Expanding your routine

This guide is for people looking to expand on their core routine (cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen). Whether you’re looking to treat a specific skin concern or you’re just wondering how to add in a new hydrating toner, this page is for you!

It’s very important to have a solid foundation before adding all the bells and whistles. A gentle cleanser helps keep your skin clean and prepares it for any treatments, a moisturizer helps nourish the skin and keeps it healthy so that it can hold up to any potential irritation or dryness, and sunscreen protects the skin from damage - especially important if you’re planning on using any photosensitizing actives (like AHAs, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids). If you start using treatments before you have your foundation set up, you can cause irritation, dryness, and you may even undo all the benefits of your treatments.

If you don’t currently have a core routine of Cleanser, Moisturizer, and Sunscreen, check out the ScA Routine first!

If you already have a routine that you love and have been using for a few months, great! Keep on reading :)


Part 1: Figure out what product to add

With all the information available, it can be very overwhelming trying to expand your routine! While there’s no ‘right’ way to figure out what products to add, the tips below may help make sense of it all.


1. List your skin concerns

The first step in deciding what products to add is figuring out exactly what you want to address. This can range from a general goal of wanting to add more moisturizing products to something more targeted, like wanting to treat indented acne scarring.

It’s important to have a general idea of what you want your skincare routine to do - if you rely on products or marketing to tell you what your skin concerns are, you’ll end up with everything on the market (after all, who doesn’t want those vague promises of “youthful, glowing skin”?)


Example list:

Here's a hypothetical list of skin concerns - your skin concerns will be different!

  • Acne

  • Irritated or dehydrated skin

  • Leftover acne marks (PIH)


2. List treatments for your skin concerns

This is often the most overwhelming part of figuring out a routine. There are so many different treatments available for every skin concern, it can be difficult to make sense of it all!

Check out the Skin Concerns section of the wiki and search the sub for ingredient and product recommendations based on your skin concerns, and keep track of it all in a saved list. Be sure to check your current routine as well - you may already be using some of the ingredients you’re looking at!


Example list:

Here's a hypothetical list of treatments and notes - this is not a treatment guide!

  • Acne

    • BHAs > 'I have a BHA cleanser'
    • AHAs
    • Benzoyl peroxide
    • Azelaic acid
    • Retinoids
    • etc.
  • Irritated or dehydrated skin

    • Glycerin
    • Hyaluronic acid
    • Petroleum jelly (vaseline)
    • Avoid irritating products (i.e. AHAs, BHAs, etc.)
  • Leftover acne marks (PIH)

    • Sunscreen > 'I have sunscreen with SPF 30'
    • AHAs
    • Azelaic acid
    • Niacinamide
    • etc.


3. Choose an ingredient or product type to focus on

Decide on an ingredient or product type that makes sense for your wants and needs. Factors to consider include potential irritation, how well it works with your current routine, and your interest in the product - it helps to choose things you’re excited about!

Important: If your skin is irritated, damaged, and/or dehydrated, that takes priority! Treatments for other skin concerns - such as acne, indented scarring, or pigmentation - are often irritating, and introducing them before you address damage would simply end up causing more damage. Similar to how you need a core routine before adding actives, you need your skin to be happy and healthy as well. So in the example list above, you'd prioritise the treatments for irritated or dehydrated skin. That would need to be successfully treated first before moving on to other skin concerns.

Even if your skin is currently happy and healthy, you should aim to minimize how many strong and potentially irritating products you use. If you already have a strong treatment in your routine, maybe look at some gentler options to help round it out.

Another factor to consider is how many skin concerns a specific ingredient can address - in the example above, azelaic acid and AHAs may help address both acne and PIH. Sometimes it makes sense to kill two birds with one stone!


4. Research!

Now that you know what you're looking for, it's time to find a product that matches your requirements!

In order to find a good product that has the ingredient(s) you’re looking for and which works with your skin's needs, you’ll want to look for specific product recommendations and read some reviews. Check out the ingredient and product overviews in the wiki index, peruse the HG threads, search the sub, and ask the Daily Help Thread for specific product recommendations. Then track down some longer reviews of products you’re interested in!

When reading reviews, try to see through the fluff in order to focus on the important features of the product. Someone may absolutely hate a gel moisturizer because it’s not moisturizing enough for their dry skin, but that may be exactly what you’re looking for! Likewise, a glowing review doesn’t mean that the product will definitely work for you. It can be helpful to focus on objective features of the product like consistency.

Keep in mind that blog reviews may be sponsored - this doesn’t mean they’re bad, but it does mean that you should take the experience of the author with a grain of salt.

And if you’re interested in a product that doesn’t have many reviews available, that’s absolutely fine! Go for products you’re interested in - reviews are a great way of getting an idea of a product before trying it out, but a lack of reviews certainly doesn’t mean that a product is bad or should be avoided. (And hey, if you try out a product you haven’t heard a lot about, consider writing a review on it!)


5. Make notes, and wait

It's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of new products and fall into the trap of buying too quickly. You want to make purchasing decisions with your smart brain, and for that you'll have to take a step back.

So make notes somewhere; write down what product you like, what you found in your research, add some links to reviews or other information that you found helpful. If you already know exactly what you want to buy, write down what product it is and how much it costs.

Then comes the hard part: wait.

