Confused about how to build a skincare routine?
I was too when I started. My good friend introduced me to Korean skincare and makeup. It took me months to decide whether I wanted to try it and what products should I even order. She kindly helped me out and gave her seal of approval once I placed an order. And I was beyond excited to try all the new goodies.
Well, now that you have discovered your skin type, you too can begin researching products and start a skincare routine! But how to build a skincare routine? How many steps should it have? Western or Asian skincare?
Let’s start slowly.
A skincare routine should answer your needs, be it acne caring, dryness, ageing, etc. Take a look in the mirror and assess your needs. Do you want more hydration? Do you want to tackle fine lines? Did a pimple leave a nasty spot? Once you have an idea you can focus on researching products. These needs will be your compass in the vast skincare world.
Now I have oily skin so I cannot speak for all skin types. I have assembled a basic step by step routine that you can complete with products that answer your needs. There are however products that I believe everyone should have in their routine: retinol, vitamin c, hyaluronic acid and ALWAYS a SUNSCREEN.
You will have to create 2 routines, one AM and one PM. Now don’t worry you don’t need completely different products for both, they are only slightly different.
Disclaimer: recommendations are based on my own experiences and one product might work for me but not for you. Please do your research to further decide if this is something you wish to try.
Step 1 : Cleanser – be gentle, be kind
To build a skincare routine you need to start with a water-based cleanser. You want to choose a cleanser that corresponds to your skin type. Caroline Hirons, the skincare goddess, recommends in her book to not use a foaming cleanser. This is confusing because a vast majority of cleansers are indeed foaming.
I personally love a gentle foaming cleanser. The key is not to make your skin squeaky clean, even if you are an oily skin type. Your skin is not a dish. You don’t want to dismantle your skin barrier (that barrier that prevents hydration loss) and make your skin look like a raisin.
If you want something gentle and effective, I highly recommend the Cerave Foaming Cleanser for normal to oily skin. It has worked wonders for me, and the ingredients are nice and safe. Another lovely option is the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser for the dry skin types. This one doesn’t foam, it is rather milky and rich, too rich for me. If you wish to delve in the Asian skincare department, Cosrx Good Morning Cleanser is a good start especially for acne-prone skins such as myself.
If you do opt for non-foaming just to be on the safe side, I recommend Krave, the brand created by the YouTuber Liah Yoo. They offer a very gentle option with a very interesting texture that any skin type can use, the Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser.
In the evening you want to opt for double-cleansing. This means you need to add an oil-based cleanser to remove your makeup. Even if you don’t wear makeup, sunscreen is waterproof and need to be removed with oil. In my routine, I am always going back for the Heimish All Clean Balm. It has proven to be the best cleanser as it removes every trace of makeup and it is easy to wash off. I highly recommend it + it’s affordable. Follow this step with your usual water-based cleanser to make sure that every trace of makeup is removed and your skin is ready to receive all the good stuff.
DON’T cleanse your face with soap, it is not designed for the sensitive skin on your face.
Step 2: To tone or not to tone?
This step of your skincare routine is meant to balance the Ph of the skin, Ph being very important for the skin barrier. Tick it off and you’ll wreak havoc. Well, I’m dramatizing, but a wrecked skin barrier means it no longer protects you from external aggressors, making it sensitive and blemish-prone. If you see claims such as astringent or exfoliating, RUN! Well no, just put the product back on the shelf, or scroll over.
Tip: toner is not there to remove residual traces of makeup. If your cotton pad shows traces of makeup you need to review your double cleanse.
AM Toner – opt for the gentle
Opt for a gentle toner with moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin, panthenol, madecassoside, green tea, or more gentle active ingredients such as vitamin c or niacinamide. These will further help moisturize and calm your skin. I currently have two toners that I love, the Good Molecules Brightening Toner, gifted by the brand, and the Isntree Green Tea toner. Another one that I absolutely loved in the past is the Whamisa Organic Flowers Toner (original), a very gentle and heavenly toner that is a bit on the expensive side.
PM Toner – acids
In the evening routine you can opt for an acid toner, such as AHAs or/and BHAs. BHA or beta hydroxy acid is the one that will penetrate the pore and clean out the sebum. It is quite recommended for acne-prone skins! AHA or alpha hydroxy acid will work on the top layer of the skin and eliminate the dead skin cells. Some say to mix them some don’t. Personally, I don’t see an issue and there are products out there formulated with both acids. Some great options are :
- Cosrx Bha Blackhead Power Liquid,
- Some by Mi 30 day Miracle Toner (it is not a miracle but a great everyday acid),
- Krave Kale-lalu-yAHA formulated with glycolic acid,
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid is a great value and you get a toooon of product
- Youth To The People 11% AHA which is my go-to anytime.
