The best skin-care products are the ones tailored to your skin type and skin goals. Two people with different skin concerns are going to favor different products that offer different results, and comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges. Someone with dry skin might find a moisturizer that’s great for them, while that same moisturizer might not be the right one for someone with oily skin. So how do you find the best skin-care products for your skin?
Ultimately you just have to keep trying products until you find ones that give you the results you want. By trying different products, you’ll get to know your skin better—what ingredients actually improve your skin and what ingredients your skin can do without. And if you already have a skin-care routine but you’re wondering if there are better products out there, you’ve come to the right place. Scroll down to learn more about the best skin-care products recommended by expert dermatologists. If you’re new to skin care and looking for the best products to try first, here’s a quick guide to getting started before we jump into the best products recommended by SELF.
Where do I start with skin care?
Skin care is a vast and confusing category, with thousands of products clogging your feed and clamoring to get your attention. Dr. Marisa Garshick suggests starting slow, testing products one at a time to see how your skin reacts. “To build a skin-care routine, it is best to incorporate one new product at a time and to keep things simple,” explains Dr. Garshick. “Adding too many products at the same time can lead to potential irritation and sensitivity of the skin.”
Before you add a bunch of new products to your cart, you’ll want to assess your skin type and the results you’re hoping to achieve with skin-care products. The editors at SELF have put together a comprehensive guide to skin care plus a skin-care glossary to answer all the questions you may have about embarking on this new journey, along with resources and recommendations. It’s a great beginner’s resource to help you understand what certain ingredients can do for your skin and how to address specific skin conditions.
What is a good basic skin-care routine?
Skin care can certainly get complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need to make a good skin-care routine are a few simple products to keep your skin healthy and balanced. Once you’ve got that down, you can start experimenting with specialized products designed to target specific skin conditions. “Building a skin-care routine is all about sticking to the basics and then adding other ingredients based on the need, such as acne, acne scarring, melasma, excessive sun spots, eyelid crepiness, neck aging, large pores, dryness, et cetera.” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sheila Farhang.
A good basic skin-care routine is one that doesn’t irritate your skin and one that you can commit to doing at least once per day. A decent rule of thumb: skin care should never hurt. When you’re evaluating what products to incorporate into your routine, listen to your skin and look for signs of stress or inflammation. “A product that is right for your skin shouldn’t sting or burn when applied,” says Dr. Garshick. “Additionally, there are key things to look out for depending on your skin type. For example, if you are acne-prone or oily, it is best to find a product that is non-comedogenic or oil-free, while if you are dry or sensitive, it is best to opt for a product that will help to nourish the skin and won’t cause irritation.”
What are the three most important skin-care products?
The most important skin-care products are cleansers, moisturizers, and SPF. A cleanser gets rid of all the dirt and oil, a moisturizer repairs and reinforces your skin barrier, and an SPF protects your skin from the sun’s harmful rays (which penetrate your skin even on cloudy or rainy days). If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward skin-care routine, make sure you incorporate at least these three steps.
Whether you’re super skin-care savvy or you’re building a skin-care routine for the first time, you don’t want to waste time trying products that won’t work. To help you filter through the crowded shelves, we spoke to dermatologists about the best skin-care products they recommend for newbies and experts alike.
The French Pharmacy
Cerave Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
“This is a great cleanser to get your skin through a transitional state as it combines the benefits of a hydrating cream cleanser to nourish the skin with the benefits of a foaming cleanser, to help eliminate any excess buildup, oil, or makeup,” says Dr. Garshick. “It effectively cleanses without drying the skin as it contains ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier and hyaluronic acid to boost hydration.” This cleanser also comes highly recommended by dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, who suggests it for people with dry skin.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash and Facial Cleanser
“[This cleanser] is good for acne-prone skin because it has 2% salicylic acid,” says Dr. Jaliman. The salicylic acid helps to effectively remove all the unwanted buildup that accumulates on your skin daily, including oils that can clog pores and cause breakouts and environmental toxins that can harm skin cells.
The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser
“The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Cleanser is a straightforward, affordable cleanser that contains gentle yet effective concentration of beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, and is great for acne-prone or oily skin,” says Dr. Nava Greenfield, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. In addition to salicylic acid, it also contains zinc, which helps to rid your skin of excess sebum, and 0.5% strength allantoin, which soothes irritation and supports the growth of healthy skin tissue.