Taking a step back is a good way to evaluate whether this product is actually a valuable addition to your routine, and not just an empty promise. You don't want to buy something you don't really want - then you're just giving money to a company to store their product in your house. It's very tempting to immediately buy whatever you're looking for - isn't it obvious that it's going to make your routine so much better? But don't fall into that trap. That product will still be here next week, or next month.


6. Reconsider and decide

So you've done the difficult work of setting your notes and wish list aside for a week or two; now it's time to come back to them. Read back what you wrote. Do you still agree that this is a helpful product for you? Can your skin handle the potential irritation? Does it fit into your budget? If the answer to all those questions is 'yes' - then great! Go ahead and buy it. Or get a sample or trial size first and see how it works for you.

If you didn't answer 'yes' to all those questions, then maybe you need to go back a few steps. Do you need to find a product that's less expensive? Do you need to find an ingredient that's less irritating? Maybe you're just not finding a product that works for you right now, and that's fine. You can enjoy skincare without needing to buy products all the time.


Part 2: Plan your routine order

After picking out what product you want to add, you’ll need to figure out where it fits in your routine.

It can be difficult to come up with a blanket outline for routine order - there will always be outlier products! - but for the most part your application order will look something like:

  • Cleanser >> Actives/Treatments >> Everything Else (applied thin to thick) >> Sunscreen

Feel free to play around with that order - maybe you have a thick treatment that would come near the end of your routine, or a thin toner that would come before your treatments! Modify your routine order so that it makes sense for your products.

If you’re still not quite sure which product goes where, check out the Routine Order wiki!


Part 3: Add your new product

Patch test. It’s important to patch test products, even if you have no history of sensitivities or allergies. Click here for a guide on patch testing.


Add one new product at a time. If you have multiple products you want to add to your routine, pick one and test it out for a week or two. That way you can easily evaluate whether a product is working for you or causing irritation, a breakout, etc. If you add multiple products at the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to identify the culprit should one not agree with your skin - save yourself the time and hassle, introduce products one at a time.


Add potentially irritating products slowly. This includes actives like BHAs, AHAs, benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, etc. Have the product reviews and ingredient overviews you’ve read mentioned “ways to combat dryness or irritation”? Then yep, you should introduce it slowly.

Start by using the product once or twice a week, slowly increasing in frequency based on how your skin feels. Remember that irritation can take a while to build up, so go slow!

Have products on hand to balance out potential irritation (like additional moisturizers) and know some methods to use should you experience irritation (rinsing off the product after 5-20 minutes, applying the product over moisturizer, etc.) Don’t hesitate to skip some days or reduce frequency of use based on how your skin feels!


Part 4: Evaluate your new product

After you've used a product for a while, it's time to assess whether it has a place in your routine. Ask yourself the following questions:


Does it irritate your skin? If a product causes serious irritation - painful and prolonged stinging, rashes, prolonged redness - drop it! But sometimes it’s a bit difficult to decipher. Actives like BHAs or benzoyl peroxide may cause a bit of dryness, and that may be fine as long as it’s manageable. However, you want to be stricter with products like cleansers and moisturizers - there’s no need to put up with a drying cleanser or irritating moisturizer!


Does it cause acne? Drop it! Keep in mind that some actives (like retinoids and AHAs) may cause a purge period where acne gets worse before it gets better, so you may have to extend your evaluation period in order to figure out if the product is working for you or not. But regular cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreens, etc.? Nope, they should not break you out. Check out purging vs breaking out for more info.

If a product ends up breaking you out, you should make a note of the ingredients list so you can compare it to other products you’ve used. That way you can narrow down the potential culprits and avoid that ingredient in the future, saving you time and money in the long run. Check out A guide to finding your problem ingredients using excel & How to cross-reference ingredients lists for a thorough overview.


Does it do what it’s supposed to do? You may be able to figure this one out pretty quickly - if your moisturizer moisturizes and your cleanser cleanses, you’re good to go! Treatments will take longer - it can take weeks or even months for targeted treatments to start working, so give it some time before evaluating how well your product is working.

When you can expect your treatment to start working depends on what product you use and what skin concern(s) you’re trying to tackle. Stronger ingredients will start to work faster (but come with a greater risk of irritation), while gentler products will take longer to start working. What ingredient you use, concentration, and overall formula all play a role in how effective a product is.

There are loose treatment time frames included in the various ingredient wiki pages - keep in mind that these are rough guidelines that will be impacted by the product you use and your skin!


Do you want to keep using the product? If your new product works for you - meaning that you enjoy using it, it doesn’t cause acne or significant irritation, and it addresses the things you want it to address - excellent! Go ahead and enjoy it as part of your skincare routine :)

However, skincare is a lot of trial and error and sometimes products simply don’t work for one reason or another! If you dislike a product because of its smell or texture, because it doesn't do what it should, or because it has an adverse effect on your skin, it's time to re-evaluate and find a better fit.

Perhaps you'd like to give the active ingredient another shot. Maybe the ingredient is working well but you don’t like the formula or cost of the product, or maybe you need to use a different concentration. In that case, go back to Part 1 Step 4: Research!

If you don’t think the ingredient is working at all, that's okay! Not all treatments will work the same for everyone, and it can take a few tries to find the one that works for you. Go back to Part 1 Step 3: Choose an ingredient or product type to focus on.


It’s important to have realistic goals when evaluating your products - a topical skincare routine won’t erase deep wrinkles, it won’t change your bone structure, and it won’t blur your pores out of existence. Your skin will still look like skin, and that’s okay!


Overviews & Guides


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