THE ESSENTIAL STEPS TO BUILDING A SKINCARE ROUTINE IN YOUR 20’S
As happy as I am that skincare is IN right now, sometimes I feel like a total hipster about it; I mean, I liked skincare before it was cool. My skincare obsession started during my junior year in college while I was studying abroad in London, which is about the time my acne got real bad. I started reading beauty blogs galore, savoring posts from gurus like British skincare queen Caroline Hirons and Vivianna Does Make-Up (now known as The Anna Edit). And while my skin issues definitely were not solved overnight (in fact, they are still an ongoing battle), I have learned a lot and formed meticulous habits with attention to products, ingredients, and a wholesome approach to what my skin needs. And ever since I started blogging, I’ve wanted to share this knowledge with those starting out on their skincare journey, hopefully helping them to gloss over some of the more turbulent parts of this process.
For those lovely peeps in their 20’s*: building a skincare routine in your 20’s is essential. And it’s not just simply about warding off wrinkles for sheer vanity, but about creating healthy habits that will benefit you in so many other ways. I know too many gals who still, in their post-college years, don’t wash off their make-up before bed (the horror!). And I know even more young dudes who have never even looked at a facial cleanser or moisturizer, much less applied them to their face. For most people, they simply don’t know where to start. They walk into a drugstore or Sephora and are paralyzed by the sheer volume of choices– how can they possibly know what they need, what will work for their skin, and what isn’t full of toxic ingredients? Well, I’m here to simply all of that. Please keep in mind that while I don’t know your specific skin type, concerns, or potential allergens, this is a general guideline that will break down the phases of building a skincare routine, detailing the types of products that I believe make up a well-rounded routine for the average person.
Phase 1 : The Basics
Skincare doesn’t have to be crazy fancy or expensive, which are some of the many reasons Glossier has become a huge favorite amongst millennials. So establishing a few key steps with simple, go-to products is the best way to start taking care of your skin.
1. The Double Cleanse : It is THE cardinal skincare rule that YOU MUST take your make-up off before bed. First of all, it’s far better for your pillow case (who wants last night’s make-up smeared all over your nice bedding?). But it’s also the best way to prevent clogged pores, bacteria, etc. I recommend using a micellar water– to me, it’s the easiest way to remove make-up without a big to-do. Just soak two cotton pads in a micellar water of your choice (my favorite is from French pharmacy brand, Bioderma), and your make-up will wipe off easily. The second step in your nightly cleanse should be a simple cleanser, something you can use for the morning too if you want to save money (once you get real fancy, feel free to add in balm cleansers, oil cleansers, and more). Find a gentle, go-to product that you can use all year around. It shouldn’t dry out your skin, leave you feeling “squeaky clean,” or leave you feeling greasy. Recently, I’ve been loving Osea’s Ocean Cleanser, which is a lovely creamy formula that gently cleanses.
2. Toner/Facial Spray : Though the toner debate rages on regarding its utility and necessity, I will say that this generation of toners and facial sprays are not your mom’s toner. Most toners aim to balance the ph of the skin, while some facial sprays are just a nice, refreshing mist of moisture to apply in the morning and throughout the day. If you want to try this step out without splurging, then definitely go for Mario Badescu’s Rosewater Facial Spray. At $7 for a medium size bottle. it’s an easy couple of dollars to justify.
3. Moisturizer: This one seems like a given, but you’ve got to moisturize your skin! Ward off dry, flaky winter skin, and keep your skin looking plump. While there are plenty of fancy moisturizes out there, I tend to stick to simple and effective formulations, like Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream or PCA Skin’s HydraLuxe.
4. Sunscreen : This is often one of the most neglected steps in the average person’s skincare routine, but one of the most necessary! Just ask the 80 billion dermatologists who speak out yearly about the importance of wearing sunscreen, and how necessary it is for preventing skin cancer, wrinkles, and more. Glossier’s Invisible Shield is a new addition to the market, and provides a nice, light coat of protection with no greasy residue or white cast. If you have sensitive skin (like moi) and need more protection, try 3Lab’s Perfect Sunscreen SPF 50.
5. Eye Cream : Ah, the eye cream debate. Should you start wearing eye cream in your 20’s? My personal opinion is…yes. Even at 26, I can start to see puffiness, dark circles, and fine lines developing, so adding in an eye cream is really a preventative measure for me. My advice is to keep it simple and don’t bother spending hundreds of dollars on eye cream– you don’t need that yet. For something that depuffs, I recommend Dr. Brandt’s Needles No More Eye Gel, while Caudalie’s VineActive Eye Cream is a great nightly treatment for moisturizing and getting rid of dark circles.
Phase 2 : Masks and Exfoliation
Once you’ve got the basics down, the real fun begins. In my view, the next essential step includes masks and exfoliation. I know, it seems like an odd/random next step, but hear me out. Masks and Exfoliation/Acids are the perfect second step to build on your skincare routine because you don’t need to do them everyday. If you’re already having trouble keeping up with the twice daily cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, then adding a bunch of fancy serums isn’t going to help. Instead, we recommend addressing your skincare concerns with targeted treatments and solutions in the forms of masks and acids. I usually give myself a night off each week (typically Sunday night) when I draw a bath, light a candle, and perform a mini facial with a series of masks. I also try to add in exfoliating treatments 1-3 times a week, depending on how badly my skin needs them.
