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Best skincare routine order for people who haven’t got time for anything complicated

Beth is a svelte 20-something with big plans for the future. She’s busy negotiating the career ladder from the fourth floor of a swish office block in central London. That’s when she’s not sat in front of a Habitat mirror, perfecting a complex skincare routine that currently involves no less than 16 products. SIXTEEN! Her goal is to land a desk on the seventh floor, currently inhabited by middle managers who everyone in the landmark building knows are being groomed for greater things. Looking every inch the successful account director that she currently isn’t, Beth is counting on a game plan that zones out on exterior perfection. Look the part, get the part.

I feel like I need to inject a spot of humour at this point, because nobody - not even Beth, who is trying so desperately hard to be a somebody - needs more than six or seven skincare products on their dressing table. Displaying all the hoarding attributes of a grey squirrel at such a young age will cost her dear in the long run. Streamlining your AM and PM skincare routine maximises the benefits, and throws cold water on the flames of desire for more and more products. It’s honestly very easy to resist the urge to splurge if you’ve got a regimen that fits in with your lifestyle and, most importantly, works.

A woman applying a mousturising cream to her face in a bathroom

Regime Skin Care recently asked readers to share their top three reasons for not sticking to a daily skincare plan. The most popular three replies were:

  • I haven’t got the time 

  • I can never remember what products should be used and when 

  • Money's too tight for skin care products right now

I want to show you how to create a routine that’s tailored to your skin’s needs, takes hardly any time to complete and uses products you’ve probably already got. The key to maintaining a personalised skincare ritual is to get your routine order right. Before you let out an almighty sigh and flick two fingers up at the paragraphs above, let’s get one thing straight: my routine suggestions have been curated to deliver the best results in the shortest time. Yep, there’s nothing here that will take you longer than between five and ten minutes to complete. We’re talking whole routines here, not individual steps. Better?

Recommended skincare routine order

Beth’s laser focus on her career is what’s driving her to sink a not insignificant chunk of her spare time into an elaborate routine. But, let’s face it, who’s really got that much slack in their schedule to dedicate to skincare? It’s soul destroying to know that Beth is by no means an outlier when it comes to personal care. True, obsessives are in the minority but, with Korean rituals still trending, it’s important to spread the word that more products rarely equate to better results.

Use your products in the correct order. I always recommend this at-a-glance checklist as the basis for for any routine:

  • Cleanse

  • Tone

  • Treat

  • Moisturise

Taking each of those steps, one by one, this is what they should involve…

Cleansing: Always double cleanse in the evening, unless you have excessively dry skin. Start with an oil based cleanser and finish with a mild gel wash. Your AM cleansing routine should involve just one product.

Toning: Tone your skin morning and night. Use a toner manufactured with ingredients that will minimise any skin concerns. For example, products containing cica will help to calm irritated skin and those infused with niacinamide will promote a clear and translucent complexion. Some people use a calming toner at night and something to perk their skin up in the morning, for example products containing either caffeine or glycolic acid. 

Treatments: After toning, you can apply a skin treatment. In the evenings, use a serum or facial oil. In the mornings, apply a high SPF sunscreen. If you are interested in layering serums for multiple benefits, I have a feature you may be interested in reading - Spring clean your face: The all-serum evening skincare routine for a glowing complexion.

Moisturising: Hydrate your skin AM and PM with a moisturiser. Choose a product that includes hyaluronic acid or, if you want to build an effective anti-ageing regimen, retinol. A multi-purpose moisturiser is fine, but some people prefer a richer cream to lock in a serum overnight. Ensure your day cream includes SPF. It’s worth noting that many budget gel creams don’t include sun protection. Check packaging before purchasing. If you aren’t one hundred per cent about your current moisturiser, be doubly sure to apply sunscreen every morning. 

Skincare products for a simple routine

With two cleansers, a toner, serum and moisturiser, you can build an effective routine with as little as five products. I do hope Beth is reading! Of course, it pays to exfoliate your skin at least once a week. For that, you can either use an exfoliating tool, a gentle overnight peel every once in a while or a mild face scrub. You may wish to throw an eye cream into the mix as well.

How to keep a four-step skincare routine simple

Your biggest enemy when it comes to maintaining a routine is storage. If products are close to hand, you are more likely to use them. And the bathroom is not the best place. As well as inviting anyone and everyone in your household to use them, it’s not hygienic. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spotted tubes and jars neatly displayed on a shelf - directly above a toilet. Imagine washing your face, feeling all fresh and clean, not realising that the lid you’ve just screwed back on a product is covered in bacteria. Remember, you are about to use your fingers to apply a serum.

Dressing tables aren’t always a good choice either. That’s because, while most bedrooms have one, they are not always used for the intended purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down at mine. It’s a dumping ground for half-empty perfume bottles and jewellery. 

One of the best places to store skincare products is on top of a bedside table. Aside from being the last thing you see before you close your eyes at night and the first when you wake up, think of the convenience. Only the cleansers will need to travel back and forth but, when they are not being used, they will benefit from being stored in a much safer environment. 

A creamy cleansing balm on a white background

Good organisation spells Regular Routine. Remember that and you won’t go wrong.

The Beths of this world can make us question what skincare is and whether or not we’re doing something wrong. The plain truth is that nobody needs 16 steps in routine. Four is good enough. Keeping everything quick and easy gives you a greater chance of sticking with a regimen - and reaping its benefits. Goodbye, Beth.


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