained, “I have been trying new products for my rosacea-prone, aging skin (I’m 50) to see what would be scent-free, non-drying, and effective for cleaning or moisturizing. With the Aveeno line, I got all of that with the bonus of it being soothing to my skin.”
If you need a serum that’s a match for your sensitive skin or need to combat dry skin, head to Amazon now and stock up on the triple oat hydrating face serum for $18.
There’s something of a Megan Fox renaissance happening right now, and I’M all for it. After a decade or so spent under-the-radar, these days Fox is frequently spotted out and about with boyfriend Machine Gun Kelly, looking just as effervescent as she did in 2004’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. And apparently, her secret is a skincare find equally beloved by Kim Kardashian.
“I put Epicuren rose oil on everything. It’s deeply hydrating and the scent is uplifting,” Fox said, according to the brand’s website. Celebrities like Alicia Keys, Amanda Seyfried, Kristen Davis, Alexandra Daddario, Hailey Bieber, and Jessica Simpson also pledge allegiance to the Epicuren, and in 2017, Kardashian gave it the ultimate compliment. “My two fave products in the world!” the mogul wrote of Epicuren Discovery’s Bulgarian Rose Otto and Kukui Coconut After Bath Moisturizer.
Kardashian followed those with a recommendation for the $345 Guerlain Orchidee Imperiale Anti-Aging Cream, which makes the $52 face oil a comparative bargain (everything is relative). One thing seemingly less subjective is the phenomenal results the Rose Otto oil provides, both for famous faces and regular shoppers.
“I love this product. I have VERY sensitive and reactive skin and this is soothing and calming,” writes one person. “It was recommended to me by an esthetician who has rosacea and uses it. For me, it’s been a godsend. I’ve been using this for about a year and a half, and my skin looks and feels great.”
Others with dry and reactive skin say it’s the only product that’s been able to help, leaving skin soft and smooth on contact; similarly, those with acne-prone skin write that it’s the only oil they’ve found that works on fine lines without causing breakouts. Still more report the rich, fast-absorbing oil evens out their skin tone, garnering it praise like “miraculous product” and “absolute necessity.”
As you can probably tell from the name, rose is the oil’s focal point, but a bevvy of boosters join it in the formula: Apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, meadowfoam seed oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba seed oil, two types of rose oil, jasmine oil, and sandalwood oil get in the mix, as does Damask rose flower extract. Women in their 40s call rose oil alone a “facelift in a bottle,” since it’s rich in moisturizing essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin A, which retinol’s derived from.
Jojoba oil is just as revered by dermatologists and skincare lovers, since the velvety oil guarantees instantaneous softening and pore-unclogging results. Pair that with avocado oil, which is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D, and E, and grapeseed oil, which is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant-loaded, and you have quite the product.
But looking at how Fox glows even in paparazzi photos, and you could probably guess her skincare doesn’t slack off. Intrigued? Try the Bulgarian Rose Otto oil for yourself, and scroll on for other celebs’ favorites from the brand.
Alicia Keys and Alexandra Daddario’s favorite sunscreen:
If you’ve been on the hunt for an eye cream that actually works, it’s been waiting for you, over on Amazon. Packed with a potent lineup of anti-aging ingredients like hyaluronic acid, collagen, and caffeine, Hada Labo Tokyo’s Age Correcting Eye Cream simply delivers. The corrective eye cream provides moisture, reduces fine lines, smooths dark circles, and lifts the entire eyelid area. And according to Amazon shoppers, it “does what it claims.”
Even though the hydrating eye cream makes bold claims, its formula backs up promises and gives visible results. The cream features collagen, which is notorious for rejuvenating damaged skin cells that contribute to the appearance of signs of aging. So how exactly does collagen make eyes look more youthful? Dr. Marisa Garschick, board-certified dermatologist, previously told InStyle, “Collagen serves as a structural protein in the dermis of the skin, and helps to provide structural support, keeping the skin firm and tight.” It also boosts the production of elastin, which keeps the skin plump and lifted.
