According to cosmetic chemist Lalita Vedantam (... if you're a skin-care nerd like I am, her Instagram is well worth a follow), all you really need for an effective skin-care routine is five minutes and five basic products: a cleanser, a light moisturizer, an active serum, a heavy moisturizer, and (of course) sunscreen. Here, she lays out the quick, easy routine that anyone can squeeze into their day—plus a few affordable products that can help make it happen.
1. Cleanse: The first step of any routine—morning or night—should be to wash your face. This helps remove any nastiness like dirt, debris, and makeup, and leaves a clean palette for you to apply the rest of your products to. Vedantam is a fan of CeraVe Hydrating Face Wash ($13) to get the job done.
2. Apply a light moisturizer: Next, Vedantam suggests putting on a light moisturizer, like CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($17) (which derms love), on your still-damp skin to "disrupt the lipid barrier," which makes the following actives absorb more effectively. This step also helps lock in moisture and prevent water loss. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides in whatever formula you go for.
3. Use an active serum: This is the real meat of the routine, as concentrated active ingredients are what will make the most difference in your skin. The type of active you'll use here will depend on a number of factors, including your skin concerns, the time of day, and what other products you're using, but this is where your antioxidant, retinoid, or hydroxy acid would go in your routine.
4. Slather on a heavy moisturizer: Lock in all of that ingredient goodness with a moisturizing cream ("heavy" meaning that it's heavier than the one you used in step two) like Garnier SkinActive Moisture Rescue Face Moisturize ($7). Vedantam says this step is optional, as you may be getting enough hydration from your light moisturizer and sunscreen, but listen to your skin to see what it needs.
5. Load up on SPF: "The most important step in any skin-care routine is sunscreen," says Vedantam, and we (along with every other dermatologist and beauty pro on the planet) agree. Sunscreen protects against UV damage, which staves off early signs of aging and, more importantly, skin cancer. Try La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Lotion ($60), or one of these derm-approved picks.
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