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A dermatologist shares the ultimate easy skin care routine — and it's just 3 steps

Not only is a simple regimen usually "better," but our expert said that it's more cost-effective, too!
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

While you might think that adding more products to your routine will ultimately lead to a better complexion, healthy skin doesn't necessarily require a 10-step regimen.

"A complicated skin care routine is not the key to healthy, glowing skin," Dr. Debra Wattenberg, a New York City-based dermatologist previously shared with TODAY. "Rather, the key is creating a skin care routine that is geared to your skin type and skin issues. If a 10-step routine works for you and it makes you look and feel good, there is usually no harm but for most of us it's too complicated, too expensive, exhausting and unnecessary."

Another problem with complex routines? They can be too "one-size-fits-all," without accounting for individual features like skin type. "Simple is usually better," Wattenberg says. "It's more cost-effective and usually sustainable."

"Most skin types can generally follow a routine of three steps in the morning and three in the evening," Wattenberg explains. The three steps she recommends are:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Target specific skin issues
  3. Moisturize

Here, she walked us through the three-step routine, as well as the products that will fit your individual needs.

Step one: Cleanse

Cleansers are an important part of a skin care routine, but according to Wattenberg, people don't always apply them correctly.

"It's best to first wash your hands using soap and water, and then use about the size of a dime amount of a gel or cream face cleanser, or about one pump of a foam cleanser, directly onto your clean hands," she said. "Rub together and massage the cleanser onto your face. Rinse with fresh, warm water, and pat dry."

If you're already a skin care expert, you can use a specialized electric brush or cleansing cloth to up your routine — but your own two hands work just as well.

Step two: Target skin issues

According to Wattenberg, targets are products that contain active ingredients (like retinol, salicylic acid and more) used to target a specific skin area. Most products are highly concentrated and work under a "less is more" approach. For serums, you'll usually just need one or two pumps to create a thin film of active ingredients. If you're using a cream or gel, try starting with a pea-sized amount and dotting it over the surface of your face in small amounts before spreading it and rubbing it into the skin.

Some products designed to target specific issues are only made to be used once per day (or a few times per week), so be sure to check the label of the item you're using.

Step three: Moisturize

You only need to apply a quarter-sized amount of moisturizer or sunscreen to your face, according to Wattenberg. For full-body application, try using about the same amount that would fill a shot glass.

In the morning, there's one extra step that experts recommend: Sunscreen. Thankfully, some products do double-duty by acting as both moisturizer and sun protection.

Below, Wattenberg shared the products that will fit in every step of your routine

Cleansers for normal skin | Cleansers for dry skin | Cleansers for oily skin | Targeted products for normal skin | Targeted products for dry skin | Targeted products for oily skin | Moisturizers for normal skin | Moisturizers for dry skin | Moisturizers for oily skin

Best cleansers for normal skin

Drunk Elephant Jelly Cleanser

Wattenberg recommends this jelly-textured gel cleanser from Drunk Elephant in the morning and evening. Perfect for removing makeup without drying out skin, it's free of harsh chemicals and is said to work on most skin types.

Fresh Soy Cleanser

This gentle soy cleanser from Fresh is a Sephora bestseller. With soy proteins that aim to remove all traces of skin and dirt, it's designed to powerfully clean without stripping essential moisture from the skin.

Best cleansers for dry skin

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

Wattenberg recommends this non-drying cleanser, which has hyaluronic acid that helps cleanse and moisturize skin. Fragrance-free, it's said to be perfect for sensitive skin.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Cleansing Gel

This oil- and soap-free gel is designed to be suitable for most skin types. It gently removes dirt and makeup but doesn't leave skin dry or irritated, the brand says. Instead, it locks in moisture for long-lasting hydration.

Best cleansers for oily skin

Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

Great for morning use, this mild cleanser won't clog pores or dry out the skin while it works to improve tone and texture, the brand says. Oil-free, it's designed to leave skin soft, smooth and even-looking.

LovelySkin Lux Clarifying Gel Cleanser

This clarifying cleanser is designed to exfoliate the skin, minimize breakouts and help balance the skin's moisture levels.

Best targeted products for normal skin

Drunk Elephant Vitamin C Serum

This potent serum from Drunk Elephant uses vitamin C to help with uneven skin tone and make skin firmer. Packed with antioxidants, it seems like a great treat for your skin.

ROC Retinol Night Cream

This night cream is designed to visibly reduce the look of lines and wrinkles while you sleep. Full of retinol and an essential mineral complex, it claims to leave your skin smoother and more youthful.

Aveeno Positively Radiant MaxGlow Drops

Designed to provide 48 hours of moisture and radiance, these lightly scented drops are great for those with dry or combination skin.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil

This retinol serum helps tackle and repair the appearance of wrinkles and makes skin look visibly younger in just one week, the brand says. It's the perfect way to upgrade your nightly anti-aging routine.

Best targeted products for dry skin

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Serum

This serum promises to immediately quench and refresh skin, delivering high levels of hydration and helping skin glow.

Sunday Riley Vitamin C And Turmeric Face Oil

Morning or night, you can reach for this instantly absorbing face oil. It combines vitamin C, turmeric and evening primrose oil to brighten and hydrate skin.

Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Gel

This gel from Skinceuticals has hyaluronic acid to help the skin restore and retain moisture.

Best targeted products for oily skin

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Acne Treatment

"This is a great anti-acne product that contains benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid to fight blemishes and acne-prone skin," said Wattenberg.

ROC Deep Wrinkle Serum

This serum is said to work with the skin's natural renewing process to visibly reduce wrinkles.

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%

This affordable over-the-counter acne treatment is designed to both clears and prevents blemishes as well as regulate skin cell turnover to fight the main causes of acne, like clogged pores. Wattenberg recommends reaching for the product at night.

Best moisturizers for normal skin

Aveeno Positively Radiant Sheer Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

Along with providing SPF 30 sun protection, this moisturizer is said to help even skin tone and texture in just four weeks, according to the brand.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

With hyaluronic acid, this cream is designed to provide 24-hour hydration. Add it to your nightly routine to give your skin a dose of moisture before bed.

Best moisturizers for dry skin

Olay Complete Daily Defense Moisturizer

"This product is fragrant-free (and) contains a fabulous SPF for every day," says Wattenberg. The product uses green tea and niacinamide to calm inflammation and goes on smoothly without clogging pores.

La Roche-Posay Toleraine Ultra Night Moisturizer

"For those with sensitive skin, this product is great," says Wattenberg. "It's hydrating and fragrance-free and won't irritate your skin."

Aveeno Ultra Calming Night Cream

This cream is said to work overnight to actively manage sensitive skin and soothe redness and irritation.

Best moisturizers for oily skin

Elva UV Clear Oil-Free Sunscreen

Wattenberg recommends this oil-free sunscreen for those with acne-prone skin.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Moisturizer

"This water-based, hyaluronic acid-containing moisturizer is great for hydration without leaving a greasy residue on the skin," said Wattenberg.

Cetaphil Oil Control Moisturizer

This unscented moisturizer is said to use micropearl technology to absorb surface oil and reduce shine without clogging pores.

Meet the expert

  • Dr. Debra Wattenberg, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and founder of NY Skin RX. She specializes in cosmetic dermatology and performing procedures that reverse the effects of aging.