The collagen-infused eye cream also works with hyaluronic acid and caffeine to hydrate and reduce puffiness. Known for holding 1,000 times its weight in water, hyaluronic acid keeps moisture locked into the skin. Thanks to a filler effect, it also helps the skin look plump, dark circles brighter, and lines less prominent.
The caffeine is just another added bonus of the cream. Not only does it give an energy boost to the skin, but when it’s topically applied, it can temporarily reduce puffiness under eyes.
Fans of the eye cream call it “an excellent anti-aging” product that is “great for sensitive skin.” Overall, shoppers agree that it’s a needed addition to your skincare routine. Another reviewer explained, “I have used so many non-mainstream product lines. Most, of course, are quite costly. And I must say, this is the best. I am shocked at how well it performs, considering the price point.“
Another fan of the corrective eye cream called it a “holy grail product,” and added, “It did wonders for my dark circles, fine lines, and discoloration. I even think it works a little bit to lift the upper eyelids. Can’t praise this eye cream enough.“
A final shopper confirmed that it took just one month for the anti-aging eye cream to help make both the fine lines around their eyes and the circles under their eyes “disappear.” Want to see the same results in a month? Head to Amazon now and snag the age correcting eye cream while it’s on sale for $20.
“It’s a yes from me. I hated using retinol, but knew its benefits,” wrote one person of Tula’s serum. “This product eliminated the terrible burning and redness I would get from actual retinol, [and] my skin looks tighter and more even. I just bought my second bottle.” Repeat buyers abound in the comments, where reviewers say that the formula smoothed out “horrible wrinkles” around their eyes and “made a world of difference” for silky smooth, younger-looking skin.
Per Tula, the serum has a laundry list of things going for it. There’s bakuchiol, the much-discussed retinol alternative that softens lines and hyperpigmentation without putting your skin through the ringer; probiotic extracts and prebiotics to firm skin and amp up its natural barrier; squalane to condition; and alfalfa extract to scavenge free radicals and reduce cell-damaging oxidative stress. Beta-carotene bundles in more antioxidants, vitamin E, and jojoba oil to add ample moisture, and gluconolactone and lactic acid gently exfoliate.
Whether they found their way to it while pregnant or on the hunt for an anti-ager fit for sensitive, dry, and irritation-prone skin, customers say they’re impressed with the brightening, firming effects they see in around two weeks. But things really start to look different in a little over a month: “Makes my skin feel so hydrated, and the appearance of fine lines is drastically reduced,” wrote a shopper of their thoughts at the six-week benchmark.
Your mileage may vary, though. In just a week’s time, one person says they were deeply pleased with the effects. “No irritation, and it does seem to be working on my fine lines around my eyes and the larger lines on my forehead.” As a last 80-year-old shopper wrote, it’s even succeeded at making their “aging skin” soft again, and dark circles less outstanding. “This product feels amazing, and I think it’s making the wrinkles less prominent. Just had a great dermatology check up, so I must be doing something right.”
Intrigued? Want to exclaim “Mamma Mia!” at your face, but in a good way? Try the serum for $68.
There is no such thing as a single “correct” skin-care routine, but there’s definitely an optimal way to apply your products. Whether you’re a minimalist who prefers sticking to a three-step routine or the type of person willing to undertake 11 steps daily in pursuit of glass skin, the way you layer your chosen products has a big impact on how well they work. The more product-intense you go, the more important this order becomes.
There’s a reason cleansing comes first, serum sits beneath moisturizer, and sunscreen goes on last. Understanding this order will ensure your favorite skin-care products work effectively—because no one wants to splurge on a luxury serum only to render it useless because of misapplication. If you’ve ever looked at a tube of retinol or a bottle of face oil and wondered exactly how (and when) to use it, wonder no more. Below, dermatologists and skin-care experts explain the most effective way to apply every single product in your routine.
