IF YOUR SKIN IS: NORMAL
The term "normal" is, well, relative. Normal skin can become acne-prone when pores are clogged, or irritated and dry as a reaction to active ingredients such as glycolic acid or retinoids. In general, people with normal skin can focus on ingredients that repair and prevent signs of aging.
Cleanser: Even if it's not easily irritated, normal skin isn't Teflon. You should treat it as if it were sensitive — using a mild foaming cleanser without harsh detergents (like sodium lauryl sulfate) that strip moisture.
MC Recommends: Dior Gentle Foaming Cleanser with Velvet Peony Extract, $32.
A.M. Moisturizer/Sunblock: "Set yourself up in the morning to prevent and protect your skin from the environmental damage you'll be exposed to during the day," says New York City dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades. Try a multitasking moisturizer with broad-spectrum sunblock and antioxidants.
MC Recommends: Neova DNA Damage Control Everyday SPF 40+, $35.
Eye Cream: Use an eye cream with antiaging ingredients like antioxidants, retinol, and peptides without irritating the delicate skin around your eyes.
MC Recommends: Philosophy Miracle Worker™ Miraculous Anti-Aging Eye Cream, $60.
Antiaging Treatment: "Serums are an effective delivery method for getting highly active ingredients into the skin," says Alexiades. Pick one that's infused with vitamin C or peptides that can amp up collagen formation.
MC Recommends: L'Oréal Paris Youth Code Serum Intense, $25.
Exfoliator: A sometimes-oily T-zone is common enough to be considered normal.
MC Recommends: Sephora Collection Smart Dual Action Exfoliator ($24) combines a creamy scrub to mechanically exfoliate keratin-plugged pores in the T-zone, and a gel with mild malic acid to chemically exfoliate the rest of the face.
P.M. Moisturizer: "Your night step should help your skin repair itself while you sleep," says Alexiades. Look for ingredients like antioxidants (to facilitate DNA repair) and peptides (which signal skin cells to increase collagen production).
MC Recommends: Colbert M.D. Heal & Soothe Night, $145.
IF YOUR SKIN IS: OILY
Avoid creamy or emollient anything, whether it's mineral oil, shea butter, essential oils, or petrolatum. The key word to look for: non-comedogenic. "Just because a product says it's oil-free doesn't necessarily mean it won't cause you to break out," says Washington, D.C. dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi.
Cleanser: Use a foaming cleanser with a stronger detergent (such as sodium trideceth or lauryl sulfate) to wash off excess oil. Salicylic acid will dissolve sebum, dirt, and dead skin in the pores to help prevent acne breakouts.
MC Recommends: Noxzema Clean Blemish Control Foaming Wash, $5.
A.M. Moisturizer/Sunblock: Sunscreen tends to create an oil slick on your face. Despite this ick factor, daily protection is mandatory. The trick is to find a broad-spectrum sunblock that's oil-free and non-comedogenic.
MC Recommends: Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Daily Face Shield SPF 40, $45.
Eye Cream: "Even if skin is oily elsewhere on your face, you need to moisturize around the eyes since there are so few sebaceous glands there," says Tanzi. Stick with a water-based formula with lightweight humectants and silicone-based emollients. These ingredients won't cause blemishes if they migrate down to your cheeks.
MC Recommends: Garnier Ultra Anti-Wrinkle Eye Roller, $15.
Antiaging Treatment: A serum can be used on oily skin if it's water-based. "It can even replace your moisturizer if the serum has humectants such as hyaluronic acid or propylene glycol," says aesthetician Di Medlock of NYC's Exhale Mind Body Spa. Look for formulas with multiple ingredients to prevent breakouts and treat hyperpigmentation from acne scars.
MC Recommends: SkinCeuticals Blemish+Age Defense, $78.
Exfoliator: "With oily skin, you can get serious with glycolic and salicylic acids," says Tanzi.
MC Recommends: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel, 30-Count, $85.
P.M. Moisturizer: Opt for water-based lotions or gels with glycolic or salicylic acid. "Silicone-based emollients like dimethicone won't plug pores," explains Alexiades. "They don't have the acne-exacerbating effects of heavy oils."
MC Recommends: mark Break Out Plan Anti-Acne Gel Lotion, $16.
