If you browse Reddit threads, you’ll get a wide range of answers to the question, “How long do you spend on skin care each day?”
Some take 45 minutes or more, others take 10 or less. So, how much of a time investment does your skin really need?
Many dermatologists say it’s possible to optimize your time and stretch your dollar while keeping your skin healthy at the same time.
“Skin care doesn’t need to be complicated,” says Mary Alice Mina, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer. “In fact, less is more.”
Here’s what Mina and three more experts have to say about skin care 101.
The skin is the body’s largest organ. It’s made up of three layers:
- epidermis (top layer)
- dermis (the middle and thickest layer)
- hypodermis (the bottom layer)
According to a
- pathogens, including viruses and bacteria
- UV rays
- chemical threats
- environmental influences
In turn, it’s important to protect and nourish your skin too.
Skin health is a lifestyle
Products are often the first thing people think about when they hear “skin care,” but lifestyle plays a major role.
“It’s important to understand that skin is a reflection of everything that’s going on inside,” says Viktoryia D Kazlouskaya, MD, PhD., a clinical dermatologist practicing at the University of Pittsburgh. “Our overall well-being is very important in how the skin looks.”
Kazlouskaya says this means it’s essential to:
- Maintain a nutrient-dense diet that’s high in protein, Healthy fats, and vitamins.
- Exercise moderation when eating processed foods and sugar.
- Stay hydrated.
- Get plenty of high quality sleep.
- Protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Kazlouskaya also notes there’s only so much you can do for your skin’s health and look. Nurture can help, but nature plays a role too.
“If your mother and grandmother were looking young in their 40s and 50s, there’s a good chance you’ll look young as well,” Kazlouskaya says. “There’s a lot of things you can’t control.”
Still, you can do your best to care for your skin no matter what your genes have to say about it.
Cut through the noise
Mina says there’s a ton of noise out there when it comes to skin care.
The #beauty hashtag on Instagram has more than 500 million photos, and the industry is dominated by influencers who aren’t necessarily skin care experts.
This can give people the idea that they need tons of products and ingredients to have healthy skin, but that’s simply not the case.
This is what the derms say about what your skin really needs:
A person with a vanity full of beauty products isn’t necessarily better off than someone who can’t tell serum from oil.
If you want to cover your bases, you need three things.
“Gentle products like a mild facial cleanser, a fragrance-free moisturizer, and sunscreen are really all you need product-wise for basic skin care,” says Denise Gallo, APRN, a board-certified nurse practitioner with SkinCare Physicians of Fairfield County.
According to dermatologist Barry Goldman, MD, moisturizers usually contain:
Each serves different functions.
“Humectants [like hyaluronic acid] draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin,” Goldman explains.
Goldman adds that emollients soften the skin and aid in repairing its barrier.
Occlusives are petroleum-based, and they lock in moisture inside of the skin.
Even if you aren’t concerned with how your skin looks, Mina says it’s essential to protect against sun damage. Exposure to UV rays is a leading risk factor for skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
“The sun is so damaging to the skin, including all skin types, and causes damage to our cells at the nuclear level with our DNA,” Mina says. “The best way to keep your skin looking good throughout life is strict sun protection. Prevention is key here.”
Goldman says that sunscreens with an SPF 50+ aren’t necessary. SPF 50+ protects your skin from about 98 percent of the sun’s rays, and no product can provide 100 percent protection.
If you only buy one product for your skin, Mina says make it a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+.
Avoid midday sun
Even with sunscreen, Goldman says it’s best to avoid the sun at certain times of the day.
“Perhaps most important is to avoid the midday sun altogether, especially between 12 and 3 p.m.,” Goldman says.
If you can’t or don’t want to, combining sunscreen with sun-safe clothing can provide added layers of protection. He recommends:
- wide-brimmed hats
- neck-to-knee swimwear
- UPF 50+ clothing
The best and worst products and ingredients for your skin can depend on your skin type, Kazlouskaya notes. People may have skin that is:
Though a dermatologist can pinpoint your skin type, Kazlouskaya says you can probably figure it out yourself:
- Shiny skin is usually oily.
- Flakey skin is dry.
- If products often irritate your skin, it’s probably sensitive.
- Normal skin doesn’t have issues like clogged pores, chronic dryness, or irritation.
Kazlouskaya says that your skin is, in part, made up of what you eat. She recommends adding the following to your skin-healthy diet:
- lean protein, like chicken and legumes
- vitamin-rich foods, particularly vitamin C, like apples and oranges
- foods with lipids (healthy fats), like avocado, salmon, and nuts
Kazlouskaya notes that many of her aging patients don’t eat enough protein, which is problematic for the skin.
