Skincare Basics: Morning & Night Routine for Beginners

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Key Points

  • To achieve healthy skin, incorporate three skincare basics into your regimen: cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen.

  • Cater your skincare products to your skin type, your skin's needs, and your personal preferences.

  • Consistency with skincare basics ensures lasting health and radiance.

Why is it so important to take care of your skin? Simple: Your skin is the largest organ of your body and a very vital one. Skin shields your body from external culprits like bacteria, germs, changes in temperature, chemicals, and ultraviolet rays. That's skincare basics 101!

Everyone's skin types and needs are different. And even more than that, the skin on your face requires different care than the skin of your body. Read on to learn how to incorporate skincare basics into your morning and nighttime routines to achieve health and radiance for your unique skin.

What Are the Basics of Skincare? 

The most basic skincare routines consist of three daily practices: cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen. Cleansing refreshes the skin, moisturizing hydrates it, and sunscreen protects your skin from the sun's UV rays. By consistently implementing these steps, you'll prevent skin damage and be on your way to healthy skin.

Consider leveling up your skincare regimen to repair damage or aging concerns you already have, such as scars, blemishes, discoloration, or wrinkles. Perhaps you want to combat a skin disorder that keeps your skin from looking and being healthy. If so, it’s time you add skincare treatments to your beauty routine.

Skincare Routine for Morning and Night

Your morning and evening routine will differ from everyone else's depending on your skin type, skin goals, the number of products you use, and your personal preference. The following guide offers tips and techniques to get you started on your skincare journey.

A variety of skincare products, bottles, and creams on table with flowers

Step 1: Wash Your Face in the Morning and/or at Night

Washing your face in the morning removes the gunk that builds up on your skin overnight. It also frees the skin of products you applied during your nighttime skincare routine. This simple action refreshes and cleans your skin, preparing it for other skincare products and makeup applications.

To begin, gently wash your face with a cleanser catered to your skin type. If you’re using a rinse-off cleanser, dampen your face with warm water while massaging your skin in a circular motion. Applying water to your face allows you to smoothly lather the cleanser onto your skin. This action ensures the product reaches and removes dirt, excess oils, and bacteria.

There are no set rules about washing your face with a cleanser. Depending on your skin’s needs, you may skip the cleanser, but that doesn't mean you should move to toning right away. On her YouTube channel, New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss says, “If you are not extremely oily and you actually have dry skin, you can skip the morning cleanse.”

If you opt out of cleansing, rinse your face with warm water to eliminate residue and overnight sweat. A simple water rinse helps you avoid overwashing or using cleansers that are too harsh for your skin type. While you might be tempted to scrub away all your excess sebum for a squeaky clean face, be careful not to go overboard.

Overwashing removes your skin’s natural oils, leaving your face feeling dry, taut, and irritated. If you eliminate too much of your natural skin oils, you may damage your skin's protective barrier — the outermost layer of your skin. When you impair your skin barrier, it cannot properly ward off external threats, making you more prone to breakouts, skin infections, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Remove the excess water from your face by gently patting it dry with a clean towel or letting it air dry. Keep your face a little damp so your moisturizer locks in the moisture in your skin and keeps it hydrated.

Cleansing your face at night is the one step you must try your best not to skip. It removes the skin impurities you accumulate during the day. 

Before washing your face at night, make sure to remove your makeup with an oil-based or water-based makeup remover and a cotton pad. The type of makeup remover you use depends on your skin type and the amount of makeup you wear. Micellar water is a popular makeup remover and is usually safe for all skin types. Do not use a makeup wipe as they don’t effectively remove all the makeup from your face and some include chemicals that harm your skin. 

Step 2: Exfoliate Day or Night But Not Everyday

Exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the face. Both chemical and mechanical exfoliation methods can achieve this, but it's important to know the difference. While mechanical exfoliants physically scrub away dead skin cells with a tool like a scrub, brush, or washcloth, chemical exfoliation breaks down dead skin cells with acids.

Mechanical exfoliants may be too harsh on the skin, so be mindful of your skin type. If you have sensitive skin, a gentle chemical exfoliator might be a better investment. If your skin is oily, mechanical methods may work for you. 

