Everything You Need To Know About Skin Care, According To Dermatologists

Skin is the body’s largest organ and a visible indicator of our overall health. In your early twenties, your skin begins aging, so it’s essential to give it adequate care as soon as possible. But with hundreds of products on the market, how do you know what to use for your skin?

Dermatologists have laid down guidelines for everything from the order in which to apply products and the best process to wash your face. If you want to identify which moisturizer is right for you based on consistency, keep reading. Here are dermatology-backed facts that you need to know about skin care.

Your Skin Starts Growing Old While You’re Still Young

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Your skin begins aging by age 25. Around this time, skin’s building block, collagen, decreases by 1% every year, the same rate as a 40-year-old. As skin ages, it begins to develop fine lines, wrinkles, flabbiness, and lower volume.

Along with collagen, your epidermal layers lose hyaluronic acid, which defends your skin against burns, infections, and dryness. “Do not wait until you’re over 40 years old to use advanced, super-strength products,” asserts Dr. Aaron Tabor, an anti-aging expert. “Start right now.”

Nothing Else Will Matter If You Don’t Wash Your Face

Woman washing her face
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

No matter how many serums you use, none of it will improve your skin if you don’t wash your face. New York City dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles recommends washing your face twice a day to avoid clogged pores and acne. Since pollutants “should be gently removed,” Dr. Charles advises against exfoliating scrubs.

The New York Times lists several cleansers that could work for different skin types. In general, oily or acne-prone skin should have a foaming liquid, dry or red skin should be washed with a cream or lotion, and mature skin can be cleansed with a melting balm.

Apply Products In The Ideal Order

Redditors line of skincare products for oily and pimpled skin
Reddit/u/liquid_cats
Reddit/u/liquid_cats

“Products should only be applied one by one,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group. If you mix a serum with lotion, for instance, it will lessen the effect of both products. Dermatologists have planned an ideal sequence for your skincare routine.

Dr. Heather Rogers recommends applying products in this order: cleanser, toner, serum, eye cream, spot treatment, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Any face masks or oils should be put on last. Of course, you can remove any optional application that you don’t want, such as toners and spot treatments.

Don’t Use Night Creams As Your Day Cream

Senior performing skin care on face.
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MediaForMedical/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you’ve ever tried both day creams and night creams, you’ll notice that nighttime lotion is thicker and heavier. That’s because night products are designed to moisturize and reduce signs of aging overnight. In contrast, daytime creams are lighter and contain SPF and antioxidants to product your skin during the day.

Don’t wear a night cream during the day, as it won’t absorb properly and can make you feel greasy. Skincare.com consultant Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali claims that day creams “are designed to be worn underneath cosmetics,” while night time creams aren’t.

Toners Are Optional, But Will Reduce Signs Of Aging

apply kiehls ultra facial toner
Youtube/Kiehl’s Global
Youtube/Kiehl’s Global

In the past, toners reduced the pH of the skin after people washed their face with alkaline soap. Nowadays, toner wipes off excess dirt and oil after cleansing. Dermatologist for The Body Shop Christine Choi Kim, MD, adds that toners today “target a varying array of skin concerns–from acne to dryness to aging.”

To calm skin redness and irritation, get rose water or green tea toner. Or, pick one with vitamins E and C to defend your face from free radicals throughout the day. Apply toner with your hands or a cotton pad for the best efficiency.

Shampoos And Conditioners Can Aggravate Acne

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Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue via Getty Images

If you spot acne along your hairline, shoulders or upper back, then you might be using unhealthy hair products. These blemishes are called pomade acne and are different from allergic reactions to shampoo or conditioner.

Dr. Annie Chiu, dermatologist and director of The Derm Institute, admonishes staying away from oil-based products, panthenol, mineral oil, and petrolatum. “They build up on the skin,” she explains, “and cause breakouts near the hairline.” Find products with water in the top three ingredients, and wash your face after you lather your hair.

The Best Technique For Washing Your Face Is…

A Sri Lankan Muslim boy washes his face before attending prayers
Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Busy people may breeze through their face-washing routine. But dermatologists express that the most effective way to wash your face is gently and slowly. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests washing with your fingertips for at least 20 seconds. Wiping with a mesh, sponge, or washcloth can irritate your skin.

