Here’s How To Create Your Perfect Skincare Routine, Step-by-Step
Main image – Leirecavia/Stocksy
If I had a pound for every time someone told me they wanted to start a consistent, well-balanced skincare routine but had no idea where to start, I’d be typing this from my very own island in the Maldives.
With so many options to choose from social media and in the shops now, I’m always asked where on earth to begin when choosing the right routine for your skin. Yup, it’s confusing and overwhelming. Almost to the point of not bothering – I get it.
My first piece of advice? Block out the noise of what you’ve heard you should or shouldn’t be using (TikTok, I’m looking at you), and first whittle it down to the very basic steps.
Then, once you’ve nailed the essentials, you can start building around them with stronger, more targeted ingredients and products. It’s a bit of a puzzle, but I promise it’s worth it.
Because as frustrating as it all seems and however much you want to give up now, practicing a good skincare regime is beneficial to both the short and long-term condition of your skin.
So, with the help of aesthetician Tyhira Stovall and skincare expert Dr Sonia Khorana, this article is armed with the knowledge and tools to help you build your very own custom regime. Starting with the basics and working your way up.
Step 1: Find your skin type
Although the concept of skin types has been around a while (over 100 years!), there’s still a lot of confusion about what they are and how to find yours.
Essentially, skin types are just a broad way of categorising how our skin generally behaves – from being prone to being dry to oily.
- Dry skin: Will often look dull, have a rough texture and be prone to flakiness and fine lines.
- Oily skin: Will often look shinier with slightly larger looking pores, and may be more prone to breakouts.
- Sensitive skin: Will often react easily to using new products, becoming red or irritated. It may also become dry easily.
- Normal skin: Will be neither oily nor dry.
- Combination skin: Will often be oilier in some areas (like your t zone – the area across your forehead and down your nose), and drier in other areas. Alternatively, you may find you’re oily across your whole face in hotter weather and drier in colder temperatures.
To work out exactly which type you have, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and leave your skin without moisturiser or any other products for an hour. After an hour, and before applying any products, examine your skin.
If it looks or feels tight all over it’s probably dry. If it’s you’re already noticing oiliness all over it may be oily, or if you’re seeing redness it’s probably sensitive.
If your skin is neither oily nor dry you may have normal skin. And if you’re seeing oiliness on your t zone and dryness on your cheeks, it’s probably combination.
Step 2: Pick the right essentials
As promised, let’s go back to basics with a short list of the essentials every skincare routine should have.
“No matter the skin type, the following products will help restore the skin surface and help prevent further skin issues,” says Stovall.
Why it’s essential: “Clean skin is the foundation of a healthy routine,” Stovall says. “Cleansing helps you to start your day with a clean slate,” adds Dr Khorana.
How to choose yours: “Start with a gentle, sulphate-free cleanser to remove dirt, makeup and excess oils without stripping the skin of its natural moisture,” Stovall explains. Try Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (£6.65 from Amazon UK /$13.49 from Amazon US) which suits all skin types.
Alternatively, choose one according to your skin type (oily/dry/combination/sensitive). Dr Khorana has a sneaky tip for mixed skin types.
How to use it: Milks and micellar water cleansers are usually applied with a cotton pad and you use water for gels, foaming cleansers, oil cleansers and cleansing balms. Make sure you always read the instructions to get the best out of your cleanser. Some need water to activate them whilst others are best removed with a wash-cloth or muslin.
PRO TIP: “You can use different products on different parts of your face,” she says. “Foamy ones for the oily areas and balmy ones for drier ones or look for lactic acid or mandelic acid as these are bigger molecules so are gentler on sensitive skin.”
Why it’s essential: “Adding an exfoliant once a week helps remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover,” says Stovall. “It can improve skin texture and minimise the appearance of pores.” It can also help to fade hyperpigmentation and smooth the skin.
How to choose yours: Depending on your skin type, you can either go for a liquid chemical exfoliator or a physical, grainy exfoliator.
A chemical exfoliator contains buffing and smoothing ingredients like lactic or salicylic acid. Because of its liquid formula, it is gentler than a more abrasive physical exfoliator and once your skin is used to it, can be used twice daily.
“BHAs [beta hydroxy acids] like salicylic acid are particularly suited to oily/combination, congested or acne prone skin,” says Dr Khorana. A physical exfoliator digs deeper into pores and should only be used once or twice a week.
I also use Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant (from £18 from Look Fantastic UK /$18 from Dermalogica US) without fail, twice a week – it’s a powder that you mix with water in your hand to make a physical exfoliator.
How to use it: A chemical exfoliator is usually poured onto a cotton pad and swept around the skin, just like you’d use a micellar water or normal toner.
A physical exfoliator is usually applied with fingers and needs a bit of water to spread the product around the skin. Apply it in circular motions getting into every nook of your face and rinse off with water.
Why it’s essential: “Hydration is critical for skin health,” says Stovall. “A good moisturiser will help to maintain the skin’s natural moisture barrier, keeping it supple and preventing dryness, fine lines and more.”
How to choose yours: “Even if you have oily or combination skin, it’s still important to moisturise,” Dr Khorana explains. “You can tailor the texture and thickness to suit you.”
