5 Levels of Skincare (Build your Routine)

Whether you know a lot or nothing at all about skincare, it is hard not to notice something that is sprinkled down many aisles of every store and advertised in commercials. I’ve seen enough skincare routine videos and read enough articles to form my belief that there is no one type of routine, product, or ingredient that will fit everyone’s skin. That being said, skincare is a vast, heavily marketed industry and it can get confusing, so I’ve broken down some simple routines no matter how few steps you want to use. The idea is to pick one product from each category to build your own routine!

Do you really need skincare?

Skincare can offer significant positive results for many skin diseases and concerns. Skin is the largest organ, so it is worth taking care of and is technically health care, to a certain extent. It’s very necessary to have good basic hygiene (duh) and protect ourselves from environmental stressors, but for aesthetic reasons, no, I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

Should you wash your face twice a day?

The verdict is out on this. Some people swear by twice a day cleansing, others will say it’s unnecessary. Like most things in skincare, this is really up to the individual. If you feel like you need to cleanse in the morning or you just like to do it, then do it. If you cleanse in the morning because you notice there is still leftover makeup, I suggest making sure you are properly cleansing before going to bed as leftover makeup/sunscreen can cause breakouts and diminsish efficacy of other active ingredients you use at night.

If it works for them will it work for me?

I don’t know how many times I’ve purchased skincare products that I’ve seen/read someone else use and end up having poor results. I mean, they have great skin so why shouldn’t it work? Well.. because they have different skin needs, genetics, diet, lifestyle, health, etc. What heals one person’s acne might break someone else out, what moisturizes one person’s skin might be a smear of water for another. There is really no routine that will for sure suit every skin type. This does take some pressure off of the feeling that you have to use certain types of products based on age and skin type. Just do what works for you and use what you enjoy. More often than not this requires trial and error, but when you start finding your holy grail products, it is worth it!

Skincare goals

Reminder that skin has texture, pores, spots, marks; don’t let airbrushed advertisements and photoshopped social media images fool you into thinking perfectly smooth skin is the norm. A good goal for the most basic skincare routine is to make sure your skin is clean, hydrated, and protected, then it can be expanded to treat more specific concerns.

1.For People Who Hate Skincare

If you aren’t interested in skincare but still want a couple of products to use on occasion, this is a very standard routine. 

this Pixi product is a great option if you want a nice double cleanse, but don’t want to have many products

Target concerns: Get it done and get on with the day/night, no fuss, uncomplicated, doesn’t take a lot of time. 

Morning Routine 

  • Sun protection: While I would never advise anyone to purposefully go without sunscreen, if you are someone who doesn’t use it regularly, I would at least suggest using other forms of sun protection, i.e., wear a hat, wear sunglasses, stay in the shade. Also, if you don’t plan on wearing sunscreen, you should not use any exfoliating scrubs, acids or ingredients that can make your skin more photosensitive (there should be a warning on the back of products to recommend following with sunscreen).

Nighttime Routine: 

  • Micellar water: Removes makeup/sunscreen. To use, saturate a cotton pad (there are reusable options) and gently wipe over the face until most or all traces of makeup and sunscreen are removed. This is a step up from makeup wipes, but still very convenient and doesn’t make a mess. Although marketed as a “no rinse” option, residue left on the skin from micellar water can be drying and cause irritation, so it is important to remove by using a gentle cleaner after or at least splashing your face with water before moisturizing.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O

Simple Unscented Micellar Cleansing Water *

Paula’s Choice Gentle Touch Makeup Remover

  • Cleanser:

Pixi By Petra + Caroline Hirons Double Cleanser *

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser

  • Moisturizer 

Cerave Moisturizing Cream: can be used on face and body.

Vanicream Moisturizing Cream

2. Newbie 

If you want the most basic routine, the three products you should have are cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. This routine is a great place to start if you are new to skincare, if you have a teenager that wants to start using skincare, or if you have a damaged skin barrier/sensitized skin. 

Target concerns: A basic routine, no strong actives or exfoliating products, gentle, easy to use. 

