“I have always been super into skincare,” Zoë Kravitz says on a recent summer afternoon. Today, the High Fidelity actress is finally revealing the secrets behind her signature lit-from-within complexion, from what she puts on her skin to what she puts into her body. Beginning with a pumpkin lactic cleanser – “it smells like Christmas!” she quips – Kravitz’s routine includes just a handful of carefully selected skincare saviours, including a light serum from Retrouvé, the French pharmacy favourite Caudalie mist, and Isun’s SPF 27 Sun Butter – many of which she has shared with her mother, Lisa Bonet. “My mom and I are constantly sending each other things that we like,” says the 32-year-old, who notes that she also embarks on a 30-day Dr Schulze detoxifying cleanse with Bonet every year. “I really think wellness starts with diet, exercise, [and] hydration,” she says. “I think it’s all about balance, right? I think it’s about joy and happiness and laughter. I really think that affects how you look and feel. Then, you don’t have to use make-up to cover yourself up; you can use it to highlight.”
With her face adequately moisturised, Kravitz goes on to reach for only nine make-up products, all of which leave an almost entirely imperceptible finish. “It’s fun that no one can tell you’re wearing something on your eyes or on your face,” she muses, after perfecting her complexion not with foundation but rather with light strokes of Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Éclat concealer. “It’s like a little trick!” Here are her own above-the-neck sleights of hand: First, she dots a thin-tipped black pencil on just the outer corner of her lids, blending the mark outward and upward with her pinky finger for an opening effect. She then pats a bronze Nudestix pigment onto her cheeks and lids for a touch of believable colour. Finally, with a pink-toned Marc Jacobs crayon in hand, she softly lines her lips, paying extra attention to the centre of her mouth for peak poutiness. “There are different kinds of make-up, and everyone finds their own style, but I do like to try to encourage people to enhance the things that you love and not try to change your face completely,” she explains of her go-to approach. After all, as she puts it, “Everyone is so pretty in their own way.”
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, right now my soul is looking tired, lined, puffy, and a little distressed. Along with genetics, it seems like everything can affect that sensitive under-eye area in some way. Too little sleep, stress, wine (oops), or excess time spent in front of a screen can all contribute to your under-eyes looking a bit worse for wear. Selfie-worthy eye treatments can help when you’re feeling like a lost cause, but what about eye creams? To answer our burning questions–like, “Do they even work?”–ELLE turned to dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal, for insight.
WHY IS EYE CREAM SO POPULAR?
“Eye creams have become popular in the past two years because our eyes are the only things people see due to masking,” says Dr. Lal. “I have had a five-fold increase in people asking for eyelid rejuvenation treatments and eye creams.“
DO EYE CREAMS WORK?
“I believe eye cream is necessary in a skincare routine because the eye sockets and eye skin change dramatically as we age,” says Dr. Lal. “The issue with eye creams is people think they work quickly when in reality the creams should be used for at least 12 weeks before making any judgment about their effectiveness. I make patients take selfies at baseline and after 12 weeks of daily use to compare.” If after 12 weeks you’re still not seeing a huge improvement, you might prefer to opt for an in-office treatment. “Eye rejuvenation includes procedures such as platelet-rich plasma to improve crepey skin, tear trough filler for hollow under-eyes, vascular laser treatment for darkness from blood vessels, or ablative resurfacing for overall skin laxity.”
WHAT INGREDIENTS ARE GOOD TO LOOK FOR IN AN EYE CREAM?
“Most people want to get rid of dark circles and crepey skin,” says Dr. Lal. “I love eye products that have arnica in them, which helps with darkness and pigmentation from fragile under-eye blood vessels. I also love products that have peptides that stimulate collagen production. One of my favorite peptides in argireline, because it tightens the skin similar to how Botox works.”
WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD YOU AVOID IN AN EYE CREAM?
“I avoid eye creams that have a lot of fragrance because eyelid skin is very thin—one of the thinnest parts of our body—and this can lead to irritation, which can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Lal.
Sleepless nights might be the cause of your under-eye crinkling. If so, this product taps retinol to combat those lines. Over time, your eye area will start looking brighter, with more even skin tone, and fewer crow’s feet.
CeraVe Eye Repair Cream
Our eyes go through a lot, which is why they need a little bit of extra protection and nourishment. with a combination of moisture building and sealing hyaluronic acid and ceramides, this eye cream forms a barrier that will help minimize the effect of stress and reduce and prevent puffiness.
Naturium Multi-Peptide Eye Cream
With the help of argireline and squalane, Naturium’s treatment visibly tightens the skin around your eyes, while also delivering plenty of hydration and nourishment. You’ll look so refreshed and awake that people will think you actually sleep eight hours every night.