You can exfoliate day or night, but only if you feel your skin can handle it. Avoid exfoliating every day as over-exfoliating leaves your face red, flaky, irritated, or burning. If you feel your exfoliator is harming your skin, stop using it to avoid skin barrier damage.

A general rule of thumb is to limit exfoliation to one or two times a week if your skin handles the process well. If you do exfoliate, be aware that exfoliants make your skin more sensitive to the sun. So make sure not to overdo it, and wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.

Exfoliating is a step you can skip. If your cleanser does a good job of removing dead skin cells on its own, you need not exfoliate. Your skin sheds dead skin cells every day and naturally regenerates itself about every 30 days, replacing old dead skin cells with new ones. Exfoliating takes care of these impurities faster.

If you're new to exfoliating, start by doing it only once a week to see how your skin responds.

Size hands raised into air holding skincare containers

Step 3: Use a Facial Toner Day and/or Night (Optional)

Face toners balance the pH levels of your skin and remove the last bits of residue and impurities that remain after cleansing. If your cleanser removes grime and dirt on its own, you may skip toning. Your skin balances pH levels on its own, so toning is not an essential skincare step. There are also pH-balanced cleansers to consider instead of buying a toner. 

Toners hydrate, brighten, and temporarily tighten skin while minimizing the appearance of pores. They also prepare your skin to absorb other skincare products more effectively. Not everyone uses facial toner. If you feel that you need it, use a hydrating toner after cleansing or exfoliating in your skincare routine. You don’t need to use it every day, and whether you use it once or twice a day depends on your skin’s needs.  

It's typically unwise to use both an exfoliating toner and an exfoliator every day because frequent simultaneous use will likely irritate your skin. For best results, choose one or the other — or alternate!

Step 4: Apply Serums and Retinoids (Optional)

Serums provide active ingredients that combat skin problems and give your face a healthier glow. As with other skincare products, the serum that's right for you depends on your skin type and goals. Serums treat fine lines and wrinkles, protect against free radical damage, brighten skin, and more. 

Face serums contain common active skincare ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and more. You may apply these skin treatments both during the day and night, depending on the ingredients. Some ingredients are better for nighttime. For instance, glycolic acid and lactic acid are safer at night as they make your skin more sensitive to the sun's rays.

Retinols, a type of retinoid, are some of the best skin treatments prescribed by dermatologists. Over-the-counter retinol is available too. They increase collagen and elastin production, unclog pores, reduce signs of aging, and provide plumper skin. They also improve skin texture and tone and dyspigmentation.

Many people give up on their retinol treatments because they experience redness, irritation, dryness, peeling of the skin, itching, and other symptoms. It takes time for the skin to adjust to retinoids, and these temporary side effects usually subside within a couple of weeks. Doctors may recommend applying moisturizer first to buffer the effect of retinoids and prevent irritation. 

Only use retinol during your nighttime routine, and apply them to dry skin. Don’t use retinol and retinoids (including topical and oral) if you are pregnant, are trying to conceive, or are breastfeeding. Retinoids or retinol are vitamin A derivatives, and taking too much can lead to vitamin A toxicity, serious birth defects, or may harm unborn babies. 

Step 5: Spot Treatment

Spot treatments tackle specific areas of concern on your face and are usually applied at night when your skin repairs itself. They fight dark spots, blemishes, pimples, scars, and more.

Pimple patches that suck out the oil and bacteria from pimples are one common form of a spot treatment. Other popular treatments come with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which are among the best acne-fighting ingredients.

Not all spot treatment ingredients are suitable for all skin types or ages. Beware of combining them with retinol as it may lead to irritation and dry skin. While many over-the-counter options are available, consult a skin expert to make sure these medications are safe for you.

Step 6: Use an Eye Cream

If you are concerned about dark circles, wrinkles, dryness, and puffiness under the eyes, an eye cream may be perfect for you. The skin around the eyes is thinner and more delicate than the skin on other parts of your body, so take extra care when applying products to the area.

In the morning, use an eye cream that temporarily tightens the skin under your eyes, reduces puffiness, and minimizes the appearance of wrinkles. If you have sensitive eyes, some products may lead to irritation. Instead of a cream, apply a cold compress to depuff your eyes. 

