The Ultimate Pared-Down Skin Care Routine with Only 3 Products
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The skin is your body’s largest and most visible organ. No wonder so many people prioritize skin care.
According to Statista, . million people in the U.S. spent at least $ on skin care products during the last months of .
But what if experts told you that it doesn’t take a vanity full of pricey products to give your skin exactly what it needs?
“We don’t believe in dumping the kitchen sink at people’s skin,” says Morgana Colombo, MD, FAAD and a co-founder of Skintap. “We believe in using things that are needed and have good active ingredients that have proven efficacy.”
Though those ingredients may vary from person to person, the building-block products remain the same.
Here’s what a pair of dermatologists say everyone needs to care for their skin. They also dished on nice-to-haves and items you can skip.
Angelo Landriscina, MD, FAAD, says it’s easy to complicate things with so many products out there. When it comes to skin care, more isn’t always merrier.
A morning skin care routine is as easy as -- products. Landriscina advises people to apply the following three products in this order in the morning:
Landriscina says you can ditch the sunscreen at night and simply reapply cleanser and moisturizer.
Landriscina and Colombo agree that it’s essential to wash your face thoroughly with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser before applying any other products.
Landriscina suggests keeping it basic and avoiding something that strips the skin. However, figuring out what that means for you may not be an exact science.
He says your best bet is to start with something designed for sensitive skin, as that’s least likely to cause irritation.
For example, people with oily or acne-prone skin often do best with a foaming cleanser, whereas people with normal or dry skin typically prefer gentle, nonfoaming options.
Colombo suggests Cetaphil Dermacontrol Foaming Cleanser for oily skin and Cerave Hydrating Cleanser for dry skin.
Landriscina explains that the skin is designed to keep the outside out dirt, bacteria and inside in organs, bones, and joints.
“Using a good moisturizer repairs skin barrier function and holds in water,” Landriscina says.
Though some moisturizers have SPF , Landriscina and Colombo say it’s essential to apply sunscreen and reapply it every hours if you’re exposed to the sun.
They recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both harmful UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that is at least SPF .
“UV rays and UV radiation are the primary modifiable risk factor when it comes to skin cancer risk,” Landriscina says. “Using sunscreen every day consistently the correct way is one of the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer.”
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association AAD.
Sunscreen should always go on after cleanser and moisturizer. Allow it to dry before applying makeup.
“It has to form an even film over the skin,” Landriscina explains. “Putting skin care products on after it can disrupt it.”
Some products aren’t necessary but having them may give your skin an extra boost. These include:
“The primary way UV radiation damages the skin is through a process called free radical formation,” Landriscina said. “Antioxidants can neutralize those free radicals.”
A study indicated that topical use of Vitamin C had anti-aging or as we like to say “pro-aging” benefits.
Another study from suggested that topical application of products containing Ubiquinone coQ could reduce free radicals.
A systematic review notes that early evidence shows tumeric could have a positive effect on skin health if applied topically or taken orally.
Landriscina says antioxidants are often present in moisturizers, so you may not need an extra product. You can also find them in serums. Colombo recommends Vidaderma Vitamin C serum.
Though a quality moisturizer should do the trick, a hydrating serum can be particularly useful for people with dry skin or who live in drier climates.
A study suggested that hyaluronic acid could hydrate the skin, but a study indicated that these benefits depend on the molecular weight.
The AAD lists glycerin as an ingredient in creams or ointments that can help relieve dry skin.
Colombo explains that retinols are available over the counter, whereas retinoids require a prescription from a dermatologist or primary care physician.
A study found that topical application of retinoids significantly reduces wrinkles after weeks.
Landriscina and Colombo believe skin care is about quality, not quantity. Some tools appear more valuable than they actually are.
Cleansing brushes. They can be harsh on the skin. “Two clean hands are a perfect way to clean the skin,” Landriscina says.
Keeping it simple is the name of the game, but individuals with certain skin conditions, such as acne, may want to take a few extra steps.
Colombo says people with acne will want to look for specialized cleansers. Ingredients she often recommends to patients with acne include:
A separate review noted salicylic acid likely wasn’t more effective than benzoyl peroxide. It also indicated that topical products containing sulfur at concentrations of percent to percent could aid in acne treatment.
Fragrances can irritate eczema, rosacea, and sensitive skin, so Landriscina suggests people with these conditions avoid scented products.
Colombo suggests keeping products as basic as possible without many bells and whistles. She recommends gentle mineral cleansers and moisturizers.
“Chemical ones with acid like glycolic acid and retinols cause more irritation,” she adds. “Ceramides help replenish the skin barrier and retain moisture.”
Landriscina says people with skin conditions should make it a point to see a dermatologist in person at least once to get customized care and recommendations.
If a person doesn’t have access to a dermatologist, he suggests seeing a primary care physician.
“A lot of them know about common skin conditions like eczema and acne and may be able to help with prescription medications,” he says.
Landriscina recommends people with skin conditions, particularly individuals prone to irritation and inflammation, test products before using them. To do this, he suggests:
Apply a small amount of the product once per day to a noncosmetically sensitive area, such as behind the ear.
Skin care doesn’t have to consist of applying numerous products and constantly changing your routine. In fact, dermatologists recommend against that.
It’s best to stick to a few products that really work for you. Consider a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen your basic, nonnegotiable building blocks. Products with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients, like serums, are useful bonuses.
If you have a skin condition like acne or eczema, speak with a dermatologist or primary care physician and test products before use.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.