The Ultimate Scientific Guide to Skin Care From Lifehacker

Until last year, I never had any skin care. I washed my face in the shower and only put on sunscreen when I was going to the beach. But now I scold myself for not starting earlier. It turns out that facial cleansing and moisturizing every morning and night got rid of most acne and my skin is smoother and healthier. But I still wondered: what else should I do?

As it turns out, a good daily routine doesn’t have to last forever or cost a lot of money. For this article, we spoke with several trusted dermatologists and they all agreed: skin care doesn’t have to be difficult. Key points: wash your face as needed, moisturize as needed, and use sunscreen every damn day .

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you might want to consider adding a few more products to address specific concerns like acne or aging. If you have problems such as eczema, rosacea, or severe acne, it’s best to see a dermatologist to find out what your ideal daily routine is, which may include prescription foods or medications.

So, if you’re ready to get down to the basics, set two daily reminders for your morning and evening routines on your phone. Then read on what to do and why.

Wash your face

There are no hard and fast rules on how often to wash our face, but most of us will benefit from doing it at least once in a while. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fine Frey notes that adolescents with oily skin experience a reduction in acne if they wash their face twice a day, and she advises acne-prone adults to do the same. But if you wash less often and are happy with the way your skin looks and feels, that’s fine too.

Washing your face removes sebum and dead skin cells that can contribute to acne. Washing also helps to remove any makeup or skincare you may have used. (Leaving your makeup on won’t necessarily make you break out, but you probably don’t want it to stay on your face literally forever, so wash it off.) Unless your makeup is removed with a mild cleanser, make-up remover oil. such as cold cream may be fine.

No special equipment required to wash your face: just rinse your face with water, massage the cleanser with your fingertips and rinse. Washcloths and brushes are unnecessary and may irritate the skin.

The active ingredients in cleansers take advantage of the fact that oil and water do not normally mix. If you just spray water on an oily face, nothing special will happen. But cleansers contain molecules that are compatible with oil on the one hand and with water on the other. They can stick to the oil and dirt on your face, converting small particles into bubbles called micelles. The water can then wash off these micelles. This is why rinsing is not the same as washing .

Good old fashioned soap does a great job – too much. It can remove too much natural oils from our skin, so you’re better off using a cleanser with synthetic cleansers, which means pretty much anything sold as a facial cleanser . A board-certified dermatologist Dr.Katie Beleznai prefers cleansing creams, which she says are particularly gentle. For special needs, you can find cleansers that contain benzoyl peroxide (used for acne) or exfoliators such as salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acids. You can also find hypoallergenic cleansers designed for sensitive skin. Micellar water is also a cleansing agent – only a particularly mild one, diluted with water .

It’s also best to avoid sloppy cleaners containing tiny plastic balls or other abrasive elements. They can irritate the skin or even exfoliate too much. Plastics are also problematic in lakes and oceans where they end up in sewers.


“Science has proven time and time again that a good moisturizer that increases the water content of your skin is good for you,” says Dr. Frey. Most of us should moisturize our skin twice a day, especially if you have dry skin, in dry weather, or if you do things like swimming that eventually dry out your skin. You can moisturize less or even skip this step entirely if your skin never seems dry. This may be the case if you live in an area with humid year-round weather. If you’re unsure, try moisturizing your skin and see if your skin gets better; it probably will.

As the name suggests, moisturizers keep water in your skin. This is important because everything works best when there is enough water on the skin. Skin cells naturally exfoliate and your skin can do its job better as a barrier to the outside world. Skin conditions ranging from eczema to acne tend to get worse when the skin is dry and calm when the skin is well hydrated.

To understand how moisturizers work, we need to look at the microscopic structure of the skin itself . The top layer that you see and touch is called the stratum corneum and is made up of flattened dead cells that are full of proteins like keratin and the correctly named natural moisturizing factors (NMFs). These cells are connected to each other by bridges called desmosomes, and the space between all of these cells is filled with a lipid matrix.

Dead skin cells in the stratum corneum naturally exfoliate as the work is done. You lose several skin cells every time you touch something. This is done on purpose as your skin constantly forces fresh cells to take their place.

