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How to Build a Skincare Routine for Beginners

Our skin is a complex organ that exhibits extreme diversity from person to person in moisture content, thickness, and many other physiological parameters [1]. On top of that, we each have unique lifestyles that contribute to the daily damage our skin experiences. So, how do we develop a skin care regimen that satisfies the multifaceted, universal characteristics of the skin but is still specific to our individual skin needs? 

To answer this question, we need two things: (1) an anatomical understanding of the components of the skin and (2) specific knowledge of our skin’s natural predisposition and skin concerns. Theskin barrier,or stratum corneum, is the outermost layer of the epidermis; it is the part that is seen by others and what protects our nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. When we exfoliate, cleanse, treat, and moisturize our skin, the stratum corneum is the layer that interacts with these products and determines how products penetrate and are processed in the skin barrier. The corneocytes that form the skin barrier are stacked in alternating layers like a brick wall. An effective skin care regimen should provide nourishment to both the water-based intracellular environment of these cells and the lipid-rich extracellular environment that keeps the cells tightly packed together, preventing water loss [2]

To develop a personalized skincare regimen, it is imperative that we understand our skin’s natural predisposition: is it dry, oily, combination, etc.? Ethnicity also plays a large role in this as the distribution of pores and levels of sebum production are largely genetic [3]. Research has shown that physiological parameters like moisture content, pH, lipid composition, and even thickness of the skin barrier follow genetically-driven ethnic patterns [4,5]. You should then account for any skin conditions like wrinkles, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, acne, scarring, rosacea, or generalredness.By understanding your skin’s natural predisposition in combination with your specific skin care concerns, you can identify products with active ingredients targeted to your skin type and its daily aggressors. For example, someone with naturally dry skin may want to use a gentle cleanser followed by a thick moisturizer that emphasizes the use of humectants and occlusives that will lock in as much moisture as possible.

Research from the field’s leading dermatologists suggests that a regimen should address 4 key areas of skin health:cleansing, moisturizing, protection, and prevention [1,6]. These are umbrella terms and under each one, many different classes of active ingredients and carrier molecules can be used to accomplish these goals. We can address these different areas of skin health by putting them in the context of the skin barrier. The general order of an AM skin care regimen should proceed as follows: cleanser, serum, moisturizer, and ended with a sunscreen that will provide prevention and protection. 

In general, it is best to start with a mild cleanser which means one that doesn’t strip your skin leaving your face feeling dry and tight. Chemically, this means using more mild surfactants that don’t penetrate deeply in the skin barrier, don’t leave a residue, and won’t affect the pH of your skin [7]. This is why you wouldn’t use something like shampoo on your face; the composition and concentration of the surfactant will penetrate the thinner skin of your face and strip it of natural oils. Then, a moisturizer should address both the intra- and extracellular components of the skin barrier. 

Protection and prevention run parallel and the major key here is to apply a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation and to apply it every day. Ultraviolet radiation from sun damage causes oxidation of both intra- and extracellular molecules, rendering them damaged and unable to perform their physiological roles in maintaining the skin barrier. In line with this is the use of antioxidants in your serum or moisturizer. There are hundreds of different antioxidants in the market and it’s generally only beneficial to include one in your skincare regimen.  

A simple daily skincare regimen may only require a cleanser and a moisturizer containing sunscreen if the products are well rounded and satisfy your particular skin needs. However, it can be difficult to find exactly what you need at the right concentrations and in a formulation that is compatible with your downstream skin care and makeup routine. This is where the versatility of serums can be extremely useful; they cover your “blind spots” and can be worked in right after the cleansing stage to deliver a powerful dose of exactly what your skin needs. With a little research and self-discovery, you can identify the right products to build a skin care regimen completely personal to you. 


  1. Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G. & Falla, T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare.Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open 4, (2016).
  2. Rosso, J. D., Zeichner, J., Alexis, A., Cohen, D. & Berson, D. Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner.J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 9, S2–S8 (2016).
  3. Roh, M., Han, M., Kim, D. & Chung, K. Sebum output as a factor contributing to the size of facial pores.British Journal of Dermatology 155, 890–894 (2006).
  4. Markiewicz, E. & Idowu, O. C. Personalized skincare: from molecular basis to clinical and commercial applications.Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 11, 161–171 (2018).
  5. Voegeli, R., Gierschendorf, J., Summers, B. & Rawlings, A. V. Facial skin mapping: from single point bio-instrumental evaluation to continuous visualization of skin hydration, barrier function, skin surface pH, and sebum in different ethnic skin types.Int J Cosmet Sci 41, 411–424 (2019).
  6. Messaraa, al. Clinical evidence of benefits from an advanced skin care routine in comparison with a simple routine.J Cosmet Dermatol 19, 1993–1999 (2020).
  7. Walters, R. M., Mao, G., Gunn, E. T. & Hornby, S. Cleansing Formulations That Respect Skin Barrier Integrity.Dermatol Res Pract 2012, (2012).