We all have unique needs and preferences.
Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find a self-care, skincare routine that works for us, but when we do, it usually takes months of trial and error to hit on the right combination of treatments that suits our tastes and our skin’s needs.
Unfortunately, even when we find something that helps us, well-meaning loved ones or self-proclaimed skincare gurus may tell us that our regimen is wrong.
Worse, needing to reinvent the wheel for skincare can feel daunting, so we often stick with what works for years without testing out other options.
It’s important to remember that skin adapts overtime to its treatments. If the same regimen has been working for you for years, it may be high time to try something new.
Where do I start?
There’s no better way to find your skin-care routine than by taking stock of what your skin already needs.
Look back on how you’ve taken care of your skin. Have you always had sensitive skin?
Have certain products, like glycolic acid cleansers or chemical exfoliants, left your skin red and inflamed while others have not?
Do you have a favorite effect that everyone tells you to stop using because it’s “too rich” or “clogs pores”?
Is rinsing with water after cleansing one part of your regimen that you never skip no matter how tired or late for work you are?
These are all clues about what your skin might need.
Now, take the time to record how your skin responds over the next few weeks after introducing treatments to your routine.
Record which products, active ingredients, and application techniques leave your skin feeling the best. For example, does your CTM routine feel too thick?
Is it going a film on your face or stinging slightly?
Do you need to wait 20 minutes before applying makeup after using AHA treatments? Are physical exfoliants too harsh for you?
Please keep track of all these variables and then use them to develop your self-care routine.
How can I try out other treatments?
After you’ve kept a record of your skin’s reactions for a few weeks, take some time to reflect on which ingredients or treatments it responded well to, and which did nothing.
There are two possible reasons for this: either the active ingredient or product caused a reaction that your skin can’t tolerate, or the active ingredient or product wasn’t vital enough to make a difference. Either way, if your skin reacted well to something, it’s likely helping.
If you’ve tested out an ingredient and found it didn’t help, this doesn’t always mean you should stop using it forever. If you’re using a product with an element, you’re sensitive to, try cutting it out of your routine for weeks and see if your skin improves.
If so, you can reintroduce the ingredient or even try applying it to only half of your face.
If you’ve tested an ingredient and found that it helps but didn’t find the component very enjoyable, you may want to try a different product with the same element.
For example, you could use a serum with the component instead of an emulsion or cream.
You could also try using less of the ingredient in your products or in lower concentrations than is expected.
Whenever possible, I choose ingredients that are non-irritating, non-sensitizing, and derived from natural sources.
To keep my routine as natural as possible without compromising results or safety, I take it easy on actives and treatments that are known to cause irritation and those with sensitizing potential such as AHAs and BHAs.
If I use a treatment known to be sensitizing, I use it only a few times a week and mix it with soothing ingredients.
For example, instead of using an AHA every second or third day for 21 days straight as recommended on its packaging, I might break up the schedule, so I’m only using the AHA once every three days.
In between the AHA treatment, I might apply a hydrating mask or use a product that contains calming ingredients such as niacinamide.
In cases where an ingredient is commonly used in low concentrations but can still be sensitizing, I will mix it with other soothing ingredients and cut down on the concentration of active in my products.
For example, instead of using a citric acid serum at 10%, I might mix it with 5% or less niacinamide and aloe vera gel.
I will only use an AHA treatment every second day to ensure I’m not overdoing it. If my skin can handle more frequent usage, I may try applying the active every day for a week and slowly work up to every other day usage.
I also caution with less common actives like tretinoin, as research is still ongoing on how they affect the skin long-term. For this reason, I will only use retinol or retinaldehyde at night because it’s gentler than tretinoin.
I will also patch test before using it to check for any potential sensitizing reactions.
I only use BHAs every other day instead of every day, as overuse can irritate and dehydrate.
If you’re unsure about an ingredient or product, remember that moderation is key! Try cutting down on the concentration of actives and alternate them with soothing effects.
If there’s a product that interests you, try making it part of your routine for a few weeks and see how your skin responds before deciding to use it all the time. You can also consider dabbling in low-concentration or single-dose usage of actives.
If you can’t tell if an ingredient is irritating your skin or not, cut it out entirely for a few weeks and reintroduce it slowly to see how your skin responds. Remember that too much of anything isn’t good for your skin, so always start with moderation first.
You should also note that taking antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and retinoic can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It’s essential to wear sunscreen while taking these medications because they increase the risk of developing sunburn!
I use gentle skincare ingredients with non-comedogenic oils, plant extracts, and physical exfoliants to keep my skin barrier solid and resilient.
I start with a low pH cleanser to clean off actively shed corneocytes and prevent their accumulation on the skin’s surface. I follow up with a serum with hydrating ingredients such as glycerin, caprylic/capric triglycerides, and hyaluronic acid to repair the skin barrier and prevent further dehydration.
Then I move on to a low-pH foaming cleanser because I find this type of cleanser to be more effective at cleaning off deep-seated dirt, excess sebum, dead skin cells, and other impurities without disrupting my skin barrier.
I always end my double-cleansing with a low-pH toner containing calming ingredients such as aloe vera, chamomile, witch hazel, and allantoin.
After cleansing, I also apply the pH-adjusting toners or sprays because they are easier to spread on top of the skin when my pores are open from the surfactants in my cleansers.
I wait at least 30 minutes before moving on to serums and ampoules with a higher concentration of actives because I want them to absorb into my skin instead of being absorbed by the cotton pad or ball.
And finally, I wait at least 30 minutes before applying moisturizers and creams—to allow my skin time to absorb all the actives—and then seal it all in with a sleeping pack.
Proper sun protection and moisturizing should be done at least once a day — even just 15 SPF and sunscreen underneath your makeup can make a huge difference!
I will only use an AHA treatment every other day and then build up to everyday usage or go back to using it sparingly.
If you’re unsure about using an ingredient, try cutting down the usage first before deciding to remove it entirely from your routine.
Don’t forget about the sunscreen!
Remember that too much of anything isn’t good for your skin, so always start with moderation first!