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Here's The Best 5-Step Skincare Routine (It's Also The Simplest)

Making the switch to clean skincare feels great—it's a healthy choice that you can also really enjoy, unlike swapping out french fries for kale chips, which… is certainly a healthy choice, but one that comes with some pretty obvious drawbacks. Once you have your clean beauty routine down, you can rest easy about your skin getting the nutrients it needs (and avoiding the weird hormone disruptors it really, really doesn't).

However, it can also be pretty confusing to get started on a new clean skincare routine. While some people love a complex, 12-step beauty ritual, most don't have the time or inclination. We're more into a minimalist approach, and the best way to create a minimalist skincare routine is to select high-quality products that intelligently bring together ingredients, so they can work as a team to make your skin healthier.

Step 1: Start With A Gentle Face Cleanser

Your mom was right: It's important to wash your face. A good face cleanser is gentle, pH balanced, and effective. When it comes to pH, you want to look for something with a pH of 4-6.5, which helps keep the skin's natural microbiome healthy, keeping unwanted bacteria out and moisture in.

One thing you want to avoid: cleansers that contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which is responsible for a lot of products' foaming action, but which can also cause serious skin irritation. Other irritants you want to avoid include propylene glycol, formaldehyde, and added fragrance, which can be a catch-all term for ingredients that are damaging to your skin.

Here are some good ingredients to look for: glycolic acid, which very gently exfoliates by unsticking dead skin cells (as opposed to physically rubbing skin, the way scrubs do—which really just causes inflammation). This stuff is also known for its ability to stimulate collagen production and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Another stellar anti-aging ingredient, willow bark extract has a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect, especially when working in tandem with niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B.

Step 2: Smooth On A Serum

After cleansing, apply a serum by gently patting a few drops into damp skin. In the morning, we're a huge fan of vitamin C serum, which is a powerful antioxidant that has the ability to make skin brighter, more even, and smooth tone and texture. Go for a vitamin C serum that doesn't say "fragrance" on the label. These can cause allergic reactions, and may even include ingredients like methyl cellosolve, which is often just lumped under "fragrance" on the label, which is associated with skin irritation—and may even be a neurotoxin.

Look for vitamin C serums that use a super-stable form of vitamin C. L-ascorbic acid, for instance, is very unstable. This means it goes off in your cabinet pretty quickly, and can change when exposed to light and air. Instead, look for vitamin C serums that contain forms of acid that are more stable while being just as effective, such as tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. This serum should also incorporate vitamin E, which acts as an assistant to vitamin C, making it even more effective.

In the evening, we're fans of using a hyaluronic acid serum. This is a great, sensitive skin-friendly choice for adding a little extra moisture to your skincare routine, since hyaluronic acid retains up to 1,000 times its weight in water, which is kind of amazing, and provides really long-lasting hydration. Look for hyaluronic acid serums that are free of silicone, which can trap oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin, leading to breakouts. Instead, look for a serum that contains skin-nourishing ingredients, like white tea leaf extract. This contains even more antioxidants than black or green tea, and has high flavonoid content, which can help protect skin.

Step 3: Apply A Lightweight Moisturizer

After your serum, gently smooth a lightweight daily moisturizer over your skin. We recommend looking for products that aren't greasy, and we always avoid parabens. These are preservatives that keep products shelf-stable, but can definitely cause skin irritation and may cause hormone disruption, which nobody needs. Instead, think about using a moisturizer that contains a high concentration of probiotics. While putting bacteria on your skin may sound counterintuitive—that's how we get acne, right?—there's good bacteria and bad bacteria. Just as good bacteria can promote gut health, and eating healthy, fermented foods like kombucha, miso, and kimchi can help with that, using good bacteria in our skincare products can help our skin's microbiome balance and flourish. The microflora on our skin can actually strengthen our skin's moisture barrier, keeping it healthier and more moisturized, and can help reduce inflammation and irritation.

Step 4: Dab On An Eye Cream

Using your ring finger, gently dab an eye cream around the eye area in the morning and at night. We're fans of eye creams that make use of ingredients like bakuchiol, which is sometimes called "nature's retinol." An incredibly powerful antioxidant, bakuchiol has been demonstrated to diminish fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin elasticity, but unlike retinol, bakuchiol is plant-based and doesn’t irritate sensitive skin. We also love eye creams that take advantage of ingredients like amino acids, which promote cellular repair and keep the fragile, delicate skin around your eyes hydrated. Avoid eye creams that contain drying alcohols, which feel silky and weightless, but ultimately leave your skin parched—which is exactly the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.

Step 5: Apply A Facial Oil

After your moisturizer and eye cream, gently smooth just 2-3 drops of a good-quality facial oil to your face and neck. While oil-free routines were all the rage in the ‘90s, we've since learned that a good oil can be great for skin—the same way that we learned our ‘90s fear of healthy fats, like those found in avocados, was totally unfounded. Facial oils can actually be amazing for producing hydrated, soft, healthy skin, but although this might be surprising, avoid using facial oils that contain essential oils. Although they are derived from plants, that doesn't mean those plants are necessarily great for your skin. A lot of essential oils can be very irritating, and may even be potentially damaging. Instead, look for facial oils that contain nutrient-rich ingredients, like cloudberry oil, which is rich in antioxidants like vitamin A, E, and omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids. We're also fans of meadowfoam oil, which is lightweight, antioxidant-packed, and great for softening skin.

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