Cleansing your face removes dirt, makeup and surface oil. Done correctly, it’ll leave your face clean without harming the skin’s all-important barrier function-its ability to keep moisture in and various toxins, pathogens and other bad stuff out. You should wash your face twice a day-first thing in the morning, last thing before bed-plus anytime you’ve been perspiring heavily. To do it right, wet your face with lukewarm water and use your fingertips to apply a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that’s right for your skin type. Dry or sensitive skin should get a creamy (non-foaming) cleanser, while normal and oily skins can take a foaming cleanser (which will rinse away more cleanly than a creamy product). Acne-prone skins often benefit from cleansers that include salicylic acid, which helps remove excess oil and unclog pores.
Gently work the cleanser into your skin (if you’re using a foaming product, this is where you work up a lather). You can use an electronic cleanser (see below) or just your fingers; skip the washcloths and abrasive sponges, however, as they can irritate skin. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry with a soft towel.
This step-which may be part of cleansing or a separate part of your routine-gently removes the top layer of dead skin cells, leaving your face looking fresher and allowing all the creams, serums or other treatments you use to penetrate deeper into your skin (so they can work effectively).
There are essentially two ways to exfoliate: mechanically (with a power cleanser or a gritty scrub) or chemically (with alpha or beta hydroxy acids, retinol or retinoic acid, or enzymes).
If you’re using an electronic cleanser, follow the manufacturer’s directions (and don’t overdo it). Same with the other options: Apply as directed, no more (excessive exfoliation can backfire, worsening acne and other problems, like rosacea or wrinkles. Too much exfoliation can also damage the skin’s barrier function, leaving your face dried out and open for infection.
Using a prescription (such as Retin-A), serum, or other targeted treatment? Apply it now, before your moisturizer (switching these two steps could leave your treatment left out, as moisturizer acts as a barrier). If you’re using a separate sunscreen (e.g., not a moisturizer that contains sunscreen), that goes on now, too.
Every skin-even the oiliest-needs moisturizer, but choosing the right one is key. If you have acne, use a gel or oil-free lotion that contains ceramides, a type of waxy lipid that adds moisture and helps improve skin barrier function. If you have normal skin, try a lotion made with lightweight oils (like grapeseed or sunflower). Dry skin needs extra moisture plus emollients to seal that moisture in, meaning you should use a heavier, oil-based cream that contains natural (jojoba oil, shea butter) or synthetic agents (silicones).
Dab on your moisturizer right after cleansing/exfoliating, while your skin is damp, to trap that moisture in your skin.
In winter, everyone’s skin gets a bit drier-and that goes for your face as well as the rest of you. Lower temperatures and humidity levels can make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable, while the skin on your body (which is probably drier than your face already) can get itchy, scaly and uncomfortable.
For the skin from your neck down, keep moisture levels as high as you can by limiting hot showers, skipping the foamy cleansers, and slathering on the moisturizer (switch from lotions to creams or even ointments for extra-dry spots).
For your face, if your skin is normal or dry, switch to a gentler cleanser (a creamy formula instead of a foamy one) and a richer moisturizer. Oily or acne-prone skins should follow a similar strategy, trading in gel-based products for light, oil-free lotions.