Building a skincare routine can be an intimidating process. There are a lot of products out there all claiming to be the best and to do the most for your skin. And if you’re new to skincare, you may have no idea what you’re even looking for. In today’s post we’re going to take a detailed look at how you can build a skincare routine, with a focus on skin type and what may be best for your individual needs.
Figuring Out Your Skin Type
If we’re going to categorize skin types on a basic level, there are four: normal, dry, oily or combination.
Normal skin is exactly as it sounds. You don’t notice any reoccurring problems or issues. You don’t have any dry patches or flakiness nor do you have any excess oil production.
Dry skin often feels tight and uncomfortable. You may have flaky skin or dry patches, and skin can often feel sensitive.
Oily skin produces excess oil and your complexion may often appear shiny. Oily skin is frequently associated with acne prone skin.
Combination skin is when you can’t really figure it out! You have some dryness or normal areas, but you may get an oily T-Zone too.
While your skin will fall into one of these categories, you may also be dealing with several different skin conditions. As mentioned, dry skin types will also often deal with sensitive skin. Sensitive skin can be hot, inflamed, red, or react to certain skincare products. All skin types can be dehydrated, where skin lacks water and can be dull looking. Oily skin is very frequently associated with acne. Acne-prone skin may be this way for many different reasons from hormonal acne, to stress-related acne to reactions to medications. Figuring out your skin type and any skin conditions can be done by observing and making notes about how your skin feels, looks and reacts to skincare.
After you’ve figured out your skin type, you also need to think about what it is you’re trying to address with your skin. This is going to give you a starting point and something to work with. Here are some examples of skincare aims to get you thinking:
- Reduce redness
- Control excess oiliness
- Treat acne
- Increase hydration and moisture
- Get rid of dry patches and flakiness
- Target fine lines and signs of ageing
- Soothe and calm skin
- Improve skin’s texture
- Balance combination skin
- Brighten dull-looking skin
Most people will have a couple of overarching aims, and perhaps one more targeted. For example, I am always trying to reduce redness in my skin and maintain a bright complexion. I do sometimes get small bumps along my hair line so to reduce those is my more targeted aim. When choosing my skincare products, I keep my skin type and my skincare aims in mind.
Now we can break down the skincare “categories” and see what may work best for you.
2 words- always and gentle. Every single one of you should be cleansing your face every night to remove sunscreen, makeup, dirt and debris from the environment, regardless of skin type. And everybody should be cleansing gently. Double cleansing is essential in an Asian beauty routine for all skin types. You use an oil-based cleanser first to remove any makeup or sunscreen, followed by a second-step cleanser to further cleanse and leave your face completely clean. Having a clean face will enable your skincare products to work effectively.
Your second-step cleanser in this category should be gentle and preferably low pH, in line with your skin’s natural pH. Acne-prone or oily skin individuals tend to gravitate to foaming cleansers because they want to really feel clean in order to get rid of the oil and hopefully clear any acne. This can be detrimental. By using harsh, high pH cleansers you could be drying out your skin, compromising your natural skin barrier, and potentially setting the scene for further oil production and bacterial acne growth.
Let me reiterate…keep it gentle, no matter your skin type.
Exfoliation is key to a healthy complexion, but how you achieve that is up to you.
Manual exfoliation, such as a facial scrub or a cleansing tool, is a good choice to help remove debris and build up but you must keep it gentle (see the recurring theme here? G-E-N-T-L-E). You do not want to be scrubbing your face raw or using a super aggressive product. All skin types can benefit from a small amount of physical exfoliation.
Chemical exfoliation is another option, and not as scary as it sounds. You usually apply a liquid product to bare skin and the ingredients work to remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants include ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, salicylic acid, and betaine salicylate. This is a highly personalized step in your routine, and something only you can figure out based on your skin and how it reacts to certain products. It’s best to start with weaker chemical exfoliant treatments and build up as your skin becomes used to the ingredients. Again, this can work for all skin types, but the type of product you use as well as the strength of it will hugely depend on your own skin and preferences.
For dry, sensitive skin, an AHA product (alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic/lactic/mandelic acid) can be very helpful. AHA liquid will help gently exfoliate the surface of the skin, ridding you of dry patches and uneven texture, and increase skin’s ability to absorb moisture. Oily skin-types often see fantastic results from BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid) which help exfoliate the pores, keep skin clear and reduce the appearance of pores. Normal or combination skin may want to multi-exfoliate and use one type of product on their T-Zone and another on the rest of their face. Just make sure you go slowly and see what works for you.
We wrote a more detailed piece on active toners in our recent guide, so check that out for more details on how and when to apply these. The main take away is not to over-exfoliate, as this can damage your skin and cause sensitivity. Take it easy and you can see fantastic results with the right exfoliation.
