A Beginner’s Guide to a Skincare Routine

August 19, 2019

How to Build a Skincare Routine I wit & whimsy

It never ceases to amaze me how many friends will admit they are still doing the bare-bones when it comes to their skincare routine. i.e; just cleansing. Or just cleansing and moisturizing. Or I’ve heard more than one person admit they still use the same cleanser they’ve been using since high school. But the thing about all of these habits is that they’re not doing the best things for your skin. And our skin changes over time, too (I had an onset of acne at the age of 33 – didn’t see that coming!) which means we need to be routinely re-evaluating how we treat our skin. Building a skincare routine is one of the best things you can do for yourself and today I’m sharing how to do it! Also a lot of the products included are now on sale on Dermstore – see this weekend’s post for more.

The other week during a Q&A a reader asked me to share how to build a skincare routine and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t something I had already posted about given my affinity towards beauty and particularly, skincare.

While some of good skin has to do with genetics, our habits and lifestyle also play a huge part. And everyone’s skin is different, so it is a matter of figuring out what works best for you which of course will include a good deal of trial and error.

But that being said, there are a few fundamental steps you should be taking when it comes to giving your skin the love and attention it deserves.

I think of my routine in terms of the following steps:

    1. Cleansing
    2. Toning
    3. Treating
    4. Moisturizing
    5. Protecting


Of course, this is the most basic of the steps. We tend to cleanse once in the morning and once in the evening. I generally recommend using a lighter cleanser in the morning to remove the night’s grime and oils (I like Fresh Beauty’s Soy Cleanser) and then, if you wear makeup, I’d recommend removing it with a balm cleanser (I like Eve Lom’s Cleansing Balm or Farmacy’s Green Clean) or a cleansing oil (I like the Burt’s Bees one or the Votary Clarifying Cleansing Oil for when I have breakouts) when your day has come to a conclusion. Cleansing oils are particularly good for SPF-heavy days as it breaks down the sunscreen. I also love using a cleansing cloth to get really clean. I generally don’t like foaming cleansers because their formulas often strip the skin and dry it out. (That “squeaky clean” feeling? That’s actually not great for your skin.) Cleansing helps unclog pores, remove dirt and unwanted oil and it can help with dullness and breakouts. It is essential to do to keep your skin in good condition but beware of over-cleansing or using a cleanser that has benefits your skin doesn’t need.


Longtime readers know I’m a proponent of toning because I generally won’t stop talking about the Mario Badescu Seaweed and Cucumber Lotions. They rebalance and refresh the skin and can provide a shot of nutrients while also soothing and comforting your skin. I know this step seems super easy to skip but I have found my skin is always better when I’m consistent about toning. You tone after you cleanse and before you apply anything else on your skin. Toning also helps to get every last trace of makeup and dirt your cleansing step may have missed.


This category is where I really geek out and where I get hyper-targeted in giving my skin what it needs. My serums act like little potions in my medicine cabinet and I reach for them at night and in the morning depending on how my skin is feeling. I am much more low maintenance in treating in the A.M. than I am in the P.M. In the morning I generally just cleanse, tone and then I apply the Darphin Intral Soothing Serum to counteract the redness in my skin tone. (A little of this stuff goes a long way and it really works wonders!) At nighttime I may use a serum for brightening, a serum for exfoliating (BeautyRx Glycolic Serum or Glytone’s 5.5 Exfoliating Serum), a serum for radiance (Caudalie VinoPerfect Radiance Serum), a retinol serum for anti-aging (I use a Rx one at the moment) or a serum for hydration (Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel).

If you’re just starting to get into a routine and want to do the basics when it comes to treatment, I would stay begin with a Vitamin C serum. The pricey but highly effective Skinceuticals C E Freulic is holy grail status for me and what I attribute to not having had to have gotten botox yet. It reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles while firming and brightening your complexion. I’ve tried a lot of the imitators and never liked anything as much as this one.