Dr. Idriss recommends avoiding rubbing your eyes as it can cause the under-eye area to darken. She says that caffeine-based eye creams or cold caffeinated black tea bags may eliminate under-eye shadows. If you have under-eye pigmentation, applying sunscreen “dramatically improve[s] the pigment and the color underneath your eyes over time."

If you are genetically susceptible to pigmentation under the eyes, Dr. Idriss suggests getting assistance from a board-certified dermatologist because eye creams may not work for you.

Retinols can also work as under-eye creams. Apply a small amount of low-strength retinol, especially if you’ve never used one before. Since it takes time for your skin to get used to retinoids, apply them a few times a week then slowly work your way up to daily use. 

Remember that retinol is only for nighttime use. If you’re worried about irritating your eyes, apply a moisturizer or petroleum jelly first to buffer the effect of your retinol products. Applying retinoids to dry instead of damp skin also lessens their absorption, preventing eye irritation. 

Three women with different hair and skin tones smile

Step 7: Moisturizer

Moisturizing is an essential step in any skincare routine — even if you have oily skin. Find a moisturizer that is compatible with your skin type. Moisturizing locks in your skin’s moisture, ensuring your face stays hydrated throughout the day. It also serves as a protective barrier against environmental factors. Many skincare experts recommend moisturizing twice a day: once in the morning and once at night.

Don’t overdo it; apply no more than a nickel-sized amount to avoid over-moisturizing your face. Over-moisturizing can disrupt your skin barrier and give you dry skin. It may also lead to irritation and cause acne flare-ups. 

Step 8: Wear Sunscreen

Never leave sunscreen out of your skincare routine — especially if you spend several hours outside. When you don’t wear sunscreen, you increase your chances of getting skin cancer and sunburn, which is skin damage caused by overexposure to UV light. And even on cloudy days where you never physically see the sun, its rays are still making their way to your skin. The sun’s rays still penetrate over 90% of their UV light through clouds. Consider wearing sunscreen indoors as well as UV radiation can pass through glass windows. 

Not all sunscreens are created equal. Some leave an unpleasant white cast on your skin. Some have different sun protection factor (SPF) numbers, which indicate the level of protection a product provides against UVB light. The higher the SPF number, the greater the UVB protection. For instance, an SPF of 15 indicates that it takes 15 times longer to burn in the sun than if you aren’t wearing sunscreen.

Sun-blocking products with broad-spectrum labels indicate protection against both UVB and UVA rays. While UVA rays cause premature aging which produces wrinkles, UVB rays are more likely to cause sunburns. 

When shopping for sunscreen, look for a water-resistant and broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers an SPF of 30 or more. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays. Dermatologists recommend reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours, especially if you go for a swim or sweat throughout the day. No sunscreen blocks 100% of the sun’s UV rays. 

Model with clear and even skin complexion

Some of the best sunscreens on the market are by EltaMD Skin Care. They have a wide range of sunscreen products that offer broad-spectrum protection and don’t leave a white cast on your face. The brand has options designed for all skin types and several skin conditions. These products easily glide onto your skin, allowing for a smooth application.

Wearing sunglasses also provides some protection against UV rays, shielding the fragile skin around your eyes. Another sun-blocking tip includes avoiding going outside when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. This is typically between the hours between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM but may differ depending on the time zone, season, environment, altitude, and location you are in. 

Staying in shaded areas provides some protection but does not completely shield you from UV radiation. UV rays bounce off reflective surfaces like “water, sand, snow, pavement, or even grass,” according to the American Cancer Society. Covering up with tight-knit clothing also protects your skin from the sun. 

How to Maintain Skincare Results

Healthier skin doesn't appear overnight. It takes time to get into the perfect skin club! Consistency with your routine is key. It may be several weeks before you notice visible differences in your skin. Once you meet your clear skin goals, stay consistent with your skincare regimen to maintain your results. 

Tender-loving care for your skin is not limited to skincare products. There are other ways to achieve and retain healthy skin. Maintaining your results also means adapting to the weather and hormonal, diet, and environmental changes as all of these factors affect your skin. Avoiding alcohol and smoking improves your skin’s appearance as well as overall health.

Skincare Goes Beyond Your Face

Who says skincare is limited to the face? While many beauty lovers and experts out there stress the importance of having a skincare routine for the face, not many emphasize the value of protecting the rest of the skin. Although the skin on your body doesn’t need as much maintenance and protection as your face, it also gets dry, so invest in good body moisturizers or lotions.

