Developing a good skincare routine might seem intimidating—with so many over-the-counter products, zeroing in on the ones that are right for your specific skin can seem tricky. Some skincare brands may tell you to buy a dozen products from their line to clear up your skin, but most dermatology providers agree that an effective skincare routine only needs three steps: cleanse, treat, moisturize (and of course, protect in the AM with sunscreen!).
Our experts recommend starting your day with skincare. A morning routine helps remove impurities that may have accumulated overnight and provides the skin with the hydration and protection it needs throughout the day. A simple morning routine can also boost your overall mood and help you feel ready to tackle the day ahead.
Cleanse: Wash your face with a gentle cleanser (or water if you’re in a rush).
Moisturize: Apply moisturizer if needed. You can use a broad-spectrum moisturizing sunscreen with SPF 30+ to skip step 3.
Your skin works hard to repair and rejuvenate itself while you sleep, making overnight the perfect time to give it an extra boost. A nourishing pre-bed skincare routine helps remove dirt and makeup and hydrate the skin, and applying active ingredients before bed gives them time to do their thing.
Cleanse: Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Now’s the time to remove your makeup (we like our Micellar Makeup Remover for this).
Treat: Apply your Curology formula in a thin layer, or use your other skin treatment as directed.
Moisturize: Apply a moisturizer if needed. Curology members can choose between our original moisturizer (aka Gel Moisturizer) with a cloud-like gel consistency or our ultra-hydrating rich moisturizer (aka Cream Moisturizer).
The exact details of your skincare routine will differ depending on which products you choose, but generally speaking, you’ll want to cleanse, then treat, then moisturize. In other words, start with products that clean the skin, move on to treatments (like serums, exfoliants, or prescription creams), and follow up with hydrating moisturizers like creams and lotions. Always check your specific product’s directions for best practices—not all skincare products are designed for daily use!
A consistent, basic skincare routine is a game-changer for the health of your skin. As noted above, the most essential steps are cleansing, treating, and moisturizing, which are key to keeping your skin happy and hydrated. A daily routine built with products that work for your unique skin helps you feel confident and sets you up for long-term skin success.
Clearing away any buildup on the skin is essential to prepping your face for the rest of your skincare routine. Look for a facial cleanser that’s labeled “hydrating” or “gentle,” and be sure to avoid potentially pore-clogging and irritating ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), alcohol, and isopropyl myristate.
Need to remove makeup? We like micellar water because it dissolves makeup while lightly hydrating the skin. Follow up with a cleanser if needed. You can also use a gentle toner after cleansing if desired.
In a rush? Splash some lukewarm water on your face and pat dry—it’ll do in a pinch!
Once you’ve set the stage with cleansing, you’re ready to move on to your skin treatment—a skincare product with active ingredients to target your specific skin concerns. These products can range from brightening creams to antioxidant-rich vitamin C serums, retinol, and beyond.
We recommend streamlining this step as much as possible. In other words, avoid gimmicky skincare tools and multi-step skin systems that overcomplicate things.
Because a skincare treatment may take months to show results, the “treat” part of your routine needs to be sustainable and effective. If over-the-counter products aren’t cutting it, Curology can pair you with a medical provider who prescribes a personalized prescription formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your specific skin concerns—we’ll explain how you can get your first bottle in a minute!
Complete the routine by locking in any moisture your skin needs—this is the secret to getting that glow. In the morning, reach for a moisturizing broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. At nighttime, look for a night cream or facial moisturizer with humectant and emollient ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and allantoin.
Just like with cleansers, you’ll want to avoid potentially pore-clogging and irritating ingredients in your moisturizers—coconut oil and cocoa butter are common moisturizing ingredients that can lead to breakouts! Look for products labeled non-clogging, non-acnegenic, or non-comedogenic.
Okay, so there’s actually a fourth step that you need not just in your morning routine but throughout the day as needed: applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Sunscreen isn’t a once-daily skin routine step, though—you’ll need to re-apply your SPF once for every two hours of sun exposure (more if you’re swimming or sweating a lot), and you’ll want to make sure you’re applying enough (the two-finger method is one easy hack you can use for this). But on the bright (or dark) side, you can skip applying sunscreen and stick to your standard three steps at night.
Forget the greasy, pasty sunscreens of those childhood summers by the pool—whether you have oily, acne-prone, or dry skin, there’s a sunscreen out there for you. One easy way to incorporate sunscreen into your morning skincare routine is to find a broad-spectrum moisturizing sunscreen with SPF 30+ designed for your skin type.
Whether you’re dealing with specific skin concerns like fine lines, hyperpigmentation, or acne or looking to maintain a healthy complexion, following a proper skincare routine tailored to your unique needs can work wonders. From reducing the appearance of the signs of aging to improving hydration levels, reducing dark spots, and more, there are many benefits of consistently cleansing, treating, and moisturizing. Here’s why we recommend building a routine and sticking to it:
Every proper skincare routine includes an excellent moisturizer. According to recent research, moisturizing is an essential skincare step that may help smooth and hydrate the skin, boosting barrier function and reducing dryness.¹ Moisturizers prevent water loss from the skin² which is a great way to help maintain a radiant, healthy glow.
Using products containing ingredients like sunscreen and prescription retinoids (tretinoin, we’re looking at you) may help prevent and treat dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. Sunscreen protects the skin from harmful UV rays, which are a major contributor to skin aging.³ At the same time, prescription retinoids like tretinoin may help boost collagen production, reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, and improve skin texture.⁴
Regularly cleansing, treating, and moisturizing your skin may help keep it in top condition. Cleansing removes oil and makeup that may clog pores and contribute to breakouts. Treating helps target concerns like the signs of aging. And moisturizing helps keep your skin from drying out. Studies show that daily skincare may help increase skin regeneration, elasticity, and smoothness, improving its overall condition.⁵
Dermatologists founded Curology in 2014 to make prescription-grade skincare more accessible. Today, 93% of patients report that their personalized prescription formula is effective.* All our products are designed by dermatologists to be non-clogging and gentle on acne-prone skin.
To get started, take a quick skin quiz, snap a few selfies, and one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers will review your info. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send a bottle of your personalized prescription formula for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended skincare products (like our cleanser and moisturizer).
Skip the hassle and get dermatologist-designed skincare sent straight to your door.
Dry skin types are often rough, tight, and flaky. Try choosing gentle, moisturizing cleansers and rich moisturizers to add hydration to your face.
Those with combination skin may experience dry patches on the face alongside an oily forehead and nose. To build a skincare routine for combination skin, look for products that both hydrate and remove excess oil.
Normal skin typically feels smooth, isn’t reactive, and doesn’t have patches of dryness or excess oil. Build a skincare routine based on products that work for your skin—try a gel, cream, or foaming cleanser, and remember not to overdo it by trying too many new products or ingredients at once.
Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clinical Medicine & Research. (2017).
Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clinical Medicine & Research. Ibid.
Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology. (2012).
Baldwin, H.E., et al. 40 years of topical tretinoin use in review. J Drugs Dermatol. (2013).
Ganceviciene, R., et al. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermato-endocrinology. Ibid.
Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.
*Among 856 current customers surveyed using Curology for 3+ months. Self-reported.
This article was originally published on October 04, 2021, and updated on March 24, 2023.
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC