In the first part of this guide, I covered all of the “whys” that come along with the Prime Directive of Skincare: Take it slow. If you missed that part of the series, take a minute and start at the beginning.
For the second half of this series, I’m going to cover the “hows” of the slow and steady skincare lifestyle.
How to Patch Test
Until you’re confident about how reactive your skin is, patch testing is a necessary evil. It can be a little tedious, but it’s much better to spend a bit of extra time testing and waiting than it is to spend a lot of extra time recovering from a bad reaction.
Patch testing involves putting a new product on either a small, inconspicuous part of your face or another sensitive patch of skin before you slather it on with abandon. The most common places to use for patch testing are your inner elbow and behind your ear. This skin tends to be thinner and more sensitive, so it’s usually a good gauge for how the rest of your skin will react.
If you have certain areas of skin that are prone to sensitivity or issues like eczema, it can be helpful to use them for patch testing as well.
The basic process looks like this.
1. Apply the new product to an inconspicuous area of delicate skin (inner elbow, behind your ear, or behind your knee usually work well). Unless you have very sensitive or compromised skin, you should only need to do this for a couple of days.
2. Watch for signs of irritation. Redness, swelling, itching, breakouts, burning, or tightness all count here.
3. If you don’t experience a negative reaction after two to three days (maybe longer if you have picky skin), you can either test it on a small section of your face or just add it to your rotation.
If you DO experience a negative reaction, you can either wait for it to calm down and try again (sometimes outside factors like weather, hormones, and stress can affect how your skin behaves), or you can add it to the Nope List and try something different.
If you DO experience a negative reaction, you can either wait for it to calm down and try again, or you can add it to the Nope List and try something different.
One last note about patch testing: It’s best to only add one product at a time. I try not to introduce more than one new product every few weeks. This allows me to make sure there won’t be any long-term negative effects (my skin is prone to clogged pores), and it also lets me gauge whether or not the new addition is making a positive difference in my skin.
How to Decide Which Product to Add Next
Since building up your new routine is going to be a slow process, choosing which type of product to add each time matters. After all, you can’t tell if your new serum is working if your face wash isn’t cleaning your skin well enough!
As with most things surrounding your beauty routine the YMMV (“Your Mileage May Vary”) adage applies here. The guide I’m going to give you is a solid jumping-off point, but it’s not the gospel truth for everyone. Do what works best for you.
1. Start with your cleansers
You should have an oil-based cleanser that can remove waterproof sunscreen (even if you’re not using sunscreen yet) and makeup. Before you swap your current water-based face wash for something new, find an oil cleanser that works for you. Once you have the first cleanser, then you can switch to a new, low-pH face wash.
2. Add sunscreen
A good cleanser and sunscreen are the foundations of a solid skincare regimen. Look for a minimum of SPF35, but aim for SPF50. If you’re purchasing an Asian sunscreen (which I highly recommend; they’re great!), be sure it has at least a PA+++ rating.
If you have combo/oily skin, a sun milk is a good place to start. They’re lightweight, and many have mattifying properties. Normal or slightly dry skin would benefit from a gel or lightweight lotion, and dry skin should look for a moisturizing sun cream.
Finding a moisturizer that suits your skin is the final basic step. Look for something with ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides, which are all excellent for nourishing and supporting healthy skin.
4. Pick one goal to work towards
Once you have those three foundational products, you can start adding the fun stuff. Pick the skin goal you want to start working on (e.g., fixing dehydration, minimizing redness), and add a toner, serum, or essence that focuses on that goal.
You can repeat this step as many times as necessary (as long as you patch test each time). Eventually, you’ll have curated a routine that’s perfect for your skin.
Too Much of a Good Thing: How to Troubleshoot Your Routine
Maybe you were cruising along with a routine that was working great, and suddenly your skin is freaking out. Or maybe, you did what we’ve all done at some point, and you added too many new things too fast.
No matter how it happened, an unexpected breakout or a series of crappy skin days can throw you into panic mode. You’re suddenly questioning all of your products and frantically shopping for ways to speed-treat the problem areas, praying that you don’t have to start all over.
First, close the shopping tabs you have open. Stop googling DIY home remedies. Your skin will be fine, and you almost certainly won’t have to build a new routine.
1. Did you add anything new?
If you recently added something new, this is the logical place to start. Even if you patch tested and it was fine, there are plenty of cases where the adverse reaction doesn’t happen until you’ve been using a product for a while.
Stop using whatever your most recent addition was, and do everything else as normal. Once your skin has reset, use that product on just a small portion of your face and see if you start getting the same reaction.
2. Did you add multiple products at once?
If you added more than one new product, the best thing to do is strip your routine back to the bland basics: gentle cleanser, sun protection, moisturizer. You don’t need to re-test anything that was working previously, but slowly reintroduce everything up to the new products.
Once your skin is back to baseline, follow my patch testing advice! It might take some time, but you’ll find the culprit.
3. Did anything recently change in your life?
If you haven’t changed anything major in your routine, then external factors could be the cause! Seasonal weather changes, hormonal shifts, major life events, or even just switching to a new laundry detergent can be enough to trigger a breakout.
If you can, make a quick note in your planner or notes app about any major stressors or significant changes that have been happening recently, and see if those could be affecting your skin! In the meantime, try not to panic-treat your skin. Keep up your normal routine with as few changes as possible so that you don’t add extra variables into the mix.
After a few weeks, you might notice that there’s a pattern to your breakouts, and you can make adjustments based on your notes rather than on your anxiety.
How Can I Help You Take It Slow?
By now, I hope that you feel empowered to start building a skincare routine that works for you. The beginning is always the hardest part, but once you’ve gotten over the initial hump of finding the right base products, you’ll know so much more about your skin, and that’s when the journey gets fun!
If you have more questions about something I covered (or didn’t cover!), drop them in the comments! If you’re also a grizzled beauty veteran with suggestions for newbies, please share those with us too!