Having a personalized and multi-step skincare routine can be the best thing you do for your skin. In addition, you don’t need to be an expert in cosmetology to develop and practice such routine on a daily basis. With a few simple tips below, you can maximize the results of a multi-step skincare routine and avoid mistakes along the way.
1. Start with products that have short list of ingredients and a star ingredient in it
When you start with a product that contains just one beneficial ingredient in optimal concentration (the “star ingredient”) and only a few filler ingredients (non-harmful but not exciting like water, butylene glycol, silicone/dimethicone, sodium hydroxide), it will help you quickly identify whether that “star ingredient” works well for your skin type. Consequently, this knowledge opens up future product options with similar formula for you to choose from.
On the other hand, starting with a product that has a long list of ingredients with each ingredient in low concentration makes it difficult to tell which is the main contributor for any good or bad result or to even see any result. This won’t help you with future product decisions and limit the scope of your skincare progress.
In general, ingredients are listed in the order of high to low concentration on product labels. I tend to pay special close attention to the first 5 ingredients listed, as these ingredients are likely presented in a sufficient amount to make my skin react.
Let’s go through an example and put this tip into practice:
You probably have heard about the benefits of BHA (salicylic acid) and want to start incorporating this ingredient in your routine. The 3 products below are all leave-on BHA products with similar pricing and sold on a reputable site like dermstore.com, which one should you choose?
- Product A ingredients: Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine Salicylate (4%), Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Arginine, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol.
- Product B ingredients: Centella Asiatica Leaf Water, Butylene Glycol, Helianthus Annuus (sunflower) Seed Oil, Glycerin, Betaine, Panthenol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Kernel Oil, BeesWax, Gluconolactone, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/SodiumAcrylolydimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Ceteraryl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, 1,2-Hexanediol, Betaine Salicylate (0.9%), Ethylhexyglycerin, Lactic Acid, Water, Niacinamide, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Hydroxide, Ethyl Hexanediol, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil.
- Product C ingredients: Water, Methylpropanediol, Butylene Glycol, Salicylic Acid (2%), Polysorbate 20, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Sodium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium EDTA.
It should be quite obvious that Product B is the first to be eliminated based on this tip. I am not saying that it is a bad product. However, for the purpose of starting to incorporate BHA in your routine, it won’t be a smart choice. How about Product A and Product C? they are both close contenders for having high concentration of BHA and short list of ingredients, correct?
Let's look closer at the first 5 ingredients: product A contains a considerable amount of Niacinamide, which is considered an active and beneficial ingredient. If you already know your skin won’t have bad reactions to Niacinamide, you can probably choose it. If not, Product C is a safer bet as it contains only one active/star ingredient we look for, which is BHA in this case.
There are other factors such as product PH level that may help you pick your finalist. But overall, with just the ingredient tip above, you will not get misleading by the names of the product or get confused with different product options offered by the same brand. No matter how reputable and trusted the brand is, there can always be a superior and inferior product. Curious what Product A, B, and C actually are? Find out below:
Product A: COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid $24
Product B: COSRX Low pH BHA Overnight Mask $21
2. Simplify the purpose of each product in your routine
In order to practice the first tip of finding products with simple ingredients, each product in my routine is also simplified to serve its very own purpose. For example, I don’t rely on a moisturizer for anti-aging. With a simpler purpose, it’s easier to find many product options in the market that can do the targeted job.
In contrast, when you expect too much in one product (a multi-purpose product type), you will likely fall in the trap of picking something like product B above and may not see the results due to low % of BHA presented. Or worst, you might get bad reaction to one of the ingredients in its long list and can’t identify the culprit.
Below are examples of the purpose for each product in my routine:
- A toner is to simply prepare the skin for better product absorption and balance its PH level, just like a wet sponge will absorb more product than a dried sponge. The product can be a simple water-based solution, as long as it has the ideal PH level of 5-6. Given this simple purpose, I can also be a bit more experimental here and try out products with interesting and plant-based ingredients in high concentration to see what I like the most. The star featured ingredient can be either Green tea/Camellia Sinensis, Fermentation, Licorice, or Centella Asiatica/Cica extract water.
- A serum is supposed to do the most heavy-lifting work in terms of anti-aging or treatment. This is where I look for a product with truly research-proven ingredients in optimal concentration such as CoQ 10, Peptides, Niacinamides, Vitamin C, or Retinol.