Clarins Total Eye Lift Eye Cream
No need to book that appointment with your friendly plastic surgeon. This eye cream works double-time to eliminate signs of aging like crow’s feet and other fine lines. Plus, it works fast. In just one application, you’ll notice a definitive difference in your eye’s contour.
Strivectin Advanced Retinol Eye Cream
Odds are you’re already aware of using retinol on your face, but this product uses the ingredient to specifically target many of the same skin concerns around your eyes more gently. In addition to reducing fine lines, the cream also plumps and hydrates for a firmer appearance.
Shani Darden Intensive Eye Renewal Cream
Using peptides, ceramides, squalane, and niacinamide, this product works to reduce dark circles. Plus, it also fights against puffiness and imparts crucial hydration to the under-eyes.
Biossance Squalane + Marine Algae Eye Cream
The trick to looking younger, for longer? Intense hydration. This eye cream uses squalane and soothing marine algae to make the under-eyes look smooth and radiant by diminishing dark circles and puffiness. Over time, the treatment can also help fade fine lines.
Ole Henricksen Banana Bright Eye Crème
The skin under our eyes can start looking dull when they’re not properly cared for, emphasizing dark circles and puffiness. This brightening cream uses collagen and vitamin C to help your eyes look younger, brighter, and more contoured.
Clinique All About Eyes Rich
Nothing says “I haven’t slept” more than puffy under-eyes. This cream helps reverse that look to well-rested—even if you spent the night drinking wine instead of sleeping. Plus, it’s also a great primer for under-eye concealer to prevent creasing while covering dark circles.
Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Brightening Eye Cream
As the name suggests, peptides and vitamin C in this eye cream promise to brighten and firm the under-eyes, alleviating dark circles and hyperpigmentation. For people with sensitive skin, the formula is also fragrance-free.
ELF Holy Hydration! Illuminating Eye Cream
If your under-eyes desperately need some soothing hydration, this eye cream brings all that and more. Using hyaluronic acid, peptides, shea butter, and green tea extract, eyes will feel completely rejuvenated like a day at the spa.
Sunday Riley Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Cream
You need coffee to look like a functioning adult in the morning, but why leave your eyes out of the fun? This eye cream uses caffeine, shea butter, and natural extracts to brighten and de-puff your sleepy under-eyes.
When it comes to skincare heavy hitters, retinol is often the first and last thing out of savvy shoppers’ mouths. In a world where marketing lingo runs rampant and the majority of products are hit or miss, it’s reassuring to know that retinol, at least, has reversed signs of aging for decades. From there, the decision comes to which over-the-counter retinol cream is best, and French brand Avène’s found the sweet spot.
As a successor to the brand’s beloved RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream, Avène one-upped itself with the RetrinAL Advanced Wrinkle Corrector. The former excels as an anti-aging moisturizer that smoothes skin with added vitamin E and peptides, while the latter is a targeted treatment you dab anywhere you’d like skin to look significantly more plump and firm.
According to dozens of elated reviews, abracadabra, the Corrector grants that wish. Two weeks sees fine lines start to disappear, shoppers’ “deep nasolabial folds” receding in a “face altering” feat. “I saw results right away! I used this on certain parts of my face and put another retinol on the other parts to test its effectiveness, and by far this blew my other retinol out of the water,” a reviewer writes of the Corrector’s effects.
Others say the formula’s diminished deep wrinkles around their mouth and forehead so much they’re now looking for other places to put the cream, an accomplishment if we’ve ever heard one. Even 54-year-olds with “deep lines between [their] eyebrows” say a couple nights of the treatment has made an enormous difference — so, to get the science behind exactly how the Corrector puts other treatments to shame, InStyle asked Sheila Farhang, board-certified dermatologist and YouTube creator, for her thoughts on the ingredients.
“Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives, and are considered one of the ‘gold standard’ ingredients for anti-aging,” Farhang says. “They increase cell turnover, thereby increasing collagen stimulation to help with fine lines and discoloration. Retinoids also ‘de-plug’ clogged pores, which is why it’s commonly used for acne as well.” Speaking to the Avène formula specifically, she notes that it uses retinaldehyde, which is the most potent over-the-counter retinoid — so if you’ve tried other retinol creams and haven’t seen a big difference, it would be your best next step.
The stronger the retinoid, the higher the risk for redness, flaking, and irritation, so Farhang says you should always take it slow if it’s your first dance with the ingredient. Thankfully, Avène anticipated the potential sensitivity and added hyaluronic acid and thermal spring water, which she notes calm skin for “a win-win situation.”
