How To Build A Skin Care Routine From Scratch

With complicated sounding things such as the 10-step Korean skincare routine and the 7 skins method floating around, it has now become more important than ever to understand what the basics of a skin care routine really are: which products are essential and which ones are optional and how can you make sure that you're choosing the best options for your skin type? As you read this post, you'll realise that skin care doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or excessively pricey to deliver results.

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I suffered from acne for seven years. Over the years I tried multiple skin care products and medications without really understanding what they were doing in my skincare routine, Seven years of hit and trial later I began to take skincare seriously and built my routine from scratch keeping the knowledge I'm about to share with you in mind. Over the next few months my acne gradually cleared up and I've been acne-free - with the exception of an occasional pimple - since 2019. Given this, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a solid skin care routine in place and the difference that it can make in your skin, from getting rid of acne, to reversing the signs of ageing.

A skin care routine can be broken down into two main parts: the foundation and the add-ons. While the exact number of skin care products that you need vary by age and skin concern, only three products form the foundation of any skincare routine - 23 or 203. These are a gentle cleanser, a suitable moisturiser and sun protection. If you're young and have clear skin, these three products are all you need.

Add-ons, on the other hand, are products that you can include in your routine to target specific concerns. While they are often fantastic additions, it’s a good idea to limit the number of add-ons you have to the minimum necessary. As a rule of thumb, try not to have more than 3 add-ons in your routine. Getting overzealous can often be counterproductive.

Let’s now dive a little deeper into foundational and add on products.

The Foundation

As previously mentioned, this includes your cleanser, moisturiser and SPF (30 or above). Expend effort into selecting these three products since they have a much larger impact on your skin than most people assume. If your foundation isn't solid, it doesn't matter how many toners, serums, and other "miracle" products you use over and above them, you most likely won't see results.

A cleanser is simply what you wash your face with. It helps get rid of the dirt, grime, sweat, excess sebum, and dead cells, that build up on your skin’s surface and is necessary to protect your skin from the damage that these pollutants spawn. It also gives any products that follow, a clean canvas to do their job. Aim for something gentle, and keep in mind that suds, i.e. excessive lather, are not an indication that you’ve washed your face well. Soaps and foaming cleansers can in fact, be overly drying, and upset the pH of your skin resulting in long-term damage. Look instead for something gentle that doesn't leave your skin feeling dry, stripped, tight or "squeaky clean" after you’ve used it. You can learn more about the importance of cleansers and how the wrong cleanser can damage your skin here.

Moisturising after you’ve cleansed is necessary to lock in hydration and replenish your skin with essential lipids and humectants that your skin has lost during cleansing. Hydrated skin is healthy skin, and yes, a suitable moisturiser is necessary even if your skin is oily and acne prone. Keeping your skin moisturised and hydrated actually helps keep excessive oil production in check.

Last but not least: sunscreen. The sun is the single biggest cause of skin ageing and can cause pigmentation and loose-saggy skin. It can also aggravate acne, and the marks that are left behind after it - which, as it is, are a huge problem for Asian skin types even without it. Luckily, skin cancer is not much of a concern in this part of the world, but if you're white, sunscreen will help protect you from malignant skin lesions too.

The Add-Ons

Once you have your foundations in place, you’re ready to start building on top of them - if you need to. Add-ons include everything from toners, essences and serums to mists and masks.

When choosing your add-ons, don’t start piling things up randomly and as I said before, try to limit the number you use and refrain from mixing multiple actives together. Pick and choose products keeping your skin goals in mind to avoid wasting your money.

The first add-on I recommend adding to any skincare routine is a chemical exfoliant. Exfoliation offers several skin benefits and I've done a whole series on it where I discuss it in detail, here. Often just adding an exfoliant will help you reach your skin goals. Salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant, for instance, is also the gold standard in treatments for acne. However, if you're still looking to take your routine one step further, see which actives work for which concerns and add them in one at a time, a few weeks apart - without going overboard. Niacinamide, for example, is an excellent choice for those looking to strengthen their skin barrier, minimise the appearance of pores, and even out their skin tone, while retinol is the gold standard in anti-ageing treatments. Several actives exist and there is no one size fits all routine. What works magic for your best friend might not work as well for you. Even if you start with good formulations and only choose products after carefully scrutinising their ingredients lists, it still often requires some hit and trial before you find the perfect routine for you.

Lastly, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what the product label says about a product - ingredients matter more than anything else, even if the product in question is a wash-off product.

We've organised our shop page by the steps that are required in a skincare routine to make the shopping experience easier for you. You can visit our shop by clicking here. If you’re still unsure of where to start however, get in touch, and we’ll be more than happy to help! :)