“How do I start a skin care routine?”
It’s one of the most common questions I’ve heard in my years in the skin care community. There are no shortage of answers—I’ve written plenty of them. But I wanted to do something a little different for the readers at Kalista Edit. Something with a little less caution and a little more joy.
Disclaimer: My usual advice for those looking to start a skin care routine is to take it slowly. Only introduce one product at a time, and don’t introduce more than one new product within the same one- to two-week period. That way, if a new product breaks you out or causes a reaction, you’ll know which one is the culprit and can easily remove it from your routine. Additionally, remember that everyone’s skin is different. Just because someone else loves a product, doesn’t mean you will, or that it will do the same thing for your skin that it does for the other person.
This is good advice. If it wasn’t, those of us who’ve been around the skin care block a few times wouldn’t give it. It’s advice geared towards those with more problematic skin, however: acne-prone or sensitive, with triggers that the user may not have identified yet.
My advice for those looking to start a skin care routine is to take it slowly. Only introduce one product at a time.
But if you’re curious about skin care, would like to start a routine not only for the cosmetic improvements but for the enjoyment of it, and have fairly non-reactive skin that’s unlikely to lose its mind at the sight of a new product, you can do as I do rather than as I say. That is, dive face-first into a routine that’s as pleasing to the senses as it is beneficial to the skin.
I’ve put together a basic skin care starter kit here, with a few products you can find right here on Kalista Beauty. The core products are appropriate for all but the most oily and most dry skin types. These are all products I’ve used and loved—now it’s your turn to try!
The Basic Skin Care Routine
If you’re just starting a skin care routine, don’t worry too much about targeted treatments like serums and essences just yet. Build the foundation before you start worrying about the details. Most products formulated to address specific issues like hyperpigmentation or visible skin aging won’t work as well (if at all) without a solid basic routine already in place to support them. Some may even backfire.
Even without any additional essences, serums, or other treatment products, a solid basic skin care routine can deliver noticeable improvements to skin’s texture, tone, and overall glow. Consistency is key here—try to cleanse and moisturize every night, and cleanse, moisturize, and apply sunscreen every morning. Your skin will thank you.
Even without any additional treatment products, a solid basic skin care routine can deliver noticeable improvements to skin’s texture, tone, and overall glow.
I’ve been advocating for gentle, neutral- to low-pH cleansers since I first got serious about skin care, both because of the research showing the effects of cleanser pH on the naturally slightly acidic (low pH) moisture barrier of skin, and because my own skin improved dramatically after I stopped using overly harsh, high-pH cleansers. My skin became less sensitive, resulting in an overall more even and bright tone as the blotchy redness of regular irritation faded away. Occasional breakouts became a thing of the past. And thanks to the improvement in my natural moisture retention, my skin became plumper and softer overall, and much less prone to flakiness.
Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Foam is my absolute favorite luxury face wash. With mild cleansing agents at a neutral pH, it gets skin fresh and clean without drying it out. The soft herbal scent and delicate foam turn cleansing into a soothing ritual. And a little goes a long way, so a bottle lasts a while.
The tradeoff of gentle, lower-pH cleansers is that they generally aren’t powerful enough to remove makeup or sunscreen in a single wash, however. So if you use makeup and/or sunscreen, you will need a separate product to remove them before cleansing. For light makeup and non-water-resistant sunscreen, I find cleansing waters and micellar waters quick and easy. Saturate a cotton pad and swipe over face for fast, gentle makeup removal before cleansing. I love Sulwhasoo’s Gentle Cleansing Water, and Bioderma offers micellar waters for a variety of skin types, including sensitive skin.
For heavier makeup or water-resistant sunscreen, look for a cleansing oil or balm. Emulsifying, oil-based cleansers easily break up and lift off very stubborn or long-wearing products without compromising skin’s natural moisture. Massage over face without wetting skin first, then massage again with wet hands to emulsify before rinsing. Follow up with your foaming cleanser. I’m a fan of Sulwhasoo’s Gentle Cleansing Oil as well. Really, my ideal cleansing routine would just consist of their products.
The main objective for a moisturizer is simple: moisturize.
