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How Many Skin Care Products Do You ~Really~ Need?

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Most of us have followed a three-pronged skin-care regimen—cleanse, tone, moisturize—our entire adult lives. But as the Korean beauty trend, which boasts a 10-step (!) daily commitment, continues to gain popularity in the U.S., you have to wonder, have we been missing out? "The Korean trend can be beneficial, but it's not completely necessary," says Whitney Bowe, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. (Still want to snag some secrets from Korea? Check out 10 Korean Beauty Products for a Post-Workout Glow.) "What's more important is to use products for your skin's needs every day." Those essentials have evolved over the years, experts say. Here, the new nonnegotiables. 

Create a clean slate

A quick soap-and-water routine is not enough if you live anywhere other than the pristine countryside. A double-cleanse method, borrowed from Korea, offers a big payoff in that it removes all the makeup, dirt, and grime from pollution. The process involves using an oil like Neutrogena Ultra-Light Cleansing Oil ($9, drugstores) before your usual cleanser.

If you're hesitant about really slicking up your face, cold cream or an oil-based makeup remover is a good alternative, says dermatologist Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. Then follow with your regular cleanser. Do this two-part step in both the morning and the evening.

Defend and repair

"Everyone over age 30 should apply an antioxidant serum or cream in the morning to fight the signs of aging," Dr. Bowe says. "It protects skin from environmental stressors like pollution, UV rays, and even light from fluorescent bulbs." The proven antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, resveratrol, and ferulic acid offer a solid defense. We like Perricone MD Pre:EmptSkin Perfecting Serum ($90, sephora.com). At night, while your skin repairs itself, you want an ingredient that can bring new cells to the surface. Your best bet: a vitamin A (retinol) treatment—try Olay Regenerist Intensive Repair Treatment ($26, drugstores)—or a prescription retinoid like Retin-A. Both also encourage collagen production, which will in turn lessen dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles and improve your skin tone, Dr. Bowe says.

Target your problem spots

At bedtime, wear formulas with higher concentrations of active ingredients that address your specific concerns. For acne, a treatment with salicylic or gly­colic acid will help clear pores. For dark patches, a formula with hydroquinone or vitamin C—like Derm Institute Cellular Brightening Spot Treatment ($290, diskincare.com)—can lighten spots over time. For wrinkles, Katherine Holcomb, M.D., a dermatologist in New Orleans, suggests a treatment containing peptides, such as Neocutis Micro-Serum Intensive Treatment ($260,neocutis.com), to bolster the skin's repair process. Apply your potion premoisturizer.

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

"Absolutely everyone needs a moisturizer," Dr. Holcomb says. "More than making skin feel good, it maintains the skin bar­rier, which keeps out irritants, fights inflammation, and helps skin heal." People with dry or sensitive skin benefit from oils like cranberry seed or jojoba; try Skinfix Nourishing Cream ($25, ulta.com). If you have oily or acneic skin, use a moistur­izer with hyaluronic acid, like SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator ($178, skinmedica.com). This ingredient provides hydra­tion, not more oil, says Renée Rouleau, a celebrity aesthetician in Austin, Texas. You know what else you need? Broad-spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Rev your cell turnover

Exfoliating brightens, firms, and clears all skin types. Every two weeks, do a peel, like M-61 Power Glow Peel ($28, bluemercury.com), after cleansing. (If your skin gets irritated, stop your retinoid for at least three days before and after the peel, Dr. Holcomb says.) It bestows a final glow on skin.

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