Skincare Buying Guide
Every type of skin requires its own personalized skincare routine. Ideally, every product you use should make your skin feel soft, smooth, and elastic—and it can, with help from the right arsenal of ingredients. Let this handy guide help you pick your next bottles of cleanser and pots of moisturizer, all tailored to your skin's specific needs.
Your type: Oily
- What to look for in a cleanser: Try a gentle cleanser with natural ingredients, such as aloe vera or jojoba oil, so skin gets clean but isn’t irritated, which could cause it to produce more oil.
- What to look for in a toner: A toner can be a helpful tool for removing dirt and excess oil, but beware: even oily skin can become irritated by alcohol-based toners. Instead, look for ones with gentler ingredients, such as witch hazel.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: Try a gel moisturizer. Its high water content can keep skin hydrated without clogging pores and causing them to produce more oil.
- Recommended nighttime routine: After washing your face as usual, try a cream that contains retinol, which can prevent pores from ramping up oil production.
- Secret weapon: A brush with a motorized head keeps pores from clogging up—and a clogged pore is a pore that produces extra oil.
Your type: Dry
- What to look for in a cleanser: The harsher a soap is, the more oil it will sap from the skin—which is the opposite of what a dry complexion needs. Look for a cleanser with an oil-based formula, such as argan oil, which can nourish and cleanse the skin without clogging pores.
- What to look for in a toner: Dry, flaky skin can benefit from a toner’s ability to strip away makeup and dirt. To temper a toner’s potentially irritating effects, look for a formula that includes soothing ingredients, such as chamomile, or find a toner specifically labeled “moisturizing,” which can cleanse and soothe skin at once.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: Instead of reaching for a traditional lotion, opt for an ointment or cream, whose thicker formulas are a better match for irritated skin. Try products with jojoba or olive oils, and keep an eye out for other helpful ingredients such as lanolin and glycerin.
- Secret weapon: A humidifier. Sleeping (and generally living) in an environment where the air is dry can lead to dry skin. A humidifier combats this by keeping the atmosphere in a room moist.
Your type: Combination
- What to look for in a cleanser: Dry patches need a moisturizer, but oily areas need pores kept clear. The compromise? A cleanser with glycolic acid, which nourishes the skin after the rest of the cleanser has washed away makeup and dirt.
- What to look for in a toner: For combination skin, toner is most effective when applied to the t-zone, so it can target oily skin without irritating dry areas. Much like those with oily skin, those with combination skin should seek gentle, non-alcohol-based astringents.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: Try investing in two formulas: one for the dry parts of your face, and one for the oily parts. Dry skin calls for thick moisturizers and natural oils, and oily skin responds well to water-based formulas.
- Secret weapon: An exfoliating scrub. Use it sparingly, perhaps once or twice per week, to unclog pores in oily parts of your face and slough off dead skin cells in the drier parts. Scrub gently, however, so you don’t irritate the skin.
Your type: Mature
- What to look for in a cleanser: Because aging skin produces less natural oil than it once did, a rich cleanser is key. Try a creamy formula that can cleanse and moisturize at once, such as a product containing hyaluronic acid, a humectant that traps moisture in the skin.
- What to look for in a toner: Some toners are now formulated with anti-aging ingredients, such as vitamin C, which can help fight free radicals.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: Anything with retinol in it. The compound encourages old cells to die off so new ones can take their place—and new skin tends to look smoother, more even, and younger overall.
- Secret weapon: A chemical peel. These at-home treatments can shrink pores (which tend to enlarge with age), and their ability to shed old skin allows pores to soak up more of the benefits from serums and moisturizers.
Your type: Acne-Prone
- What to look for in a cleanser: Choose a cleanser that’s specifically designed to treat acne. These cleansers often contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which are ideal for targeting blemishes.
- What to look for in a toner: In addition to whisking away stray specks of makeup and dirt, some toners include exfoliating ingredients, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. A little extra exfoliation can help acne-prone skin avoid future breakouts without causing irritation.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: Moisturizing is especially important for acne-prone skin, because acne treatment products can dry out the skin. Look for moisturizers marked “non-comedogenic,” which are designed not to clog pores; a clogged pore is one that’s susceptible to blemishes.
- Secret weapon: Your own hands. The loops of a terrycloth washcloth may feel soft to you, but to a blemished patch of skin, it can still feel too scratchy—and that irritation could beget more pimples. The gentle tips of your fingers are all you need to apply cleanser, moisturizer, and other products.
Your type: Sensitive
- What to look for in a cleanser: The more ingredients a product contains, the more chances it has to irritate sensitive skin. Look for gentle cleansers with few ingredients.
- What to look for in a toner: The lower a toner’s alcohol level, the better it is for sensitive skin, which can find alcohol drying and irritating.
- What to look for in a moisturizer: The gentler, the better. If your moisturizer includes sunscreen, try a naturally sun-blocking mineral, such as zinc oxide, which may irritate skin less.
- Secret weapon: A soothing face mask. A few times a month, treat yourself with an at-home face mask, which can help skin absorb moisture and reduce inflammation. Just like the search for a cleanser, pick a mask that has few ingredients, and look for soothing choices such as oats, shea butter, or aloe.
Secret Weapons for All Skin Types
- What it does: These super-concentrated oils are designed to thoroughly penetrate the skin, which boosts the effectiveness of their vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients.
- How to choose one: Think of a serum as a more intense version of your favorite moisturizer. Oily and combination skin respond well to glycolic acid, which fights excess oil production, and blemish-prone skin can be rescued by salicylic acid. Good news for dry skin: serums can be layered beneath other hydrating treatments, such as night creams, for extra moisture.
- What they do: Often whipped into lathers or concentrated into rich creams, masks linger on top of the skin over the course of several minutes as they fight skin imperfections. Their powerful formulas may irritate skin with overuse, however, which is why a mask is a once-in-a-while treat instead of an everyday indulgence.
- How to choose one: Because they’re rinsed away, instead of fully absorbed into the skin, masks can help draw impurities from acne-riddled skin and banish them down the drain. Other skin types can benefit from masks that rest longer on the skin—sometimes up to 30 minutes or an hour—to soak in ingredients such as aloe, which soothes sensitive skin, and hyaluronic acid, which moisturizes dry skin.
- What they do: A peel literally peels off the top layer of your skin, where trouble areas such as fine lines, acne scars, and discolored spots tend to lurk. Once the offending layer has been removed, your skin automatically regenerates a fresh set of skin cells that can reveal a smoother, more even complexion.
- How to choose one: Picking a peel is a lot like selecting a mask or moisturizer: it’s good to choose one based on skin type. Peels can share some of the same ingredients as masks and moisturizers, but what sets them apart is their high acid content. More sensitive skin types should try a peel that mixes multiple acids at once, which can be less irritating and drying.