But when your skin isn’t hydrated enough, the enzymes that break down the desmosomes can’t do their job either. This means cells can shed in groups rather than one at a time, giving your skin a flaky or ash-like appearance and ultimately removing too much of your skin’s natural barrier from the outside world.

Moisturizers solve this problem by surrounding enzymes with water so they can do their job. Key ingredient types to look out for are:

  • Occlusive agents that prevent water from leaving the skin into the air. Some examples you can see on ingredient labels are petroleum jelly, dimethicone, cetyl alcohol, mineral oil, and vegetable oils.
  • Moisturizers that draw water from the environment, including the deeper layers of the skin. Examples include glycerin, urea, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA), sorbitol, and propylene glycol.

A good moisturizer contains both types of ingredients: humectants that attract water and occlusive ingredients that prevent water from evaporating. Emollients like lanolin and cetearyl alcohol help the skin feel soft and may also provide some occlusive function.

If you have allergies or foods that irritate your skin, avoid products with fragrances and essential oils. Certified dermatologist Dr. Marie Léger notes that possible allergens are normal for most of us, but that sucks if you’re one of the few who are sensitive include parabens, formaldehyde, and lanolin.

Find the sunscreen you like

We all need sunscreen, according to literally every dermatologist I have ever spoken to. Even if you have super dark skin. Even if you’re a dude. And you should wear it every day, all year round, regardless of whether you plan to spend time in nature or not.

In addition to preventing sunburn and skin cancer, sunscreen plays an important role in the cosmetic part of skin care: it prevents the thickening and wrinkles of the skin that occur with age. Or, as Dr. Frey put it, “There is no anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, firming, tonic or any other product on the market … that can match or compete with the benefits of sunscreen.”

If you think of sunscreen as sticky, greasy, and always smelling like coconut, it’s a treat: sunscreen comes in many different forms, from sprays to lotions and deodorants. It is also found in many makeup and moisturizers. Dr. Frey notes that the only real difference between daytime and nighttime moisturizers is that daytime moisturizers have sunscreen while nighttime moisturizers don’t.

Higher SPF is better within reason. SPF, or sun protection factor , determines how long sunscreen can protect your skin from redness and sunburn caused by UV rays. The higher the rating, the more UVB the sunscreen will block. However, once you hit SPF 30, you’re already blocking 97 percent of UVB rays, so it might not be worth paying extra for that SPF 50 or 100.

There is no comparable UFA rating, at least in the US. UVA rays are responsible for the significant thickening of the skin that occurs with age; both they and UV-B may contribute to the risk of skin cancer. UVA can also pass through windows, so you won’t get sunburn if you stay indoors, but you will still receive some of this aging rays. To make sure you get some UVA protection, look for broad spectrum sunscreen. (European products use a five-star system, so consider buying a high SPF high-rated sunscreen if you are traveling abroad.)

Sunscreen wears off and sweats throughout the day, so you may need to reapply it. We also don’t have as much protection as we think in the first place: sunscreen is tested on a super thick layer, and almost no one uses that amount in real life . (SPF 30 applied sparingly only works with actual SPF 2 ).

This is why you may need separate moisturizing and sun protection products so you can reapply sunscreen as needed without adding more moisturizer each time.

But the most important thing about sunscreen is that you love the feel of it. If your sunscreen is greasy or sticky, or you just don’t like it, you’ll find excuses not to use it every day and then it won’t do you any good.

Carry out investigations

So far, our routine seems pretty boring. Cleanse, moisturize and apply sunscreen? Where are all the masks, serums and crazy shopping trips at The Ordinary?

Remember, when you see people admiring a product, it will likely be out of proportion to how useful it actually is in real life. But our dermatological sources have also acknowledged that trying new products can be fun, and if you enjoy basking in a complex routine, it’s okay if you don’t choose things that are harmful and don’t fool yourself into thinking Your skin depends on your daily routine. eating 20 products.

Many skin care products contain ingredients that are regulated like medicines because they can treat or prevent conditions like acne. Experiment with caution and remember that if you have a specific problem, you may be spending less time and money in the long run simply by seeking advice from a dermatologist.

Here are some of the more common active ingredients you’ll find in skin care products that actually (probably) do something.