Clean your face with a delicate cleanser and lukewarm water. Avoid scrubbing, as it can exacerbate your skin. Pat dry with a soft towel before continuing with your skincare routine. The AAD also recommends cleaning your face after a workout, when you’re feeling sweaty.

Identify Which Moisturizer Is The Best For Your Skin Type

L'Occitane display of lotions in the duty-free store
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Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When choosing a moisturizer, the vast array of options can make it hard to pick. Sandra Kopp, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, has simplified the search with some tips. For instance, if you have dry skin, search for oil-based creams and lotions, and avoid alcohols and fragrances.

For those who struggle with acne, lightweight gels and antioxidant serums make an exceptional hydrating combo. Inflamed and sensitive skin that’s not acne-prone will benefit from a balm. Dr. Kopp also adds that the best time to rub in a moisturizer is when your face is clean and damp.

Wash Your Hands Before Ever Touching Your Face

A person from Democratic Republic of Congo wash the hands
ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Your hands shelter millions of bacteria at any given second. The reason we don’t get sick from it all the time is due to the tough skin there, but if you rub your face, that bacteria will expand. Dr. Shamban, dermatologist and author of Heal Your Skin, says that touching your face “most definitely worsens acne, contact dermatitis, and herpes simplex.”

To avoid spreading around the bacteria that aggravate acne, p. acnes bacteria, wash your hands before you touch your face. Harvard Health Publishing claims that just 30 seconds of hand washing will reduce the bacterial count by 58%.

Cucumbers On The Eyes Isn’t An Old Wives Tale

Young woman with cucumber slices on eyes
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Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Placing cucumbers over your eyes might seem like an outdated skin myth, but scientific studies reinforce its benefits. A 2013 review of cucumbers in Fitoterapia supports that cucumber juice nourishes the skin by soothing irritations and swelling.

Cucumbers have high amounts of vitamin C and folic acid, which repairs connective tissue, according to a 2010 assessment in the Pharmacognosy Magazine. To reap the benefits, cut off fresh cucumber and leave them over your eyes for 15 minutes.

Your Shower Habits Could Make Your Skin Dry Out

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Twitter/@TheSocialCTV

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology claims that everyday shower habits can dry out your skin. For instance, they recommend showering with lukewarm water instead of hot, since scorching water will parch your skin. Try to limit your shower to 15 minutes, and only bathe once a day.

Try to pat your body dry instead of rubbing it. And finally, deodorant soaps usually zap your skin’s moisture. If you want to use deodorant soaps, limit them to odor areas such as armpits and feet.

Some Skin Products Take Over A Month To Work

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Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star via Getty Images

If you’ve only tested a new skin care product for two weeks, you haven’t waited long enough. According to Dr. Julia Carroll, director of Compass Dermatology, products take anywhere from four to six weeks to show a difference. “Your skin starts at the bottom where it’s always replenishing, and it works its way to the top where it falls off,” she clarifies.

Director of Toronto’s Bay Dermatology Centre, Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, adds that prescription products often work faster than over-the-counter ones. In general, moisturizers and masks will quickly demonstrate results, whereas cleansers and serums take weeks of consistent use to prove their worth.

Certain Products Remove Makeup Better

A headshot of a woman removing her makeup with a cotton ball, circa 1945.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s no secret that leaving makeup on overnight will plant some new pimples. But many people don’t pay attention to how they remove their makeup. Dr. Dina Began, a dermatologist at Bobby Buka MD Dermatology, warns against makeup wipes that contain alcohol, since they dry your face too much. If need be, you can use some toner on a cotton pad to sponge off makeup, she says.

Dr. Kavita Mariwalla adds that certain soaps will wipe off residue better than others. “Oil-based cleansers will remove thicker makeup and a regular cleanser will enough to remove light makeup,” she clarifies.

