The 6 Products You Need in Your Skin Care Routine

Sable Yong
Getty / Anna42fa

Getty / Anna42fa

‘Less is more’ is often touted as the best beauty advice you can follow. But with the advent of the “12-step” skin care routine, brought to us by beauty-obsessed South Korea, the results speak for themselves: more is more and your skin will glow for it.

Even if you’re not quite up for using a dozen individual serums, the question remains: what products should be in your skin care routine? Do you really need them all? What do they all do? Don’t worry, we’re breaking it down for you: Here are the six products that you absolutely must include in your skin care routine.

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1. Cleanser. The obvious first step: a good cleanser sets the stage for your whole routine. Ultimately, your cleanser should be gentle, water-soluble and able to remove your makeup. Avoid anything with soap in it—soap’s pH level is too basic and will dry our your skin. When it comes to finding the best cleanser, let your unique skin be your guide and choose a product designed to target your primary skin concern (whether that’s acne, dryness, oiliness or sensitivity). We’re loving Paula’s Choice Resist Perfectly Balanced Cleanser for normal skin, Mario Badescu’s Botanical Facial Gel for oily, and Shu Uemura Cleansing Oils for dry skin.

2. Toner. Toner often gets dismissed as overkill, but as part of a comprehensive skin care regime, toner is actually a pretty crucial step. Not only does it remove any oil or makeup residue, it also preps your cleansed skin to receive whatever treatments you put on next. Think of it like a pre-serum or a pre-moisturizer. Choose a gentle, non-alcohol based formula with skin-repairing ingredients, as well as calming and anti-inflammatory properties. We’re into Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner for normal to oily skin, SKII Facial Essence Treatment for everyone (this rules, seriously), and Herbivore Botanicals Rose Hibiscus Toner for sensitive or dry skin.

3. Exfoliator. This is a crucial, though definitely not daily, step in your skin care routine. The best ways to go about exfoliating your face is to either use a cleanser with chemical exfoliants in it, or a dedicated physical exfoliator; either way, look to use this product around 2 times a week. Chemical exfoliators are best for sensitive skin, and physical ones (with gritty bits) are good for occasional use if your skin is on the dry and flaky side. Try any of these, and reap the rewards: Skin Inc Pure Revival Peel for all skin types but especially sensitive, Nip+Fab Glycolic Scrub Fix for normal to oily skin, and Mario Badescu Rolling Cream Peel With AHA for oily skin.

4. Serums. Maybe one of the most important skin care products that you can use. Packed full of active ingredients, serums are for brightening, repairing, evening and smoothing texture, hydrating, anti-aging—the works. Some have multiple purposes and some are singular in the way that they work. You can layer these bad boys or pick just one to focus on your biggest skin concern. Try any of: Nip+Fab’s Dragons Blood Fix Serum for nearly any skin issue from dryness/dullness/even texture/scars, Skin Inc’s Daily Dose Serum (this one is customizeable!), 100% Pure Brightening Serum if you’re trying to nix hyperpigmentation.

5. Targeted Treatments. These are the big guns, generally for treating blemishes, dark spots and physical symptoms of skin conditions like eczema. They usually have powerful ingredients that should be used sparingly and (usually) at night to avoid damage from sun sensitivity, but they really work. Retinols and hyperpigmentation treatments fall into this category. La Roche Posay Redermic is great for wrinkles and blemishes, Paula’s Choice Resist 25% Vitamin C Spot Treatment treats patches of hyperpigmentation, and Burts Bees’ Natural Acne Solutions Maximum Strength Spot Treatment Cream is a natural way to zap zits.

MORE: Are You Applying Skin Care In The Correct Order?

6. Moisturizer. The last step in your skin care routine is as important as the first. No matter what state your skin is in, it needs to remain hydrated. Luckily moisturizers are made for all kinds of complexions, either oil-free or loaded with skin care goodies like antioxidants and vitamins. You can use a facial oil as a moisturizer too, no matter what your skin type. Different types of oils have different benefits, but generally skin likes it because it matches its own sebum texture. Rose Hip Oil is one of those moisturizers that calms, smooths and hydrates skin and you can find it as an ingredient in skin care or just use it straight. Cult moisturizers like Embryolisse hydrate and condition skin while leaving a dewy finish. If you have acne, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer Pink Grapefruit has you covered with the addition of salicylic acid to fight breakouts.

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