Toners, Essences & Serums
These categories are every skin type’s best friend! Toners are watery products that help balance the skin’s pH and prepare skin for more effective absorption of future products; essences typically contain more concentrated ingredients than toners and may offer more apparent results such as brightening; and serums/ampoules are even more concentrated again, often with a thicker texture. Apply these in order from thinnest consistency to thickest. Find the textures and formulas that work best for you and help you achieve your aims.
For oily skin types, these categories are a great vehicle for getting the moisture your skin needs without the heaviness of a cream. Oily skin can be dehydrated, a common condition you may not have realised was possible. Your skin may produce excess oil, but it could be seriously lacking in water. Include hydrating watery layers to combat this and help skin retain more moisture. This will also help your moisturizer absorb more efficiently later.
Dry skin types can load up on these layers. Try the Korean 7-skin method; where you pat 7 layers of toner/essence into skin one after the other for maximum hydration. Dry skin individuals may also want to consider more creamy lotions, toners, and essences to build up moisture.
Many essences and serums can also help with other skincare aims such as brightening. Don’t forget you can combine different products, which is particularly useful is you have combination or normal skin! For example, you may choose to use a brightening essence, followed by a hydrating toner and then a heavier serum for anti-ageing. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations of products here.
Mask treatments should be tailored based on your skin’s needs.
Sheet masks are a classic Asian treatment - an essence-soaked sheet that you wear for 15-30 minutes, allowing skin to absorb all the goodness. You may assume that these masks are more geared towards dry or dehydrated skin. However, by making the correct choice, they can work for all skin types. Normal-oily skin types may opt for those with more of a light, hydrating essence, whereas dry skin types may enjoy more of a cream or oil-based mask.
Clay masks are helpful for balancing skin, particularly for more oily-prone skin or when used just on the T-zone, but should perhaps be avoided by those with particularly dry or mature skin. If you do use a clay mask, ensure that you rinse it off before it dries completely so it doesn’t drastically suck the moisture out your skin! This is also true for sheet masks- do not allow them to dry on your face as then they will begin to draw the goodness back out.
We also wrote a detailed guide on masks here.
Firstly, every skin type needs to moisturize. The type of moisturizer and how many layers you do will differ based on your needs.
Normal and combination skin can use a middle of the road, medium weight moisturizer. If you have drier areas on your face, you could always use a couple of drops of oil on those patches specifically to moisturize more intensely.
Oily skin types often fear moisturizer, right? Try using a gel texture cream instead. These typically absorb more quickly and have a lighter feeling than a traditional cream. They’re less likely to leave any residue on your skin.
Dry skin types need oil-rich moisturizers. Something more heavyweight that is going to provide a ton of moisture and replenish your skin. If you don’t feel like your cream is enough for your desert-dry skin, try mixing in a couple of drops of oil for added oomph!
Sleeping packs can be an additional helping hand for overnight moisturizing. These products contain ingredients that will “seal in” your skincare and prevent moisture escaping. Oily skin types may not love the idea a sleeping pack, but there are lighter, gel-texture options out there too!
Again, a step that every skin type should be including during the day! And your skin tone does not determine this. Everyone needs sunscreen. Asian sunscreens are typically more cosmetically elegant than their western counterparts, and every skin type should be able to find one they enjoy. Gel or very thin liquids may work particularly well for oily skin, while more of a creamy lotion could be more desirable to dry skin. Innisfree have several options in their SPF range to target different skin needs. For example, their Tone Up No Sebum Sunscreen leaves a completely matte finish and may be the preferred choice of those with oily skin. Normal skin types will appreciate the Aqua Drop sun cream for full protection but also quick absorption time.
Sensitive skin may prefer a mineral sunscreen, although chemical sunscreens tend to be “easier” to wear in that they usually leave no white-cast and dry down more quickly. Dr Ceuracle recently released a chemical sunscreen that should be suitable for more sensitive skin as it includes Centella Complex, known for soothing and repairing damaged skin.
While the main priority of SPF is of course to protect from the sun, you can also target a product that aligns with your skin type for the most comfortable wear.
So, after discussing so many potential steps, the takeaway is that you don’t necessarily need to do a 10-step skincare routine BUT you should be taking care of your skin. Cleansing, hydrating, moisturizing, and sun protection are essential for all skin types. How you achieve those steps is down to you. Every person reading this is an individual with individual needs, and that includes skin! A lot of skincare is unfortunately trial and error, but hopefully today’s article and the tips we’ve included will help you form an idea of how you can build your routine based on your skin type and skincare aims. Don’t forget though- skincare takes time and consistency. Once you’ve built your routine, stick with it and over time you should reap the benefits.
Photography courtesy of Aiony Haust
Katherine Spowart from skinfullofseoul.com