IF YOUR SKIN IS: DRY
Rich, emollient formulations are best for dehydrated skin. Your products should contain humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) that attract moisture to the skin, and emollients such as shea butter and squalene to lock in that hydration.
Cleanser: Go with a non-soap cream or milky formula. "Foaming cleansers tend to be more drying," says Alexiades. Be sure it has plenty of emollients and fatty acids that fortify the skin's protective barrier.
MC Recommends: Dr. Brandt Skincare time arrest® crème cleanser, $50.
A.M. Moisturizer/Sunblock: Shea butter, coconut or jojoba oils, and antioxidant-rich vitamin E heal as they moisturize and won't be too greasy under makeup.
MC Recommends: Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Targeted Sun Defense Stick SPF 50 Sunscreen, $20.
Eye Cream: "The skin around the eyes is much drier than the rest of the face," says Medlock. Moisturize day and night using an eye cream with a humectant such as glycerin, which plumps skin (and fine lines).
MC Recommends: Avon Anew Platinum Eye & Lip Cream
Antiaging Treatment: Take this opportunity to bind more moisture to the skin — apply a hydrating serum underneath moisturizer morning and night. Added antioxidants such as green-tea extract, pomegranate, or vitamin C make a serum even more beneficial.
MC Recommends: Clinique Pore Minimizer Refining Serum 1.4oz / 40ml, $40.
Exfoliator: In conjunction with your nightly retinol cream, use an exfoliating product twice a week. Fruit enzymes will be gentler than glycolic or salicylic acids on parched skin. "Natural enzymes act as little Pac-Men to gobble up and break down the dead cells on the surface of your skin,"says Medlock.
MC Recommends: Clarins Bright Plus HP Gentle Renewing Brightening Peel, $38.
P.M. Moisturizer: Look for a rich cream containing ceramides, lubricating lipids that "get deep into the skin and replace natural oils," says Tanzi. Make sure it also has a strong antiaging component: retinol to speed up skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen formation, and antioxidants to perform DNA damage control.
MC Recommends: RoC Mulit-Correxion Night Treatment, $25.
IF YOUR SKIN IS: SENSITIVE
Because your skin type is irritable, it's best to avoid certain ingredients. "Stay away from detergents, perfumes, acids, alcohol, and retinols," advises Alexiades. "Go for ingredients known to soothe the skin, such as chamomile or soy."
Cleanser: Look for "fragrance-free," "soap-free," and "hypoallergenic" on the label. Mild surfactants, such as cocamidopropyl betaine and polysorbate 20, won't be too aggressive for you.
MC Recommends: Aveeno Active Naturals Ultra-Calming Foaming Cleanser, $7.
A.M. Moisturizer/Sunblock: Skip chemical sunscreens. "Read the label carefully," Tanzi warns. "Many sunscreens may state that they're safe for sensitive skin but contain chemical blocks. Your go-to sunscreen ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide." These natural minerals physically block UVA and UVB rays without irritation.
MC Recommends: Neutrogena Pure and Free Liquid SPF 50, $13.
Eye Cream: Chemical ingredients can potentially irritate the skin, so the fewer, the better, especially around your eyes.
MC Recommends: Nourishing Eye Cream ($48) is water-based, with hydrating glycerin and grape-seed extract, along with cooling, calming aloe vera.
Antiaging Treatment: "Plant polyphenols like green tea provide a myriad of antiaging benefits," says Alexiades. "They calm inflammation, scavenge free radicals that create DNA damage and photoaging, and have anticancer properties as well."
MC Recommends: Replenix Serum CF, $48.
Exfoliator: "Think of dead skin cells as a wall of sponges that has to be removed in order for ingredients to get through," says Medlock. But AHAs and gritty scrubs are way too harsh for delicate skin. "Exfoliation for you may mean something as simple as using a washcloth twice a week with your cleanser," says Tanzi. And if you're using an electronic brush, "just use it once or twice a week."
MC Recommends: Clarisonic Mia(TM) Sonic Skin Cleansing System Mia Sonic Skin Cleansing System ($149) even for sensitive skin.
P.M. Moisturizer: Sensitive skin is prone to redness and rosacea. Use a super-mild, fragrance-free cream with humectants and emollients to heal the skin's protective barrier. Look for plant-derived licorice root extract or feverfew — both are proven to calm inflammation.
MC Recommends: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Intense Soothing Moisturizer, $35.