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The Most Common Skincare Questions, Answered

Have questions about your skin? You're not alone.

at home young man brushing his teeth
Eva-KatalinGetty Images

Skincare routines can be confusing. What should you do, in what order, and with which products? None are, by any means, dumb ones to ask, because fortunately for you, we have plenty of answers.

cardon moisturizer with spf 30
Cardon

What order to put on skincare?

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

According to Dr. Jeremy Fenton — Medical Director for Midtown Manhattan's Schweiger Dermatology Group and winner of the Marion B. Sulzberger Award for Excellence in Dermatology — there's a defined order of importance and optionality, steps you shouldn't skip and products you can avoid altogether (if you want). "These are your basic components," he says. "With them you're covering 95 percent of what you need."

Skincare Routines

The Proper Morning Routine

  1. Wash
  2. Moisturize
  3. Apply sunscreen
  4. Apply serum or oil

    The Proper Nighttime Routine

    1. Wash
    2. Moisturize
    3. Apply retinol
    4. Apply serum or oil

      The Necessary Products

      Face Wash

      No-Nonsense Charcoal Cleanser
      Lumin luminskin.com
      $16.00

      Moisturizer

      Custom Moisturizer
      Hishi Hishi
      $44.00

      Sunscreen

      Supergoop! City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30
      $42.00

      Retinol

      A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
      Sunday Riley Dermstore
      $85.00

      Serum

      15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
      Youth to the People Sephora
      $68.00

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      When to use oil in skincare routine?

      You can use face oils in the morning and evening, after cleansing and hydrating (along with any other steps you add to your regimen). It’s important to use oils as the last step in your skincare regimen since their application would hinder any additional products from being absorbed.

      Just as they trap moisture in, they block the absorption of other nourishing ingredients once applied. Typically, they absorb quickly into your skin, and even if they rest atop the face, they won’t make drier skin types “feel oily." You should be OK to lay your head on your pillow without waking with a stained pillowcase.

      Wonder Valley Face Oil
      $85.00

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      How to add retinol to skincare routine?

      Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that boosts collagen production in your skin, reduces the appearance of pores, prevents breakouts, improves circulation and nutrient delivery (resulting in healthier, stronger, brighter cells). It’s quite likely your dermatologist’s favorite ingredient, and can even come prescribed as tretinoin if you want a high-end, heavy-duty fix for your skin.

      Retinol comes with a host of warnings. Primarily, it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so it’s recommended that you double down on SPF after use (and of course, only use retinol before bed, then wash it clean in the morning; doing this also ensures that the product syncs up with your body’s regenerative cycle, so you’ll maximize retinol’s benefits, too). You should speak with your board-certified dermatologist if this is your first time at the rodeo, to get his or her advice on how to approach and monitor use.

      A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
      Sunday Riley Dermstore
      $85.00

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      What does Vitamin C do for your skin?

      It can make your skin brighter (‘brighter’ meaning less dull or discolored, including dark circles under the eyes). It can even out your complexion and reduce/prevent hyperpigmentation. It can reduce inflammation. It stimulates collagen production in the skin, making skin more firm—to prevent fine lines, wrinkles, and the likes. This can also help prevent sagging skin around the eyes, which in turn prevents those dreaded under-eye ‘bags’ that result from the sagging.

      Per the previous benefit, Vitamin C also speeds up wound recovery. Take note if you’re constantly popping pimples and anxious for them to heal faster.

      15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum
      Youth to the People Sephora
      $68.00

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      When to use Vitamin C in skincare routine?

      Apply it to freshly cleansed skin, and let the serum absorb fully (give it a cool 5-10 minutes, even though it should be somewhat instant). Then, follow with a moisturizer or night cream, ideally without retinol, AHAs/BHAs, niacinamide, or benzoyl peroxide.

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      What does niacinamide do?

      A niacinamide serum (Vitamin B3) can improve the skin’s texture and balance oil labels while reducing inflammation and boosting the skin’s barrier defense functions.

      Facial Radiance Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum
      First Aid Beauty Sephora
      $42.00

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      Do you really need a nighttime skincare routine?

      Yes, especially since it's at night when your skin absorbs products the best. Letting moisturizers soak in uninterrupted helps your skin truly heal, and most people wake up dryer than they went to bed — that's just how it happens. Before bed, swap in retinol for sunscreen. Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so only use it when you're in for the evening.

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      When to apply BHA in skincare routine?

      It's best to apply BHA, which is typically found in a chemical exfoliant, after you've washed your face (but before you apply creams and serums). BHAs in skincare are typically salicylic acid or willow bark extract (which itself contains salicylic acid); these help control/balance oil levels in the pores, while flushing out grime and also dissolving dead cells that might otherwise clog those pores.

      Prism AHA + BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum
      Herbivore Sephora
      $54.00

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      What ingredients to avoid in skincare?

      "Certain ingredients in products you use to make your skin look better, such as retinols, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, remove the outermost layer of skin to fight fine lines or acne," non-profit The Skin Cancer Foundation explains in its guide to photosensitivity. "These may cause photosensitivity and increase your chances of damage from UV exposure. Being diligent about sun protection is crucial while using these products."

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