A Beginner’s Guide to a Skincare Routine

November 10, 2020

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! 

A Beginner’s Guide To A Skincare Routine

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 both morning and night.

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

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


Of course, cleansing your skin 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 swear by Youth to the People’s Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser and also really like the True Botanicals Nourishing Cleanser) and then, if you wear makeup, I’d recommend removing it with a balm cleanser (I love the Elemis Pro Collagen Cleansing Balm) or a cleansing oil (the Votary Cleansing Oil is divine and leaves skin so soft, so hydrated & plump – it’ll last you at least a year) 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.


Don’t skip this step! Toners help rebalance and refresh the skin and can provide a shot of nutrients while also soothing and comforting your skin which makes it particularly great if you have combination 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. If I’m battling breakouts and clogged pores, I swear by the Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Toner because it has salicylic acid (read more about it here) otherwise I use the Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner.


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 any variety of these skincare products at night and in the morning depending on how my skin is feeling. In the morning I use Vitamin C (my favorites are the Skinceuticals C E Freulic and One Love Organics Vitamin C Serum), followed by an Essence with glycolic acid to help gently slough away that top layer of skin. It has done wonders for my skin and then the Caudalie VinoPerfect Radiance Serum which minimizes my dark spots and acne scars; followed by moisturizer and SPF (see my whole my Morning Skincare Routine here).

At nighttime I may use a serum for breakouts (the Caudalie Vinopure Serum works wonders), a serum for exfoliating (such as Glytone’s 5.5 Exfoliating Serum), a serum for firming (absolutely love the Caudalie Reservatol Firming Serum), a retinol serum for anti-aging (I like the L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Serum) or a serum for hydration (Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel or Osea Hyaluronic Acid Serum).

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 fine 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. Just make sure it is the first thing that hits your skin after cleansing in the morning in order to ensure it is effective!

And be sure to educate yourself on ingredients as you don’t want to compromise your skin’s barrier by mixing the wrong actives. And be sure you are not over exfoliating. If you’re overusing chemical exfoliants or physical exfoliation – you can actually do more harm to your skin than good. Especially if you have sensitive skin!


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. When my skin is dry in the cooler months I swear by the Caudalie Vinosource SOS Moisturizer at night (wrote more about it here) and then I also sub in others depending on how my skin is feeling at night. Those include the Caudalie Glycolic Night Cream and the L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Cream which has a natural alternative to retinol in the formula making it great for aging skin. 

Other moisturizers I keep in rotation in the morning include the Youth to the People Superfood Moisturizer which is my usual AM moisturizer thanks to its matte finish that makes putting makeup on after a breeze and also the Caudalie Brightening Moisturizer (my favorite for glowy skin on no-makeup days). 

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 if my skin is really dry, I’ll layer the oil and then apply my moisturizer. (I like this Biossance Squalene and Vitamin C Rose Oil and the True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil).

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.

And don’t forget your eyes! This delicate skin needs extra care. I absolutely love this Caudalie Eye balm in the morning and I also love the Tammy Fender Awakening Eye Gel and at night I love the L’Occitane Immortelle Overnight Reset Eye Serum.


As we all know but often forget, SPF is actually the most important part of anyone’s skincare routine. Regular SPF use will ensure you’re protected from skin cancer but it also slows down the signs of aging.

As I recently learned, SPFs 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 I also like this EltaMD one. I have sworn off relying on makeup or moisturizers with SPF in them as my only line of defense as my board certified dermatologist told me they just don’t work effectively.

Pro tip? 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. And make sure it is broad spectrum in order to protect against both UV rays and UVB rays.

. . .

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 and 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!


p.s. how to get started in clean beauty and all my favorite beauty products.

[Carter Fish Photography]

comments +

  1. Melanie says:

    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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