Back in the day, toners were these alcohol-based liquids that irritated the hell out of your face. But today’s toners are filled with either gentle, hydrating ingredients to coddle dry skin, or with chemical exfoliants to treat acne. “They’re not meant to be something that sits around on your skin and feels heavy,” says Dr. Gohara. “They’re essentially just priming your face for ingredients to be better absorbed later on.”
If you’ve got acne…
You can use a toner formulated with BHA (beta hydroxy acid-like salicylic acid-for oily skin) or AHA (alpha hydroxy acid-like glycolic acid or lactic acid-for dry skin), which work to unclog pores, prevent breakouts, and dissolve blackheads over time.
After cleansing, tap them over clean, dry skin every other night (or every other morning, if you plan to use a retinol at night), then wait a full five minutes before applying anything else on top, or you’ll accidentally neutralize the acids before they work their magic.
If you’ve got every other skin type…
You can opt for a hydrating toner, which helps replenish any water your skin barrier lost when you washed and dried your face. After cleansing, tap one over your clean, dry skin every morning, or every night, or both: “There’s no such thing as too much moisture, regardless of your skin type,” says Dr. Gohara.
STEP 3: SERUMS
Ah, serums-you've seen them, you've probably got some sitting in your cabinet, and you're not totally sure WTF to do with them. You're not alone. “Serums are essentially just shots of extremely concentrated nutrients, hydrators, and antioxidants that really amp up your skin health as soon as you apply them,” says Dr. Gohara. “People often skip out on using them, but they’re honestly the heavy lifters of your skincare routine.”
In the morning…
Dr. Gohara (and every other derm in existence) swears by vitamin C serum, which protects your skin from the inflammation and damage caused by free radicals during the day, while also brightening skin and lightening your dark spots over time.
Opt for a serum filled with hyaluronic acid, which pulls water from the air into your skin to plump it up and keep it hydrated while you sleep. “If you’re using acne treatments or anti-aging products, which can be drying and irritating, you want to prep your skin with as much moisture as possible first,” says Shereene Idriss, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in NYC.
STEP 4: EYE CREAMS
Eye creams tend to be lighter and thinner than face moisturizers, so make sure to apply them before you slather on your creams and oils. “The rule of thumb when applying skincare is to apply the lightest first and the heaviest last, since thinner products can’t penetrate thicker products,” says Dr. Idriss. Mind-blowing, right?
In the morning…
Look for an eye cream that has a rollerball applicator (“the cold steel ball helps a bit with fluid retention, especially if you keep it in the fridge between uses,” says Dr. Gohara) and a formula filled with caffeine, which helps constrict and tighten puffy under-eyes within 20 minutes.
“Most people think that their night eye cream has to contain some sort of retinol to help with fine lines, but in reality, your eye area is delicate and at risk for rashes and irritation, so you want to be gentle,” says Dr. Gohara. “Instead, tap on a simple, hydrating eye cream that’ll protect your under-eyes and repair your skin barrier overnight.”
Yes, you can-and should!-use a retinol around your eyes, but “it’s better to apply retinoids to your whole face, rather than to just spot-treat parts of it,” she says. (Don’t worry; retinol options will come later on.)
STEP 5: SPOT TREATMENTS