Morning Routine:

  • Cleanse, using second cleanser (gentle gel/cleanser or the same second cleanser you use at night) *optional
  • Sunscreen:

Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen

Krave Beauty The Beet Shield 

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Daily Sunscreen

Cotz Face Moisture SPF 35*

Nighttime Routine

  • Cleanse: wash face for about 20-60 seconds, then rinse well or gently remove with a washcloth. Use the cleanser twice if removing sunscreen and/or makeup. Can also use the double cleanse method with two separate products.

First cleanser:

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil*

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser*

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm

Second Cleanser:

Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser 

La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser 

  • Moisturize: Gently and evenly pat product all over the face and neck. You can apply moisturizer on slightly damp skin to help minimize transepidermal water loss.

Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream

La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra Face Moisturizer

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Moisturizer Light

3. More Than Basic

This routine is for the person that enjoys skincare and wants to see a positive improvement in overall skin appearance and health. This is great for someone who has no specific skin concerns or wants to keep it minimal. 

more than basic skincare routine

Target concerns: A basic routine, no-frills, efficient. 

Morning Routine:

  • Cleanse (using the same second cleanser you use at night) *optional
  • Sunscreen:

Krave Beauty The Beet Shield 

Supergoop Zinc Screen 

Cotz Face Moisture SPF 35*

Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen*

Elta MD UV Clear

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Daily Sunscreen

Nighttime Routine

  • Double cleanse

First cleanse:

Jordan Samuel After Show Treatment Cleanser (sensitive)

Farmacy Green Clean 

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm

 Second Cleanse:

Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser 

Jordan Samuel Matinee Gel Cleanser 

COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser*

La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser

HoliFrog Superior Omega Nutritive Gel Wash

  • Hydration: 

Jordan Samuel Hydrate Mist

COSRX Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid Hydrating Serum

I’m From Rice Toner

The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum*

  • Exfoliation:

Krave Beauty Kale-Lalu-yAHA

Josh Rosebrook Daily Acid Toner

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid*

Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant 

The Inkey List PHA Gentle Exfoliating Toner

  • Moisturizer:

The Inkey List Snow Mushroom Hydrating Gel Moisturizer*

Jordan Samuel Performance Cream

Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Moisturizer

Biossance 100% Sugarcane Squalane Oil*

4. Teenage skin, with acne (also good for oily skin types or those you prefer lighter weight products)

I went into more depth about what acne is, its causes, and treatments in my all about acne post (there is also more information and product recommendations for adult acne). Acne is the most common skincare concern for pre-teens and teenagers. It is important to treat acne so that scarring can be prevented and/or minimized. I remember bombarding my skin with harsh products in my teen years and I wish I’d known to be more gentle with my skin. I wanted this routine to be simple, not ultra-focused on pimples, but incorporate some powerhouse actives to make a real difference.

Acne can have a significantly negative impact on confidence and mental health, so I urge any parents reading this to take it seriously, even if you don’t see it as being bad, we all see our own flaws magnified. It is also important to note that if the acne seems severe or is not improving with OTC products, then you should seek professional advice and treatment.

*read 15 ways to improve acne 

Target concerns: Acne treatment, simple, effective, non-irritating.

Morning Routine

  • Cleanse (using a gentle cleanser) *optional
  • Sunscreen: this is a very important step in general, but especially when using ingredients that increase photosensitivity. 

Cotz Face Moisture SPF 35

Krave Beauty The Beet Shield

Supergoop Mattescreen SPF 40

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc SPF 50

Nighttime Routine:

  • First Cleanser

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser*

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil *

  • Second Cleanser: if you want to keep a minimal amount of products, just use the second cleanser twice.

La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Cleanser

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser

COSRX Low pH Gentle Morning Gel Cleanser *

  • Treatment Products:

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser BPO 5%

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser: when using acne treatment products it is good to use a gentle cleanser and moisturizer unless otherwise advised by your dermatologist. However, using a cleanser with an active ingredient like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can be a good way to get some benefit in a wash off form.

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid *

Zapzyt Acne Treatment Gel

Differin Gel

Paula’s Choice Azelaic Acid Booster *

The Inkey List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum

  • Moisturizer:

The Ordinary NMF + HA

Krave Beauty Oat So Simple Water Cream

Versed Moisturizing Gel Cream

La Roche Posay Toleriane Fluide

La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra Face Moisturizer

COSRX Centella Blemish Cream

5. Mature Skin (also good for drier skin types or people who want a more expanded routine)

What is mature skin? Mature skin is associated with decreased collagen, loss of firmness and elasticity, decreased moisture (dry skin), dullness, and wrinkles. Age isn’t as much of a factor as you’d think because skin condition is greatly determined by genetics, environment, lifestyle, etc. Other factors, like smoking cigarettes, overexposure to UVA/UVB rays, stress, hormones, and health issues also play a role in skins biology.

