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The phrase skin care brings to mind three things: skin cancer, dry skin and a long aisle of beauty products at your local drugstore. But it’s more than a surface-level concern. While a skin care routine may sound like high maintenance, in reality, the steps for healthy skin are not only necessary, they’re easy to implement too.
“Investing early in the health of your skin, with regular skin care, will not only better protect it from the harsh effects of winter, but also keep you looking and feeling your best throughout the year,” says Steven Nwe, DO, a dermatologist with Northwestern Medicine. “The key to skin resiliency is knowing your skin and treating it well.”
First, you’ll want to take into account your skin type. The primary skin types are dry, oily or combination and while your skin may get drier or oilier based on the season, the majority of the time it should be relatively consistent.
What Belongs in Your Skin Care Cabinet
Next, you should know what makes up a healthy skin routine. Which is to say, what types of products do you really need to keep your skin healthy and clean?
Cleanser is what you’ll use to wash your face and it’s important to use a product intended for your face – not just whatever bar or body wash you have lying around. You’ll want to wash your face gently and take care not to scrub too hard. Then, rinse with warm water, because hot water removes natural oils and causes your skin to become dehydrated.
Finding the right cleanser for you may be a process of trial and error. If you have dry skin, you’ll want to use one without alcohol or fragrance. If your skin tends to be oily, you’ll want to look for an oil-free option, and you may want to consider using a toner as well.
Toner is applied after washing your face and can smooth, soften and calm skin. Toners often contain ingredients that replenish and restore nutrients to your skin and can diminish redness and dry patches.
Like cleansers, moisturizers are for everyone and should be used every time you wash your face. And like cleansers, a little trial and error is totally normal when you’re looking for the right one – oily skin, for example, can benefit from lightweight, oil-free or gel products. Moisturizers prevent your skin from drying out, leaving your skin hydrated and smooth. They are most effective when applied while your skin is slightly damp to seal in moisture.
Some moisturizers include SPF, but it doesn’t hurt to double up with sunscreen as well – particularly if your moisturizer has an SPF below 30. By now, you should know the lines well: Apply sunscreen every day, even when it’s gray or cold, even when you’re covered up. When you are exposed, reapply every two hours. Make sure your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If skin cancer and sun damage aren’t enough to convince you, UV exposure is also the number one cause of wrinkles, uneven skin tone, loss of firmness and aging signs.
Here’s a product you might not need or want to apply every day. If you have dry skin, including winter-air-induced dry skin, you may exfoliate more than usual, but you should still keep it to once or twice a week – max. Exfoliation can be used after cleanser but before moisturizer, as it helps to removes flaky skin by increasing skin cell turnover. The benefits are real – removing dead skin and buildup for smoother skin and clearer pores – but most dermatologists will recommend chemical exfoliants over scrubs to prevent damage to the protective barrier of your skin.
Another optional addition to your skin care routine, serums contain ingredients like antioxidants or retinol that support skin health in a number of ways, such as calming redness and improving texture and firmness.
When You Should Use What
The easiest way to remember when you should be doing what for your skin is to think of it like this: Morning skin care should focus on prevention and protection for the day and your nighttime routine should focus on cleansing and repair.
Most people will only need to really wash their face once a day. In the morning, rinsing with warm water before applying moisturizer and sunscreen should suffice, while at night, after a full day of exposure and damage, more dedicated care is recommended. As such, before bed, you should wash your face with a cleanser to remove dirt and makeup then use toner, exfoliant and serums if you so choose. In any case, always end with moisturizing.
Regardless of the time of day, you should also always wash your face after working out or working up a sweat, as sweat can clog pores and make acne worse. As a rule, remember to take your makeup off before bed and resist picking at your skin.
What About the Weather
Season’s change can bring about adjustments to your skin care and maybe the products you use, but it shouldn’t require any major overhaul of your routine.
In the winter, it’s all about extra moisturizing. The cold weather contributes to dryness (as does the heat from radiators) and wind can chap skin too. You may want to shift to a more moisturizing cleanser to supplement your daily moisturizer.
Conversely, in the summer, your skin may be oilier and you can turn to an oil-free cleanser. Sunscreen is a staple for all seasons, but it’s fair to adjust to a lighter weight for daily use in the summer months – just be sure to bring out the heavy-duty stuff for any concentrated time spent in the sun.
Furthermore, remember you don’t have to wait for the leaves to fall or the snow to melt to switch up your skin care routine. If your skin changes – due to the environment, hormones or anything else – it’s totally fair to adjust your routine in kind. A dermatologist is a great resource if you struggle to get a handle on your skin care. They can help suggest drugstore products, prescribe more serious help and provide lifestyle advice to help address other factors that may be affecting your skin.
Adjusting for Age
Good skin care is essential at any age and healthy habits in your 20s and 30s can strengthen and prepare your skin for the effects of aging down the road. Skin has strong collagen and elastic production in your 20s and 30s. Cleanser and SPF moisturizer will be fixtures in your routine, and some dermatologists may recommend an over-the-counter retinol product or antioxidant serum as a preventative measure to stimulate collagen production. While you may associate collagen with keeping skin looking plump, it also gives skin its strength and structure and plays a role in the replacement of dead skin cells.
As women enter the period before menopause (perimenopause) and menopause, their hormones are in flux and the natural forms of aging begin to kick in. While serums and creams that support collagen production may be added to their skin care arsenal, the foundation will remain a gentle cleanser and a strong moisturizer.
Many factors can affect your skin and your skin – as your largest organ and first line of health defense – deserves to be protected. When considering skin care, you’ll want to be aware of your environment and daily health, such as diet, stress and fitness. Still, at the end of the day, a skin care routine involving cleanser and moisturizer can go a long way.
Reprinted with permission Northwestern Medicine Newsroom