“Protein is very important,” she says. “Hair, nails, skin — everything is made of protein.”
The amount of protein you need each day depends on your caloric needs.
For instance, according to the USDA, a 5 ft. 5 in., 135-lb. person who is 35 years old and not pregnant or breastfeeding needs about 54 grams of protein per day. That’s about 5 oz. of
Kazlouskaya adds that it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional or nutritionist about how much protein you should be eating to support your weight, age, and lifestyle.”
Vitamins and antioxidants
Eating the rainbow can help ensure you get plenty of vitamins and antioxidants to nourish the skin.
“Vitamins factor in all chemical processes in our body, especially vitamin C, which is essential for the synthesis of collagen,” Kazlouskaya says.
Kazlouskaya explains that eating produce can also aid in neutralizing free radicals, which are unstable molecules, atoms, or ions that can cause skin damage, inflammation, and early aging.
Consuming healthy fats can help with dryness.
“The cells have a lot of lipids,” Kazlouskaya says. “If the cells lose lipids, the skin can become dry. Lipids help with the synthesis of hormones, which is very important for skin health.”
Minimize processed foods, sugar, and alcohol
Kazlouskaya recommends minimizing the consumption of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol.
Kazlouskaya says some people cut dairy to prevent breakouts.
Kazlouskaya stresses that dairy has skin-healthy benefits, including protein, and suggests speaking to a healthcare professional before making dietary changes.
Moisturizer is important, but so is quenching your thirst.
Kazlouskaya recommends drinking water throughout the day, but she’s hesitant to dole out the standard advice to drink 8 cups every 24 hours.
Lifestyle factors, like how often you exercise, can contribute to the amount of water you should drink. And several foods, like certain fruits, vegetables, and soups, contain water.
“The most important thing is to look at your urine,” Kazlouskaya says. “It should be light yellow. If it’s dark yellow, you need to drink more water.”
Kazlouskaya says that sleep helps regulate hormones and stress. When there’s an imbalance of either, it can show up on your skin.
Now that you know what your skin does and doesn’t need, consider this your fuss-free routine.
- Wash your face. Use a gentle, nonabrasive cleanser and lukewarm water.
- Moisturize. Opt for a moisturizer that fits your skin type.
- Apply sunscreen of SPF 30+. Reapply every 2 hours if you’re in the sun.
- Dress for sun-safe success. Put on sun-safe clothing if you’ll be outdoors during daylight.
- Eat and drink. Follow a nutritious diet, like the Mediterranean diet, and drink enough water to keep urine light yellow.
- Avoid the sun when its rays are strongest. Typically between noon and 3 p.m., if possible.
- Repeat steps one and two at night. Also wash your face after sweating.
- Hit the sack. Get plenty of sleep so you stress less, and your skin can repair.
Want some more pro tips from the derms?
When it comes to washing, be gentle. “Don’t scrub. Pat dry with a soft towel,” Gallo advises.
Goldman recommends avoiding oil-based emollient cream or occlusive petrolatum-based ointment if you’re acne-prone. Opt for a noncomedogenic lotion instead. It’s less likely to clog pores.
Kazlouskaya suggests avoiding scented moisturizers if you have sensitive skin — fragrances can be irritating.
Not all trendy ingredients and products are created equal, and not all are necessary. Kazlouskaya and Goldman say you can skip:
- pore clearing strips
Exfoliants promise to help with cell turnover, but Goldman says you don’t need to invest in one.
“Your skin will exfoliate with or without your help … especially in young people who already have healthy skin with normal or close-to-normal turnover,” Goldman says.
While a serum can enhance the look and feel of your skin, Kazlouskaya says it isn’t a must-have.
“If you look at all the ingredients in serums, I see the benefit in using hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, vitamin A and maybe ceramides, but you can find those in moisturizers,” Kazlouskaya says. “You can get vitamin C from oranges.”
In some cases, toners can do more harm than good.
“Toner may create a grease-free feeling, but your body will just make more to compensate,” Goldman says. “The alcohols in many toners can be damaging to the skin barrier.”
Some toner labels promise to reduce pore size — not true, says Goldman.
“There is no cream, cleanser, or toner that fundamentally decreases the size of your pores,” Goldman says.
Like toners, oils can also worsen issues rather than solve them.
Oils “often have fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin,” Kazlouskaya says. “They can clog pores and worsen acne. They don’t moisturize because they are on the surface of the skin.”
Skin care is often made out to be a complicated process that requires tons of time and products.
In reality, trendy products and procedures aren’t necessarily what your skin needs to thrive. Cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen are the three basic products you need.
Lifestyle is also important. Eating a nutritious diet full of proteins, healthy fats, and produce can nourish the skin from the inside out.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.