The Skincare Routine You Need

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The Skincare Routine You NEED – Nighttime Edition

Skincare routine

One of the things I get asked a LOT is what my skincare routine is. What products are actually necessary and which ones do I recommend? I’ve learned a lot about skincare since I wrote about my last skincare routine two years ago (gasp! It has been that long). I also have become more of a minimalist, and while I like that Korean women can have 10-12 step nightly regimens (I admire them!), let’s be honest here: I do not have time for all the extra stuff. I’m going to lay out the bare necessities for you here. If you want to know more about what other dermatologists use and love, check out the Expert Beauty Picks archives here.

So below are the foundations to building a good skincare regimen for nighttime use. If you’re confused about what order to do everything, remember you want to cleanse, tone, and then put medicine or other essential molecular formulations on closest to the skin (retinoids, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, etc.), followed by serum, moisturizer, eye cream, and sheet mask. I’ve laid out the order or everything in this post here. Don’t do exfoliating things like using your Clarisonic Mia or a black sugar scrub on the same night as you use retinoids, because that may be too irritating to your skin.

Step 1: Cleanse

This is KEY before you start adding on all the other steps below. You’re not going to wax a car without cleaning it first, am I right? Let me back up for a second. Before cleansing I always first take my makeup off using Neutrogena makeup remover wipes. These are gentle and get the trick done (a whole post on the proper way to remove makeup here). We are not in college anymore – no excuses for falling asleep with a full face of makeup on (cringe)! After I get the makeup off, then I alternate between using the CeraVe hydrating cleanser and the fresh soy face cleanser. The CeraVe hydrating cleanser contains ceramides, which I like to think of as the mortar keeping the bricks (your skin cells) together to help retain moisture and strengthen the skin barrier. We produce decreasing amounts of lipids as we age, so replenishing the supply with ceramide containing products is helpful. When I’m feeling extra dry, such as during winter, I tend to use my CeraVe hydrating cleanser more. The fresh soy cleanser acts as a second makeup remover that is also gentle enough to be used around the eyes, so I like using this one when I have on heavy eye makeup that is a bit more stubborn to remove. Plus it contains cucumber extract and rosewater which help to calm and tone the skin.

About once to twice per week I use my Clarisonic Mia 2 cleansing brush with the foaming soap. This more intensive cleaning tool will do a better job cleaning out your pores, removing dead skin and sebum, and taking off all traces of makeup. I use it rarely during the winter, since my skin is already so dry that it can’t really take the deeper cleanse.

Step 2: Tone

A lot of cleansers are alkaline in nature and can raise the pH of your skin. Toner helps by restoring your skin’s natural pH, remove traces of oil, and help tighten pores. I’ve been skipping toner lately because my skin is so dry during the winter, but when my skin looks oily or during the humid summers, I use a simple Neutrogena alcohol-free toner that you can buy at any drugstore. I’d suggest choosing a non-alcoholic toner (avoid words like “witch hazel” or “astringent”) because those can further strip your skin of moisture.

Step 3: Treat

Turn back the hands of time

I like to think of this step as the “medical step” as well as my anti-aging step, to help me “turn back the hands of time.” That’s a bit dramatic but I like to think of this step as every dermatologist’s secret weapon: prescription strength retinoid. Retinoids, which are a Vitamin A derivative, have an important role in my field because studies have shown that topical application of retinoids result in new collagen formation and increased epidermal thickness, as well as clinical improvement in wrinkling, dark spots, rough skin, and skin texture. I not only prescribe retinoids to my acne patients, but also to any patients who want to establish a good anti-aging regimen early on. The thing that’s tricky about retinoids though are the side effects. When you initially start you may suffer from “retinoid dermatitis,” meaning some sun sensitivity, redness, and skin irritation. I encourage my patients to push PAST this phase so that you can reap the benefits. If you are getting too red and flaky, I suggest using it every other night and mixing it in with your moisturizer, applying just a pea sized amount of retinoid all over your face and increasing the frequency of use as tolerated. I just increased my retinoid strength from tretinoin 0.025% to 0.05% last week, and my face is bright red and peeling! It actually looks like I have a bad sunburn and my skin is just flaking off. I’m just using it every fourth night for now and will increase the frequency as my skin calms down and adjusts to the more potent formulation.

