January is a wonderfully optimistic time of year. It is the month you are most convinced that this year will finally be the year you drink more water, order less takeout and start sticking to a budget. By February, reality has typically set in, leaving a trail of lapsed gym memberships and unopened meditation apps in its wake. But if there is one New Year’s resolution you actually stick to this year, make it this one: keeping a consistent skincare routine.
Maybe you wash your face every night before bed and occasionally apply a serum or retinol. But to actually care for your skin, you need to be consistent with your skincare routine, says Ava Shamban, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Five clinics. “You cannot go to build muscle at the gym from time-to-time, inconsistently, and expect Madonna arms — it takes an almost daily, highly concerted and diligent effort,” she says. Skincare is no different. “Our skin is a living, breathing organ and a filtration system, so we need to monitor what is coming in and out regularly to keep it functioning properly,” she explains. “Damage is cumulative and so is preventative care and correction. We need to protect, correct and prevent daily to ensure that the cumulative benefits are in effect.”
New Year, New Skincare Routine
You do not need to adopt a 17-step, hour-long nightly skincare routine to do right by your skin. Shamban says you at least need five products: a cleanser, an exfoliator, a moisturizer, an eye cream and a sunscreen.
A good cleanser is key to removing all the “debris, environmental junk, makeup and surface sludge” that accumulate throughout the day, says Shamban. If your skin is sensitive and you’re worried a nightly cleanser will totally strip your skin, look for a gentle formula like Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip Cleanser.
“What you do at-home daily is just as important as what you do in-office intermittently,” says Shamban, a particularly powerful maxim when it comes to battling the effects of aging. There are two categories from which to choose: physical exfoliators or chemical exfoliators.
A physical exfoliator — something with a gritty element like sugar or charcoal, or even a tool like a facial brush or cloth—physically scrubs skin to remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliators accomplish the same goal by using resurfacing ingredients like AHA/BHA or lactic acid (all of which are gentle acids) or retinol. Both types “remove the outer layer of dead skin cells, keeping pores clear and prepare skin to receive a hydrator or anti-ager,” says Shamban.
For the most effective hydration at the cellular level, look for a serum, oil or lipid-based (aka fatty acid-based) moisturizer boosted with hyaluronic acid, like Sunday Riley’s Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream. Hyaluronic acid pulls water straight into your skin cells for a deep quench by binding to water molecules. Each hyaluronic acid molecule can hold on to 1,000 times its weight in water, helping to drench your skin cells in moisture.
These formulas are “specifically designed to address the darkness, puffiness or fine lines and wrinkles of this delicate skin,” says Shamban. The key is ingredients such as caffeine or ginseng, which might not be in your regular moisturizer, she explains. To address wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes, look for ingredients such as retinol, AHAs or BHAs, coenzyme Q10 and niacinamide.
If you are feeling more ambitious, add these two products to your skincare routine to up the ante:
A toner is great for “balance and barrier protection,” says Shamban. Look for formulas that incorporate hyaluronic acid or niacinamide, and skin-calming agents like chamomile, green tea, tea tree oil or tree bark. “This is a great addition as the last step in cleansing but the first step in actual active skincare,” says Shamban.
When to add it: After cleansing.
An advanced serum can help target specific skin issues. For a more even skin tone, consider a vitamin C brightening serum, which “will help to even out skin tone and eliminate pigmentation issues,” Shamban says. Other options include antioxidant serums, lifting serums with stem cell complex and more.
When to add it: After exfoliating.
How to Stick to Your Skincare Routine
Knowing what to do is only half the battle — actually building a good skincare habit you can stick to can be more challenging. Here is how to make it part of a routine you will look forward to:
1. Do it in the shower.
If you have never been able to stick to a consistent skincare routine, keep your cleanser and exfoliator in the shower. “You have an extra few minutes so you can rub it on and leave it on your face while you finish your body and use the warm water to wash it away,” says Shamban.
If you want to build a more involved (read: more time-consuming) skincare routine, switch on your favorite podcast as you cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize, allowing any serums or toners to fully absorb into your skin (about 30-60 seconds) before moving on to the next step for maximum effectiveness. The 15 minutes will fly by. Once a week, throw on a facemask while you watch Netflix in bed.
3. Display your products.
Keep the products you use daily — not necessarily your entire skincare arsenal — neatly displayed on your bathroom counter or a cute mirrored shelf rather than stuffed away in a drawer or medicine cabinet. As Shamban says: out of sight, out of mind.
4. Write a note to yourself.
If all else fails, “a Post-It on the mirror is always a good reminder with a message of support of your self-care,” says Shamban.