A Dermatologist Critiqued Our Skincare Routines, Here's What Happened

It's important to practice what we preach, right?

3 products as part of a skincare routine
Photo: courtesy of manufacturers

Wouldn't it be nice if every time we bought a new skincare product or added a step to our routine, there was a manual on how to execute it perfectly? Sure, the stock elements are the same (cleanser, moisturizer, and a good SPF), with a sprinkling of serums and masks here and there. But, alas, there's isn't a universal tutorial for the perfect skincare routine. And as product-savvy as we beauty editors are, it's hard to give blanket recommendations when everyone has different skin concerns. Is a 12-step routine too much? Three steps too little? Are we over-exfoliating? Not exfoliating enough?

We decided to consult the expertise of skin guru Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC, to figure out what the editors at Real Simple are doing right (and wrong) in their skincare routines, based on their specific skin type and skin goals. And, well, let's just say, we have quite a few adjustments to make.

01 of 08

Liz Vaccariello

Liz Vaccariello
Real Simple

"I'd put my skin between normal and sensitive. I have the right moisture levels and a good skin tone, but I'm extremely sensitive to the sun and burn easily (plus I have a history of melanoma in my family, so I wish I were more vigilant about sunscreen than I am…). I want to continue to minimize pores, retain plumpness, and prevent fine lines and lip wrinkles."

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"Especially with a history of melanoma, daily sun protection is a must. So you're definitely doing the right thing here. But if you have sensitive skin, you can skip the witch hazel. It can be drying or irritating for a lot of people.

Double cleansing is a really effective way to remove makeup and dirt from the skin. There is some data showing that the effects of UV light continue for hours after exposure, so vitamin C at night may be useful. However, as you get more and more steps in the evening, I typically recommend cutting the vitamin C at night and using it only in the morning. Vitamin C is like a fire extinguisher that puts out inflammation caused by free radicals from UV light exposure.

If you are sensitive, glycolic acid may cause skin irritation. As an alternative, stick to a poly-hydroxyacid like gluconolactone. Or consider bakuchiol oil, which stimulates collagen, but does not cause irritation."

02 of 08

Jennifer Davidson

Jennifer Davidson
Real Simple

"I have dry, sensitive, acne-prone skin. I've had to eliminate so many of my serums, creams, and skincare steps over the past couple of years after finding out I was allergic to benzyl alcohol and propylene glycol, which are in so many products! I used to use tons of fancy products, but now my products and routine are pretty basic."

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"This basic routine is great. Cleanse, protect, and hydrate. If you suffer from acne, it is important to treat the entire area of breakouts to prevent new pimples. Spot treating gets rid of pimples that you have, but the goal is to prevent new ones from popping up altogether."

03 of 08

Hana Hong

Hana Hong
Real Simple

"I have combination skin, so I'm prone to dry eczema patches on my cheeks and occasional acne breakouts on my forehead. I also switch up my product rotation pretty frequently as I'm testing new things for my job, but these are some of my tried and true products that I'll keep coming back to. My day and night routine are the same except for a few products, which I've marked below."

Morning and night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"I caution my patients not to switch up their skincare routines too frequently. Not only to experience the full benefits, which takes several weeks to kick in, but also you may not know which product is to blame if you develop any irritation.

Also, don't forget sunscreen!"

04 of 08

Emily Kehe

Emily Kehe
Real Simple

"After having kids, my rosacea started flaring up on a daily basis. It used to be triggered only by heat and sweat, but now it's a daily occurrence. I've also been seeing the early signs of aging—mainly losing some elasticity in my skin and getting dark circles and wrinkles around my eyes—probably due to lack of sleep and the demands of a working mother!"

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"In rosacea, the skin barrier is not working as well as it should be working. Ingredients like tiger grass and ceramides can help soothe and protect the skin and is useful in conditions like rosacea or eczema.

While CC creams commonly contain sunscreen, it is not enough. Make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to the whole face, then apply your makeup over it. UV light exposure has also been shown to be a trigger for rosacea, which is another reason to make sure you are protected every day.