Cetaphil Gentle Clear Clarifying Acne Cream Cleanser
“This gentle cream-to-lather cleanser uses salicylic acid to help clean out pores and reduce breakouts and oil, without drying out the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. “This is a good option for someone who is oily and acne-prone, but also has sensitive skin.” Dr. Greenfield also recommends this cleanser for sensitive skin “because it is, as its name suggests, gentle on the skin, while also providing an effective cleanse.”
Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA + Azelaic Acid + Niacinamide + AHA Cleanser
Dr. Greenfield suggests that people with oily skin should look for a cleanser with ingredients like salicylic acid that can bind and carry the oils away from the face, while people with dry skin should opt for hydrating cleansers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, avocado oil, coconut oil, and gentle alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid to gently exfoliate. “SkinFix Acne Cleanser has both AHA, BHA, and azelaic acid which offers an exfoliating cleanse and feels very refreshing!” she says.
Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Facial Toner
“If you’re looking for a witch hazel toner that is alcohol-free, Thayers Witch Hazel is a great option as it also contains soothing aloe vera as well as glycerin to help draw moisture in and keep the skin feeling hydrated all day long,” says Dr. Garshick. “It works to reduce the appearance of pores and helps to smooth the skin. Because it can help to hydrate the skin, it is a good option for all skin types and won’t leave the skin dry or irritated.” If you are incorporating a toner into your routine for the first time, Dr. Garshick suggests using it after cleansing and prior to applying subsequent serums and moisturizers.
Caudalie Vinoclean Moisturizing Toner with Rose Water
“This toner containing rose water works to hydrate and soothe the skin while also removing excess makeup and buildup on the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. “It is alcohol-free and works to soften and smooth the skin.” It also features vinolevure, an ingredient exclusive to Caudalie that’s extracted from wine yeast which helps to retain moisture in the skin.
Mele Even Tone Post Cleanse Tonic
“Designed specifically with darker skin types in mind, this lactic-acid-containing toner helps to gently exfoliate and leave the skin glowing while also working to improve the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone,” says Dr. Garshick. People with darker skin are more prone to hyperpigmentation because of their melanin-enriched skin. This vitamin C-enriched toner addresses hyperpigmentation while also providing antioxidant benefits.
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water
Dr. Jaliman recommends using this micellar water after your cleanser to remove any makeup that happened to stick around. For those with sensitive skin, especially around the eye area, this micellar water doesn’t sting at all. It quickly and easily removes makeup without any rubbing or tugging.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution
Acne-prone skin in particular would benefit from using a toner to help balance their skin. This one from La Roche Posay effectively removes excess dirt and clears blackheads, whiteheads, and mild imperfections to leave skin feeling refreshed and even. “It’s fragrance-free and has both acids to get rid of dead skin, which clogs pores,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Good for oily or acne-prone skin.”
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30
When looking for the best moisturizer, Dr. Garshick recommends one with SPF for the daytime. “This is a great option for daily use as it is easy to apply and combines SPF with moisturizing ingredients and ceramides to help restore the skin’s natural protective barrier,” she says. “It also contains niacinamide which can be calming and good for those with sensitive skin.”
Skinbetter Science Trio Rebalancing Moisture Treatment
“Not only does this moisturizer boost hydration and strengthen the skin barrier, but it improves the overall appearance of the skin, improving radiance as well as the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Garshick. “It incorporates hyaluronic acid as well as Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate, a type of vitamin C that supports hyaluronic acid and helps to smooth the skin, in addition to barrier strengthening ingredients such as ceramides, squalane, and fatty acids.”
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration
If you have dry skin, you know how hard it is to find a moisturizer that actually quenches your skin’s thirst. You’ll want to look for a rich, thick cream with moisturizing ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter. “First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration is very good for dry skin because it contains shea butter and colloidal oatmeal which is good for sensitive skin that is irritated,” says Dr. Jaliman.
Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer
According to Dr. Farhang, the best moisturizers don’t have to be expensive. One of her favorites is this one from Aveeno, which you can find at the drugstore for cheap. She loves its hydrating ingredients and lightweight texture.
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50
Colorescience comes highly recommended by several of the dermatologists we spoke to for its elegant SPF products. Dr. Garshick shares her favorite product from the brand’s expansive lineup of sun protection products: “This lightweight broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen uses zinc oxide 12%, iron oxide, antioxidants, and a patented Enviroscreen technology to protect against UVA/UVB, blue light, pollution, and infrared radiation,” she says. “It is available in four different shades, making it easy to blend with your skin for natural coverage and uses iron oxide pigments to adapt to your specific tone, without leaving the skin feeling greasy, and making it good for all skin types.”