The Best Order to Apply Skin-Care Products
The easiest way to break it down is to refer to the table above, which lays out the best order for your separate morning and night skin-care routines. “The principle behind ordering is to cleanse your skin, open your skin so products can soak in, add actives on, then seal with moisturizing products,” says Morgan Rabach, M.D., dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC. Below, the detailed breakdown of every single step in your daily skin care routine.
1. Makeup Remover/Cleansing Oil
Unless you went to bed with makeup on (please don’t), there’s no reason to do this step in the morning. But at night it makes your cleanser’s job a lot easier.
“Removing all makeup from your skin should always be your first step at the end of the day,” says Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare. Look for formulas that are effective enough to melt away waterproof mascara, but still gentle on your face—like micellar water. You can also double-cleanse with an emulsifying oil, which gets rid of the need to buy cotton rounds.
Do this step: Morning and night.
Now that your makeup layer is gone, you can proceed with washing your face. “A cleanser gets rid of dead skin, pollutants, oils, dirt, and bacteria,” says Rabach. Both she and Ciraldo recommend also doing this step when you first wake up in the morning, in order to prep your skin to absorb the active ingredients in your other products.
The best cleanser for you will depend on your skin type. “It’s important to pay attention to what’s in your cleanser and what’s not in it,” says Ciraldo. She recommends avoiding sulfates, which can have a harsh, stripping effect on your face, and looking for actives that suit your needs. “For normal or dry skin, I favor a hydrating cleanser with peptides,” she says. “If you’re oily or acne-prone, use a mild exfoliating cleanser with salicylic acid, which dislodges the dead cells that can clog pores.“
3. Eye Cream
Do this step: Morning and night.
The first product to go on your face? Eye cream. The reason is simple—because you’ll probably forget to do it otherwise. Ciraldo recommends patting eye cream on gently with your ring finger (this way you’ll tug less at the delicate skin there) all the way around your eyes, not just underneath them. If you’re worried about eye cream causing your concealer or eye makeup to smear, choose a more lightweight option, like a hydrating gel that sinks in quickly and stays put.
For the best results, look for ingredients like peptides—which help tighten your skin and depuff—as well as antioxidants. Rabach recommends formulas that contain hydrating hyaluronic acid, brightening caffeine, and ceramides (these lock in moisture and help strengthen your skin barrier).
Do this step: Morning and night.
Both toners and essences are meant to help further prime your skin to absorb active ingredients, but the one you choose will depend on your skin type. Old-school toners were meant to balance skin pH and counteract alkaline soaps, before soap-free cleansers became popular. Now toner usually refers to liquid formulations geared toward oily skin that’s in need of gentle exfoliation and resurfacing. Ciraldo says those with oily or acne-prone skin should look for toners with ingredients like glycolic or salicylic acid.
Essences, on the other hand, tend to be more hydrating. Rabach recommends looking for actives like hyaluronic acid, which will flood your skin with moisture that you can lock in during subsequent steps. To apply, soak a cotton pad in liquid and gently pat it over your face. Alternatively, you can use your hands to do the same thing.
Do this step: Morning and night.
This is the step where you’ll deliver the bulk of active ingredients to your toner/essence-primed face, and it’s important to do it early on in your routine. “Serums are formulated with smaller molecular-weight actives so they penetrate into deeper skin layers,” says Ciraldo. “If you apply your serum after a thicker formulation, the active ingredients may not penetrate as well.“
While you should apply serum twice a day, you shouldn’t be using the same formulation. “Serum actives differ for day and night,” says Rabach. During the day, she likes to choose serums with antioxidants that protect skin from daytime stressors like free radicals (caused by UV rays), pollutants, and blue light. The most popular ingredient for this is vitamin C, which you will have no problem finding in serum form. (Just make sure to choose one that’s properly stabilized for maximum effect.) At night, opt for a serum with peptides and growth factors to repair skin.
