Skincare Routines Recommended by Dermatologists

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Nancy LeBrun on September 11, 2020
  • Portrait of young woman washing her face
    Keys to an Effective Skincare Routine
    Coming up with a skincare routine that benefits your complexion in both the short and long term means knowing what kind of products and ingredients are right for your skin type. Home skincare can contribute to maintaining healthier, glowing skin as you age. Hear what dermatologists have to say about what to use and when to use it— no matter what your skin type.
  • Acne treatment
    Skincare Routine for Acne-Prone Skin
    “I think there are some great cleansers over the counter, but oftentimes patients will choose something too harsh or too mild. The issue with too harsh is that in addition to the irritation they’re already experiencing, they’re sort of doubling down,” says Pooja Sodha, MD, Director of the George Washington Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center in Washington, DC. “Patients who are using too mild a cleanser, they’re probably not getting off all the oils that build up during the day. Maybe they are not taking off their makeup completely, because they tend to use makeup as a cover-up.”

    “I’m a big fan of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide products for the right patients,” says Dr. Sodha. “Make sure you are using a topical retinoid every night; it’s sort of the gold standard and cornerstone of acne therapy. Using a good moisturizer is also key for patients with acne. We often think that because you have acne you don’t want to make your skin too oily, but the skin is actually trying to maintain its barrier protection and moisturizing factors, so when you’re using astringents to clean the oils, you need to replace that with something to help the body heal itself. Patients will often find that ointments and thick creams are too heavy but light lotions work well. You want something that has a ceramide in it and is oil-free. All of those together can work extremely well for patients.”
  • Young woman in bathroom applying face cream
    Skincare Routine for Oily Skin
    “I’m always going to recommend a foaming cleanser as opposed to a creamy moisturizing cleanser to help minimize the oils on the skin, and wash your face twice daily. For oily skin, alpha-hydroxy acids help minimize oil and clear out pores. Sometimes I use mattifying gel to help minimize oil production,” says Heather Richmond, MD, of the Laser and Dermatology Center in Houston.

    “There are patients who will use very strong cleansers, dry out their skin, and then an hour later they’re feeling much oilier than they were before. The skin is trying to maintain its barrier, so using a gentle cleanser with a good moisturizer might be a better approach,” says Dr. Sodha.“Treatment for oily complexion is topical retinoids. They’re great because they reduce the size of the oil glands and make them less prone to produce oil. Although it may not seem like the greatest thing, oily skin is actually beneficial down the road. Patients who have oily skin tend to not develop wrinkles as easily as those that have drier skin.”
  • Woman applying skin face cream
    Skincare Routine for Dry Skin
    For dry skin, “I usually recommend the more creamy cleansers that are more moisturizing as opposed to the foaming cleansers —and stay away from anything with benzoyl peroxide or any of those drying ingredients,” says Dr. Richmond. “We’re going to do retinols that are less aggressive, maybe over-the-counter formulations as opposed to prescription, because retinols can be potentially drying and irritating. I’m going to use heavier moisturizer, sometimes twice a day, sometimes just at night, depending on just how dry the skin is.”

    “Dry skin comes back to how we wash, protect and moisturize. There are a lot of patients who utilize washcloths, and that is a known factor for dry skin partly because it’s rubbing off some of the natural moisturizing factors that your skin has,” says Dr. Sodha. “If patients don’t replenish that with a moisturizer, their body has to work double time to fix that. We really like ceramide-containing moisturizers because we know those work really well in preserving and maintaining the skin barrier.”
  • gettyimages-480984153
    Skincare Routine for Aging Skin
    Routines for aging skin are similar to those for dry skin. After using a mild, moisturizing cleanser, retinols are a good choice. “Some patients who are older can tolerate high-strength prescription retinol, which probably does have the best anti-aging effects, but some will be on mild cosmetic preparations depending on their sensitivity,” says Dr. Richmond.

