I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that my skincare routine involves five steps in the morning and another four or five in the evening, with alternate products every two nights. True story: I spend so much time in front of the mirror, my fiancé calls our bathroom my “office.” But my routine is nothing compared to women in Korea, who average over 20 steps in their beauty regimens. Is this whole cleanser-toner-serum-treatment-moisturizer-mask situation even necessary, or just a product of modern marketing? After all, most of our grandmothers made do with a tub of cold cream and not much else.
“‘Less is more’ is often better,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, board certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “The benefits of paring down your skincare regimen are that you won’t be exposed to many chemicals. It will also be less likely that your skin will be irritated.” So what’s the bare minimum of steps you can get away with and still have great skin? Dr. Jaliman says just three.
Here’s the breakdown:
1. Wash your face.
Dr. Jaliman recommends a “good mild cleanser.” No need to get fancy; any treatment ingredients in a cleanser aren’t on your face for long enough to make much of a difference. If your skin is dry, try non-lathering Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($10.79, drugstore.com). Oilier types should opt for a gentle foaming cleanser, such as Avène Cleansing Foam ($20, soap.com) or Boots No7 Beautiful Skin Foaming Cleanser ($8.49, target.com). Dry skin types only need to cleanse in the evening; oily types should cleanse morning and night. Follow with a basic moisturizer if your skin feels tight.
2. Wear sunscreen. Every day. No exceptions.
Dr. Jaliman recommends “a broad-spectrum sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with SPF 30.” We love Renée Rouleau Daily Protection SPF 30 ($35.50, reneerouleau.com) for its non-greasy, ultra-lightweight feel and non-chalky 7% micronized zinc oxide. If your skin is dry, choose a moisturizing formula such as Eucerin Daily Protection Moisturizing Face Lotion ($8.99, eucerinus.com).
3. Use one anti-aging product.
Make it a retinol, which Dr. Jaliman says is “very beneficial.” Retinol helps reduce fine lines, dark spots, and past UV damage while it improves skin texture and firmness. New NIA 24 Intensive Retinol Repair ($130, nia24.com) features niacin to help prevent the irritation that often comes with using retinol. Olay Regenerist Intensive Repair Treatment ($25.99, olay.com) is a great drugstore option. Stronger prescription retinoids (which work in a similar way as over-the-counter retinols) have been proven to fight both signs of aging and acne.
What you can skip:
“Most people don’t need to use a toner so that’s a step I would definitely avoid,” says Dr. Jaliman.
2. A separate eye cream
If your regular moisturizer doesn’t irritate your eye area, just use that (of course, if the eye area is a big concern for you, a targeted treatment might be a good idea).
Since taking a look at my own skincare routine, I’ve been able to pare down the steps on days when I don’t have the time or energy to mess with multiple potions. But, to be honest, I kind of like spending time on my skin — it’s my time to relax and focus on me. Of course, it’s good to know that I could be low-maintenance…if I felt like it.