1. Masks : If you’re new to your skincare journey, one of the most tried-and-true methods of becoming an outright skincare addict is through a little mask pamper session. Masks are targeted treatments– from acne to pigmentation to aging, you can find a mask for pretty much everything. For my weekly mini facial, I usually start out with a deep cleansing mask, something like the Kiehl’s Deep Pore Cleansing Mask or Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Mask– to rid my skin of all the gunk. I then usually follow up with something exfoliating or brightening, like Glamglow’s Flashmud Brightening Treatment. Finally, I end with something soothing, like Fresh’s Black Tea Mask (amazing for redness and inflammation!) or one of Joanna Vargas’s miracle sheet masks. At home facial: check!
2. Exfoliation / Acids : I credit skincare Queen Carolina Hirons with popularizing exfoliation. And I know, when most people think “exfoliate,” they think “apricot scrub.” And when most people think “acid,” they think “get that shit away from my face!” But modern exfoliants and acids have moved away from abrasive, physical scrubs, instead focusing on chemical exfoliation (which, I know, sounds scary). But not all chemicals are “bad.” Glycolic and lactic acids are extremely popular because of their ability to slough off dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover, helping with acne, hyper-pigmentation, and warding off wrinkles. Sunday Riley’s Good Genes is a cult product for its super-targeted exfoliation capabilities (a combo of lactic and glycolic acid), while Pixi’s Glow Tonic is a super approachable and affordable acid toner. Just pour some on a cotton pad, swipe on after cleansing, and enjoy the benefits of glycolic acid along with soothing aloe and ginseng.
Phase 3 : Day Serums/Treatments with Vitamins, Peptides, and Antioxidants
Now that you’ve added a few treatments into your routine, hopefully you feel ready for a bigger daily commitment. Another essential step in my skincare routine is my daytime serum/treatment. For me, nighttime is all about hydration, anti-aging, and pampering myself, but daytime is all about brightening, peptides, and vitamins!
Vitamin C: I follow up my cleanser and rosewater facial spray with the 100% Pure Vitamin C Serum, which I absolutely love and always repurchase. It just does an amazing job of brightening my skin without irritating it, as 100% Pure has worked really hard to provide a vitamin C serum that is stable and gentle.
Peptides: I then apply The Ordinary’s Buffet, a $14 serum that is worth every penny; given high ratings by users and expert beauty reviewers (like the brutally honest Paula Begoun), Buffet is a scentless, lightweight serum packed with skin-replenishing glycerin, hyaluronic acid, amino acids, and peptides for hydration and anti-aging.
Antioxidants: Finally, antioxidant serums are another great choice for your daily serum. Though Vitamin C is technically an antioxidant, there are plenty of other types of antioxidants with their own set of benefits– antioxidants like resveratrol (found in red grapes and other fruits) is especially great for protecting your skin from environmental stressors. I practically lived off of my Caudalie VineActive serum when I visited Asia!
Phase 4 : Night Serums, Retinol, and Facial Oils
While vitamins, antioxidants, and peptides for daytime are great for your general skin health, your nighttime treatments are where you can address your serious concerns. This is the time for potent anti-aging serums, hydrating facial oils, and pampering yourself. These are also some of the pricier products, so please keep in mind that I’m not suggesting everyone can afford all of these. I usually switch off between a different serums, treatment, or oil each day.
Anti-Aging Serums: While no one in their 20’s needs serious anti-aging treatments, investing in a few preventative measures couldn’t hurt, right? I’m currently using BioEffect’s EGF Serum, an advanced anti-aging serum that uses barley-derived EGF to prevent fine lines and wrinkles.
Retinols: Considered one of the holy grails of skincare, retinols are powerful anti-aging products that are often prescribed for acne-prone skin as well! Essentially, these Vitamin-A derivatives help boost collagen, generate cell turnover, and unclog pores (amongst a host of other benefits). But watch out– they can be strong and irritating if applied incorrectly or used in the wrong formulation. They should be used at night when you’re out of the sun (as they can make you sensitive to UVs), and you should definitely ease into them by trying a gentle formula a couple of times and then working up to a few times a week. Though there are SO MANY fancy retinols on the market, I recommend looking no further than The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion for a whopping $10. It’s another excellent product that gives you plenty of bang for your buck, delivering you a gentle but effective retinol product for 1/10th of the price of most others. And since the retinol is suspended in Squalane, it’s super hydrating as well.
Facial Oils: The step in my skincare routine that I relish the most every night, applying a facial oil is, for me, unfortunately also the trickiest. I firmly believe those with acneic skin shouldn’t be afraid of facial oils, but it doesn’t mean every oil works for me (a lot don’t), so finding ones that don’t break me out is a process. However, facial oils can be lovely, effective treatments for moisturizing, calming, and plenty more. Currently, I’m loving Biossance’s Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Facial Oil, as it’s lightweight, hydrating, and brightening.
*To my lovely friends who are 30+ — many of this information applies to any age, but as I’m 26, I’m not yet an expert on your skin concerns. So I would highly recommend checking out Ms. Hirons, whose cult following is a testament to her incredible knowledge and honesty.