If you want to try retinoids but don’t want to go the prescription strength route, you can buy over the counter products with retinol, a slightly different formulation of vitamin A, which take a bit longer to work, but may be more gentle with less side effects for those starting out.

Also, do NOT use retinoids if you are trying to conceive because it can potentially cause harm to the developing fetus.

Aside from using retinoids, this is also the step that I would use any medications that you’ve been given, whether it’s acne medications like topical antibiotics or antioxidants (scientific dive into antioxidants here) to prevent free radical damage like the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Skinceuticals Phloretin CF. If you’re using vitamin C, remember to keep your bottle of product in the refrigerator and to minimize exposure to any sunlight to maximize the shelf life.

Step 4: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

This is a super important step because we all know that dry sun damaged skin = wrinkly skin (a combination of natural aging and photoaging, explained here). Sure, Botox can be a way to smoothe out a few wrinkles but prevention is really key. I’ve tried a lot of moisturizers over the past few years and here are some of my favorites:

  • Skinceuticals B5 Hydrating gel (c/o): this product contains hyaluronic acid (HA) and B5, ingredients to help your skin stay hydrated and smooth. As I mentioned before in my antiaging post, HA is a powerful humectant protein in our skin that helps it retain water. We lose HA as we age, so I like to choose moisturizers that contain HA to try to get some of t back. Caveat: it’s very hard to absorb HA through the skin but even then having some absorption is better than none.  I apply some of this gel after washing and toning my skin and I find that it helps retain moisture in my skin better.
  • Laneige water bank serum (c/o): I love this serum made by Korean beauty company Laniege. This ultra light, gentle serum goes on super smooth without leaving any sticky residue, and I use it under regular night cream on nights that I think my skin needs an extra boost of hydration.
  • Nature Republic Fresh Steam Cream: The one I linked to is specifically designed for combination skin but there are other ones for dry or oily skin. The steam cream was a gift from one of my girlfriends from Korea, and I’ve never found a better intensive moisturizer that I depend on nightly during the winter! Its main ingredient is high quality Shea butter from Africa, mixed with a variety of other soothing and moisturizing oils, all exposed to high temperatures to provide lightweight but lasting hydration to your skin as you sleep. I use this product alone without serum because it is heavy duty enough on its own; I wake up in the morning with my face still feeling incredibly soft and hydrated!
  • Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream: Wrinkles around the eyes are so hard to avoid, especially if you are expressive. Eyelid skin is extremely thin and wrinkles easily, so we have to be extra vigilant about protecting this area. I use the Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream which is light enough to use during the day as well. One of my rockstar attendings Dr. Cindy Bae (her top skincare picks here) uses plain old petrolatum jelly, which let’s be honest is way cheaper, so I think I’m going to try that out next!
  • Skinceuticals triple lipid restore cream (c/o): this product contains ceramides, which as I mentioned above, you can think of as the mortar holding the bricks (your skin cells) together. This helps to repair your skin barrier and lock in moisture. I love using this nighttime cream, which is super thick but melts into your skin, because I wake up with really plump well hydrated skin. It is ok the pricier side though, so for those of you looking for a more affordable alternative I also recommend the Glossier priming moisturizer rich, which is $35. I reviewed this Glossier product and some other cult favorites in this blogpost.

If you are extra busy and need just the bare bones routine, I suggest using foaming cleanser, toner, and eye/facial night cream. Those are the minimum needed!

Extras to be used as needed:

skin food black sugar mask wash off1). Exfoliating scrub: The best exfoliating scrub I’ve ever used is STILL the Skin Food brown sugar scrub. I use it once a week and it leaves my skin feeling so incredibly smooth and polished! In fact, that reminds me, I’m going to put one on now while writing the rest of this article. I alternate the Skin Food scrub with the Cure Natural Aqua Gel, the number 1 exfoliator in Japan which works faster and creates less of a mess. The Cure gel was given to me by another dear friend who became obsessed with this product after trying it. Instructions for using it are below.

Laneige hydrating gel2). Face Mask once to twice a week (20 minute leave on masks or overnight masks that act as hydrating gel). I love using the Innisfree It’s Real face masks about once a week and the Laneige Water Sleeping Pack EX once to twice a week. The water pack feels like a thick gel that you leave on overnight, functioning as an intensive night cream. I reviewed both of these and the Skin Food scrub here. I also am a big fan of the Memebox bon vivant sheetmask line with calming, hydrating, and brightening agents like aloe, HA, rose, and more.

