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Did you click on “On My Shelf” under my logo and see a LOT of bottles on my shelf for both my AM and PM regimen?! This is one in a series of posts- today I’m going to address a bare-bones, basic routine. Later, I will go into correctives for different skin types and conditions as well as a global anti-aging routine.
So, for the basics- how many steps do you truly need? How often should you exfoliate? How often should you see an Aesthetician? You’ve got questions?! I’ve got some answers!
For normal skin maintenance at every age, here is your basic routine:
Exfoliate 2x/week using an exfoliant that is appropriate for your skin type, followed by a masque (more on that coming up!)
Receive a facial appropriate for your skin type and have a peel (with appropriate strength) or a deeper exfoliation every other visit.
In the Morning
Let’s start with when you start your day. Should you cleanse your skin in the morning?
Most of the time my answer is….. No.
In the Western World, we have this obsession with cleanliness. Oftentimes, it isn’t necessary, and it is even detrimental to our skin! The skin is our body’s first defense against the outside world. You may hear me talk about the skin’s “barrier function” again and again. I talk about it because it is absolutely essential to having healthy, glowing skin. On top of your skin you have a barrier layer called the “acid mantle”. This layer should remain at a pH level of 5.5 or slightly acidic. The pH level is important because it helps to fend off microbes and organisms that cannot survive in an acidic environment. One of the leading causes of acne is bacteria (more specifically, propionibacterium acnes or p.acnes bacteria, if you want to know!) In rosacea patients, it has been studied and found that there may be a tiny mite called demodex folliculorum that is responsible for the papules and inflammatory response of the skin. You can read the study here. (More about rosacea in my Rosacea 101 post!) So, what happens if we over-cleanse, possibly use soap (which is very alkaline, the opposite of the pH environment that you want to create) and we keep stripping the skin of its own natural oils and its barrier? Loads of things: Acne, wrinkles, sun damage, inflammation, sunspots… do you want me to go on? No, you don’t!
Therefore, more often than not, all you need is a swipe of toner to remove any excess oil from overnight, and to bring the skin’s pH level back to homeostasis. My favorite toner is a rosewater, because it is not too harsh (remember, we don’t want to over-strip!).
So… step one in the AM: Tone.
Step Two: Moisturize
How do I choose a moisturizer that is appropriate for my skin?
The best answer is to have your skin analyzed by a Licensed Aesthetician. She can look at your skin under a magnifying lamp, or even a Wood Lamp (which I often use the first time I see my client!) and tell you your skin type. Skin type is often broken down into 4 types; Normal, Combination (Oily in the T-Zone and normal to dry everywhere else), Dehydrated (which lacks water) or Dry (which lacks oil). Once you know your skin type, finding a moisturizer should be fairly easy, as most formulations have written “For normal skin, ‘for combination skin’..” and so forth on the back of their packaging, Your Aesthetician works with professional brands that she trusts, so purchasing your moisturizer from her is ideal.
And lastly, the most important morning step…
An SPF of at least 30, in the form of a physical sunscreen, separate from your moisturizer. (See my Sunscreen post for more info!)
In the Evening
Now, this is the time when it is appropriate for all to cleanse their skin. I almost always recommend a foaming or gel cleanser unless the person’s skin is exceedingly dry.
If you do nothing else for your skin, please, PLEASE cleanse in the evening!
Evening cleansing is the single most important step in any regimen, second only to sunscreen. As we go about our day we are exposed to pollution, particles, debris, and excess oil builds on the skin as well. If you are wearing makeup, that’s another layer! While we sleep, our bodies’ cells go into repair mode. If you have sludge sitting on top of your face while you are sleeping, the skin cannot properly detoxify (nor can it breathe!)
My two favorite (and universally appropriate) cleansers are: Simply Clean by SkinCeuticals and Benefit Clean by Cosmedix. Both contain mild detergents as well as gentle exfoliants such as Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids to lightly exfoliate as well as cleanse, allowing your nighttime moisturizer to penetrate more deeply.
The next step: Moisturize
You can use the same moisturizer for PM as well as AM. If you live in an extreme climate (very dry or very cold) you may want to try a slightly heavier moisturizer for night so that your skin can have a nice big drink while you sleep!
Weekly Exfoliation and Masking
Once or twice per week, you will need to exfoliate your skin. This process is also known as desquamation. This is necessary for two reasons. The first is that if you do not slough off the dead skin cells, you are essentially moisturizing your dead skin because your products cannot penetrate the top “dead” layer. The second is to help to keep the oil-water balance of your skin in check (not to mention it gives your skin a healthy glow!) Exfoliation makes your skin feel smooth, and because your products can properly penetrate, your skin is well hydrated, and therefore has a proper ratio of oil and water. If you’ve ever suffered from a breakout, you know what can happen when there is too much oil on the skin!
Most skin types would benefit from using an Enzymatic or Chemical Exfoliant vs. a Mechanical Exfoliant (oftentimes packaged as a “scrub”). A chemical exfoliant works by a chemical reaction in the skin. The acids in the exfoliant break down the desmosomes between dead skin cells so that they slough off when you remove the product. If you think of your skin like bricks and mortar, your skin cells are the bricks and the desmosomes are the mortar or “glue” that hold the cells together. The dead skin cells appear like the top layer in the diagram below:
A mechanical exfoliant loosens dead skin cells by using particles to scrub them off (similar to sandpaper). The tricky part about mechanical exfoliants is that oftentimes the formulations are too harsh for the skin. (There will be a post about “Why you should just say no to Apricot Scrub!”) The harsh particles create little micro-tears in the skin, compromising the barrier and allowing bacteria to enter. Not what you want.
You should follow your exfoliation with a hydrating masque. You can even sleep in the masque if you exfoliate at night! My favorite is the Phytocorrective Masque by SkinCeuticals.
Lastly, see your Aesthetician!
Not only are regular facials relaxing, you can connect with a professional who wants you to feel and look your best! Regular facials are a great way to stimulate your skin’s collagen (which breaks down with age), receive a through extraction if you are prone to breakouts, and to check in and see how your skin is doing and adjust your regimen accordingly with a professional’s sound advice. It’s also an excellent way to care for yourself. Most facials include relaxing hand or foot massage (or both!) to help you de-stress and take an hour for yourself each month! It is my favorite part of any beauty routine, and I felt that way long before I became an Aesthetician!
Still have questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org