There are three main dimensions to moisturizer. A moisturizer’s hydrating qualities come from water and from water-binding ingredients, called humectants, a category that includes familiar names like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. All skin loses water throughout the day in a process called Trans Epidermal Moisture Loss (TEWL); a moisturizer’s hydrating components replenish that water and can also help slow TEWL down by binding to water as it travels from the deeper layers of skin to the surface.
A moisturizer’s emollient properties come from any fatty ingredients (like plant oils and butters) and silicones in the moisturizer that have a small enough molecule size to sink into the microscopic cracks and crevices between cells at the upper surface of skin. By filling in these cracks and crevices, emollient moisture smooths the texture of skin. It also helps to more effectively trap water in skin, further reducing TEWL.
Finally, a moisturizer’s occlusive properties come from any fatty ingredients it contains that have a molecular size too large to sink into skin. Mineral oil and petroleum are common occlusives. They sit on top of skin, creating a physical barrier against water loss. When used more generously, emollient moisturizing ingredients can also be occlusive, simply by being present in larger quantities than the skin can absorb.
Most moisturizers contain humectant, emollient, and occlusive ingredients. The balance of these ingredients determines what skin types the moisturizer fits best.
Most moisturizers contain a combination of humectant, emollient, and occlusive ingredients. The balance of these ingredients determines what skin types and moisture needs the moisturizer fits best. For a well-balanced cream, I like Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Cream. This soft, satiny cream provides an excellent mix of hydrating and fatty ingredients and feels neither too light nor too heavy on skin. As a plus, the soft rose scent makes it a pleasure to apply.
Sunscreen is the most important product anyone can put on their skin. Apart from hiding indoors from the sun, proper sunscreen use is the most effective and proven way to reduce the risk of skin cancer, which can develop in skin of all colors. Proper sunscreen use also protects skin from many signs of aging—up to 80 percent of visible skin aging, in fact. UV damage is the main factor in especially noticeable aging signs like thicker and coarser skin texture, deep wrinkles and creases, dark spots, uneven skin tone, and drastic sagging due to collagen and elastin breakdown.
You’ll notice that I keep saying “proper sunscreen use,” not just “sunscreen use.” That’s because any SPF is not always better than no SPF.
Sunscreen’s ability to protect skin from UV radiation depends heavily on the quantity in which it’s applied. For the full protection advertised on the label, any SPF-labeled product, no matter what it is, must be applied at a thickness of 2mg/cm2. That’s much more generous than many of us are used to. It works out to about ¼ tsp for face and a further ¼ tsp for neck and upper chest. And it is far, far more generously than most of us would ever apply any moisturizer or makeup product that contains SPF. My Three Fingers method helps me make sure I use enough every day.
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Applying less than the recommended amount, unfortunately, decreases the protection drastically, to the point where the false sense of security caused by wearing an SPF-labeled product may lead to greater sun damage if we feel more protected than we are and therefore spend more time in the sun.
The solution to this problem is to find daily use sunscreen products that are cosmetically elegant enough to wear in the generous amounts required, without a greasy residue or unsightly white cast. Of the many, many sunscreens I’ve tried, from high-end to budget-friendly, only a few have met this criteria.
For normal to oily skin types, I love Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel, which dries totally weightless and totally clear on my skin, creating a completely invisible shield against sun damage. The alcohol in the Missha sunscreen may make it less suitable for drier complexions, so for dry skin types, I almost always recommend Earth’s Recipe Waterful Sun Gel. Like the Missha sunscreen, the Earth’s Recipe sunscreen dries absolutely clear. It has a more moisturizing finish than the Missha and no alcohol.
Proper sunscreen use also protects skin from many signs of aging—up to 80 percent of visible skin aging, in fact.
Your Next Steps
Skin care is highly individual and very subject to trial and error. For this article, I chose products that both I and many of my readers have enjoyed, and I’m confident they’ll work out well for many of you too. But if something isn’t quite what your skin needs, don’t feel discouraged. There’s a vast selection of skin care out there these days; with some searching, you’ll find the perfect products for you. And once you establish your basic cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting routine, the sky’s the limit—whatever further improvements you’d like to see, there’s likely a product for that!