- A moisturizer is expected to provide moisture only and have a wearable texture for day time. I stick to products with basic and safe ingredients high on the list such as Glycerin, Hyaluronic acid, Panthenol/Vitamin B5, Shea Butter, or Squalene. Ceramide would be ideal, but I find it difficult to find this in high concentration.
3. Test new product thoroughly
Right off the patch, a new product should go on your hand to make sure there is no burning sensation. This is pretty obvious, but I always like to include this precaution given the number of ads showing a model directly dropping serum onto their face nowadays. It should not be done on the first time you open a new product, and it is also not a good practice overall for the tip of the dropper to touch your face and dip back in your skincare bottle.
Next, “Sensitivity Test” is performed for the 1st week. What I usually do is to use just a tiny amount of product on my jaw line for the first couple days. If things look good (no bad reaction, no pimple), proceed to put it on the most sensitive area of my face where I tend to get pimples more easily. For me, that would be the area between my eyebrows. Do this also for couple days, observe and proceed to use the product on the entire face if things look good.
As you make significant progress in your skincare and have minimal skin imperfections, it can get harder and harder to tell whether a new & non-active product such as a toner, hydrating serum, or moisturizer makes an improvement or not.
Nowadays, I usually spend the next 2-3 weeks to go through what I call an “Effectiveness Test” phase for such products. I will use the product on only half of my face for about 2 weeks and observe. If there is no difference between both sides or the side with the new product shows improvement, I will proceed to use it on the entire face and draw the re-purchase conclusion at the end.
4. Introduce new product one-at-a time
A big mistake I made in the past is to try out too many new products and too often. Sometimes, I even tried several new products at once. I was thinking to myself “I am getting older by days. I could be missing out on the new, most innovative and best solution on the market without trying out new products”. Sounds logical right? Not necessarily.
The truth is: when you are trying out too many new products, the risk of getting a bad reaction also becomes higher. When that happened, it can set your skin progress back to years in the past very quickly. On the other hand, even the best products don’t make that kind of drastic difference in reverse.
In addition, I also found that there aren’t as many breakthrough researches in topical skincare as I thought. The number of ingredients that are research-proven to be truly effective remains the same over the last decades.
As such, mistake avoidance and process-focus instead of product-focus is the better approach in the long term. “It’s not a race, it’s a marathon” – I always remind myself of this motto when it’s tempting to try on multiple new products.
If you truly test every new product as thoroughly as suggested above and one-at-a time, the maximum number of new products you can try per year will be less than 12. More than that, you may risk mixing things up too quickly and cannot identify what causes a problem when it happens.
Nowadays, I don’t see the need to introduce new products often or change products in my routine, as I have identified multiple base-line products that are proven to work out well for me. As such, you won’t see a lot of new product reviews on this blog, but stay tune for my next post on my all-time trusted products.
What I do change often is adjusting my routine as season changes (double down on hydration during winter for example). I also adjust the amount and frequency of active uses depending on how my skin feels to build more tolerance overtime or identify the maximum tolerance threshold, and this is still an on-going process for me.
5. Carry on your routine consistently
Last but not least, consistency will be the key to maximize results for a multi-step skincare. Good skincare doesn’t work overnight - if anything does, you actually should be somewhat concerned. It is also not an once-and-done thing but rather an on-going process that requires daily practicing for optimal results. This is just like how you need to keep providing your body with healthy food on a daily basis to keep it at optimal conditions.
With a multiple-step skincare routine, it’s tempting to skip it on tiring nights and during travels. I still remember the look in my friends’ eyes after insisting on getting me to explain the details of all products and processes I use in my routine. Their initial excitement gradually turned into dismay after learning of the involved steps to achieve the look, and I completely understand. One friend is a new mother, and the other is a world-class traveler. They knew that there is not a practical way for them to have such routine on a daily basis.
Similarly, there are many people out there who can benefit from a multi-step skincare routine but simply don’t have the time or the space needed to practice it. It’s a privilege that I can afford with my current lifestyle, but there is no guarantee that it will last. This motivates me to bring SONATAP device to the market as a solution to these last-standing problems that prevent many people from having this beneficial skincare routine.