For both daytime and nighttime serums, Rabach also has a general list of ingredients she likes to look for across both formulations: Niacinamide to reduce redness, hyaluronic acid to pull moisture into your skin, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), which help boost collagen and even out skin pigmentation. Ciraldo further splits up her preferred serum ingredients by skin type. “For acne-prone skin, look for stem cells, retinol, and green tea,” she says. “For dehydrated skin, look for lipids, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. And for hyperpigmented skin, look for vitamin C.”
Do this step: At night only.
Retinol truly deserves its own essay, but the short version is this: The vitamin A derivative boosts collagen production and increases the rate of cellular turnover. “Retinol reduces fine lines, reduces pore size, increases collagen and elastin production, takes off dead skin, reduces oil production, unclogs pores, and evens out skin tone,” says Rabach. Whether you want to clear breakouts or fade fine lines—or basically do anything to your face—retinol is your friend.
On the flip side, this is a strong ingredient, and beginners should proceed with caution when adding to their routines. Potential side effects can include flaking, dryness, retinol burn, and increased sensitivity to the sun, which is why you should stick to applying it at night. Dermatologists often recommend easing into daily application slowly. “Start three times a week for the first week or two,” says Ciraldo. From there, you can gradually increase the frequency of application.
Most will apply their retinol layer after their serums and before moisturizer, but there is one exception. If your skin has trouble tolerating retinol and you want to minimize its side effects, you can buffer it instead. Retinol buffering refers to a technique whereby you mix your retinol with your moisturizer and apply it as a single step. This helps you still get the benefits, but decreases the potential for irritation. To take it a step further, you can also apply retinol over your moisturizer. Experiment with this step, and see where it fits best in your routine.
Do this step: Morning and night.
Moisturizers are there to simultaneously hydrate and seal in hydration, which is why these formulas tend to be heavier than the layers that go underneath. “You should use moisturizers with humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which pull in water,” says Rabach. “I also recommend looking for ceramides, which seal the outer layers of skin.”
Ciraldo says that many of her patients prefer to use separate formulas for their morning and nighttime routines. This has more to do with how moisturizers feel than anything else. You can use a lightweight formula in the morning that blends better with your makeup and reserve a heavier cream for evening. Ciraldo’s additional tip is to double up on your serum and moisturizer actives. For example, if you use a vitamin C serum in the morning, you can layer a vitamin C moisturizer right on top to boost the benefits.
8. Spot Treatment
Do this step: Morning and night.
You need to use spot treatments on active breakouts only, but if you’re experiencing acne, you can apply a leave-on spot treatment both morning and night to speed up its healing cycle. According to Ciraldo, you should spot-treat after you’ve applied your moisturizer, not before. This helps make sure the product stays on top of the pimple, and doesn’t go on the rest of your face. “If you’re using a strong acid and then smear moisturizer all over your face, you run the risk of the product getting on more sensitive areas,” she says. You’ll also dilute its effectiveness. Wait for your a.m./p.m. moisturizer to sink in, then carefully pat over the affected areas.
The two most common over-the-counter ingredients for spot treatments are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Rabach differentiates them like this: Benzoyl peroxide helps kill acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid gently exfoliates and dries out your oil glands.
9. Face Oil
Do this step: Morning and night.
If there’s one step in your daily skin-care routine that surprisingly divides experts, it’s face oil. The most common recommendation is to apply it last at night and second-to-last before sunscreen in the morning. That’s because oils are occlusive, says Mona Gohara, M.D., dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine. Meaning, they help trap moisture in your skin. This is why Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, says you should think of face oils as a topcoat. “Oils provide a protective barrier to help prevent moisture from evaporating,” she says. “Anything applied over it may not be offering as much benefit to your skin because it can’t get through.”
However, some derms advise their patients to take this step earlier in their routines (usually before moisturizer), depending on the formulation of the oil they’re using. “Some oils are designed with ingredients that hydrate, others to brighten or even to strengthen your skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Ciraldo also says it’s okay to mix oils with your moisturizer if you prefer.