I recently picked up a whole SLEW of facemasks in Korea (review to come) but the standout brand from the bunch was Cremorlab. These were probably the best most luxurious sheetmasks I’ve ever tried, and they actually fit the contours of my face with my close set eyes because of extra slits on the eyeholes! I never had such glowing bright skin as I did the day after this mask.  I reviewed the Cremorlab herb calming sheetmask in this blogpost here; these masks are available on Amazon here.

4). Ultra moisturizing eye mask once a month: I use the Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Express Smoothing eye mask whenever I feel like the skin around my eyes is getting especially dry.

I am super curious what all of YOUR skincare regimens and favorite products are. I learn so much from hearing from you! Leave a comment below sharing your tried and true skincare routine!

20 Comments on The Skincare Routine You Need

  1. Ana
    April 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm (2 weeks ago)

    You have given me so many good recs!
    Here are my favs right now:

    Cleanser – I recently tried Liz Earle Cleanse&Polish Hot cloth cleanser and IT IS MY ULTIMATE. Smells good, my skin is left uber clean and bright, and it’s just so soothing to wash my face at night with a hot cloth (you can order the cleanser with two muselin cloths). it’s like a mini spa treatment. don’t know why I haven’t found this until now. other favorites include: good ol’ pond’s cold cream makeup cleanser, vasanti brightenup enzymatic face rejuvenator, st. ive’s apricot facial scrub. I’ve been able to explore a lot of good ones as a birchbox subscriber :)

    Moisturizer – recently got a sample of tatcha moisture and it’s also my new favorite. it spreads easily so you only need a small amount each night, and it definitely locks in moisture. it’s also lightweight so it’ll be good for summer. other favorites include: dr. jart ceramidin cream, nivea creme, and aveeno.

    Face masks: I looovvee skinfood’s brown sugar mask after you recommended it! Also love May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver, Derma-e 2-in-1 charcoal mask, and Aztec Indian healing clay mask.

    Haven’t found a good eye cream or toner but will look at your suggestions! Other skincare musts for me are Mario Badescu Rosewater facial spray, Simple Micellar water to take everything off, and I only ever use rose salve (either Smith’s or C.O. Bigelow’s) on my lips to moisturize :)

    Reply
    • Ana
      April 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm (2 weeks ago)

      sorry that’s tatcha moisture rich silk cream* haha

      Reply
    • Joyce
      April 13, 2017 at 9:21 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Ana, thanks so much for sharing your regimen with me! LOVED reading it. I’ll have to check out the Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish; that sounds very luxurious. I’ve also heard a lot about Tatcha but haven’t tried anything from them yet. Dr. Jart’s ceramidin cream sounds promising, and yes, sheet masks are awesome. I love that you have tried many products too, and came up with a regimen that works for your skin!

      Reply
  2. Ying @NavigatingAdulthood
    April 13, 2017 at 4:01 pm (2 weeks ago)

    How would you recommend having the retinol conversation with your doctor? When I asked my dermatologist about prescription retinol, she was very dismissive because a) I’m in my late twenties and b)I have good skin [as of now]. Her reasoning was over-the-counter retinol is good until you start seeing signs of aging. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 13, 2017 at 9:19 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Hi Ying, that’s an interesting response! Perhaps she is worried you won’t stop using it if you get pregnant? I put all my acne patients on topical tretinoin and I recommend it for anyone who’s coming in with dark spots or who wants to start a good antiaging regimen. I think if you tell her your concerns she’ll understand. Otherwise, adapalene 0.1% (Differin), a retinoid, is now over the counter and you can purchase it at drugstores.

      Reply
  3. kristen
    April 13, 2017 at 5:42 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I love your blog! I am literally soaking up all your skin care expertise. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us. I’m going to pick up some CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser this weekend. I’ve been using Origins Checks and Balances, which I’ve really liked, but I could use a little extra hydration. :)

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 13, 2017 at 9:17 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Thanks so much Kristen; I love the Cerave cleanser because it’s over the counter, affordable, and works well at home and for traveling too. Enjoy!

