When I started on my skincare journey, I ended up discovering more brands, products, blog posts, online communities, ingredient databases, and skincare experts than I could have ever imagined. It was amazing. It was great feeling knowing that there’s a wealth of resources and smart people who’ll be able to guide me through my journey. I was ready to build my starter skincare routine.
But without the necessary mental filters in place, it is so easy to get overloaded with all this information out there. I couldn’t decide what products I needed for my starter routine because every brand out there offers a product which promises a soft, supple, clear skin. Unsurprisingly, I ended up with more products than I needed and an acne condition which was worse off than before I had used them.
I couldn’t even make up my mind about what my skin type was.
Is it oily? I always seem to have a slight shine on my face. But sometimes my face feels dry. At what point does an oily skin type tip over to a combination skin type?
I felt that it was critical to know the answer to these kinds of questions because the next product (or five) that I buy, are going to depend on those answers. And if I pick up the wrong one, I am doomed to an eternity of bad skin and a moisturizer which will stay forever on my shelf because I bought the 500 ml bottle as it was on sale.
There are a bunch of pain points when it comes to building your starter skincare routine. And quite a lot of them are avoidable, just with a little bit of foresight.
I have come up with a routine for my routine (a meta-routine!) with a few simple steps to avoid all the inevitable craziness which comes hand-in-hand while being a skincare enthusiast. If you are new to skincare, and things are seeming a tad bit out of control, don’t worry. I got your back. Here’s a sanecare routine for your skincare routine.
1. Be kind to yourself.
The first step to skincare is self-care.
I understand how much of an emotional turmoil unruly skin conditions can cause. It comes packaged with side effects like insecurity, frustration, a lingering feeling of eternal dread, and a longing for being cast into a bottomless void just to escape it all. Okay, maybe the last couple of ones are just me. But the truth is that these emotions are the prime reason we end up making hasty decisions which are harsh on our skin and our pockets. There are a lot of examples of dark marketing patterns out there which are geared towards fueling your negative emotions so that eventually you decide to get rid of your unhappiness by giving in and buying whatever they are selling.
Here’s a tip – don’t give in. Every time you hear the little voice in your head going ugh is that a new pimple, you really need that new antibacterial cleanser, ask it to shut up.
It’s my pimple and I am going to take care until it feels it has had a wonderful stay and is ready to go away. I am not going to feel attacked by it. It is a very common condition that affects a lot of people and I am not going to feel inferior because of it. It’s literally a superficial feature and no one, including myself, can make me insecure about it.
Be kind to yourself, because you should be the one person you can always rely on to make you feel better about yourself.
2. Understand your skin.
Once you have made the decision to go easier on yourself, you have laid the foundation to build a better relationship with your skin. All my recommendations for this step can be boiled down to one single line: There are no sure things when it comes to skincare.
- I have determined that my skin type is oily, sensitive and acne-prone. Other people with similar skin to mine use products X, Y and Z. They’ll work for me too.
- A lot of people have had amazing success with this 12-step skincare routine and it targets every common skincare condition. This routine would be perfect for me. Goodbye, skin ageing.
- The active ingredient in my night cream usually causes an increase in breakouts during the initial period of using it, as reported by other users. But I haven’t experienced any breakouts. I should probably apply an additional layer of the product, just in case.
Wrong, wrong, and – oh, the last one actually makes sense. Just kidding, that’s wrong too. There are so many variables which can affect your skin. And granted, there has been a lot of research regarding which things can affect your skin in what different ways. But the bottom line is that there are still a lot of gaps in our knowledge and there is no 100% sure-fire way to always guarantee the perfect skin. I know I sound like a real buzz-kill, but trust me, it is better go in with managed expectations and get more than what you hoped for than the other way around.
Here are a few things to keep in mind in the long run to prevent your heart from being broken from half-empty promises
- Find out what your skin type is, but take it with a grain of salt. There are no clear-cut demarcations between skin types, and the difference between each one is often very subjective. Don’t make all your decisions after pigeon-holing yourself into one specific type.
- Different people get different results from the same product. If a new product you are trying out completely transformed someone’s skin but only made a small improvement for you, then don’t get discouraged. I guarantee you are not the only one. And there’s a very high chance there’s a better product out there for you.
- Have reasonable demands. I know you are doing a lot for your skin and you hope that it would reciprocate in the same way one day. But if you expect that you can achieve the platonic ideal of flawless skin, I have some new for you. Normal skin is a bit ugly. Some bumps and lines are more natural than the effortlessly tranquil version we all unfortunately aspire for. Do yourself a favor and never buy that magnifying bathroom mirror.
3. Start small. Add small.
This one is probably the toughest one to stick to. There are so many beautiful boxes and packets of products out there that I just want to fill up my shopping cart and go to town with it. Of course, it’s intentionally branded that way. The marketing around the product is designed to make you fall in love with it. Alas, you are only in love with the idea of it. If you knew exactly how many of its promises was the product going to deliver on, you’d see right through all the fancy labels. It’s not you, honey, it’s them.
So, here are a few rules I follow trying to curb on the splurge:
- Only buy one new product at a time. This is a great rule of thumb. It forces you to make sure that you are absolutely certain about what you are buying. And you are more inclined to do a thorough research before buying it. There’s another advantage to trying out products one at a time – if the product doesn’t suit your skin, you know exactly who the culprit is. In the past, I have had to stop using a whole bunch of products because I couldn’t be sure what was causing the latest surge of breakouts. Guess who had spent a fortune the previous week because they lacked a sense of self-restraint. Which brings me to my next point.
