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“Less is more” is often touted as the best beauty advice you can follow. But screw that. Your skin care routine doesn’t need a cap, but it should include certain types of products—the essentials, if you will.
Here are the six products that you absolutely must include in your skin care routine.
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 First Aid Beauty’s Face Cleanser for normal skin, Mario Badescu’s Botanical Facial Gel for oily, and Philosophy ‘s Purity Made Simple Cleanser for dry skin.
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, but 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’s Glycolic Acid Toner for normal to oily skin, SK-II’s Facial Essence Treatment for everyone (seriously, this rules) and Herbivore Botanicals’ Rose Hibiscus Toner for sensitive or dry skin.
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 use a dedicated physical exfoliator. Either way, look to use this product about twice 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’s Pure Revival Peel for sensitive skin, Kate Somerville’s Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment for normal skin, and Clinique’s Exfoliating Scrub for oily skin.
Serums are one of the most important skin care products you can use.
Packed full of active ingredients, serums are for brightening, repairing, 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 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, 100% Pure’s 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.
Target treatments 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’s Redermic R with Retinol is great for wrinkles and blemishes, GLAMGLOW’s FLASHMUD Brightening Treatment treats patches of hyperpigmentation and Burt’s Bees’ Natural Acne Solutions Maximum Strength Spot Treatment Cream ($13 at Burt’s Bees) is a natural way to zap zits.
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.
KORRES’ Wild Rose Vitamin C Active Brightening Oil is one of those moisturizers that brightens and hydrates skin, and you can find it as an ingredient in skin care or just use it straight. Cult moisturizers like Embryolisse’s Lait-Crème Concentrè ($16 at Embryolisse) hydrate and condition skin while leaving a dewy finish. If you have acne, Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer Pink Grapefruit has you covered with the addition of salicylic acid to fight breakouts.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2015.