The Best Minimalist Skincare Regimen, According to Dermatologists

Man using moisturizer
Man using moisturizer Peopleimages / Getty Images

Your skincare regimen doesn’t need to comprise an expensive rotation of exfoliators, masks, serums, tonics, and night creams. You do, however, need to meet the baseline requirements of cleansing and moisturizing.



Such a regimen will help prevent aging, acne, and improve the overall look and feel of your skin. 

So, what’s the minimum amount of products you can use to reap these benefits without breaking the bank and crowding your sink ledge? We ran the same question by some board-certified dermatologists. Here are the three key things that nearly every one of them suggested.

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1. In the morning, use a moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 30+

It’s no surprise you need to moisturize in the morning after cleansing. It rehydrates the skin after all its natural oils wash away with the excess grime, in addition to nourishing it with vitamins and antioxidants. A moisturizer also creates a defensive layer atop the skin to shield it from toxins.

It’s also no surprise you need an SPF—one that defends against both categories of ultraviolet rays (skin-aging UVA rays, as well as sunburn- and cancer-causing UVB rays). The higher the SPF, the mightier the defense, though it’s not a proportionate scale (SPF 30 doesn’t necessarily cover you twice as effectively as SPF 15, though it does cover you significantly more). Either way, most doctors agreed that you need an SPF 30 (or greater) in your regimen. That’s easily folded into the moisturizing step by getting an SPF-packed moisturizer. So long as it’s one that is SPF 30+ and offers broad-spectrum coverage.

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“The sunblock should have a physical block such as titanium or zinc,” adds Dr. Jennifer S. Kitchin. “It reflects the UV rays off your skin, and protects you from the long-term effects of photo-aging, such as skin cancer, wrinkles, and brown spots.”

Dr. Avnee Shah recommends Elta MD moisturizer with SPF 30 + 7% zinc oxide.

2. Cleanse twice a day

Before you apply moisturizer, you need to cleanse—a minimum of twice daily. Do this any time after sleeping, sweating excessively, and before bed. This flushes away the sweat, grime, toxins, and excess oil that make your face shiny, greasy, and prone to pimples (since all those bad things can clog your pores). Every dermatologist you will ever encounter will repeat all of this, as did the dozen-plus experts we spoke with. Some specified the most optimal cleansers for different needs, however:

Shah suggests a foaming cleanser for oily skin (like Avène’s), and a gentler, non-foaming cleanser for dry skin (like Philosophy’s).

Dr. Holly Hanson says if you have sensitive skin (as in, easily irritable), pick a gentle cleanser like Neutrogena’s which won’t disrupt your skin’s pH levels and will still allow you to wash twice daily without punishment.

Dr. Kassie Haitz likes cleansers with salicylic acid (like from La Roche Posay), since they help to dissolve dead skin cells and thus do the job of an exfoliator by unclogging pores (sans scrubbing).

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3. Use a retinol product at bedtime

While this may seem like an extraneous step, it’s the most agreed-upon necessity from dermos. You can combine your bedtime moisturizer with retinol in order to reverse fine lines, acne, and sunspots on your skin. For real, it actually reverses those things (and makes many go away) when you use it for 3+ months and continue to use it. Retinol is a vitamin A-derived product that comes in prescription grade doses, or in smaller amounts over the counter (and blended into night creams). By applying before bed, you maximize its powers, because it works in tandem with your body’s regenerative process.

Talk to your doctor about the best retinol approach for your specific needs, especially so you can avoid inverse effects. (Mainly: added sensitivity to sunlight, hence the increased importance of SPF.)

Differin’s retinol gel would be my pick,” says Shah, adding that it was a prescription product that only recently became available over the counter. But talk to your dermatologist first before picking a retinol.

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