So long as you are not irritated by retinol, you can use it even if you have rosacea. But if you find that you're experiencing any irritation, I'd recommend an alternative. Consider a peptide or bakuchiol-based cream. Also, be cautious with your masks if you have rosacea. Hydroxy acids can lead to irritation, as can a variety of botanical extracts and fragrances found in many masks. Stick to hydrating products. Biocellulose masks are a great option for rosacea patients because they have a soothing effect."

05 of 08

Katie Holdefehr

Katie Holdefehr
Real Simple

"I just turned 30 and feel all this pressure to kick up my skincare routine, but basically I have no clue what I'm doing. In general, I'd say my skin is fairly dry (at least partially because I live in an old apartment with radiators that make the air so parched!). I feel like I should be using products for the fine lines around my eyes, but my sensitive skin often has a reaction to eye creams. Also, I still have acne flareups from time to time (the idea of acne being a teen problem is such a myth!); I feel like my skin is in limbo between acne and grown-up wrinkles. I've been doing my current routine for a decade now. I have super sensitive skin and am afraid to try new products so I might be in a bit of a product rut. I'm the opposite of the typical magazine editor beauty product junkie!"

Morning and night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"There's nothing wrong with being simple, but please don't forget sunscreen every morning! If you have dry skin, I recommend you should be looking out for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and colloidal oatmeal. These can help protect and treat the skin barrier so it holds up better against 'parched' environments."

06 of 08

Brandi Broxson

Brandi Broxson
Real Simple

"I have sensitive skin that is oily in the T-zone. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I've had consistent adult acne (some cystic), mostly on my chin and cheek area. My goal is to find a routine that eases my acne but also nourishes and keeps my skin looking healthy and youthful. My family has a history of skin cancer, so sunscreen is super important for me."

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"If you have sensitive skin that is acne-prone, sulfur-based products are useful; they have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties to treat acne. If you can tolerate it, add a retinol product in the evening which addresses both aging skin and acne. Other ingredients that are useful for people with sensitive, acne-prone skin are niacinamide and vitamin C."

07 of 08

Sara Brown

Sara Brown
Real Simple

"I am a 25-year-old woman with sensitive, combo acne-prone skin with some dryness in the T-zone. I suffered from mild to severe acne from around the age of 12 to 24. My skin has started to finally heal once I started using the products in my current routine and cut dairy from my diet. I'm currently working on repairing my skin barrier, looking for an affordable moisturizer that won't break me out, and fading dark spots leftover from blemishes."

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"If a toner does not keep blemishes at bay, consider switching to a salicylic acid-based product. If you can't tolerate a salicylic acid leave-on product, you might want to switch to a salicylic acid cleanser."

08 of 08

Muzam Agha

Muzam Agha
Real Simple

"As a guy, there's a lot less for us out there. I don't really use soaps or scrubs on my face every day. I find that it dries me out and makes me break out. I don't really know what type of skin I have; I think it's usually dry but at times can also feel oily. Although I haven't found the right balance yet (and keep it fairly simple), I'm hoping to do so without adding too much to my routine–otherwise I break out. My main goals are to have an even skin tone, a nice glow, and a clearer complexion overall."

Morning:

Night:

Dr. Zeichner's critique:

"Men's perceptions of skincare products are frequently based on their packaging and fragrances. In fact, most skincare products can be just as useful for men as they can be for women. There is no data showing that men's skin is any less sensitive than women's. Especially in men, skincare becomes directly tied to grooming. I commonly recommend a moisturizing aftershave that contains SPF to kill two birds with one stone. Just make sure to apply the cream to the full face for sun protection."

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Sources
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  1. Premi S, Wallisch S, Mano CM, et al. Chemiexcitation of melanin derivatives induces DNA photoproducts long after UV exposure. Science. 2015;347(6224):842-847. doi:10.1126/science.1256022

  2. Morgado-Carrasco, D., Granger, C., Trullas, C. and Piquero-Casals, J. (2021), Impact of ultraviolet radiation and exposome on rosacea: Key role of photoprotection in optimizing treatment. J Cosmet Dermatol, 20: 3415-3421. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.14020

  3. Rahrovan S, Fanian F, Mehryan P, Humbert P, Firooz A. Male versus female skin: What dermatologists and cosmeticians should know. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018 Jun 22;4(3):122-130. doi: 10.1016/j.ijwd.2018.03.002. PMID: 30175213; PMCID: PMC6116811.

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