Fellow dermatologist and YouTube creator Dr. Alexis Stephens agrees with Farhang, writing that the addition of algae-derived collactintm also helps skin look younger and more radiant. “The beauty of this formulation is that the powerful retinaldehyde is alongside Avene’s thermal spring water, which is clinically proven to smooth, soften and calm the skin,” Stephens says of the safe-for-sensitive-skin treatment. “I recommend this product so often, I carry it at my private practice for my patients.”
All of the above makes for a trauma-free experience, even for 49-year-old shoppers with “hyper-sensitive” skin. “Almost EVERYTHING gives me a bad reaction and/or breaks me out. Two and a half weeks in, and [I’m] seeing reduced neck wrinkles and pores shrunk to almost unnoticeable. I’m impressed.” As the French would say, voilà; in American English, whoomp!
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.”
For those of us blessed with dry, sensitive skin, building out a skin-care routine can, at best, be daunting and, at worst, painful. You can scour the internet for hours upon hours and walk the aisles of Sephora, sampling all the new! and! exciting! products! with! crazy! new! ingredients! that promise all benefits and no irritation, only to end up disappointed.
Recently though, an old-school ingredient has been making the rounds on skin-care shelves. “Centella asiatica — nicknamed ‘cica’— is an antioxidant-rich herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine,” says Dr. Hadley King, a New York City-based dermatologist. “The plant is known for its anti-inflammatory and highly moisturizing properties and has been effective against everything from burns to psoriasis.”
Dr. Sejal Shah, the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology (who is also based in New York City) is a fan of the ingredient because of its soothing and reparative properties. “‘Cica’ may also be a reference to cicatrization, which means wound healing,” she explains. “While [cica-containing] products aren’t exactly for wound healing, they are meant to soothe, repair and protect the skin.”
According to Dr. Shah, cica’s complexion benefits are the result of a number of “active substances that have wound healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and skin barrier repairing properties.” Those substances include asiatic acid, madecassic (brahmic) acid and asiaticoside, brahmoside — all of which can be spotted on ingredient lists if you’re not sure the product you’re looking at is the real deal.
“Many other ingredients that are effective in these ways can be irritating, so the fact that cica can provide these benefits without irritation makes it ideal for people with sensitive skin, or for people who are using other ingredients that irritate their skin — like retinoids or benzoyl peroxide or hydroquinone,” adds Dr. King.
Domestic and K-beauty brands alike have been featuring the ingredient in a wide range of products. Neogen makes an entire line of cica-centered products and items from Dr. Jart’s Cicapair range have shown up too many Instagram shelfies to count. Really, cica’s spike in visibility and popularity can be attributed to one thing: It works. “Yes, cica is a trendy ingredient right now, but I think the science shows that the hype is warranted,” says Dr. King. “Studies have shown that the cica extract is an effective wound-healing agent and has also been documented to be effective in the treatment of keloids, phlebitis, cellulitis, slow-healing wounds and stretch marks.”
As with any new skin-care product, you should consult your doctor if you’re concerned about how your skin might react to the ingredient, but Dr. King points out that cica has “no known adverse effects from topical application and contact sensitivity is considered unlikely because it is a weak sensitizer,” which basically means: Don’t eat it, and you’ll probably be fine.
As a generation of “skintellectuals”, we know our hyaluronic acids from our niacinamides. But ask most of us skincare know-it-alls exactly what our ingredients labels actually mean and we might fall at the first hurdle. Here, Vogue enlists the help of biochemist and cosmetic scientist Nausheen Qureshi to offer you a foolproof guide.
Where is the ingredient label?
The ingredients or International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients (INCI) list can’t always be found on the product itself. Sometimes it is hidden beneath peel-back stickers and often it can be found on the outer boxing the product came in.
What order do ingredients come in?
“Under regulation, all ingredients are listed in descending order, from the most concentrated, until you get to those at percentages below one per cent. At that point, they can be listed in whatever order the skincare brand wants,” says Qureshi. It is tricky for consumers not only to know the strength of each ingredient, but also to know where the one per cent mark lies.
How to understand ingredient names
The substances within the formula are listed by their chemical or biological names. “For example, a rose’s biological name is Rosa damascena, but there are other types of rose, such as the root or leaf, that are defined by different nomenclature,” says Qureshi. The INCI list highlights which part is used. While it can be tough to know exactly what each ingredient is, a quick Google or peruse on the EU’s CosIng database should reveal all.
Common ingredients to know
While formulas and their ingredients vary, there are a few familiar words to acquaint yourself with. Expect to see “aqua” or water as one of the first ingredients on many INCI lists, as well as glycols, which are good “solubilising ingredients that a lot of people are scared of because they sound like harsh chemicals,” says Qureshi. Don’t jump to conclusions when seeing confusing chemical names, as many of these ingredients are kind to skin, include crucial preservatives – which maintain the stability of the formula – and help other ingredients dissolve into the solution for a more effective product.