- Have a budget. The previous rule doesn’t mean much when you can go on a single item shopping spree every Friday. Hence, the budget rule goes hand in hand with it. I recommend having a monthly cap on your regularly used products, and a smaller limit for new products that you would like to try out. For example, you can allow yourself to spend $30 on your regular product refills, and $20 for something new you would like to try out. Of course, the actual values will depend on how extensive your skincare routine is and any other personal restrictions that you might have. The lower you can aim, the better.
- What can I remove? Every once in a while, I like to ask myself this question. Are there any products which, I suspect, aren’t contributing much to my skincare but I am too afraid to let go? If yes, figure out how to remove them from the routine. Reduce their usage, evaluate how it affects my skin over a period of few weeks, and if there aren’t any negative effects, then eliminate them. This is a great way to keep your budget in check. It also keeps my routine light, and makes room for any new products I might want to try.
4. Formalize your skincare research flow.
Analysis paralysis is a real thing. There have been countless times when I have ended up researching for hours, without making any decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I think researching things before making crucial decisions is an extremely important habit. But after a certain point, you start hitting diminishing returns. The value you add by weighing your options instead of just blindly trusting products is amazing. But if you find you have ended up in a rabbit hole and you are headed in the wrong direction instead of coming back up to the surface for a breather, then it’s time to make some changes.
- Start by defining your concerns clearly. What is it that you are exactly looking for, and why? For example, you might be looking for an anti-bacterial lotion for your acne. Or a matte finish sunscreen to replace your current glossier one. You can also place filters based on your budget and brands you trust.
- Next, limit the scope of your research. Stick to a few well respected sites, blogs and communities. Don’t trust all the sources that you come across. There are a lot of affiliate programs out there which affect the quality of product reviews.
- Excel sheets for the win. They are one of my favorite tools when it comes to making side by side comparisons. I usually have one row for each product that I am evaluating and the columns represent the features that I am comparing (price, rating, side effects etc.).
The final step is to actually make the decision. I make a conscious effort to stop myself from ending up in an endless loop. I pause for a moment, evaluate all the available options and my findings about all of them and make the decisions to either go for one of the products, or none of them. Huh, weirdly I don’t think I have ever gone for the latter.
5. Be patient with your skincare routine
Being patient is being realistic. There are three things that I have realized about skincare which involve learning to cultivate patience. These are some hard truths. But over a longer period of time, being aware of these key points definitely brings some peace of mind.
- Wait it out, it’s worth it. Lathering on more product than advised won’t make your skin better faster. In fact, there might be an opposite effect. Same with using too many products. You’ll need to understand the turnaround time for the products that you are using. Some products take months before you start noticing significant changes. But if you keep messing with your skincare routine every third week, you’ll miss out on all the potential gains that might have been around the corner had you decided to carry on for a bit longer.
- Holy Grail products are rarer than the actual grail. No single product is going to do a 180 on your skin and fix it once and for all. You might have to cross paths with a handful or more of products before you figure which products are ingredients work best for your skin. You should also evaluate your skincare goals. It’s unhealthy to reach for only the idealized and photoshopped Instagram model levels of skin. Normal skin doesn’t look like that. Skin has that special property – it’s supposed to look a tad bit weird and bumpy from up close.
- Patch test. Personally, I haven’t developed the patience to patch test new products. But I know it’s a bad habit. Always patch test new products. It’s basically an insurance against a single product ruining any hard earned progress that you would have made against your skin.
6. Keep track of your progress
Often times we are keeping such a close eye on ourselves that we forget to see the big picture. With a decent skincare routine, our skin will be making tiny, tiny improvements every day. But it’s easy to overlook those changes because we are always expecting an overnight overhaul. I have found that keeping a skincare journal has been one of the best decisions I have made. Here’s why:
- You can measure your progress. If you regularly click progress pictures, comparing your before and after snapshots can give you an idea how effective your skincare routine is. I prefer digital diaries because it’s easier to keep tracks of the photos. Take a picture before you start your new routine and then forget about for a few months. You don’t want to compare pics very day. But after a reasonable amount of time has passed, click another photo in exact same lighting conditions, and see what progress your skin has been making.
- You can find out what works for you. Keep notes of the ingredients you are using. If you notice any remarkable difference in your skin, write it down. You’ll be able to figure out if certain ingredients don’t work well with you.
- A healthy lifestyle. Things like smoking, heavy drinking, and long nights do have a negative effect on your skin. Try to keep them under control. Every night, give yourself a personal rating out of 5 on how well you did. It is possible that you start noticing some correlation between your lifestyle habits and skin health. Actionable insights, y’all.
- Inner peace. You’ll have a quiet meditative moment as you fill your journal every night. It has a certain meditative, reflective quality which is difficult to describe. Sweet dreams, dear diary!
7. If possible, see a skincare specialist.
Finally, if you can afford it, go see a dermatologist. Getting professional medical advice is one of the safest routes you can take. As trained professionals, dermatologists can catch things you and I will miss out on. I’ll keep this one short because I know it’s not possible for everyone to have easy access to a specialist :).
That’s it! Some simple ways to get the most out of your skincare routine. If you have suggestions that you would like to add to this list, I’m all ears and all yours.