Building a Healthy Skin-Care Routine

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If you're unsure how to establish a skin-care routine, a great place to start is by identifying your skin type. While your skin-care needs may change as you age and the seasons change, knowing your skin-care type will always lead you down the right path to having healthy skin.

woman applying face cream

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Determining Your Skin Type

Your skin type will be your guide to choosing the right products and routine. 

  • Normal skin: No issues with dryness, oiliness, or sensitivity.
  • Dry skin: Rough, dry skin that flakes or scales.
  • Oily skin: Large pores with skin that feels greasy. Your face is often shiny, and you're prone to breakouts.
  • Combination skin: May have dry patches on the cheeks and oily patches—typically on the t-zone of your nose, chin, and forehead.
  • Sensitive skin: Reacts to makeup or skin products with itchiness, burning, or redness. According to an article in Frontiers in Medicine, almost 70% of women and 60% of men report having sensitive skin.

Consult Your Doctor

If you suspect you may have allergies, check with your doctor before using products containing lanolin or mineral oil.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before using retinoids.

Morning Routine

For a basic morning skin-care routine, follow these steps:

  1. Clean your face with a gentle cleanser that does not strip away any natural oils
  2. Apply a serum, moisturizer, or oil
  3. Apply sunscreen

The types of products you choose should be based on your skin type. 

Normal Skin

  • Cleanser: Choose something gentle, such as micellar water, which contains dirt-attracting molecules. You simply swipe it over your skin, no need to rinse. You can also use a foaming cleanser, cream or lotion based cleaner, or a cleansing balm. Cleansing balms made with ingredients like nourishing oils and antioxidants balms are particularly beneficial for mature skin.
  • Serum: Serums are available for a wide variety of specialized treatments. Choose one that suits your concerns, whether that be anti-aging or moisturizing. Look for ingredients such as antioxidants, nourishing oils, or retinol.
  • Moisturizer: Just as with your serum, choose a moisturizer that addresses concerns you have and offers a dose of antioxidants. 
  • Sunscreen: Apply sunscreen every day before going outside. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30 or more. You can opt for a moisturizer that contains sunscreen as the final step in your skin-care routine, before makeup, if you wear it.

Dry Skin

  • Cleanser: Choose one that is gentle and fragrance-free and use just enough for a light lather without too many suds. A cream or lotion-based cleanser works best. Blot dry with a towel and immediately apply moisturizer.
  • Serum and moisturizer: The key to preventing dry skin is to trap moisture. Use a cream or ointment rather than a lotion for dry skin. Ingredients to look for include shea butter, jojoba oil, hyaluronic acid, glycerine, and lanolin. 
  • Sunscreen: Use a fragrance-free sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

Oily Skin

  • Cleanser: Use a foaming cleanser that is alcohol and oil-free. You do not need harsh cleansers that strip the skin’s natural oils. One that breaks down dirt and oil that is gentle on your skin is best to avoid irritation and breakouts.
  • Serum and moisturizer: Avoid any oil-based serums or moisturizers. Choose those labeled non-comedogenic—and without fragrance for less irritation.
  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen can aggravate acne-prone skin and cause breakouts, but it is vital for protecting your skin. Choosing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based barrier sunscreens will help. Make sure you choose one without oils or fragrances.

Sensitive Skin

  • Cleanser: Using an oil for cleansing sensitive skin may help. A pure oil such as argan or jojoba can dissolve dirt and grime without additives that may aggravate the skin. You can also use a very mild liquid cleanser with no fragrance added.
  • Serum and moisturizer: The fewer products you use if you have sensitive skin, the easier it is to determine what may irritate you. Stick to a single product that has few ingredients and is fragrance-free. If your skin stings or burns after using a product, discontinue use.
  • Sunscreen: A barrier based sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide may be best. Avoid products with fragrance.

Combination Skin

For combination skin, you may need to treat the specific dry or oily areas with different products. Otherwise, stick to a gentle foaming cleanser and apply moisturizer and sunscreen daily. Avoid any products that cause breakouts or dry your skin further.

Adverse Effects

Discontinue using any skin-care product that results in burning, itching, redness, swelling, or pain. Tell your doctor about any adverse effects you may experience.

Evening Routine


For a basic evening skin-care routine, follow these steps:

  1. Cleanse your skin, using a makeup remover product, if needed
  2. Apply a balancing toner by saturating a cotton ball or pad and swiping it all over your face
  3. Apply a serum or moisturizing night cream, or both, if desired

Choose products that work for your skin type.

Morning vs. Evening Cleaning Products

You can use the same cleansing products as you do in the morning for your evening routine.

Normal Skin

  • Toner: Choose a toner that addresses any skin concern you have. Hydroxy acids help with UV damage, while ones with antioxidants—like Vitamin C and E—can treat free radical damage and scarring.
  • Serum or moisturizer: Choose a serum or moisturizer that is meant for overnight use. A Vitamin A-based cream, for example, can help with collagen production, while retinol helps fight signs of aging. 

Dry Skin

  • Toner: Skip this step, or use a toner that offers hydrating benefits. Avoid alcohol-based toners.
  • Serum or moisturizer: Oil in water formulations such as lightweight gels, lotions, and serums are ideal for normal to dry skin. Water in oil formulations can be labeled as ointments or creams and are extra hydrating for dry skin.

Oily Skin

  • Toner: Use a toner that is gentle and balancing, avoiding alcohol-based toners or those with oil. Search for non-comedogenic brands.
  • Serum or moisturizer: Choose an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer. Choose products with antioxidants such as resveratrol, quercetin, and cinnamic acid, helping reduce inflammatory breakouts.

Sensitive Skin

  • Toner: Skip this step, or use a very mild, natural toner.
  • Serum or moisturizer: Moisturizers containing humectants—such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid—work well for sensitive skin. Preventing moisture loss with creams containing barrier molecules, such as petrolatum and dimethicone, can also help.

Combination Skin

Combination skin types should use products that do not aggravate or irritate their skin condition, choosing to apply separate products on various areas of the face, if desired.

Weekly Routine

Certain products and skin-care routine methods should only be performed once a week or so. This includes exfoliating treatments that are mechanical or chemical.

  • Mechanical exfoliation uses a physical scrub such as ground nuts, pumice, beads, a roller, brush, or sponge to slough off dead skin cells.
  • Chemical exfoliation uses chemicals to break down the skin cells and includes glycolic, lactic, alpha, and beta-hydroxy acids (including salicylic acid).

Choose your method and frequency of exfoliating treatments based on your skin type. Dry, sensitive, acne-prone skin types should avoid mechanical exfoliation and use a mild chemical exfoliating product such as alpha-hydroxy, beta-hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid. Mandelic acid is a safe choice for sensitive skin.

Your Skin As You Age

As you get older, your skin thins, loses its elasticity, can become more sensitive, and is more prone to drying out. This can impact your skin’s appearance and skin type.

A Word From Verywell

Skin-care needs differ from person to person, and what works for you may not work for someone else. A good practice is to record all products you use and stick to them for several weeks to monitor results and potential reactions. Many factors contribute to healthy skin, such as sleep, stress levels, sun exposure, nutrition, and smoking. Maintain healthy habits for healthier, glowing skin.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin type. Updated 2014.

  2. Farage MA. The prevalence of sensitive skinFront Med (Lausanne). 2019;6:98. doi:10.3389/fmed.2019.00098

  3. Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancyCan Fam Physician. 2011;57(6):665-667.

  4. National Institute on Aging. Skin care and aging.