If you are not sure your skin will tolerate an acid, try lactic or mandelic acid which is more gentle.
Step 3: Essence – optional but such a treat
This step is optional, but it is a popular step in Korean skincare routines. It is an added plus especially if you have dry skin or suffer from dehydration. An essence will further moisturize your skin and help your products penetrate better.
If you wish to build this step in your skincare routine, a popular ingredient everyone can start with is Galactomyces. It is a fungus that develops as a byproduct of sake brewing. Maybe you have heard of the SK II essence, which is a Japanese brand, and a rather expensive essence, renowned for its special ingredient. If you don’t want to break the bank, the Missha Time Revolution is a lovely essence and a dupe to the SK II. Another lovely essence I can recommend is the Japanese brand Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium, with 7 types of hyaluronic acid, also the Missha Time Revolution Artemisia essence which is a popular ingredient nowadays and a plethora of brands offer similar essences. If you do wish to splurge, I also recommend the Sulwashoo First Care Treatment (yes it is noted as a serum but in Korea, it is considered an essence).
Step 4: Serum – the spotlight of any routine
This is the basis of your skincare routine build. It is going to be the centrepiece! This is THE product to tackle your problems. The best serum to start with is a hyaluronic acid, which is a humectant that will draw moisture from the environment and pull it into the skin. The key is to have moisture in the environment otherwise it will pull it out of your skin.
The Ordinary has an affordable HA serum, it has pilled on me, and it was difficult to work with, so I opted for the Cosrx Triple Hyaluronic Ampoule. Another gentle option is ingredients such as centella asiatica and propolis. Again Cosrx has some lovely options. I also recommend iUnik Propolis Vitamin Synergy serum which I loved using. A great serum if you wish to splurge is the ByWishtrend Polyphenols in Propolis 15%. This one has helped with my breakouts from day one of using it and I absolutely adore it.
For the morning routine, I also recommend a good vitamin C. It works in synergy with your sunscreen to further protect the skin from sun damage. It is a fabulous antioxidant, and it will help fade away any hyperpigmentation left by sun exposure or acne. Nowadays you can find a multitude of serums with vitamin C ranging in budget-friendly and premium. Start with a gentle vitamin C such as the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drops, or the Melano CC essence. My current Vitamin C serum is from The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C and EGF, and I find it gentle and effective.
For the evening you can use the same serum, however, if you are brave enough do try to add retinol. This is a fantastic versatile ingredient, that will help fight acne, texture, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. Start very small, and only go up in % if you feel your skin can handle it. When I started to build my skincare routine, I opted for retinol in squalane. I strongly recommend not to layer it with any other strong actives, such as AHAs or BHAs. You can also “buffer” it with an oil or HA serum applied right before, to prevent sensitivity. My current retinol is also from The Inkey List and I absolutely love it. It is again gentle yet effective and my skin tolerates it very well. A very popular brand, yet expensive brand, at the moment that I wish to test in the future is Medik8.
Niacinamide is also a fabulous option. This ingredient is a form of vitamin B. It helps even out the skin texture, fade hyperpigmentation, and control sebum production. For acne-prone skins, this is a fabulous ingredient. Personally, I have loved The Ordinary Niacinamide Serum at one point, but once I repurchased it, the new formula started pilling on me. Apparently, this is a reoccurring problem with TO products. I have tried the Good Molecules Niacinamide, gifted by the brand, and I will go back to it or try out The Inkey List one which is also affordable
Step 5: Oils – what if I’m already oily?
Also, an optional step, but quite lovely to build into your skincare routine if you are suffering from dry skin. Oily skin should not shy away from oils either. They are perfect to calm, nourish and prevent moisture loss especially if you use harsh products. The choices are vast and can answer to a plethora of conditions. I always have in my collection a nourishing, a calming, and a brightening oil. Some great options that I highly recommend for everyone are squalene oil, blue tansy oil, tamanu oil but the king of them all, in my humble opinion, is the rosehip oil!