Think about your skin concerns and what you want to address. For example, if you have dry and sensitive skin, “look for ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, squalene, glycerin and panthenol,” she continues.
“Creamy/balm/oil textures are skin barrier friendly ingredients and humectants (which hold moisture in), so perfect for dry skin types or people with an impaired skin barrier.” Try The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA (£6.10 from The Ordinary UK /$6.50 from The Ordinary US) which contains ceramides, glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
Oily skin types should look for words like ‘mattifying’, ‘oil-free’ or ‘non-comedogenic’ on the label. Try Facetheory Supergel Oil-Free Moisturiser M3 (£16 from Face Theory UK) which is lightweight yet soothing.
How to use it: Scoop or squeeze out a pea-sized blob amount and massage it all over your skin, starting from your jawline and working your way upwards.
Why it’s essential: “This is a non-negotiable part of your morning skincare regime,” says Dr Khorana. “Sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is your best defense against premature ageing and skin damage,” explains Stovall. “It helps protect your skin from UV rays, preventing sunspots, wrinkles and skin cancer, regardless of skin type.”
How to choose yours: Much like your moisturiser, think about your skin type and concerns when choosing an SPF. But most importantly, check it has broad spectrum (which covers both UVA and UVB) and that it’s SPF 30 or above. I love La Roche Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF 50+ Sun Cream (£19.90 from Look Fantastic UK) for its non-tacky, lightweight finish.
How to use it: “Always and often!” says Stovall. Ideally, you should be applying your SPF every two hours, especially in hot temperatures.
Step 3: Add in any extras
So, now that you’ve got your basics covered, you can add in more targeted formulas if needed. “During the daytime, look for antioxidants such as vitamin C which fight free radical damage,” advises Dr Khorana. “This should be done before you moisturise and use your SPF.”
Why it’s useful: Serums penetrate deeper beneath the skin’s surface so they are your most hard-working product. They add hydration but also help to treat any skin concerns in a more targeted way. “They address specific concerns like hyperpigmentation, fine lines or acne,” says Stovall.
How to choose yours: Again, go with your skin type and/or concern. “Common serums include vitamin C for brightening and hyaluronic acid for hydration,” Stovall explains. These usually suit most skin types.
To encourage cell turnover, a retinol serum in the evening would be beneficial. Just make sure you introduce retinol into your regime slowly. Sensitive skin types should be weary of using retinol as it’s so strong but there are plant alternatives available that give similar results.
How to use it: Applied before your moisturiser, serums have a runnier consistency so watch out! As with your moisturiser, a pea sized blob is usually enough to cover the entire face. Massage it in so that it spreads all over and wait for it to sink in before you apply your moisturiser.
Why it’s useful: “Eye creams help with puffiness, dark circles and fine lines around the eyes,” says Stovall. The skin around your eyes is thinner and more delicate than on the rest of your face so it is beneficial to add in an eye cream when your budget allows.
How to choose yours: “You want to look for ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants,” advises Stovall. Also, caffeine is great for de-puffing and helping to reduce dark circles (the skincare ingredient, not the drink!).
How to use it: Apply it in blobs using your ring finger (that’s the one with the lightest pressure.) It also helps to keep your eye cream in the fridge for extra coolness, especially if your eyes are puffy.
Step 4: Layer your products in the right order
The general rule of thumb is to start with your thinnest product and finish with your thickest. So, this usually means cleanser first, then physical exfoliator (once or twice a week)/chemical exfoliator, eye cream, serum, moisturiser and finally, SPF.
If you can, try to wait until your serum has sunk in properly before you apply your moisturiser. This just gives it time to work its magic and not get confused with the next step.
And remember to check that you’re not layering ingredients with ones they don’t gel with as this can often lead to irritation and redness.
For example, if you’re using salicylic acid, try not to apply retinol on top as this can lead to a bad skin reaction. You can check on various brands’ websites what goes well with what. Skincare brand The Inkey List has a particularly useful ingredients index.
If you start with the basics, then it’s easy to build a skincare regime from there. Once you are happy with the bare essentials, you can ‘upgrade’ and slot in a few extras in between that will help to treat any skin concerns.
To kick-start a really good skincare regime, treat yourself to a cleanser that you really enjoy using so that you use it consistently. And choose your moisturiser and SPF according to your skin type.
Give your regime time to start working before you move on. You should start to notice a difference in your skin after around 8 weeks of use.
Remember, consistency is key! If you’re not consistent, your products won’t work to their full potential. And finally, enjoy using your products. Skincare is a form of self-care, and both you and your skin deserve some TLC!
Meet the experts
Tyhira Stovall is a licensed aesthetician and root.d PR co-founder.
Dr Sonia Khorana is a GP with a special interest in dermatology, working as an aesthetic doctor, laser specialist and wellness & menopause lead. She is also the Dermatology Expert for Olay UK and Hero Cosmetics UK and a judge for this year‘s Glamour Beauty Power List Awards and Get The Gloss Beauty Awards. Her Instagram page shares her regular skincare tips with thousands of followers.