What My Skincare Routine Looks Like Right Now

We asked our office skincare expert to share her summer go-tos.
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By now, you probably already know that we consider our Email Marketing Manager, Anne, to be our personal skincare guru. Not only does she have glowing skin that she takes impeccable care of, but she also told me about retinols, helped Kelly perfect her skincare routine, and is our office sounding-board for trying out new products. Because we all rely on her expertise so heavily in making skincare decisions, I asked her to share her current skincare routine with all of you. xEmily

I am kicking-off my inaugural skincare post with a summer edition of my daily routine, including some of my favorite year-round products! This routine is all about prepping my skin for the sun, preventing sun damage and keeping my skin hydrated underneath all of that sunscreen. Really. You've been warned: There is a LOT of sunscreen in this regimen, be forewarned—I'm talking numerous, painstaking layers like a Van Gogh painting. Here's what my skincare routine looks like right now:

Morning Skincare Routine

1. Cleanser: I love a good drugstore cleanser, one you can pick up in any CVS, Rite Aid or Shoppers Drug Mart (shoutout to my Canadians)! I like to look for a gentle, foaming cleanser. Because I use so many actives and strong retinol in the evening, I want my cleanser to remove all traces before I do my daily routine. If you have sensitive skin, look for sodium coco sulfate instead of sodium lauryl sulfate, which I find to be less drying (prevents that 'tight' feeling after cleaning). My go-tos are CeraVe Foaming Cleanser and (a recent favorite), First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser or Paula's Choice The UnScrub, which is a gentle face scrub that doesn't tear or irritate the skin.

2. Toner: I still love to use a toner, which is a little retro—but the '90s are back, so hear me out! This ain't your mama's toner (or maybe it is, please ask her for me). I look at toners like liquid moisturizers: packed with great ingredients, with the added bonus of adding a little moisture without looking too greasy. I usually rotate between two Paula's Choice toners—Skin Recovery Calming Toner, which has evening primrose oil for hydration, and Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner, with chamomile to calm skin and niacinamide to reduce dark spots.

3. Actives: ACTIVES! Just a fun way of saying "I paid a lot for this serum with basically one ingredient, it better work". My current gambles are niacinamide and vitamin C. Both work to reduce dark spots, brighten skin and treat overlying redness. Since I have patches of melasma caused by endometriosis, this is a skin focus for me and I am rotating between these two serums to see which I prefer! I am currently using Paula's Choice Niacinamide serum and Mad Hippy Vitamin C serum.

Note: Niacinamide does not work well with all skin types, and can also cause irritation—so be sure to test out any new ingredients before committing.

4. Treatments: If 'actives' and 'treatments' sound like they are the same thing, well—these are just terms I am making up to give my routine some pizazz, it's not a science. But if actives are the ingredients that focus on my sore spots and pack a lot of punch, treatments are what I use to add some healing action to my routine. I like to use hyaluronic acid (whether in a moisturizer or serum). It can replenish moisture to your skin with only a small amount of product and plays well with other ingredients. I love SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator, which doubles as an amazing primer, but more cost-efficient options are Paula's Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster and CeraVe's new Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum.

5. Serum or Moisturizer: If my skin is looking extra parched after all those steps, then I'll add a light layer of old-school moisturizer to work its magic. If I have used a lot of multitasking products (like the above), I'll use something basic and soothing like Paula's Choice CLINICAL Ultra-Rich Moisturizer (don't let the name fool you, this dries to a matte finish) or First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer. If I am skipping steps and making cuts, CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizer has ceramides, niacinamide, and more that make it a great multitasker when you've just got to get ready and make it to McDonald's on time to get an Egg White Delight McMuffin. Just me? ( And no, tragically it's not on the all-day menu—but that's a different post for another time).

Layering Note: I like to make sure that I am layering products in order of the lowest to highest pH so that each product can work effectively—which means occasionally skipping steps when actives and treatments don't mix. Here is a handy guide if you need to double-check your ingredients and determine the best order!

6. Sunscreen(s): I love sunscreens, and have a lot that I use based on how much sun exposure I expect to get during the day. On a day with a short commute and lots of time indoors, I'll use sunscreens where the focus is to get an invisible but effective finish—Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50+ or Biore UV Sarasara Face Milk (find my other picks in our recent post about our go-to sunscreens) or the European version of Avene Suncare SPF50 Fluid. If I know I am going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, I use Actinica Lotion. It doesn't have as elegant of a finish, but I am happy to compromise some shine to guarantee that my skin is well protected.

7. Skin Makeup: I don't wear makeup daily, so I usually use this category to add some extra SPF-boosting qualities to my look. I like powders with a high percentage of UV protectants, and I am currently using Laura Mercier mineral powder which has SPF 15 protection and provides an elegant, satin finish.

