I never used to have a long skincare routine. In fact, about 4 years ago, I didn’t really have a skincare routine. I was a 32-year old university professor who, despite loving to learn and read and research, had never given any thought to what I used on my skin, despite how uncomfortable it often was. Because I live in the upper-Midwest of the U.S., my skin was dry and dehydrated, especially in the winter.
About three years ago, when my skin was at its worst in terms of dryness, flaking, and dullness, I finally started to research skincare products. That was when I discovered the world of Asian skincare.
After some initial testing of new things like essences and serums, I was hooked! After that, I couldn’t stop reading about skincare and how to best take care of my skin. I look back in horror at my intermittent use of moisturizer and….(I’m so ashamed)…using hand soap on my face when I inevitably ran out of cleanser. It’s no wonder I had dull, flaky, irritated skin.
Because my skin soaks up a lot of layers, I am what I call a skincare maximalist: I use a lot of products in my morning and evening routines. It’s a complete departure from what I used to do, or rather, not do. My cat certainly enjoys the long routines. She knows that when the skincare basket comes out, she’s going to get plenty of lap time. (I store all of my open products in a basket so I can easily move them to wherever I want to do my routine.)
After much research and testing of various products, I’m happy to say that my skin is now hydrated, moisturized, healthy, glowing. I now read ingredient lists with the same proficiency and enjoyment that I read novels, which may be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever typed. My next goal is to get my partner to regularly moisturize his face and to switch to a low-ph cleanser. Maybe someday… In the meantime, here is a breakdown of a standard evening routine.
Cleansing (Steps 1 & 2)
I start with an oil cleanser to wash away the makeup and bb cream. I will apply and then give a short facial massage to really clear out the pores. Next is a low-ph (no higher than 6) cleanser to keep my skin from being stripped and drying out. This is has probably made the biggest difference for my skin in terms of keeping in healthy.
Hydrating Layers (Steps 3-6)
Time for first-treatment essences (FTE), hydrating toners, and essences! These hydrate and nourish my skin. The FTE is very watery and light, prepping my skin to absorb more hydration. (Think of your skin like a sponge: it soaks up more water when slightly damp.) It contains fermented ingredients to brighten.
I usually use 3-4 different toners because my skin soaks up watery layers, and I like to give it a variety of ingredients. For example, one toner has ginseng and other botanical extracts, another has a variety of humectants (pull and hold water to the skin) like beta-glucan and hyaluronic acid. Some are more watery than others, so I layer them from thinnest to thickest.
Targeting with Serums (Steps 7-10)
These are where I target issues with my skin. Serums and ampoules are more concentrated with active ingredients than essences, so you only need a few drops. I may use 4-5 serums in one routine, some only as spot treatments.
I have one serum for brightening post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), or the spots left behind after acne. I use honey and snail serums to help nourish and heal my skin. Camellia and centella-heavy serums calm irritation and reduce redness. The idea of tailoring my skincare to fit what my skin needs at the moment has been empowering, and my skin has never looked better.
Sheet Masks (Step 11)
I lovingly refer to these as the gateway drug to Asian skincare. I use these pretty much every night after my serums so that the mask allows everything to absorb, pushing the layers into my skin. It is also the most calming step for me. I physically relax after putting on a sheet mask. There are thousands of brands, with different essences to meet your skin’s needs: honey, centella, aloe, snail, tea tree, rose, camellia, ginseng, the list goes on and on.
Eye Care (Step 12)
The skin beneath your eyes is very thin, so always apply under-eye products with your ring finger because it’s the weakest. I prefer gels to creams for this step, only because they absorb faster and tend not to cause milia (white bumps caused from clogged pores). I’ve even used a dry oil and that has worked really well. Either way, keep that skin moisturized to keep it from looking thin and crepey.
Moisturizers and Occlusives (Steps 13-19)
I’ve only just begun incorporating more oils into my routine, but I love to mix them to get the benefits from the various types of oils (for example, some are rich in gamma-linolenic acid and others are rich in oleic acid). Right now I have three that I mix in the evening. To make them less messy, I mix them in my palm into an emulsion, which is a lighter lotion. This mixture absorbs better than just smearing a bunch of oil on my face.
I know, I know. You’re probably tired of reading this. But I’m almost done. After giving the emulsion and oil mixture a minute to absorb, I apply my night cream. This is a rich cream that is thicker than the emulsion and helps to soften and moisturize the skin.
After that, usually 5-10 minutes later, I seal everything in with a sleeping pack. These are very heavy, thick occlusives that lock all of the previous layers in place. Because of the climate I live in, sleeping packs are a necessity for me at night in the winter. If I don’t use one, I sometimes wake up with dry, flaky skin (and yes, that’s even if I use a humidifier!).
Whew! I swear, it doesn’t seem like this much when I’m actually applying it.
Your skin probably doesn’t need all of this, and that’s fine! Get to know what your skin needs. Maybe your skin is dehydrated and need mores hydrating layers and just a light moisturizer. Maybe your skin needs several types of moisturizer but fewer hydrating layers. Maybe you only have one serum because of where your skin is at. Maybe you use no serums. Great! The idea is not excess for the sake of piling stuff on your face. The idea is that you get to know your skin so you can give it what it needs.