When it comes to looking after your skin, the process can seem daunting; there’s just so much choice.
For skincare luddites, it can be difficult to know where to start, or if what you've started is working. With that in mind, here is the absolute beginner's guide to skincare; free of assumed knowledge and/or judgement.
Everything you wanted to know about skincare, but were too embarrassed to ask.Credit:Shutterstock
How do I work out my skin type?
Like dressing for your body shape, you should be curating your beauty routine to your skin type.
If your skin tends to get patchy, you probably have dry skin. If you’re shiny all over, you’re most likely an oily type. If you have a combination of the two, well, you have combination skin. And if your skin is fairly balanced, congratulations, you have a normal skin type.
Beyond these prescriptive types, your skin can also be sensitive, dehydrated (note: this is not the same as dry, which is patchier and caused by a lack of oil; dehydrated skin is dull, and caused by a lack of water), or acne-prone.
Once you’ve figured that out, it gets (somewhat) easier. If your skin is on the dryer side, hydrating formulations are your friend (think cream formulations and products containing hyaluronic acid). If it’s on the oilier side, gel formulas are best. This applies to both cleansers and moisturisers.
What products do I need in my routine?
If you’re rushed for time, a Korean 10-step routine probably isn’t for you. Where possible, make sure you have at least a cleanser, serum, moisturiser and sunscreen.
In what order should I be applying them?
The rule of thumb is to apply products based on their texture, from the thinnest consistency to the thickest. This is so they can be better absorbed into the skin.
“When applying your product layers, allow each step to sink in before applying the next layer,” says Katy Bacon, education director for skincare brand Murad Australia.
You don't have to use every single item listed below, but, if you choose to, this is the order to apply them for maximum effectiveness.
“In my opinion, cleaning morning and night is a non-negotiable,” says Ms Bacon. “It’s essential to have a good cleanser that can remove the collection of dirt, oil, pollution and skin debris that is accumulated through the day.”
Depending on personal preference, you may or may not want to do a double cleanse.
The first cleanser assists with taking off make-up and preps your skin for a more thorough second cleanse.
Cleansing balms are a great option for this as they seamlessly melt off your cake face. (My favourite is the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm.) Alternatively, you could use something like micellar water (Bioderma and Garnier do good ones) with some cotton pads. Or, if you're super lazy like me, use something that requires minimal effort like the microfibre cleansing pad Face Halo.
Then follow up with a second cleanser suited to your skin type.
For drier skin types, check out Neutrogena’s Deep Clean Cream Cleanser or Caudalie’s Gentle Cleansing Milk. For oilier skin types, try La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Foaming Gel or Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip Clay Cleanser.
You can probably skip this step, especially if you’ve double cleansed. Toners ensure there is no residue left on the skin and help to rebalance its pH level. Newer formulations also have hydrating and brightening properties. Mario Badescu have a number in their range for all skin types. The Aloe Vera Toner is good for drier types and the Glycolic Acid Toner for oilier types.
Where possible, make sure you have at least a cleanser, serum, moisturiser and sunscreen.
Made famous by SKII, this concentrated liquid balances out the skin and adds extra hydration. It is more similar in function to a serum than a toner. You can apply them with a cotton pad or with your fingers to reduce waste. Besides the Facial Treatment Essence, try Tatcha’s The Essence or Fresh’s Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence.
This is where you can really tailor your skincare to your needs. There’s a serum for almost every concern out there: hydrating, brightening, protecting your skin from the environment, preventing wrinkles. They offer the highest concentration of active ingredients in a skincare product so, if you’re going to splurge on a particular step in your routine, this is it.
I like to use an antioxidant and brightening serum – that is, one with vitamin c – in the morning and a more nourishing serum with hyaluronic acid in the evening. I’m particularly loving Ole Henriksen Serum (it smells like oranges!) and the cult Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair. The Ordinary also make great serums if you’re looking for a more affordable alternative.
If you want to use a spot treatment, now’s the time. Be sure to only apply it to the affected area as pimple products often contain salicylic acid which can be quite drying.
Experts say the earlier you start, the better. You should be applying your eye cream with your ring finger in a gentle patting motion. Do not drag the product across your eyes. Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado is lush without being too rich.
A moisturiser is designed to protect our skin’s barrier. It helps to lock everything in and ensure moisture doesn’t escape. Don’t be discouraged from using one if you have an oilier skin type; just used a water-based gel instead of heavier creams.
Now is the time to apply your rosehip oil (Trilogy, an Australian brand, makes one of the best) or whatever oil takes your fancy. This step adds an extra oomph to your areas of concern, whether it be hydration or brightening. I love, love, love the Sarah Chapman Skinesis Overnight Facial.
Where does sunscreen fit in all of this?
“Applying sunscreen daily is essential. You should never go outside during the day without protection,” says Emma Hobson, education manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica.
“The Australian climate throughout the year is notoriously bad for the skin, causing one of the highest rates of skin cancer cases in the world… Good sunscreens today are more than a cream with an SPF factor; they are advanced treatment products that enhance the appearance and quality of the skin.”
There are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical.
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays whereas physical sunscreens reflect them. Generally, chemical sunscreens are preferred because they’re more lightweight and easier to formulate. But physical sunscreens are recommended for those with more sensitive skin.
Don’t be discouraged from using moisturiser if you have an oilier skin type; just used a water-based gel instead.
When in your skincare routine you apply sunscreen depends on the formula you choose.
If it’s a physical sunscreen, it should be the last step in your routine before make-up, says Ms Hobson. If it’s a chemical sunscreen, it can be applied after toner.
The Cancer Council recommends applying sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors, but remember: it’s not just the sun that’s emitting harmful rays.
“Many people aren’t aware that we are exposed to UV and blue light (which causes pigmentation) from our smartphones, computers and office lighting – a sunscreen is no longer just for the times we are in the sun,” says Ms Bacon.
Try something like Mecca Cosmetica’s To Save Face Superscreen SPF 50 or Dermalogica’s Prisma Protect.
Don’t forget to exfoliate
We’re not done just yet: it’s important to exfoliate every few days to get rid of dead skin cells. Like sunscreen, there are two types of exfoliants: chemical and physical. Chemical exfoliants dissolve said cells and generally contain some form of acid, whilst physical exfoliants manually remove the cells in the form of a grainy substance (which sometimes come in the form of microbeads, which you should avoid).
If you're after a chemical exfoliant, try something like Pixi Glow Tonic. For a physical exfoliant, try Dermalogica Microfoliant.
How do I know if something is actually working?
“Depending on your age, skin regenerates itself every 28-55 days. Therefore, you need to be using your skincare regimen for at least three months before you will start to see big results for concerns like fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation,” says Ms Bacon.
“[With] other conditions such as acne and dehydration, you may see results in as little as one week."
“You may need to change your serums and speciality products in particular on a regular basis to marry in with your skin needs. If your skin responds well to a cleanser and moisturiser and they continue to work hard and do a good job you will not need to change these products for perhaps years,” says Ms Hobson.
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