The 10 skin-care rules dermatologists live by will seriously change your skin

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In 2019, skin-care was as important a part of our cultural conversation as the Hot Priest and whether or not Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were in love. Here at Well+Good, we talked about it a lot—with dermatologists, facialists, product formulators, and even Dr. Pimple Popper herself. We’ve spent the better part of this year collecting skin-care tips and advice on everything from how to treat acne scars to how to keep your skin moisturized all day long and used the intel to publish hundreds of skin-care stories over the last 365.

Considering how many good skin-care tips we’ve gotten this year (seriously—there have been thousands of them) it was nearly impossible to narrow things down to just the top 10. But we dipped into the archives to round up the best of the best pieces of advice we got this year, many of which changed our editors’ own routines for the better. Scroll through and check out the best skin-care tips of 2019 in order to make 2020 your most radiant—and healthy-skinned—year yet.

A good skin-care routine starts with a cleanser

Cleanser may not seem like the most exciting element of a skin regimen, but it is one of the most important. In addition to getting rid of the dirt, oil, and debris that can clog pores, it helps turn your complexion into a clean slate so that the rest of your products can do their jobs properly. Once you’ve found something that wipes your canvas (on team Well+Good, we’re fans of Fresh Soy Facial Cleanser ($38), though derms say that you don’t need to spend big bucks to find something that works), you’ll want to make sure you’re using it the right way. A few common mistakes that pros see all the time? Washing at the wrong time of day, using a cleanser that’s way too harsh on your skin, not lathering for long enough, and forgetting to wash your neck.

Scrubbing is for toilets, not faces

As board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, puts it, “scrubbing is for toilets, not faces,” and she’s right. Too much exfoliation, whether physical or chemical, disrupts the skin barrier and can lead to all kinds of issues like dryness, irritation, and even acne. Exfoliating once or twice a week with either an alpha-hydroxy acid or a beta-hydroxy acid or a wash cloth is plenty to slough off dead skin cells without making your skin inflammed. And please, for the love of all things good in this world, do not exfoliate with walnuts.

There is a such thing as doing too much for your skin

Gone are the days of the 10-step routine: This year, we learned that there is a such thing as doing too much for your skin. Using too many intense ingredients in the same day (think: vitamin C, vitamin E, glycolic acid, retinoic acid, scrubs, and toners, all at once) depletes your skin barrier, making you more prone to inflammation. Instead of piling everything on all at once—which can, admittedly, be tempting when you’re dealing with things like acne or rosacea that you want to fix right now, thank you very muchlook for select products that treat and nourish your skin at the same time with ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to balance out the actives. And consider putting yourself on a “skin-care diet” and getting rid of any superfluous serums, since derms say all your routine really needs is a cleanser, an antioxidant, an SPF, a retinoid, and a moisturizer.

Showering every day is overrated

Talk about a groundbreaking—and time-saving—piece of advice that we can get behind: Skip the shower. As far as your skin is concerned, showering every day actually isn’t all that great, so it’s totally fine to just…not do it. As long as you’re giving your sweaty and smelly parts (you know the ones) a once-over with a gentle cleanser, there’s no reason to go for the full lather and rinse every night—even after you workout. “Sweating doesn’t make you dirty,” says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD.

You don’t need to break the bank for good skin-care

We’ve known this for a while, but every year it seems like drugstore skin-care products are getting better and better. According to Dr. Gohara, “it doesn’t have to be super expensive to work. You can walk into any drugstore and find a lot of efficacious options.” Case in point: She put together an entire derm-approved, nine product routine—complete with a makeup wipes, a cleanser, an antioxidant serum, a hydrating serum, a retinol, a sunscreen, and a mask—for under $125. In fact, the cleanser she uses on both her face and body only costs $1, proving that even the pros are shopping the drugstore aisles for the sake of their skin.

Moisturizer isn’t just a one trick pony

Until this year, we were only using our moisturizer to, well, moisturize, as the last step in our routine. But as we now know, it’s got a few other tricks up its sleeve. While its primary job is to lock in moisture and keep skin hydrated, it can also be used underneath your serums to increase the permeability of their active ingredients, or layered on before and after retinol (as a sort of “retinol sandwich”) to help you avoid irritation.

“Strong skin,” not “good skin,” should be the goal of your routine

In the era of pimple positivity and no more anti-aging, all skin is finally considered “good skin.” So instead of focusing on getting rid of pimples or diminishing wrinkles, your routine should be about keeping skin strong and healthy. “It’s not just that your skin looks good, but that it functions the way it should,” says Ashish Bhatia, MD, FAAD, dermatologist, chief medical advisor of Carpe, and associate professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University. A strong barrier—which you can achieve by using soothing products, avoiding hot water, and keeping pores clear—helps to hold in moisture and defend against environmental irritants, and will ultimately keep your complexion clear, anyway .

When it comes to acne, less is more

It might seem like the quickest way to banish zits is to slather them with active ingredients, but that could wind up doing more harm than good. Instead, derms say it’s best to keep things simple. Use a gentle cleanser to remove your makeup, followed by a pore-opening toner, one treatment product, moisturizer, and (during the day only, obviously) sunscreen. That’s it. Anything too harsh can strip the skin barrier, and anything too comedogenic will clog your pores, so look for simple, gentle, hydrating products that keep things easy and work well together.

28 days is the magic number when it comes to your routine

When you start using a new product, it’s only natural that you want it to start working magic right away, but it’s important to remember that skin changes don’t happen over night. Instead of expecting instant gratification, pros want you to stick with a new routine for 28 days—or the time it takes for old skin cells to slough off and new ones to come in their place—to determine whether or not a product is actually working for you. This allows your cells to completely turnover, and the new cells will be able to show the full effects of whatever products you’re bathing them in. “Loyalty to products is a good thing,” says board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD. “With a lot of trends, the marketing is so exciting that you keep going from product to product to product, and that can be bad, so just try to remind yourself to be patient and loyal. And even after that 28 days, you’re going to see more and more benefit.” Patience and loyalty are the backbone of any good relationship, and the one between you and your skin-care routine is apparently no exception.

No matter what your skin concern, nearly everyone should be using retinol

Any dermatologist worth their degree will tell you that once you hit your late 20s, using a retinol is the best thing you can do for your skin—according to Dr. Gohara, her retinol is the one thing she would save if her house was on fire (aside from her family, of course). The powerhouse ingredient stimulates cell turnover in order to remedy things like acne, wrinkles, and texture issues, and will leave you with glass skin no matter what concerns you’re dealing with. Good retinol is readily available at the drugstore for $10 (looking at you, Differin Gel), and if you want to intro it into your routine, start slowly and build up to using it as frequently as your skin can handle.

In addition to all the skin-care tips and tricks we got from dermatologists this year, we also consulted a dermatologist’s wife to find out the best skin lessons she’s learned from being married to a pro. And don’t worry: The skin-care everywhere trend is sticking around for 2020. 

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