      Reply
  4. Kaitlin
    April 17, 2017 at 8:05 am (2 weeks ago)

    Love this (and all) your posts, Joyce!! One question I always have is when in my nightly routine to use tretinoin. I feel like I’ve seen advice to use it either directly after cleansing/toning and before moisturizer, and alternatively after moisturizer as well. Is there a preferred method? And is the goal to work up to every other day use so that my skin has a night off, or is every night better if my skin can stand it? Finally, if using a sheet mask, would that go after everything, including the tretinoin? Thanks!! :-)

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 17, 2017 at 3:16 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Kaitlin!! thanks so much for leaving a comment <3 Great questions; I get these all the time from my patient. I actually posted about the order of products here; you always want to put medicines on first after cleansing and toning your skin. The ONE exception is if you’re getting too red and irritated by your retinoid. I started using a higher strength retinoid a few weeks ago and I cannot handle putting it directly on my skin after cleansing/toning. I now put my moisturizer on first, wait 30 minutes, and then put my retinoid on top of it. This helps my skin get less irritated. If you can handle having the retinoid on closest to the skin, then do that! The goal is to use it every night since then you’ll get the anti-aging benefits. It also helps increase collagen too! Sheet masks would go last after washing/toning, retinoid, serum. Hope this helps!

      Reply
      • Kaitlin
        April 17, 2017 at 7:51 pm (2 weeks ago)

        Thanks so much, Joyce, this is all super helpful!!

        Reply
        • Joyce
          April 17, 2017 at 9:08 pm (2 weeks ago)

          <3

          Reply
  5. Pret a Porter P
    April 19, 2017 at 12:09 pm (1 week ago)

    My skincare routine is somewhat paired down @ the moment since I’m trying to finish through products.
    Cleanser: Purpose
    Toner: Apple Cidar Vineagar + Water + drop of tea tree oil. I don’t know if this does anything.
    Treat: Trentinoin 0.025%
    Moisturizer: Cerave PM
    1-2x week mask: Andalou Naturals Pumpkin Glycolic mask & Aztec Secret clay mask (not sure if this does anything).
    I’m considering adding a vit C serum since I want to scale back on the Trentonin since using it 3-4x a week is making my face very itchy.

    Also for body I use PanOxyl 10%. I feel this is making my skin on my back break out worse. Is there a “worse before better phase” with PanOyxl that I should keep sticking it out?

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm (1 week ago)

      Thanks for sharing your routine and for the shoutout on your blog! I think adding an antioxidant like a vitamin C serum in the morning is a great idea, since it helps prevent and treat atmospheric and UV-induced aging! Panoxyl is great for treating and for preventing breakouts; however, it can totally dry out and irritate people’s skin initially. I would suggest cutting down on your frequency of usage or trying the Panoxyl 5% bar instead. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Erin Rachel
    April 19, 2017 at 9:40 pm (1 week ago)

    Thank you so much for this, it was super interesting and helpful! I’m been thinking about trying to take better care of my skin lately – I’m 23 and in PA school, so I feel like my skin has aged so much from the lack of sleep/stress. I would love to hear about a good morning routine as well!

    Also I was wondering what your thoughts are about Tula. I see it all over my Facebook and Instagram, their advertising is great, and I was curious if you thought it would be worth a try!

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm (1 week ago)

      A morning routine post will be coming in the future :) I haven’t heard of Tula but am curious to learn more. Will do some research!

      Reply
  7. Sri
    April 21, 2017 at 11:35 pm (7 days ago)

    Hi Dr. Joyce! Thanks for this detailed post-I know I really appreciate it. Question. I’m in school so I rarely wear makeup during the week. The one thing I do use is the Aveeno Positively Radiant CC Cream SPF 30 everyday and I wondered if that’s something I should be removing every night with a makeup wipe?

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 24, 2017 at 3:03 pm (4 days ago)

      Hi Sri, I would recommend removing with a makeup wipe at night. CC cream tends to offer some coverage, meaning it is using color to mask dark spots or imperfections. I would remove it at the end of the night with a makeup wipe and cleanser; this way you have a nice clean face to put moisturizer on before you head to bed!

      Reply
  8. Maya
    April 25, 2017 at 7:10 pm (3 days ago)

    Are there any other CeraVe products you reccomend? I’m really intrigued by the low price point for something that has pretty good ingredients.

    Reply
    • Joyce
      April 26, 2017 at 7:19 pm (2 days ago)

      Hi Maya, my husband and I also use the CeraVe AM facial moisturizer with SPF. It’s a great sunscreen!

      Reply

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