Experts weigh in on how to clean out, simplify, and streamline your skincare regimen.

By Melanie Rud
Updated March 09, 2020
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‘Tis the season to spring clean everything—and we mean everything. Once you’ve decluttered the garage and washed out the refrigerator and swiped down the windows, it’s time to hit the bathroom and take a closer look at your skincare stash. The benefits of Marie Kondo-ing your serums and sunscreens? One, there’s the straightforward decluttering, which will leave you with more room and space in your cabinets or vanity (always a good thing). But two—and here’s where we’ll let you in on a little secret—you really don’t need that much stuff in order to have an effective skincare routine. Ahead, experts weigh in on exactly what to keep and what to toss, plus how to make sure your new lineup is spring appropriate.

1

Just as you would when cleaning out your closet or freezer, step one is to take out everything in order to clearly see what you’re working with. That means clearing out your medicine cabinet, vanity, drawers, even any makeup bags where you may have skincare squirreled away. Spread it all out on a table or desk so that you can clearly assess.

2

The first thing to get trashed? Products that are past their prime. Unlike with, say, food, which has clear expiration dates, it can be a bit trickier to determine if a moisturizer has gone bad. Many products will have a PAO (Period After Opening) timeline or date on their packaging; this signifies how long a product has stayed active based on lab testing, explain Brooke Moss and Lauren Sundick, dermatology physician’s assistants and founders of The Skin Sisters. The only problem? This usually appears on the product box, which, more likely than not, is long gone. (A helpful hint for the future: When you get a new product, search for this date on the box, then write it on the bottom the actual bottle or jar with a Sharpie before throwing out the box.)

Your best bet is to simply look for any changes in how a product looks or smells. “Color and odor changes signify oxidation, which results in ingredients becoming unstable and less effective,” say Moss and Sundick. If it smells funky or looks strange, pitch it. It’s also important to get rid of anything you haven’t used. (You know, just how you shouldn’t still be holding onto those jeans you last wore in college.) “If you haven’t used a product in over a year, there’s a good chance you’re never going to, so throw it out,” suggests Devika Icecreamwala, MD, a dermatologist in Berkeley, Calif.

3

More is not always better when it comes to the amount of skincare you have. In fact, if you really want to go streamlined and simple, all the experts we spoke with agreed that you can keep it to a three-step routine in the morning and a three-step routine at night. Here’s what you need.

Basic Morning Skincare Routine for Spring

1. Cleanser: There’s no reason to spend the big bucks here, or even choose any kinds of fancy formulas; after all, it’s basically just going to get washed down the drain. “For most people, a simple, gentle cleanser, like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser ($9; amazon.com) is perfect,” says Moss and Sundick. (You can change this up based on the season—more on that in a minute.)

2. Antioxidant Serum: More lightweight and with a larger concentration of active ingredients than moisturizers, serums are a great way to get some serious bang for your buck—and reap real benefits for your skin. While there’s no shortage of options to choose from, an antioxidant-rich formula is a great universal pick. Antioxidants help neutralize skin-damaging free radicals, formed by exposure to everything from the sun to pollution to even your cell phone screen, says Moss and Sundick. Those free radicals can lead to things such as spots and wrinkles, making antioxidants essential. Dr. Icecreamwala agrees, and adds that vitamin C is one particularly good antioxidant to seek out. Not only is it potent and well-studied, but it also delivers multiple benefits, helping to fade spots and stimulate collagen production. She likes SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166; dermstore.com).

3. Moisturizer with Sunscreen: Wearing sunscreen daily—yes, that’s 365 days per year, rain or shine—is an absolute non-negotiable. But you can save yourself time and an extra step by opting for a moisturizer with SPF, points out Dr. Icecreamwala. The only caveat? Make sure it’s a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 or higher (many moisturizers with sunscreen clock in at only SPF15, which won’t cut the mustard). Try: Elta MD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($25; amazon.com).

Basic Evening Skincare Routine for Spring

1. Start by washing your face (you can use the same cleanser as you did the morning).

2. Retinoid: Retinoids are the gold-standard in the anti-aging world, long proven to actually really work. “They regulate skin cell turnover to remove dead cells, and also work deeper in the skin promoting healthy collagen production to both prevent and treat wrinkles,” explains Moss and Sundick. And if you’re dealing with the double-whammy of both pimples and wrinkles, Dr. Icecreamwala says that retinoids are also a great option for acne-prone skin. Keep in mind, though, that any kind of retinoid can be irritating, so your best bet is to start by using one only a few times per week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin acclimates. One to try: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel ($30; ulta.com).

Moisturizer: You don’t need a super fancy night cream (since your retinoid is delivering plenty of benefits), but you do need to hydrate to both counteract dryness, as well as help minimize the likelihood for some of those irritating retinol side effects. Like with your cleanser, simple is best here; all you need is proven hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and/or glycerin. Moss and Sundick recommend CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($11; amazon.com).

4

Just as spring cleaning your wardrobe involves swapping out sweaters for shorts, now is also a good time to think about tweaking your skincare routine for the upcoming warmer weather. A few simple changes can make a big impact. For example, consider opting for an exfoliating cleanser. Higher temperatures and increased humidity mean more sweat and oil, and opting for a face wash that also exfoliates is one easy way to keep pores clear and breakouts at bay. Moss and Sundick suggest one with glycolic acid, a gentle yet effective chemical exfoliant, like the Pixi Glow Tonic Cleansing Gel ($18; target.com).

Your antioxidant serum and sunscreen are still super important, though you may want to go slightly lighter with your moisturizer (per our point about warmer weather and oilier skin). Search for ones labeled as gels or lotions—which are innately lighter than creams—and are housed in tubes rather than jars. (These will also have the added benefit of lasting longer; moisturizers in a jar that opens fully with every use will oxidize more quickly than products in a pump bottle, point out Moss and Sundick.)

Still, even if you are going to make a few seasonal skincare changes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get rid of what you were previously using. “If you’re planning on using your skincare product again when the appropriate season arises, it’s OK to keep it, as long as it’s not expired,” says Dr. Icecreamwala.

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