While elaborate makeup routines are becoming more and more popular, I realise that a lot of girls are still apprehensive about skincare. This is totally understandable, as skincare is seen as a more ‘serious’ thing than makeup— getting the wrong skincare can totally mess up your skin, while the wrong makeup can easily be washed off— plus, when beauty websites (including this one, guilty as charged) rave about long, overblown 10-step skincare routines, the skincare beginner may be intimidated from using any skincare at all.
So today I’m bringing you an article about building a simple, minimalist routine for the skincare beginner— inspired by when a friend of mine asked if she should use moisturiser or not. First disclaimer: obviously I am not a skincare expert. I’m not a dermatologist! What I know is all a result of reading up on the internet and my own experience of battling acne, but I’m not a professional and my advice is meant to be just that: advice. Therefore, I’ll be keeping the recommendations today as gentle as possible, applicable for someone who doesn’t suffer very serious skin problems. Secondly, yes my definition of ‘minimalist’ may not be the same as yours. I’m using it to mean as minimalist as a skincare routine can get, but in the end it will still be a routine with more than one step. If you want ‘minimalist’ by the purest of definitions— then just use one step. Also, just like in my Makeup Shopping for Beginners guide, I’ll be keeping the suggestions focused on drugstore since I imagine beginners are not looking to splurge just yet.
STEP ONE: CLEANSING
I could go on and on about the virtues of double cleansing. Double cleansing means to use two separate cleansers: the first in the form of a cleansing oil, water, gel, cream or milk with the purpose of removing your makeup and the second being a regular cleanser which you would then wash off. Of course, I know that a lot of people don’t have the time or the intention to do this— I admit it can be a chore— but I have to emphasis that it is highly recommended if you wear heavy makeup. I spent many years wearing BB Cream every single day and only using one cleanser to remove it, and I suspect that it contributed to my sudden acne flare-up which lasted for nearly two years. If you still don’t want to do it, then that’s on you. But if you don’t wear makeup or if you don’t wear foundation, then I guess it shouldn’t be much of a problem for you to forego double cleansing.
Something that people commonly do when choosing a cleanser is they go with one that really scrubs the shit out of their face in order to give them that 100% clean, tight feeling. I’m here to tell you to stop it. Like I said, I’m not a dermatologist but even I can tell you that that is not the business. Oh, and if your cleanser contains beads: also stop it (if it contains the word ‘scrub’ in its name, it’s not meant to be used everyday). Overly harsh, stripping cleansers is probably contributing to whatever skin problems you’re facing— whether it is excessive oil (a harsh cleanser strips your face of all the natural oil, causing your skin to work overtime to ‘replace’ that oil— the result being too much oil) or dryness and flaking skin.
What you want to use is a very gentle cleanser. How do you know if a cleanser is gentle? Well, a cleanser that doesn’t foam up (meaning it doesn’t bubble and lather up like soap) is a good sign that it’s not going to strip your skin. As much as I like Korean skincare, I’ve noticed that Korean brands are often guilty of this— they like their cleansers to foam up like crazy! Whenever I bite the bullet and try out any of the samples of cleansers that whatever Korean brand gives out, I always find that it leaves my skin feeling dry and tight. So I generally stick to Western brands for cleansers— for years I’ve been using Sebamed Face & Body Cleanser to wash my face but recently I made the switch to Cerave Hydrating Cleanser. Not because the Sebamed stopped working— it works as perfectly as it did the day I first discovered it— but because I’ve always been dying to try out the Cerave as it gets so many raves on the internet and it used to not be available in Malaysia (I found it in Caring pharmacy for only RM26… there’s also a smaller tube for less).
Once upon a time, I would have recommended Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. You know, with the ‘medicinal’ packaging it looks like such a reliable brand. Plus I’ve had friends who were prescribed Cetaphil by their doctors before so it always seemed like a good, safe choice. HOWEVER, I was actually using Cetaphil’s cleanser when my skin suddenly erupted into a battlefield of acne. It took me a long time to give it up as I was so convinced that Cetaphil was not the problem. Now, I’ve come to accept: yeah it probably was. Now I am not saying that Beautypedia is the be-all and end-all of skincare, but they even gave Cetaphil only two out of five stars as it contains a lot sodium laurel sulfates (a cleansing agent found in shampoo and dish-washing liquid) which will mess up your skin and its ability to heal itself, thus resulting in severe acne as was what happened to me. So if you’re going to buy a cleanser, steer clear of Cetaphil. Even Simple’s Refreshing Face Wash Gel would be a better choice, and it’s like what… RM14?