Learning the symbols
One of the most important symbols on the label is the period after opening (or PAO), a logo of a half-open tub containing a number followed by an M; for example, 24M means 24 months. “It’s an indication of how long you can expect the formula to last after opening it,” says Qureshi. “But don’t forget it could be shorter than that, depending on how long it was on the shelf (where the formula can still degrade) in the first place.” Other symbols include the Cosmos, which means the product has been certified to be genuinely organic or natural, and the recycling symbol, which shows it’s suitable for the recycling bin.
Skin icing – or facial cryotherapy – is one of the latest skincare trends flooding Instagram Reels and TikTok – and for good reason. Quite apart from the mesmerizing effect of watching celebrities and facialists massage ice globes onto their faces, the action of skin icing tightens and contracts the skin, leaving it sculpted and plump with an outdoorsy glow. A case in point is Irina Shayk, whose morning skincare routine comprises an ice tool by Nicole Caroline to wake up her face: “Trust me, it works!” she says in the IGTV for British Vogue.
The idea of applying ice or using a cryotherapy tool in a professional facial treatment isn’t new but the recent innovation of ice-based tools has meant it’s now easier than ever to give yourself an at-home skin icing treatment, without the unglamorous and frankly annoying downsides of melting ice cubes dripping on to your clothes. Whether you want to de-puff skin or get the blood circulating for a post-walk-in-the-cold glow, skin icing is your ticket to see results. Throw in the immediate lifting effect and the added benefit of lymphatic drainage and it becomes an even more exciting prospect.
Watch any YouTube tutorial and you’ll see before and after shots of icing: skin is glowing, pores are a thing of the past and, most noticeably, the face is lifted. Facialist Teresa Tarmey has been using cryotherapy in her treatments for years because the “ice-lift effect instantly and dramatically lifts saggy and puffy skin, rejuvenating a dull complexion and sculpting the face.” Indeed, icing was proving so popular in her salon that Tarmey created her own cryo-ball so that her clients could continue the treatment at home. “I first intended for it to be used before big events or to save stressed or problematic skin, but it’s so effective, many people use it every morning to de-puff and de-stress skin. The results are seriously impactful,” she says.
The promise of an immediate glow, tightened pores and de-puffing on your skin is reason enough to start skin icing but if you don’t fancy using simple ice cubes, make space in your freezer for one of these cryo tools.
Teresa Tarmey Cryo-Ball
This surgical-grade steel ball contains fluids that stay freezing cold while you roll the ball over the architecture of the face, along the jawline, up the cheekbones and across the forehead for a lifting effect.
Fraîcheur Ice Globes
Satisfyingly chic, freeze these spherical ice globes overnight and use them to give morning skin a massage. From enhancing circulation to taking down redness and puffiness, consider it a worthy AM skin ritual.
Georgia Louise Cryo-Facial Freeze Tools
In lieu of facialist Georgia Louise’s own hands and high-tech in-clinic procedure, look no further than her Cryo Freeze Tools. Louise recommends first rolling from the inner areas of the face, outwards; then, covering the eyes with the tools for 10 seconds to de-puff.
001 Skincare Cryopress
Counting the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Gigi Hadid as fans, this little tool maintains a temperature of between -8 and -25 degrees Celsius to get the job done – and efficiently. The brand also claim it helps more sensitive skins, like those that suffer with eczema and psoriasis, too.
Foreo UFO 2
This nifty little tool has a number of settings, from LED light to heat therapy and, of course, a cryo function which helps to shrink pores, reduce puffiness and take down inflammation. It’s not the coldest, at five degrees Celsius, but it does the job well.
Anne Semonin Express Radiance Ice Cubes
Specifically designed for the eye area, these skincare-infused ice cubes can fit in even the tiniest of freezers and make brightening tired eyes a total breeze.
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.
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.”
In the beauty world, not being able to withstand a retinol product is an Achilles heel. Touted as one of the strongest and most effective products to treat fine lines, uneven texture, discolouration, and even acne, retinol is basically the Holy Grail. It also happens to be the only ingredient the skin either absolutely can not stand, or it loves it. About an hour after putting on a retinol–even the gentlest ones on the market–some people’s skin begins to peel, develop bumps all over the face, and it’s a general mess. BUT…
“This texture is so smooth and hydrating, which is always a good sign, since retinol products are notoriously drying. After layering it with a moisturizer, I went to bed and prayed I woke up to a decent face. To my immense surprise, my skin felt silky smooth, I wasn’t having a bad reaction at all, and I even felt confident to try it again, two nights later.” – ELLE Beauty Editor
This product is a blend of retinol with fatty acids derived from sunflower seeds–which makes it less irritating–along with line-reducing stevia extract and hydrating mongo grass root extract.