When scouring skincare brands in search of your own routine, trust KISS — short for "keep it simple, stupid" — a '60s-era design principle established by the US Navy. No, that doesn't mean you should opt for the all-in-one product you find populating the men's aisles in chain retailers.

Instead, it means limiting the steps you take to protect and replenish your skin to the bare minimum. Why? Because as easy as it can be to adopt a new product as soon as it catches your eye, or promises specific results, you're likely overspending on something superfluous. That being said, reducing your product inventory down to dish soap for the sake of being frugal doesn't cut it either.

Skincare doesn't have to be a complex task only celebrities prove capable of mastering, often with the help of famous grooming gurus no one else can afford. Anyone can establish a basic skincare routine, and have their skincare questions answered, because not only will one improve your overall appearance, but it'll address lingering, or worryingly recent, issues like wrinkles, acne or damage done by sun exposure.

Meet Our Expert

Dr. Jeremy Fenton is the Medical Director for Midtown Manhattan's Schweiger Dermatology Group and winner of the Marion B. Sulzberger Award for Excellence in Dermatology. He's practiced dermatology for over 15 years.

The Skincare Essentials

"These are your basic components," Dr. Fenton says of the items listed below. "With them you're covering 95-percent of what you need." And as far as extras like toner go, he says you don't need them, especially if you're just starting out. "[A toner] is the most commonly used product that I tell people they could eliminate and probably not lose anything."

As for the rest, there's a defined order of importance, he says:

  • Face Wash
  • Moisturizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Retinol*
  • Serum*

        The Correct Order (and Which Products to Buy)

        This is the order Dr. Fenton recommends. Below, he explains the importance of each product, and offers proven picks for each category.

        1. Wash Your Face
        2. Moisturize
        3. Apply SPF
        4. Apply an Anti-Aging Product*
        5. Apply an Antioxidant Serum*

          * denotes a product or step that is optional, but, for the best results, dermatologists recommend using them.

          Step #1: Wash Your Face

          "You're going to do this twice a day — morning and night. I generally recommend some sort of gentle skin cleanser. You don't want something that's going to strip the oils away or is overly harsh. What you choose is going to depend on what your skin type is like."

          Whether you're oily or ultra-dry, washing is always the first step. But don't overdo it, the Dr. warns.

          "Too many people think they need to be stripping their skin of all of its oil in order to get it clean," he says. "If you strip all of the oil off of your skin, you're going to create an imbalance and end up doing more harm than good."

          Looking for a face wash? Find one our in dedicated buying guide to face cleansers.

          Step #2: Moisturize

          "You don't really need to buy a fancy or super expensive moisturizer," Dr. Fenton says. "Most dermatologists, myself included, obviously, say that some of the basic brands — like Cetaphil, which you can pick up at any at any drugstore — are sufficient as moisturizers." Although luxurious little vials can be tempting, trust the accessible, dermatologist-approved classics.

          As far as order of application goes, Dr. Fenton says start with the lightest product, which is why your moisturizer goes first. "As a general rule of thumb, we tell men to apply whatever product is thickest last, unless it's a medicated product that you want directly on the skin."

          Even if you don't feel dry, you have to moisturizer. Find the right product for your face in our facial moisturizer buying guide.

          Step #3: Apply Sunscreen

          "The most important thing that's going to make the biggest difference, in the long run, is putting a sunscreen on every day," he says. "Underestimating the importance of sunscreen is a common mistake."

          Heed caution here. Seriously. Dr. Fenton says sunscreen is really doing something, even if you don't see results. No damage means job done.

          "You don't just put it on when you go to the beach or when you're going to be outside," Dr. Fenton says. "If you're going to be spending money, and doing all this other stuff, focus on putting your sunscreen on first." Commuting? Put it on. Walking the dog? Put it on. Working by a window? Put it on. Going to the pool? Definitely put it on.

          Ask any dermatologist, and they'll tell you there's nothing more important than SPF. Find a a sunscreen for your face in our buying guide.

          Step #4: Rewind With Retinol

          "If you're looking for anti-aging and to get glowing skin, then you would add in a retinol, which is over the counter, or prescription-strength retinoid," Dr. Fenton says. However, be mindful of both how much you're using and how often you're using it. It's important to pick the right one, too.

          "If you're going to spend the money, where you want to spend it is in the retinol and antioxidant categories," he says. "That's where different brands have different qualities and can set themselves apart."

          Retinol isn't essential, but it works. Find a retinol cream for your routine in our dedicated buying guide.

          Step #5: Add an Antioxidant Serum

          "If you're going to add something else on top as a protective function, then you could add in an antioxidant serum," he says. These penetrate deeper than moisturizers to address dryness in all of the skin's layers.

          Vitamin C is a common option. Find one for your face in our buying guide to Vitamin C serums.