Step 6: Moisturizer – it’s simple
This is quite a straightforward product, a cream designed to seal everything off. They come in many different textures and with many different ingredients. Opt for a simple and elegant formulation, without alcohol or fragrance, nor any SPF added. I can only speak for myself, with my oily skin, but I always go for lightweight creams.
One of my favourite ones is the Belif Aqua Bomb with a fantastic gel-like texture. The Korean option Nature Republic Super Aqua Fresh moisturizer is also fabulous for summers. I most recently added the Cosrx Oil-Free Ultra Moisturizing Lotion and love it bunches For the colder months, you can choose a cream with a richer texture. For example, I have tested the Youth To The People Adaptogen Cream which works out very well but may be more suitable for normal skin, and Paula’s Choice Omega Complex Moisturizer. I know that one is for dry skin but in my opinion, it works perfectly on my oily skin. I was initially attracted by the ingredients in it. Ceramides are an excellent ingredient to look for in a moisturizer. It helps restore the skin barrier and prevent water loss. Even oily skins can benefit from it especially if you had a bad reaction to a product/ingredient and it caused sensitivity.
Step 7: SUNSCREEN – ALWAYS
Beach, mountain, town, work, leisure, overcast, dark, light, everybody needs a sunscreen at all time. Sun is the number one enemy of acne and the first cause of premature ageing.
I cannot stress enough : there is no safe way to tan !
Korean and Japanese brands offer elegant formulations that leave no white cast and are light enough for everyday use. It is especially necessary if you use active ingredient (retinol, acids, exfoliants, etc.). These speed up the natural process of skin turnover. If you don’t use sunscreen you are exposing the new skin cells to immediate death. Ok, I am dramatizing, but UV rays penetrate the clouds and damage the skin. They will impair the healing process and will make fading hyperpigmentation and fine lines 10 times harder if not more. If I am to recommend one sunscreen that will work for everyone, no matter the skin type and tone, it is the Japanese sunscreen Bioré Aqua Rich UV Essence.
Application : very important
The recommended dose to apply is 2mg of sunscreen to every square centimetre of skin. So many people don’t realize they apply too little. Be very generous with the suncream! You need at least 1/4 of a teaspoon of sunscreen on your face. And reapply it! Every two hours if you are in prolonged sun exposure, play in the water, or sweat profusely. Else, every 4h. And use it if you are inside but constantly near windows.
Step whichever: Treat yourself
Steps that you ca add once or twice a week: masking whether it be clay mask, moisturizing mask, sheet mask, hydrogel eye patches or even a sleeping mask.
Also, exfoliation. However, it is easy to go overboard with it, so try doing it once every 10 days. See from that experience whether you should space it more or less. Opt for chemical exfoliation over physical one, as it is more effective. The Good Molecules Pineapple Exfoliating Powder, gifted by the brand, is a great compromise between physical and chemical exfoliation. The powder is super fine and gradually melts onto the skin. Avoid plastic beads and shells!
Personally, when I build my skincare routine I opted for the chemical exfoliant. My favourite one is the Blithe Patting Splash Mask. You dilute it in a cup of water and splash your face with it! It might seem like to much work, but the results are worth it! They have 3 types so you can find one to answer your skin type/concern.
How many is too many ?
I have a little collection of products that I can use depending on how my skin is behaving. Breakouts? Focus on zapping those pimples. Post breakouts? Focus on ingredients that help speed up the healing process. No breakouts? This is quite rare, but sometimes my cheeks are not angry, and I can focus on fading hyperpigmentation. However, I assure you I started small and then build from there. You don’t need to hoard so many products that your shelf bends. Don’t feel obligated to buy it because you see it on social media.
Make sure you cover the basics or the building blocks, and from there you can start experimenting. Don’t look at the price tags, as many affordable brands have absolutely fantastic products, and many premium brands have shitty products. Focus on the ingredients rather than the claims. An easy way to read any ingredients list is to know that the ingredients are listed higher concentration to lowest. So, if you are looking for a niacinamide serum you don’t want to see niacinamide listed in the middle or at the bottom, you’ll look for it in the first ingredients.
And voila, ouf, it was a long one, but I hope you enjoyed it.
Do take note I’m speaking from personal experience. This is how I build my skincare routine, and something that worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. Just don’t come at me if a product doesn’t work out.
If you have any questions – fire ! I’ll do my best to answer.
Also, follow me on Instagram for more product reviews, useful tips, as well as snippets of my daily life.
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