Aging: I think anti-aging has become an unhinged market that tends to prey on societal standards of what skin should look like at a certain age, which is daunting and nearly unattainable to most. I chose to keep this routine focused on ingredients that have been studied and proven effective for what I’ve noticed people seem to be concerned with, as mentioned below. I also tried to keep these product recommendations within reasonable price points, with a few exceptions. I think another huge misconception about “anti-aging” products is that they ‘need’ to be expensive to work, or because a product is pricey means it will work better… totally untrue. You don’t need skincare to age gracefully. You don’t need skincare at all, but it can be a great ally in keeping up with skin health, and is a nice ritual or few minutes to yourself every morning and evening. Because this routine is more involved, if you are new to skincare, start with a basic routine as mentioned above, then slowly incorporate one new product/ingredient at a time. It is also worth mentioning that if/when you do add these lovely active ingredients, it is important to stay diligent with sunscreen as they can make skin more photosensitive.

Target concerns: Fine lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity, hyperpigmentation, slightly more involved, individualized products, straightforward, research driven. 

One of the most confusing things about a routine with more actives is how to layer the products, which ingredients can be used together, and what to avoid mixing. I have linked some very helpful videos that go into much more detail on these topics.

Caroline Hirons Retinol Q&A

Beauty Within How to Layer Active Ingredients 

Beauty Within How to Layer Ingredients 2

Hot and Flashy How to Layer Anti-Aging 

Morning Routine

Cleanse (second cleanser) *optional

Serum: some people like using certain actives in the morning (vitamin c, niacinamide, hyaluronic, etc).

Moisturizer: if you feel like you need the extra moisture in the morning

  • Sunscreen

Paula’s Choice Super Light Wrinkle Defense 

Supergoop Glowscreen SPF 40 

La Roche Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral SunscreenBiossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen*

Nighttime Routine

  • Double cleanse

First cleanser:

The Inky List Oat Cleansing Balm

Allies of Skin Molecular Silk Amino Hydrating Cleanser  (can be used as a first and/or second cleanser)

Jordan Samuel After Show Treatment Cleanser (sensitive)

Jordan Samuel After Show Treatment Cleanser (original)

Farmacy Green Clean

HoliFrog Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash

Second Cleanser:

La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser 

Kate Somerville Goat Milk Moisturizing Cleanser

iS Clinical Cleansing Complex

Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser 

HoliFrog Tashmoo Water Lily Nourishing Milky Cleanser

HoliFrog Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash

  • Hydration

Laneige Cream Skin Toner and Moisturizer

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Hydrating Toner

  • Exfoliation

Biologique Recherche P50 Exfoliating Toner

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

The Inkly List Lactic Acid Serum

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Solution*

  • Serums/treatment(s): I have listed some of the most popular skincare ingredients and corresponding products, however, you don’t need to use a product from each category. You can watch the videos mentioned above (I also have a skin care labels made simple post) to figure out which ingredients are best for your skin.

Hyaluronic:

The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum*

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Gel

Jordan Samuel Hydrating Serum

Vitamin C:

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

Naturium Vitamin C Face Oil

Niacinamide:

Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster *

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Retinol (Caroline Hirons Beginners Retinol) :

Jordan Samuel Retinol Treatment Oil

Differin Gel

Curology 

Other:

Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum

Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief 

Paula’s Choice Azelaic Acid Booster *

The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Night Treatment (reduces hyperpigmentation)

  • Moisturizer

The Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer 

Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream *

Paula’s Choice Omega + Complex Moisturizer *

Paula’s Choice Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer 

Kate Somerville Goat Milk Moisturizing Cream*

Cerave Moisturizing Cream

La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream

Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentrate

I hope this post can offer a simple guide or give you ideas for building a skincare routine!

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to diagnose or be a replacement for medical advice or treatment.

*This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links marked “*’

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