How to Develop a Skincare Routine

When we’re in our late teens and early 20s, skincare may only go so far as quickly washing off sweat, dirt, or a full face of makeup before bed. But as we age, skincare can feel pretty darn complicated. Influencers on social media tout multi-step routines and we’re inundated with commercials and ads for different serums, sprays, cleansers, lotions, and other potions promising brighter, clearer, cleaner, younger-looking skin.

You don’t need us to tell you that making the transition from not really paying attention to your skin to actively taking care of it can be intimidating. While we’ve looked into the science behind specific skincare ingredients — including hyaluronic acid, rose hip oil, and niacinamide — and examined the potential benefits of skincare practices like exfoliating and facial rolling, we haven’t broken down how exactly to get started with a skincare routine.

In this article, we’ll do just that. So if you’re looking to take better care of your skin but you’re not sure where to begin, stick with us for helpful tips to develop your very own skincare routine.

How to Develop a Skincare Routine

Learn from the Experts.

Though social media has its fill of untrustworthy information, you can find reputable skincare accounts. Certain platforms — including Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube — can be a great place to learn and broaden your skincare horizons. Consider following trusted skincare experts including estheticians, dermatologists, and other skincare professionals on your favorite platform to see what types of products they use, what order they use them in, and how they apply them.

Get Samples.

Skincare can be pricey, a fact that’s especially unsettling when you consider how hit or miss products may be depending on your preferences and skin type. That’s why it’s smart to try out sample sizes before committing to the full-sized, full-priced version. You can often ask for free samples from your dermatologist or purchase starter packs from certain retailers, and some retailers have generous policies when it comes to giving customers free samples. While samples may not provide you with an accurate picture of how a product will affect your skin over time, they can help you rule out possible skin reactions and offer a first impression of important deciding factors like texture, scent, and how well they absorb into your skin.

Build Up Slowly.

Rather than waltz into a cosmetic or beauty supply store and wipe the shelves — and your wallet — clean, focus first on the three anchors of any skincare routine:

  • A product to cleanse: a foam, gel, cream, bar, or wipe designed to remove makeup, oil, dirt, and grime
  • A product to protect: sunscreen or another product that contains SPF (more on sun protection in a bit)
  • A product to treat: a moisturizer or another product designed to help manage a specific skin issue, such as dryness, clogged pores, fine lines, or dark spots

From there, you may decide to add in products that address other skin concerns you have. Even better? Seek out products that combine active ingredients (the ones manufacturers include because they’re known to help improve a specific skin issue). For example, a serum with hyaluronic acid to retain moisture that also has retinol to help fade sunspots and reduce fine lines.

Consider the Seasons.

While we’re not exactly suggesting you buy completely different products for every single season, there’s some merit to switching things up a bit depending on where you live and what kind of weather your skin will be subjected to. For instance, cold, dry winter air may leave you with cracked, itchy skin, meaning you may want to transition to a gentler cleanser or a thicker moisturizer come fall. In the summer months, you may opt for a stronger SPF or choose to reapply your sunscreen more frequently if you spend more time outdoors.

Prioritize Sun Protection (Year-Round).

If you find a moisturizer you love but it doesn’t contain sunscreen, it’s a good idea to apply a broad-spectrum SPF, which protects from both UVA and UVB radiation, no matter what season it is. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen — SPF 30 or higher — every day in order to reduce your skin cancer risk and help prevent signs of photoaging, which include wrinkles and dark spots.

Remember to Be Patient.

Before deciding you despise a product and will never, ever use it again — or you love it so much you want to buy a lifetime supply — give it some time. Experts suggest using a product regularly for at least six weeks to see if you’re sold on the results over time. With some products, you may know right away that they’re not right for your needs, but others may just need a bit more time to really make an impact.

Skincare Doesn’t Have to Be Intimidating.

With such a wide breadth of skincare advice and products available at our fingertips, it’s no wonder many of us don’t know where to start. But by devoting a little time and patience to learn from the pros and build up your go-to product stash slowly but surely, you’ll be well on your way to a skincare routine that best suits you and your needs.

By Nicole McDermott

Nicole McDermott has worked in the creative content space for the last decade as a writer, editor, and director. Her work has been featured on TIME Healthland, Prevention, Shape, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Refinery29, Lifehacker, Health, DailyBurn, Petco, The Daily Beast, Openfit, and Sleep Number, among others. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, son, and dog. She's a big fan of wine, hiking, reality television, and crocheting.