A Primer in the Skin Care Basics

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We talk serums, cleansers and oils like they’re our ABCs, but even beauty editors scrunch their face in confusion when an anti-aging-hybrid-eye cream-moisturizer comes across their desk.

The truth is, while exciting, the world of skin care is a little bit intimidating for beauty beginners. The vast amount of product is overwhelming, and don’t even get us started on the vernacular! It’s these reasons alone that many surrender to soap, and that makes us sad. Yes, there’s an encyclopedia of knowledge to learn from, but it doesn’t have to feel like school again.

Like kitchen chemists, perfecting your own skin care regimen is a true blend of art and science, and some spend years tailoring their ideal recipe. So whether you’re a seasoned skin pro or a total face novice, we decided it was time to reel back to the basics. We broke the domain of skin care down into a broad overview of seven steps—the what-you-should-know before you even begin. Granted, you probably won’t include everything in your personal system, and there’s so much more to learn. Keep these categories in mind when studying for your next skin shopping trip.

Level 0: The Pre-Cleansers

Before you even get to washing your face, you have to take the gunk on top of it off first. This is makeup removal stage. Whether you use a cleansing oil or any remover of your choice, wipe off the day’s dirt before you cleanse.

Level 1: The Cleansers

A cleanser washes your face. Pretty simple, no? Available in formulas such as milk, gel, cream, and oil, the options are endless (and a whole other article). Whip out any skin care brush such as The Clarisonic at this stage as well.

Level 2: The Toners

Perhaps one of the more controversial steps in the beauty world, toner is one of those love/hate items. Technically, it’s used as a post-cleanse, removing all traces of makeup and debris your previous steps may have missed. It’s also said to have highly soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. Whatever your opinion, whip it out after the first wash.

Level 3: The Masks and Exfoliators

Ah, the addendums. Face masks practically come in every format possible, targeting a wide variety of issues—big pores, red skin, firming, wrinkles, etc. Usually, masks formulated with clay or some sort of acne-fighting ingredient help with oily skin and zits, while soothing creamy masks or sheet masks help firm, tighten, and tone. Available in both chemical and physical formats, exfoliators slough off dead skin cells, revealing a younger, more vibrant layer. Use these products (bi-weekly) after you’ve given your face a good wash, but before any treatments.

Level 4: The Eye Products

99% of the time, it’s probably a good idea to give your skin a little extra something extra around the delicate, paper-thin orbital socket surrounding your eye. Whether it’s a cream, gel, or balm formula, apply under your moisturizer, and don’t place the product too close to the eye.

Level 5: The Anti-Agers

Topical treatments, serums, facial mists, pore refiners—the fancy stuff that promises you younger-looking skin? All under the umbrella of anti-aging. Some go on before moisturizers, some after. And some serve double-duty as both! Read the label for application instructions, and don’t forget your neck, chest, and hands.

Level 6: The Moisturizers

As anti-aging becomes a prime skin focus for all ages, the lines between moisture and treatment blur. However, if you’re just looking for pure hydration, this is the time to slather on any lotion, cream, gel, or SPF you like.