    As for the plethora of anti-aging skincare products available, consider consulting a dermatologist to avoid wasting effort and money. “Everybody claims everything and how do you know what to trust? I sure don’t when I go to a magazine and they’re advertising something. I trust in the ones I know and I’ve got a lot of experience with seeing them work on patients,” adds Dr. Richmond. “There are a lot of products in the $100 range that probably aren’t that great, but there are also a lot that have done the research.”
  • Senior couple getting ready for bed in bathroom
    Recommended Sequence of Skincare Routines
    “There is no golden rule. For normal skin types, it is good practice to wash twice daily. For more sensitive skin, patients may wash twice daily with a gentle cream cleanser. I avoid using strong antibacterial cleansers or cleansers containing fragrance. For more oily skin, many will elect to wash twice daily, and at least one of those with a more aggressive cleanser that may contain alpha beta hydroxyacid,” says Dr. Sodha. She recommends the following:

    Morning routine:

    • Cleanser
    • Serum/brighteners (or astringents for patients with acne)
    • Moisturizer
    • Sunscreen minimum 30 SPF (if not in moisturizer)
    • Makeup if desired

    Evening routine:

    • Cleanser
    • Serum/brighteners (or astringents)
    • Moisturizer

    “We try to tailor patients’ skincare regimens based on a number of factors. The regimens may change over time as we’re improving their medical condition, and then switching to a maintenance regimen versus active treatment. I would say it is always good to have a dermatologist evaluate your skin to prioritize an optimal skin regimen,” says Dr. Richmond.
  • Woman applying face cream
    Good Home Skincare for All Skin Tones
    “For all patients, I recommend a vitamin C serum, a sunscreen, and a retinol. Those three ingredients do the most scientific benefit for delaying aging and reversing sun damage. Depending on the skin type, I may recommend a different strength or a different formulation of those,” says Dr. Richmond. “For sunscreen, for all patients, I recommend mineral sunscreens that have titanium as the active ingredient as opposed to the chemical sunscreens. For patients with darker skin, adding a brightener to your routine can address discoloration from acne."
  • Group of plastic body care bottles on counter
    Common Home Skincare Mistakes
    “A lot of patients put on too many products. They come in with bags of products to see what I think about them. Sometimes they come in with 20 to 30 products. They may be putting too many things on and clogging their pores,” says Dr. Richmond. “Sometimes people put too many oils on their skin, or sometimes patients are drying out their skin too much. Using the wrong sunscreen is a big one, or not putting on enough sunscreen is a huge problem. People are getting way too much UV radiation.”
  • Smiling Young Woman Applying Moisturizer On Face On Mirror In Bathroom
    What a Good Home Skincare Routine Can Do
    “If you are on a good quality skincare regimen, you can have a huge benefit to your skin. Over time, if you’re consistent, it’s going to slow down aging, so that in 5 or 10 years, you look younger than you would have without it. I can 100% tell the laser patient who’s doing their home skincare from the one who’s not. The results are much better, much longer-lasting,” says Dr. Richmond. “If you just went to the dentist and got your teeth cleaned every six months but you didn’t brush your teeth at home, how much worse would your teeth be? It’s the same thing with home skincare.”
  • Woman exfoliating face in mirror
    Exfoliation and Treatments in Your Skincare Routine
    “Topical retinoids are a mild chemical exfoliant. The alpha-beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, those can also have a natural, slow-phase exfoliating capability,” says Dr. Sodha. “I’m a strong proponent of them; they are excellent ways to enhance your glow. There are antioxidants, growth factors, that sort of thing. Exfoliants remove some of the dead skin on the surface and help those other products penetrate deeper. I have found that benzoyl peroxide-type products tend to be slightly irritating toward our darker-skin patients, our African American and Asian patients, but actually seem to do very well in some of our fairer skin patients. I think salicylic acid products work nicely along the whole spectrum of skin tones.”
  • smiling dermatologist with patient
    Beyond the Basics of Topical Skincare
    “I tell my patients stress flares every skin condition I see. If you have eczema, stress is going to make your eczema worse. Acne, rosacea, psoriasis: all of them get worse with stress. Anything you can do that’s good and healthy—eating well, sleeping well, exercising, drinking plenty of water—will help most skin issues,” says Dr. Richmond. “It’s time to call a dermatologist if anything is not doing well or you’ve tried treating it for a month or two and it’s not clearing up. We treat everything from very mild to very severe issues. We can prevent things from worsening, get things cleared quickly, and make sure you are on the right path,” she adds.
Skincare Routines Recommended by Dermatologists
  1. How To Maximize Results From Anti-Aging Skin Care Products. American Academy of Dermatology.
  2. Do You Really Need a Skincare Routine? Northwestern Medicine.
  3. Face Washing 101. American Academy of Dermatology.
  4. Should I Apply My Skin Care Products in a Certain Order? American Academy of Dermatology.
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 2
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.