Like your face, your body needs protection against the sun. Wearing sunscreen all over and covering up your skin can go a long way in preventing skin damage and premature aging.  

Skincare Tips To Keep in Mind 

As you build your skincare routine, keep the following tips in mind to help guide you to happy, healthy skin.

Tip 1: Research Your Products

Before shopping for your beauty products, do your research. Look for skincare ingredients that have strong scientific evidence regarding their safety and effectiveness on the skin. When in doubt, ask a dermatologist.

Profiles of four women with different hair and skin tone

Tip 2: Don’t Believe Every Cosmetic Claim You Read or Hear 

Some beauty brands lie or overstate the effectiveness of their products. Look for brands that are transparent about the ingredients in their products and have good reviews about their products’ efficacy.

Be wary of products with “dermatologist-tested,” “dermatologist-approved,” or “#1 dermatologist recommended” labels. Some skin experts are paid to endorse certain beauty brands and products. Just because a product is tested doesn't mean it's effective and safe for every skin type. 

If a product is labeled “dermatologist-approved,” it might mean that they recommend the product, but it doesn’t reveal what ingredients, formulas, or aspects of the product they support.  

Moreover, the term “tested” doesn’t reveal any details about how the product was tested or what it was tested for. Was it tested for safety or its effects on certain skin types? Who knows! Asking the product manufacturers or brands about what they mean by their “dermatologist-tested” labels may help you discover more about their products’ testing process. 

Many articles claim what you should and should not include in your skincare routine. Your skin is unique, so don’t take everything they advise literally. It's your responsibility to evaluate and decide what products are best for your face and body according to your skin type and conditions.

Tip 3: Ask About Products To Avoid During Pregnancy 

If you’re expecting a child, trying to get pregnant, or nursing, remember there are some skincare products and ingredients you should avoid. These include retinoids, salicylic acid, hydroquinone, chemical sunscreens, formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, aluminum chloride hexahydrate, benzoyl peroxide, and more.

While this list may seem quite long, don't stress about every ingredient in your skincare products. Some doctors might tell you to avoid certain ingredients because they don’t yet know how or if they affect fetuses. They may be linked to increased risks of cancer or birth defects, but correlation does not equal causation. Some might be safe to use if you take them in lower doses during pregnancy.

It’s always best to contact your healthcare provider about which skincare ingredients to avoid. 

Tip 4: What To Expect From a Dermatologist Before Your Visit

Some skin issues may be harder to treat with an over-the-counter cream or product, especially if you have genetically predisposed skin concerns. In these cases, visit a dermatologist. A skin expert can assess your skin type and needs, recommend the right treatments for your skin concerns, and help you build the perfect skincare routine. But not all dermatologists may be right for you.

When looking for a skin expert, make sure they are board-certified. Before your visit, look at their website and patient testimonials, if any, to see if they have good or bad reviews.

During your first consultation, a dermatologist should do the following:

  • Attentively listen to your skin concerns

  • Make you feel comfortable  

  • Perform a full-body skin check

  • Review your medical history

  • Ask about any medications, vitamins, and supplements you are currently taking

  • Ask about your skincare routine, including the products you use

  • Answer your questions

  • Prescribe medication, discuss its side effects, and make sure you know how to use it

  • Schedule follow-up visits to monitor how your skin is responding to the treatment

  • Not try to sell their own skincare products and/or treatments

If your doctor is not living up to these recommendations, it's time to seek another skincare professional.

Woman with clear and radiant skin smiles and touches her face

The Final Word

There are countless skincare steps and products available, but don’t let this scare you. If you are a beginner, start with the three skincare basics: cleanse, moisturize, and apply sunscreen. Once you’re ready to go beyond protective measures and start repairing the damage already done on the skin, feel free to start incorporating skin treatments into your regimen. Use this guide to find products suitable for your skin type. 

If you don’t know what products to use first, layer the products from lightest to heaviest, or thinnest to thickest consistency. Your skin expert may recommend you apply some ingredients before others, depending on your skin type. 

Don’t get disappointed if you don’t see an instant, quick fix. It takes time to see visible improvements from your skincare products. With consistency and patience, you'll find your way to healthy, beautiful skin.

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