We all want perfect skin. The bad news: finding the perfect skincare routine that’s right for you isn’t easy. In fact, it takes work. One dermatologist visit, one moisturizer, or one article alone won’t give you all the answers. There is no quick fix. But here’s the good news: science has shown that there are some general rules and ingredients that seem to be universally helpful in getting clear skin and preventing aging for everyone. After reading article after article, listening to podcast after podcast, and visiting multiple dermatologists, I’ve finally found what works for me, so here are my essential skincare steps.

Step #1: Find a gentle cleanser.

You know that harsh, salicylic acid, bead-scrubbing oil-free face cleanser you started using in middle school? Throw it out. Stripping down your skin twice a day is doing you no good. No matter what your skin type, anything full of sulfates (this applies to shampoo, too) is only stripping your skin of all its necessary natural oils and causing it to overproduce oil as a result. All your cleanser should be doing is cleansing, so keep it simple. For dry skin, I recommend Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser, Glossier Milky Jelly, or Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. If you’re more combination/oily, try Neutrogena Ultra Gentle, Cetaphil Normal to Oily Cleanser, Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser.

 Step #2: Moisturize

Again, no matter what your skin type is, moisturizing daily is important. Whether you choose a heavier, more hydrating moisturizer, a lightweight option, or even just use natural oils, is up to you and your skin type. But skipping the moisturizer altogether means more fine lines and wrinkles later on. Even in a humid climate like New Orleans, your skin has needs moisture that goes beyond the surface.

For dry skin types, layering hyaluronic acid underneath your daily face cream could be a game changer. Hyaluronic Acid is an internal moisturizer that can be applied underneath your regular face cream, and works deep to help your skin retain moisture from the inside. My favorite Hyaluronic Acids are The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid, Glossier Super Bounce, Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Serum. Finding the best face cream for you is an individual process. I recommend Olay Complete with SPF, Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentre, Drunk Elephant Polypeptide Cream, CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, and Philosophy Purity Ultra-Light Moisturizer.

Step #3: SPF, SPF, SPF!

Daily SPF on your neck and face is crucial, and if it’s not in your face moisturizer, it should be the last step before applying any makeup you wear. While spending time outdoors is amazing, it’s a fact that the sun is the fastest ager to your skin. If you are still spending time laying out in the sun, you will see the effects later on. Using a daily SPF on your face, neck, and even hands is the easiest and most effective way to continuously prevent against damage that directly causes sun spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. My recommendations for a great sunscreen include La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen, Supergoop Everyday Sunscreen, Elta MD, and Neutrogena Clear Skin.

Step #4: Retinol

Note: I use a prescription strength retinol cream, and this is the step that really transformed my skin. Retinoids are one of the few ingredients that are proven time and time again to truly work. There are countless studies and articles to prove it (see here, here, and here). They treat acne with crazy effectiveness, fade dark spots and fine lines, and prevent wrinkles later on.  

They work by speeding up skin cell turnover to produce the magical collagen, which is the key to skin thickness and elasticity. If all this science is boring to you, don’t worry. Your dermatologist can give you more information on prescription retinoids, and there are some great OTC options such as Drunk Elephant Retinol Cream, Differin Gel, The Ordinary Retinoid, and Paula’s Choice Retinol Treatment.

These steps contain the essentials that I believe can work for anyone. However, skincare enthusiasts know that this is just scratching the surface. There’s a whole world out there of toners, Vitamin C and other serums, cleansing with oils, double cleansing, eye creams, acids, masks, peels, infrared light, laser, and more. If you’re interested, dive in!  

However, to most people, this is already very overwhelming. Remember, your skin’s health is a journey. It requires active learning and testing; so let this article be a start. 

COVER PHOTO: Ava Rose

Julia Liquori

About Julia Liquori

Julia Liquori is an English and Marketing major who wishes she could live at the beach all year long. She is a self-claimed extrovert who loves being around people, whether it’s at The Boot or in a workout class.