Keeping track of your beauty routine costs virtually nothing, but it can lead to big insights. These apps and journals take the practice to the next level.

It's no secret 2020 has been rough, especially on the skin. Over the past few months, my face flared up with acne and eczema, two issues I thought I left behind in my teen years (along with UGGs and AIM messenger). When I visited my dermatologist, I was ready for her to prescribe a slew of miracle creams and treatments. Instead, she asked me a question: Do I keep a skincare diary?

Just like the name suggests, a skincare diary is a place where you keep track of how your skin looks and feels, along with what products you are using on a daily basis. It's a simple yet brilliant idea—if we invest so much money and energy in our beauty routine, shouldn't we take the time to reflect on what is and isn't working?

Julie Russak, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Russak Dermatology in New York City, says she has encourages her patients to keep a diary during the pandemic, especially if they suffer from conditions like maskne or rosacea that can be caused by various reasons. When a patient comes in with a new flare-up, they can look back and better pinpoint what triggered it. In order to get the most benefit from your diary, she says it's important to record not only the products you use but rather everything you do in your routine, from what you eat to how much you sleep. "The skin is really a reflection of what is happening on the inside," says Dr. Russak. "And the diary is really what helps you see it in front of your eyes."

While Russak swears by a physical journal, there's a number of skincare diary apps you can download on your phone, each with slightly different features. You can even buy physical journals tailored specifically for skincare, like Skinstory. Founder Sarah Perkins says she decided to record her routine after trying seemingly everything for acne and found the practice to be one of her best breakthroughs. So she designed and launched her own journal last January for others to use. 

skin-diary: woman using skin diary app on phone

When first beginning to journal, Perkins recommends starting with a few theories you want to test. For instance, Perkins used her journal to monitor if certain foods actually made her acne worse. With months of data at her fingertips, Perkins was able to look back and see the results. Her takeaway? There isn't one thing that makes or breaks her skin; it's a combination of factors like stress and sugar that she can now better control. 

Dr. Russak emphasizes that it can take anywhere from three to six months to evaluate the results of a new product. Throw in hormonal and seasonal changes, and it takes time to see the big picture. She recommends bringing your journal to your derm appointment, so you can discuss the data with your doctor and better understand the patterns. 

As I've started to use my own journal, I have definitely noticed some instant results. First, I am more mindful of my routine, and I actually remember to take off my makeup and layer all the products I bought. Second, I finally see how different I look when I sleep six versus eight hours—scary but convincing.

"There are so many amorphous ideas in our head that we might know are good for our skin, but unless you really physically see the results, they can be hard to follow," says Dr. Russak. "All those little things, once they are in front of you, and you start seeing the pattern, it really resonates much better."

With the start of the new year, there's no better time to start skin journaling. Whether you take your notes in the morning or before bed, it can be a small way to pause and reflect. To get you excited, here are some of our favorite journals. Just grab a pen or your phone and start writing!

1 Skinstory


Designed by Sarah Perkins herself, this 12-month diary is a fun and an all encompassing way to record everything that impacts your skin. You'll find pages to track your sleep and workouts, as well as sections for sketching where you have issues on your face. Since Perkins considers journaling a part of a greater wellness routine, she also included a section where you can write what you are grateful for each day. Plus, it has stickers (which always make everything better).

2 Cloe

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I chose this app because it has all the essentials I need to journal without making the practice any more complicated than it needs to be. With each entry, I can record my diet, water intake, hours of sleep, stress levels, vitamins, makeup products, and of course, skincare products. I like how this app saves the products I use, so instead of typing them out each time, I can check them off a list. My favorite feature is the ability to take and save photos in the app, helping me see how all these little factors add up.

3 Neutrogena Skin360

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Neutrogena's revamped skincare app takes journaling to the next level by offering an evaluation and a personal skin coach. Snap a selfie, and the app will give you a score in five different areas based on Neutrogena's database of other selfies from different age groups and ethnicities. The AI assistant, NAIA, will then give you a personalized regime with product recommendations from Neutrogena, though you can record other products you already use. Reminding you to record and stick to your beauty routine, NAIA is like having a dermatologist right in your pocket.

4 GlowinMe: Beauty Assistant

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If you're a beauty product junkie with an overwhelming amount of jars and creams on your vanity, GlowinMe is for you. In addition to tracking your routine, the app lets you create swatches of your makeup as well as collections of samples you tried and products you want to buy. The app also notifies you when one of your products is about to expire. In other words, it makes restocking your shelves and buying new products so much easier.

5 Charm

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Charm is more than just another app on your phone—it's a key to a community of equally obsessed beauty lovers. The app combines an AI skincare assistant for personal recommendations and content like celebrity routines, DIY treatments, tips, and advice from other members and experts. You can even set reminders to clean your makeup brushes or use a mask tonight. You schedule everything else in your life—why should your beauty routine be different?