Keep Your Routine As Simple As Possible

An employee of Medical Beauty Research GmbH presents a care cream with gold particles.
Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

While more involved routines aren’t necessarily bad, they risk irritating your skin even more. Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner says that with 12-step routines, “we don’t know whether the active ingredients in all the products are even compatible.” Also, with short and sweet methods, you won’t forget any of the steps.

In addition to saving money, you won’t over-exfoliate, according to Dr. Cybele Fishman. “I think people do too much to their skin and often end up harming it with all the extra steps,” she said.

Hunt Down Non-Comedogenic Cleansers

Olive Oil Soap for cleansing the face, infants and sensitive skin, Corfu, Greece
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Dimitris Lampropoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Although the term “non-comedogenic” appears on many product labels, it isn’t always defined clearly. Loretta Ciraldo, MD FAAD and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, explains that “comedogenic means acne-causing.” In short, non-comedogenic soaps won’t block your pores.

Dr. Ciraldo says that creamy, thick cleanses tend to be comedogenic. In some cases, comedogenic can be okay if the acne-sprouting ingredients are near the end of the list, which signals that they “may be an insignificant amount.” Also, if you’re simply looking to heal dry skin, then comedogenic products may help you.

Serums Can Help More Than You Think

Tia Barr applies Ford MD's Retinol Multi Vitamin Serum at The Artists Project Give Back Day
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Amanda Cases/Getty Images for The Artists Project

Serums provide vitamins and antioxidants that protect your face from irritatants. Aesthetician Jordana Mattioli asserts that “everyone still needs a general antioxidant serum in the morning to protect from daily aggressors” even if you don’t have any specific issues.

Certain ingredients can help specific ailments. To brighten dark spots, use vitamin C. To prevent moisture loss, pick a serum with hyaluronic acid. You can intercept aging and skin sagging with vitamin B3, retinol, and peptides. Finally, to improve acne and inflammation, consider going with niacinamide and colloidal sulfur. You can also use several serums for multiple issues.

Limit Exfoliating To Once A Week

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Twitter/@that1mum

Dermatologists recommend limiting exfoliating scrubs and cleansers to once a week. While exfoliating can help your skin, overdoing it will tell your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Dr. Aanand Geria of Gerai Dermatology says that limiting exfoliation “[helps] expedite skin turnover without causing damage.”

When you over-exfoliate, you might notice a shiny forehead, peeling, redness, puffiness, increased sensitivity, or tightness. If you do overdo it, Dr. Geria suggests switching to a mild cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizer, and spot treating any inflammation.

Sunscreen Is The Most Important Skin Product

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Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Dr. Charles asserts that sunscreen usage is the most crucial skin care product, hands down. Consistent use inhibits “fine lines and wrinkles, textural imperfections, and changes in the appearance of pores over time. In other words, applying sunscreen every day delays skin aging.

To make everything easier, consider purchasing a day cream with an SPF of at least 30. Dr. Charles says to “apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply at least every two hours.” A dot the size of a nickel should be enough to cover your face.

Eye Cream: Not Necessary, But Has Special Properties

Woman applying eye cream on her face
Pinterest/Skincare.com
Pinterest/Skincare.com

Not everyone needs an eye cream. But those who suffer from inflammation or under-eye bags may want to consider one, especially if they wear makeup often. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t more expensive repackaged face creams, according to Dr. Patricia Farris, MD, professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine.

“Eye creams are formulated specifically for delicate skin around the eye,” she says. “They contain more oil than regular face lotion.” Because the skin around your eyes is more fragile, it can wrinkle more simply from squinting or constant movement. Eye cream can regulate these issues.

How Stress Affects Your Skin

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Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It isn’t necessarily stress that aggravates skin, but the skin’s reaction to stress. When you feel overwhelmed, your body releases more cortisol, which alerts your skin glands to create more oil. In extreme cases, stress can cause hives and skin rashes to flare up.

Dr. Richard Fried, MD, PhD, clinical director of Yardley Dermatology, says that stress ignites inflammation in the same way as a fight or flight response. “So many [skin conditions] are related to an inappropriate release of inflammatory chemicals,” he emphasizes. To make matters worse, people tend to neglect their skincare routine when they feel too busy.