What we’ve all collectively learned from the “blow up” of 12 step skincare back in 2015 is still pretty relevant today. Our vanities are still packed with serums, SPF, chemical exfoliants, moisturizers for day and night, potions for wrinkles, and cream for pimple fighting. While the last 4 or 5 years since the popularization of prioritizing skincare has been great for our skin, is it time to go back to basics? 

Use Wash Off Face Mask, Using Peel-Off Mask Correctly. Young woman in towel on her head wash face after removing mask in bathroom

While our routines might be packed with great ingredients, is there a point where it’s “too much of a good thing?” Some people might find using upwards of 6 or more products can actually cause more problems than it solves. (I’m looking at you rosacea sufferers!) 


If you’re feeling burnt out trying to keep up with your skin routine, this article is for you. Let’s figure out the essential products that you absolutely need for daily use. The rest of our lotions and potions can certainly be saved for self-care nights. 


Ready to simplify? Let’s talk essentials 

Let’s use all the great skincare knowledge we’ve acquired over the years and use it to simplify our routines down to the must-haves. 


There are a few essential things that every skincare routine should include:


  1. A gentle surfactant-free cleanser
  2. Humectant-filled daily moisturizer
  3. SPF 30+ 
  4. Any problem solvin’ products: acne medication or rosacea anti-redness creams etc.


Now, if you’re a die-hard tretinoin user, or you’re dedicated to vitamin C — by all means, your favorites should come along for this ride. These often fall into the “problem solvin’ products” category.  


I know a lot of you are thinking — “what about exfoliation though?”


Well, exfoliation should be used a few times a week depending on your skin type. Some people should exfoliate as little as once a week. So, a few days a week throw in a chemical exfoliant that contains either lactic acid or glycolic acid. But be careful with this step. Going crazy with your exfoliation can really wreak havoc on your skin. 


No matter your skin type, this 4 step routine can cover your bases for going back to basics. 


Why surfactant-free? Why humectants? 

Let’s get into the details of the essentials. 


surfactant-free gentle cleanser

Our skin barrier can be very easily disrupted by the daily use of harsh cleansers. Your go-to cleanser should be soap-free because the surfactants used in foaming cleansers are made of harsh detergent chemicals. 


Sometimes, our skin needs a little bit of exfoliating, say from a salicylic acid wash. But on a daily basis, your skin needs GENTLE cleansing. Opt for daily cleansers that are listed as hydrating cleansers as these will use emulsifiers to clean your delicate skin vs. a detergent. 


Humectant-filled heavy moisturizers

Humectant is a fancy way of saying an ingredient retains moisture. Humectants can trap water on the surface of the skin, can draw moisture in from the air, and can draw water from deeper layers of skin to the top layer. This moisture is essential for skin health. 


Humectants encourage healthy desquamation (shedding of old skin). Well-hydrated skin can also protect from premature aging and may be less sensitive to irritants or germs.


Using a daily humectant is pretty essential. Having it in your moisturizer is probably the best way to pack a punch. 


Humectants to look for are:

  • Hyaluronic acid 
  • Aloe vera
  • Glycerin
  • Sorbitol
  • Butylene glycol


The problem skin product addition cycle 

If you struggle with acne, excessive dryness, rosacea, melasma, or any other common skin issue — you might be the most tempted to add more and more products to your line-up. 

Happy smiling girl applying facial organic cream – Healthy beauty treatment and self care lifestyle concept

But, here’s a case for simplicity. 

Throwing products at a problem could potentially be making matters worse. NYC dermatologist Joshua Zeichner says he frequently sees women who are so dedicated to an anti-aging routine that they’re piling on multiple harsh products and are causing major skin irritation. This “piling on” is not dissimilar to the skincare trends that have been circulating during the last few years.


One beauty editor at Glamour tested a back-to-basics idea and found that the more she simplified her routine, the better and healthier her skin looked. 


So, it’s entirely possible that in the effort to improve our skin, we’re actually over-exfoliating, damaging the skin barrier, and consistently introducing pore-clogging ingredients. 


Try this back-to-basics routine for a few weeks to bring you back to a healthy baseline. 


If afterwards, your vitamin C serum is still calling your name, politely apologize for the lull, and invite her into your essential circle of must-have daily products.