STEP TWO: MOISTURISE
Wow, no toner or anything? Well, while I’d love to recommend a facial mist like Avene Thermal Spring Water (applying moisturiser on damp skin will apparently make your moisturiser work better… at least that’s what Dita Von Teese says), but since I can’t find any scientific explanation on its skincare benefits, I wouldn’t recommend it in this article. This routine is supposed to be minimalist! Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, my friend (and many, many others) was unsure of whether or not she should be putting moisturiser on her combination skin. It’s a common belief that moisturiser is ‘oily’ and therefore will only exacerbate problems like acne and oily skin.
This seriously puzzles me, since I LOVE moisturiser. I guess the word ‘moisturiser’ to a lot of people brings to mind heavy, greasy creams. That doesn’t have to be the case. Just like there are many different kinds of lipsticks (matte, glossy, sheer), there are also many different kinds of moisturisers that are meant for different purposes and different skin types. Those heavy creams that we all remember our mothers using are not meant to be worn out and about in your day to day life— hence why they’re usually named ‘night cream’. They’re for sleeping, where (a) no one will see you and (b) it will probably be air conditioned, and your skin will need the extra moisture. In the morning when you’ll be meeting people and acting as an upstanding member of society, you’re going to want a light moisturiser.
Generally, a light, daytime moisturiser will contain terms like ‘gel’ , ‘daytime’ or ‘light’ in its title (for example, the Simple Light Moisturiser, which I used in my teenage years and served me well back then) but if not then you’ll need to swatch it for yourself. Below I’ll include a picture of what a light moisturiser meant for daytime looks like next to a heavier cream moisturiser meant for nighttime.
Left: A light moisturiser. Right: A heavy cream.
As I’ve said many, many, many times before on this blog, the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Gel is my moisturiser of choice. It’s hydrating enough for my dry skin yet sinks in quickly and isn’t greasy (but I do know someone who used it and claimed it burnt her skin so please enter with caution). I do not have a single problem with it except for the price, so I went looking around to find a cheaper equivalent. For that, I’d say the Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture for Combination Skin is the closest that I can get to a ‘dupe’ of the Clinique DDMG. It feels a little bit heavier upon application and takes a bit longer to sink in but so far it’s been good to me and I might consider switching to this permanently since I go through moisturisers quickly and paying RM31.60 every three months is much preferable to RM150. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, however, First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Face Moisturiser (RM102 at Sephora) is also another great pick.
STEP THREE: SUNBLOCK/SUNSCREEN
Seriously, you guys. WEAR SUNBLOCK. Even if you don’t care about premature aging, not wearing sunblock can literally murder you. The SPF in your foundation is not enough to protect your skin because you need at least a tablespoon amount of sunscreen for it to do so and I’m sure you do not use a tablespoon of foundation on your face everyday (if you do then uh… good for you. I guess). Now, I go through sunblock even faster than moisturiser so I’ve never bothered with anything other than the ones at the drugstore. Unlike cleansers, however, I veer away from Western sunblock since I find them heavy and greasy. Asian sunblock usually comes in the form of water or a watery essence and is much, much lighter. As to what number SPF to go for… there is a lot of debate on whether the super high SPFs (SPF 350+++++, for example) actually does anything but I tend to stick to, like, SPF 50 just to be safe.
I will admit that sometimes sunscreen sucks because they have a finish and tend to mess up how my foundation looks. For example, I used to use the Biore sunscreen in the yellow bottle (because it’s the cheapest, at like RM18) and I hated how it has a matte finish and would make all my glowy foundations look matte. If I wanted a mattifying primer, I would wear one! (So there’s a beauty hack right there: instead of spending tons of money on primers, just buy the yellow Biore sunscreen. If you have ultra greasy skin, the Biore sunscreen in the white bottle absorbs oil like CRAZY. It was not good for me as it left my dry skin chapped, but if you have oily skin it could work) Anyway, I’m now using the 3W Clinic Intensive UV Sunblock, probably the cheapest sunblock in the world at RM22 for a 70ml tube and, while it works well for me as it’s moisturising instead of drying and therefore doesn’t mess up the finish of my foundation, I will admit that it smells just as cheap as it is. Love the packaging though. But the best quality sunscreen for the best price is probably the Innisfree Eco Safety Aqua Perfect Sun Gel. Neither drying nor moisturising, and it leaves your skin feeling smooth as silk.
So that’s it for the Minimalist Skincare Routine for beginners! So if you’re looking to start treating your skin better, this routine should probably give you a good foundation. Once you’re comfortable with it and would like to take it to the next level, then you can start thinking about serums or essences or treatments to suit your needs but in the meantime the aforementioned three steps should be enough. If you’re suffering of problems like acne, it probably wouldn’t magically solve it (it didn’t for me, I had to customise a more ‘complicated’ routine) although there are some people who experienced improved skin from a simple, clean routine like this. Everyone’s skin is different.