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Your skin is your body’s shield, protecting you from potentially harmful bacteria and other environmental hazards. This vital (and largest) organ turns sunlight into vitamin D and can also serve as an indicator of overall health, alerting you to underlying conditions.

An effective skin care routine is a form of self-care that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Taking good care of your hard-working skin doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. Here are some tips for creating an effective skin care routine.

The first step in developing a skin care routine is determining your skin type. You can do this by figuring out which of the following best describes your skin at the end of the day:

  • Oily: Your face feels oily and looks shiny.
  • Dry. Your skin flakes or feels tight.
  • Combination. Your T-zone looks shiny, but the rest of your skin doesn’t.
  • Clear. Also known as “normal” skin. Your face has minimal to no oiliness, flaking, or redness.

Several factors contribute to the state of your skin. For example, your hormones affect your skin’s sebum production. Sebum is an oily substance that moisturizes and protects your skin.

Other factors that can influence sebum include:

  • age
  • diseases
  • medications

Read more about discovering your skin type.

Eating a variety of whole foods gives your skin plenty of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that help it function at its best.

A diet rich in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fish can help fight inflammation. According to a large body of research, it also offers plenty of healthy fats, including omega-3s, which benefit skin health.

Growing research also suggests that eating a lot of sweet foods and refined grains may contribute to skin inflammation and visible signs of aging, like wrinkles, according to a 2020 review of studies. These foods include:

  • candy
  • baked goods
  • products made with white flour

According to a 2016 research review, other studies have associated foods with a high glycemic load and dairy products, particularly skim milk, with acne in some people.

Glycemic load relates to the amount that your blood sugar rises when you eat a particular food. The higher the glycemic load, the more your blood sugar spikes. This is particularly true of foods that are high in sugar and refined carbs.

If you have lots of breakouts, consider keeping a food journal for a few weeks to determine whether certain foods make them worse.

Read more about foods to eat for healthy skin.

What you drink matters, too. Getting enough water, for example, keeps you hydrated, which is important for skin health. The amount of water you need depends on multiple factors, including physical activity.

According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, well-hydrated men typically consume about 12 glasses of fluid from water and other beverages, while women take in around 9 glasses.

Alcohol and high caffeine beverages like coffee and energy drinks can dry out your skin, though, so aim to get most of your fluid intake from plain or flavored water.

Certain vitamins can promote healthy skin. For example, research from 2019 suggests that vitamin A may help decrease inflammation.

Studies suggest that applying niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3, to the skin can help fade age spots and other discolorations. Research from 2015 has also found that supplementing orally with niacinamide may support skin health by minimizing sun damage, potentially lowering the risk of skin cancer.

Research also suggests that antioxidants like vitamins C and E fight damage from environmental toxins known as free radicals. Applying topical vitamin C to your skin has been shown to improve elasticity and stimulate collagen production.

Vitamin D supports skin health by promoting skin cell metabolism, helping your skin grow and repair itself.

If you’re considering taking supplements for skin health, make sure to talk with your doctor before doing so. Some supplements can interact with medications, and it can be harmful to take too many of some vitamins and minerals.

Read more about vitamins for skin health.

While there is no shortage of skin care products on the market, many dermatologists insist that the essential steps for healthy skin are simple:

  • cleanse
  • moisturize
  • protect from the sun (choosing a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30)

If you have oily skin, look for oil-free and noncomedogenic products, and avoid alcohol-based cleansers.

If your skin is on the dry side, experts recommend looking for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid or ceramides.

Try cleansing your face only once per day (at night) using a non-drying cleanser, like a no-rinse cleansing cream or oil. Exfoliating may help with flaking skin, but don’t do it more than a couple of times per week, or you may dry your skin out further.

Combination skin can be trickier. You might need to use one product on your T-zone, for example, and another on your cheeks. You can also try a balancing toner, which reduces oil and moisturizes dry spots.

If you have sensitive skin, patch test any new product for 24 hours to ensure you don’t have a bad reaction. And consider products free of potential irritants like fragrance and dyes.

Read more skin care tips.

Beauty may be skin deep, but taking care of your skin is about more than aesthetics.

Healthy skin is better able to do its job of protecting you from germs, environmental toxins, and UV damage.

The best way to treat your skin right is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, drink plenty of water, cleanse and moisturize daily, and always use sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 when you go outside.