How to Optimize Your Skin Care Routine

Rachel Krause

Photo: Getty Images

With cleansers, toners, treatments, serums, moisturizers, masks, peels, scrubs, oils, and a million other products at our disposal, it can be hard to know where to start with our skin care routine, or even where to end. In the name of spring cleaning and cleaning your face every morning and night (always!), here are our best tips on how to optimize your skin care routine, so that it’s quicker, easier and more effective.

Invest in a great cleanser.
In an ideal world, we’d all have an arsenal of cleansers at the ready—one for dry skin days, one for breakouts, one for deep cleansing, one for exfoliating, etc. But in the meantime, one suitable cleanser should suffice just fine. There are many face washes on the market geared toward different skin types, but we extol the virtues of gentle cleansing balms and oils that are made to work for everyone. Our go-to is Bioelements Sensitive Skin Cleanser ($45.50,, a super-gentle, easy-to-use oil that removes makeup, dissolves pore-clogging impurities, and rinses away clean in seconds.

There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to massaging oil on a dry face versus lathering up over the sink, so for those who just can’t bear to part with their foaming cleansers, Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser ($32, is the perfect middle ground.

Skip the toner.
This is one skin care step you shouldn’t feel guilty about skipping. Toners were created to balance the skin after washing, but because most facial cleansers are now pH-balanced, there’s no need (and many traditional toners on the market contain alcohol and other drying ingredients, anyway). If you like the feeling of applying something to your face in between cleansing and moisturizing, try a lightweight alcohol-free mist, like Boscia Balancing Facial Tonic ($24,

Treat first, then serum, then moisturizer.
It may seem inconsequential, but applying your skin care in the right order is crucial for getting the most out of your products. If you use blemish spot treatments or prescriptions like retinol, those should go on first before you layer on the rest of your routine, because when you’re treating acne or wrinkles, you want those ingredients to be closest to your skin for maximum penetration. All skin types can benefit from the addition of a serum to lock in moisture. An easily absorbed, glycerin-rich formula like Eve Lom Intense Hydration Serum ($95, is nourishing for all skin types and feels great under a lightweight or richer moisturizer.

For daytime, you should always follow moisturizer with sunscreen, or better still, use an SPF moisturizer like Mario Badescu Oil Free Moisturizer SPF 30 ($26, Take advantage of your body’s natural cycle, and bring out the big guns overnight when your skin is best able to repair itself, whether it’s with your most hydrating cream or a nighttime mask like Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power C x 30 Vitamin C Brightening Sleeping Mask ($62,, which brightens, moisturizes, and clears up breakouts by morning. If you like to use oils, make sure they’re the last step in your routine.

Exfoliate every other day, and use a mask twice a week.
Toss out the harsh scrubs with ingredients like nut shells and pumice in favor of a formula that’s actually skin-friendly. Just add water to the plant seed-based Amarte Daily ExfoliPowder ($35, for a gentle exfoliating experience that won’t irritate even the most sensitive skin. Most skin types should have two masks to alternate between—one for deep cleansing and clarifying, and the other for hydrating and nourishing. Use each one once a week to keep skin in tip-top shape.

Read more: The Top 5 Skin Care Ingredients You Need to Know