Whichever way you land, the important thing is that you don’t overdo it—with face oils, a little goes a long way. To apply, warm about two to three drops of oil in your palms and pat lightly over your face.
Do this step: In the morning only.
What derms unanimously agree on is that you should wear sunscreen every single day to prevent UV damage—whether or not you go outside. Sunscreen needs to go over face oil in order to be most effective. “You do not want anything to stop the sunscreen from working, or making it less effective,” says Gohara. “Putting an oil on top of your sunscreen can decrease it’s efficacy.”
There are two types of sunscreens to choose from for your final step: physical and chemical. Physical blockers contain minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by reflecting light away from your skin. Chemical blockers, on the other hand, work by absorbing light and converting it into heat, preventing it from penetrating into your skin. Rouleau says that mineral formulas are often better for sensitive skin, while chemical formulations tend to be thinner and spread more easily.
Chemical formulas also come with the benefit of not leaving a white cast on darker skin tones. While mineral sunscreens traditionally cast an ashy tone, Zeichner points out that brands have begun formulating better physical sunscreens to counteract that. “The newest formulation technology has brought us micronized sunscreens that rub in to your skin much better than ever before,” he says. “So using a zinc-based sunscreen no longer necessarily means your face will have that white cast. No matter what your personal preference is, there are sunscreens for every need.”
Sure, vitamin C serums are great, and they’re typically at the forefront of a great skincare lineup. But vitamin C cleansers deserve a look, too. Vitamin C is a potent ingredient for brightening the skin and eliminating signs of aging, after all. It’s commonly found in serums and moisturizers — and now Amazon shoppers are making a case for why vitamin C belongs in your cleanser, like this gentle and cleansing face wash that’s $20.
Eve Hansen’s Vitamin C Face Wash makes vitamin C the hero ingredient of the formula, and it’s clear why. Vitamin C not only works to brighten the skin, but as Dr. Michelle Henry previously explained to InStyle, “the antioxidant activity of vitamin C protects against UV-induced damage caused by free radicals, which will prevent accelerated aging and skin cancer.” Along with targeting those common concerns, vitamin C “also boosts firmness by regulating collagen production,” Dr. Henry added.
In addition to vitamin C, the anti-aging face wash includes aloe and tea tree oil, which both help soothe and reduce redness and inflammation. So how does this one-two punch work? Well, the aloe assists in clearing acne and cleansing pores without causing any irritation and dryness, and at the same time, the tea tree oil acts as an anti-fungal that eliminates bacteria from pores that cause inflammation and redness. Together, the ingredients create a refreshing face wash that actively clears skin and leaves it with a more youthful appearance.
Shoppers have confirmed how stellar the formula truly is and have reported that it gives “fantastic results.” One 31-year-old reviewer, who explained they suffer from redness, large pores, and sun spots, called the product their favorite after having been on the hunt for a cleanser that didn’t irritate their skin. “This stuff is amazing. I have been using this for a few days now, and I can already tell a difference in my skin. I have tried hundreds of different facial products, and I think I’ve finally hit the jackpot,” they said.
“I really like this product. It does a great job cleansing the skin without over-cleaning, [and never] causing dryness,” another customer wrote, adding, “I find my skin is brighter with less fine lines and dullness like other cleansers leave behind.”
Another shopper said that the cleanser is also great for fighting hyperpigmentation. “I had acne marks from when I was 17 (55 now), and within one month of using the toner, wash, and serum, I can say I cannot see [a] spot on my face. For the price, these products work super. Now with sunscreen upkeep, I’m set. Don’t bother wasting money on higher price hyperpigmentation products, this is all you’ll need.”
“After only three days of use, I’ve experienced overall [improved] skin tone, along with a more youthful look. The blemishes are gradually fading away as well,” a final shopper said.