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How To Make Your Skincare More Effective (For Free)

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If you’re going to spend time and money taking care of your skin, it makes sense that you’d want to use the most effective products around. But with so many new products constantly flooding the market, it’s hard to sort through what’s good, what’s overrated, and what’s great. Should you be buying all new skincare every time someone gives lip service to the latest and greatest? It’s not a very realistic recommendation. Instead, let’s start with what you already have. There are a few super simple, tried-and-true ways to maximize your skincare on a daily basis. Below, the seven best ways to make sure you’re getting everything you can out of the products you already own. You don’t have to be a maximalist to maximize a skincare routine—all it takes is some smarts and some patience.

First Things First: Actually Read The Instructions

The first step when building an Ikea chair is rarely applied to skincare—read all instructions before getting started. If a product makes claims about its efficacy, those claims are based on proper application—instructions will tell you how long to leave it on and how often to use it for best results. It’ll also help you avoid a reaction from misuse, and maybe introduce you to a new way to use your product. Example: you learn you have to wait two minutes between Alpha Beta peel pad steps. Or maybe you could be using your favorite cleansing balm as a mask for a deeper clean. Not all products are created equally, so even skincare experts with loads of product experience can benefit from checking out the instructions before proceeding.

Follow The Skincare Order Of Operations

Skincare is all about penetration—when your products can’t penetrate each other, they also can't make it very far into your skin. There are more in-depth explanations on the right order to layer skincare, but here’s a refresher. After cleansing, you should always apply the most liquidy, water-based product first. Acid toners or products meant to balance pH, like P50, should go on bare skin. Moving forward from there, apply an essence if you have one, then serums and spot treatments, eye cream, and then moisturizer. If you’d like, you can top that with an oil. If oil is your hero product, apply it to damp skin to seal in that moisture before it evaporates, and don’t follow with anything else (besides sunscreen, of course). Oil that is applied before water-soluble products—like essences, serums, and moisturizers—acts as a barrier, thereby weakening the effectiveness of those water-soluble products. For daytime, SPF should always be the last step in your routine. It’s also quite important to apply SPF to skin that’s dry to the touch. Just like how mixing SPF into makeup dilutes it, applying it on top of a moisturizer that’s still wet leaves you with weaker SPF protection.

Skip The Cotton And Apply Liquid Skincare Directly To Skin

We know we said to follow a product’s instructions! But if your skin is clean, there’s no real reason to apply toner or essence with a cotton pad—swiping on a toner may remove the last bits of leftover dirt or makeup, but so will a thorough makeup removal and cleanse. Not only are cotton pads wasteful in terms of environmental impact, but they also suck up product and you’ll end up going through expensive toners or essences at a faster rate. To skip this step, shake a few drops of toner or essence into your fingers or directly onto skin. Then, use the same press and pat method you’d use with cotton to distribute it across your face, neck, and décolleté.

Pair Ingredients That Help Each Other Work

Go into your bathroom and line up every skincare product you own—even the ones you only use sometimes. You remember the feeling of being split up from your best friend in school projects? It’s possible that you’ve accidentally done that to your skincare—but while you and your friend were separated so you’d be more productive, splitting up skincare BFFs makes them less effective. Certain ingredients work in symbiosis, adding what the other needs for quicker, more visible results. Split your routine into day and night depending on which products work best together. One example: if you’re using vitamin C, you should use it in the morning, under SPF. Antioxidants in vitamin C actually help your sunscreen work better, and the SPF protects your skin from developing the hyperpigmentation that you’d use vitamin C to lighten. And chase your strongest acid with your richest moisturizer at night to keep your skin’s protective barrier intact.

But Don’t Overload Your Skin All At Once

There are so many intriguing products on the market that it’s easy to want to use them all, all at once. But sometimes, simpler is better. Layering exfoliants, like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid, is probably too strong for your skin. And acids shouldn’t be used at the same time as retinol, an intense and potent ingredient known for having dry skin as an undesired effect. Acne spot treatments products like benzoyl peroxide should be used only in the absence of other active treatments, as a way to mitigate stability or zit-busting interference. As you go into your bathroom to apply products, try and think of one specific goal you’d like your skincare to accomplish—whether that be hydrating, evening skin tone, or fighting breakouts. Tailoring your products to one concern at a time makes your skincare more effective as all products work towards a common goal.

Make Sure Nothing Rogue Is Causing Your Breakout

Maybe it’s not actually your skincare routine causing a problem—maybe it’s your day-to-day habits that are standing between your routine and the results you expect. Try to be extra aware of the surfaces that touch your skin. That includes your hands, cell phone (Do you take your phone into the bathroom? Do you wash it after?), and pillowcases. All three can impart unwanted bad bacteria onto your skin.

Give Products A Full Month Before Judging Them

Finally, make sure you’re giving your products a good fighting chance to make a difference in your skin before you toss them aside. A lot of hope gets wrapped up in new products—if you’re investing in something new, you want it to work, and you hope it will be that one thing to solve all your skincare problems. A holy grail product like that doesn’t come around very often, but if you don’t give new products a month of consistent use, you’ll never know for sure if you’ve got one on your hands. A month is the gold standard for product testing, because your skin takes about 30 days to fully turn over—meaning, the cells on the surface of your skin are completely different than they were a month prior. Some products, like retinol, take even longer to show results. If a product breaks you out, it’s a good idea to stop use. But if you have a product you impatiently judged, try slowly working it back into your routine. You never know—after a month, you might be thanking past you for the gift. It’s always worth a shot.

Photo via ITG