The simple skin care routine dermatologists recommend (and it's not complicated)

Is a 12-step routine doing too much?
simple skin care routine
When it comes to skin care, are you overdoing it?Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY
By Danielle Wolf

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Between the 10-step Korean skin care routine and the countless serums, acids and high-tech tools on the market today, it’s easy to get carried away with skin care. But how much is too much? Can you overdo it or will an extensive routine yield better results?

We turned to some tried-and-true skin care experts to answer all of our questions. Their advice may make you reconsider your multistep skin care routine.

Simple is often better

“While 12-step routines are popular, they may not work any better than one or two steps,” said New York-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, who generally recommends using only one to two products in the morning and evening. “The fewer products to apply means fewer products you forget to use. So keeping it simple usually helps people stay on track with regular use of their products.”

Dr. Cybele Fishman, a dermatologist in New York City, echoed this sentiment: “I think people do too much to their skin and often end up harming it with all the extra steps. One of my mantras is, ‘Don’t overwash your skin, don’t overtone and don’t overexfoliate.’”

In addition to saving both time and money, adopting a pared-down routine won’t “get in the way of what your skin is supposed to do: provide a barrier between the outside world and the inside of your body,” Fishman told TODAY Style.

But is a more involved routine bad?

The short answer is no, a multistep skin care routine is not inherently bad. However, there are more mistakes to be made.

“Applying multiple products increases your risk of skin irritation, and we don't know whether the active ingredients in all the products are even compatible. This means that you may be inadvertently inactivating products because of the combination,” said Zeichner.

Renee Rouleau, a celebrity aesthetician and skin care expert, said people should think about how much their skin can actually absorb. "A lot of time people are wasting products and money layering on all these things thinking it's better," she said. "Normally, it’s the first two products that are the ones making the biggest difference.”

According to Rouleau, two of the most common signs of overdoing it are using multiple products that do the same thing and exfoliating too frequently. So not only are the lengthy routines possibly superfluous, they could be harming your skin in the process.

Fishman recommends exfoliating no more than once a week and using an acid exfoliator rather than a physical exfoliator.

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She likes this mask because it's meant to be used once a week, meaning it's easy to incorporate into your routine, and it's packed with antioxidants.

What is the best skin care routine for me?

It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all. A routine that works for your best friend might not work for you. Instead, choose products according to your skin type and need.

For those just starting out in skin care, Rouleau recommends trying one new product at a time and slowly adding others on to ensure your skin doesn’t react negatively to any single ingredient.

If you're pregnant, Fishman suggests avoiding products containing retinol, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide as they can be potentially harmful to an unborn child.

Our experts helped identify a basic routine that should work for most skin types.

The best morning skin care routine

According to Dr. Neil Sadick, a clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell University with a private practice in New York City, your morning skin care routine should be designed to protect your skin from environmental factors, such as harsh ultraviolet rays or free radicals.

1. Cleanser

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Start your morning skin care routine by gently cleansing the face. Rouleau recommends a low-foaming cleanser because "the bigger the bubble, the more drying it is on the skin."

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“This gentle bar cleanser can be used on face and body, and is gentle enough for all skin types,” said Zeichner.

Product pick: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser, Pack of 2, $19 (usually $28), Amazon

Sadick recommends this gentle cleanser in his practice.

Product pick: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, $9, Amazon

Fishman likes this cleanser because it contains no fragrance, dyes, parabens, sulfates, gluten or formaldehyde. She noted that it’s “great for people with allergies.”

2. Antioxidant serum

Antioxidants are the best way to protect against free radicals. There are two ways to get antioxidants: ingesting them, which Sadick recommends, and applying them directly to the skin. If you're looking to incorporate them into your skin care routine, try Zeichner's favorite affordable option below.

Product pick: L'Oreal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Pure Vitamin C Serum, $16 (usually $24), Amazon

"I recommend antioxidants to all patients to protect the skin against free radical damage. Vitamin C can be used whether you have dry or oily skin," said Zeichner.

3. Moisturizer with sunscreen

Sunscreen is easily the most important step of any morning skin care routine. According to Zeichner, "a one-year study funded by Johnson & Johnson actually showed that applying nothing but sunscreen improved the cosmetic appearance of the skin. Besides protecting the skin from UV damage, it likely allowed the skin to function optimally and heal itself from previous damage."

Product pick: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $27, Walmart

Every single skin care routine needs a moisturizer with a mineral SPF applied every morning, according to Fishman. "I would never ever give up my EltaMD UV Clear," she said. "It is a fantastic product."

Product pick: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60, $30, Amazon

Sadick branded this sunscreen with SPF 60 an "excellent moisturizing agent."

Product pick: Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Facial Moisturizer With Total Soy Complex and Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen, $14, Amazon

“Daily sunscreen is important as incidental UV light exposure adds up over a lifetime," said Zeichner. "No matter your skin type, with age almost everyone starts to develop sun spots. The soy complex in this product helps brighten the complexion and can be used across all skin tones."

Sadick also likes Aveeno’s soy products for their “strong anti-inflammatory capabilities.”

The best evening skin care routine

Sadick told TODAY that the goal of an evening skin care routine is to aid in turning over new skin cells and stimulating collagen production to repair any damage that has occurred throughout the day. Here's an easy program to follow at night that will accomplish these goals:

1. Cleanser

At the end of the day, it’s important to remove dirt, makeup and any other irritants that may have gotten onto the skin. You can use the same cleanser for both morning and night.

2. Repairing serum

Serums are the meat of the evening skin care routine. The ingredients in these products will actively help improve the look and feel of the skin. By applying these at night, it gives the skin enough time to soak them in and start to repair itself without being exposed to pollutants.

Product pick: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum and Retinol Serum, $18 (usually $20), Amazon

“Retinol is the best-studied ingredient we have over the counter to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It stimulates collagen to strengthen the foundation of the skin and enhances cell turnover to improve skin radiance,” said Zeichner.

Product pick: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, $21 (usually $25), Amazon

“If you have sensitive skin, stick to a peptide instead of retinol to strengthen the skin and treat wrinkles,” said Zeichner.

3. Moisturizer

Finally, seal in hydration with a moisturizer.

Product pick: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, $12, Walmart

“CeraVe PM is a light evening moisturizer that helps repair the skin barrier with ceramides, which act like grout to fill in the cracks between your skin cells' 'tiles,'” said Zeichner.

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