And, no matter your age, be sure you are using an eye cream as part of your Treatment category. I like Caudalie’s Premier Cru Eye Cream at night or Darphin’s Divine Eye Cream which majorly diminishes my dark circles and fine lines when used regularly. In the morning I swear by Clarins Multi-Active Eye as it takes little to no time to absorb in and majorly de-puffs while making me look more awake. The little tube lasts me at least six months, too.

All this is to say that you should figure out what your skin may need and then pick one serum + an eye cream to use religiously. They are steps your skin will be thankful for. And if you’re in your 30s I highly, highly recommend you start using a retinol.


Everyone should be moisturizing every day as our skin loses hydration throughout the day due to cleansing, pollutants and our bodies’ varying water levels. I look at this category similar to the treatment category in that I don’t just own and use one moisturizer. I swap them out and into my routine based on skin needs. For the last few months my skin has been dry so I’ve been using the Caudalie Vinosource SOS Moisturizer religiously (truly addicted to how this stuff makes my skin look + feel. Wrote more about it here.) If you have oily skin, look for a gel moisturizer. If you have sensitive or broken out skin, look for a balm moisturizer. And then lotions and creams are great for most people with normal to dry skin. I also really love face oils and have used the Rodin Oil for years and years. If my skin is really dry, I’ll layer the oil and then apply my moisturizer.

In the morning, consider only moisturizing where you need it on your face, for example your cheeks, and then don’t bother moisturizing where you tend to get oily throughout the day. Also consider a different moisturizer for daytime and for nighttime. I tend to use thicker formulas at nighttime.


As we all know but often forget, SPF is actually the most important part of anyone’s skincare routine. And as I recently learned, they aren’t all created equal. Be sure that sunscreen is part of your every day skincare regimen and look for one with zinc or titanium oxide. Since my skin cancer diagnosis, I’ve been using this Supergoop sunscreen on my face every day and have been super impressed with it given makeup can still easily go on afterwards. I plan to bring it to my derm’s office next week to ensure she approves of it. I also have this Supergoop sunscreen in my Sephora cart as it has both of the ingredients my derm recommended and I need a good body SPF to use every day. I have sworn off relying on makeup or moisturizers with SPF in them as my only line of defense. Have a travel size SPF in your bag at all times for touch ups or when you may forget as you get ready in the morning.

. . .

There you have it: a quick guide to building a routine. Remember that you can build up to a routine and that, on average, it takes more than 2 months for a new behavior to become automatic. So give yourself a break and know that you’ll get in the habit eventually. We’re all getting older and we can all benefit from giving our skin some daily TLC. Once you’ve become accumulated to your routine, start working in masks, peels and scrubs from time to time when your skin feels like it needs special attention paid. Masks and peels are like skin-boosters in my opinion.

And remember that there are no quick, miracle fixes. As you set out to get into your new routine, you’ll need to allow your skin time to reap the benefits of the various products you are testing. And don’t test too much newness all at once as you’ll want to know whether you’re having adverse affects from a product (peeling, breaking out, rash, etc.) Add in one new product each week and then allow yourself about 4-6 weeks to start to see a difference.

Hope you found this helpful!

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p.s. best practices when it comes to washing your face and all my favorite beauty products.

[Carter Fish Photography]

2 comments on “A Beginner’s Guide to a Skincare Routine”

  1. Love this post! I have gotten serious in the last couple of years about a skincare routine, and I think it makes such a difference! Amen to retinol (do I get bonus points for starting at the end of my 20s? lol) and having a variety of serums depending on what your skin needs. I’ve found that I can tell exactly what I need based on what my skin feels/looks like in the evening and what I know each one can accomplish overnight! Skincare is so fun, I can’t imagine just cleansing and being done with it. Everyone does think I’m high maintenance when I travel, but hey, it takes work to look this good! I’m currently loving serums from The Ordinary, they are so cheap but work so effectively.

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