  • Salicylic acid , a type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA), helps exfoliate dead skin cells. Since it is soluble in oil, it works well on oily skin. These properties make it a great first-line treatment for mild acne, and you will find it in tons of different acne-fighting products such as cleansers and moisturizers. You can also buy liquids or pads that have salicylic acid as the main active ingredient.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid, are another type of chemical exfoliant. If you’re not concerned about acne, AHAs may be a better option than BHAs to keep your skin looking smoother and more vibrant.
  • Benzoyl peroxide , another classic acne treatment, works by bombarding bacteria with free radicals, so it’s essentially an antibacterial drug. Beware: These free radicals can also destroy dye, leaving discolored streaks on your clothes, towels, and pillowcases.
  • Retinoids are chemical relatives of vitamin A , and they accelerate the rate at which your skin produces and exfoliates skin cells. Retinoids are effective against both acne and “fine lines” and can also help lighten dark spots such as those that may remain after acne has healed.
  • Vitamin C may help protect against UV damage and lighten dark spots, but evidence for this is limited .

If you are hoping to see results from any of the above, be sure to buy a product that says how much of the active ingredient is present. For example, if you’re looking for a retinoid, Differin Gel contains 0.1 percent adapalene, a concentration that studies have shown to be effective in treating acne. Meanwhile, the occasional pharmacy moisturizer might list retinol at the bottom of the ingredient list, but there is no guarantee it contains enough to do anything.

Whatever you do, don’t try it all at once. Many of the above can irritate or dry out your face even on their own. Combining foods increases the likelihood of a bad reaction. Dr. Beleznay says that “the ability to use different products at the same time often depends on the formulation, so it is difficult to make a definite statement, but if there are any questions about compatibility, I suggest [my patients] use one active drug. ingredient for skin care in the morning and one at night, i.e. glycolic in the morning and retinol in the evening. “

Learn more

When you hit the skincare journey, a little warning: it’s hard to find reliable, scientifically based, and unbiased skincare advice. Companies want to sell their products, researchers are often funded by companies, and posts that talk about beauty and skincare get more clicks when they talk about how new and exciting each product is. There is no money to tell people that their old moisturizer at the pharmacy is okay.

It’s easy for the rest of us to get carried away with excitement. Maybe the product that worked for someone else is exactly what I have been missing all my life! And it might be, but it won’t be true for every new lotion or serum that comes out.

Incidentally, the pharmaceutical products are generally suitable. Trader Joe’s sells sunscreen moisturizer for $ 3.99 although I’ve tried it and don’t like the feel; My next purchase will be a $ 12 CeraVe SPF 30 moisturizer . Cleaning products can be pretty cheap too: I use this $ 4 Clean & Clear product . Prices, of course, go up from there. It’s not hard to find trendy skincare products for hundreds of dollars. Dr. Frey maintains a database of products that she says are worth considering and in which she has no financial interest.

The active ingredient products we mentioned above can also vary greatly in price from one brand to another, so always check the ingredients and the fine print to see if they really have what you want. (If you want anything on a prescription, all the medication price chaos comes into play.)

To find out what works for you, start by tracking what you use and when. Certain treatments, such as retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, take time to show results, and your skin may deteriorate before it gets better. Take photos to track your progress.

But also be smart when you hear about other people’s successes. As error-prone people, we often twist anecdote into a narrative that we want to tell (or hear). Dr.Leger noted that in a recent post on r / SkincareAduction, a Reddit editor bragged about his success on a daily diet of 14 foods while also taking Accutane. Dr. Leger says: “When I use Accutane, I get the same results as in her photographs, while my patients use water, moisturizer and nothing else.”

Unfortunately for r / SkincareAddiction fans, none of the dermatologists I spoke to considered Reddit a great source of skincare advice. It focuses on human experiences that can be misleading, and the procedures described are often more complex than they should be. Finally, the official Reddit tip lists sunscreen as optional , which has drawn strong criticism from our sources.

So browse the topics if you like, but consider looking for advice in more scientific sources like the American Academy of Dermatology Skin Care Pages . While it’s not always easy to find great advice, skin care is still worth it, and we’ll help you figure it out.


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