8. To-Go Products: You've got a purse/backpack/pocket/hand—why not bring some of your skincare routine with you for touch-ups in your car/the bus/a plane/the couch? My favorite things to lug around all day in the name of beauty are a mist and sunscreen touch-up powder. Supergoop makes my favorite option, and it comes in a transparent version that should work with most skin types. I also love transferring my BIBA Hydrating Toner to a portable spritzer to use generously during the day, usually to revive my makeup or just to feel elegant (powder makeup still gets cakey in 2019, someone get NASA on this stat).

Evening Skincare Routine

1. Makeup Remover: Even if you don't wear makeup daily, I find using a makeup remover (or micellar water) is amazing at removing sunscreens—especially if you're anything like me, and choose to layer it as if your life depends on it. Although Bioderma is the chic, French choice that works as well as it elevates your bathroom "lewk", I usually use the easy to find (and much cheaper) Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1. If you don't want to create additional waste using a cotton pad, you can totally apply this with your hands—especially as you need to use a regular cleanser afterward for best results.

2. Cleanser and Cleansing Brush: Although you are clearly getting a sense of my skincare hoarding qualities, at least I have the good sense to use the same cleanser for AM and PM! Give credit where credit is due. The only change I make in the evening is to occasionally partner it with my trusty cleansing brush, the Foreo. Because it's silicone, it's easy to keep clean and much more portable than other options. 

3. Exfoliants: My skincare soulmates: chemical exfoliants. I have mentioned these in previous posts, so I don't want to repeat myself too much, but chemical exfoliants (along with retinol, more below) have made the largest impact on my skin and our relationship is long, dedicated, and extremely romantic. I tend to switch between AHAs (great for exfoliating the top layers of skin, perfect if you have dry or flaky patches or sun damage) and BHAs (better for acne prone and dull skin). Although I am a long-time Paulas's Choice exfoliant fan, I recently started also rotating in First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads, which are an effective combination of glycolic acid and lactic acid and have been really gentle on my skin while providing impressive results. 

Note: Just be sure to give your skin about 10 to 15 minutes for the exfoliant to work, and your skin's PH balance to neutralize before you move onto additional steps—this prevents irritation while allowing the products to work more effectively.

5. Actives: Since I use actives and treatments in the morning, I like to skip them in the evening. However, if your skin is really tolerant—or if you're like me and skipped your entire morning routine to get that Egg White Delight—you can also use them after you exfoliate your skin, once the exfoliant has completed doing its magic. Just be sure to monitor your skin to make sure you're not overdoing it!

6. Retinol and Retinoids: Retinol is another skin care romance I have been involved in for many years, but please—don't tell my exfoliants. Retinol (otherwise known as vitamin A) is considered an effective anti-aging ingredient as it promotes cell turnover, keeping your skin looking younger and firmer longer, in theory. I prefer to use Retin A, a prescription treatment that I find gives the most impressive results—however, if you have sensitive skin an over-the-counter option might be the way to go. My favorites are SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 and Paula's Choice CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment (this is a really nonirritating and moisturizing formula), Paula's Choice SKIN RECOVERY Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol. If you are unable to use retinol altogether (pregnant, breastfeeding, sun exposure, just don't want to) I have also been experimenting with Ren Bio Retinoid Anti-Ageing Cream. Recent reports claim Babchi Seed Extract is a 'natural retinol alternative', and although the research isn't all there it's worth having an alternative when retinoids should be avoided. 

Note: Just like exfoliants, I like to give retinoids about 5 to 15 minutes to do their magic before I move on to the next step, as this helps to curb irritation, redness and is shown to improve results.

7. Eye Cream: The truth is you don't need an eye cream. I think you can easily get away with using a great, dense face cream under your eyes—most eye creams have very similar ingredients to their whole-face counterparts, in a much smaller container with a much higher price tag. I currently keep CeraVe Eye Cream in my routine, as it's affordable and portable (sometimes I also use it as an evening lip mask, natch). I also use Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer as an eye cream. It has a rich, creamy base and keeps my eye zone as hydrated as more expensive options.

8. Moisturizer or Face Mask: Once that's all done—whew!—finally, the last step. MOISTURE! Add some glycerin-based moisturizer to your face, or a rich overnight skin mask, and sigh a breath of relief. It's over, at least until tomorrow morning. I use either Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer (this time for the whole face) or Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Hydrating Treatment Mask, ignore the name—this makes a great overnight moisturizer. If you prefer oil as your last step, I love adding Paula's Choice Resist Moisture Renewal Oil Booster either on its own or on top of my moisturizer. 

And that's it! This is what I aim for every day, but obviously, sometimes that's not reasonable or possible (i.e. I fall asleep on the couch watching Nailed It and miss steps 5 through 8). I used to think that missing a step would collapse the entire tower of cards that is this routine, but I now find that sometimes taking a skin care pause makes it even better. One or two nights a week of a modified routine gives the skin a break, prevents irritation and (for me, personally) sidelines the occasional breakout. I'd also love to hear your favorite skin care buys, I promise—if this list proves anything, you are talking to an easy mark- I'll probably bite and try it out.

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