Over the years I've been mesmerized by miracle skin products from antiaging creams and wrinkle-reducing formulas to glycolic peels and seaweed masks. But, according to Dallas-based aesthetician Renee Rouleau, "Serums, masks, eye cream ... are all bells and whistles. They don't count if you don't get the basics right." I sat down with Renee to talk about the essentials — what you really need to keep your skin healthy. Her advice? Three products — cleanser, toner, moisturizer — are the nuts and bolts you can't do without. Two more additions, a night cream and exfoliant, complete what she thinks should be in every woman's skincare regimen.
MC: What's the first step in scaling down your skincare routine?
Focus on the essentials. People want to go for the expensive moisturizer and eye cream. They put their money into the wrong thing. You have to invest in the basics.
MC: How do I choose a cleanser?
You need a cleanser that doesn't dry you out. If, after you wash your face, your skin feels tight and dry, it's too strong. If you overdry your skin, it ruins everything you do afterward.
MC: What does toner do?
Toner removes residue — salts, chlorines, minerals — left over from tap water, and should be applied immediately after the cleanser. It also helps seal the moisturizer in, so adding a toner may help your skin to feel more hydrated. Rather than going with a more intensive face cream, add a toner to your routine.
MC: Do I need a moisturizer with SPF?
For day, it's great to get a moisturizer with a built-in SPF. SPF 15 is the minimum. You don't need SPF at night. When your skin is at rest, repairing itself, you want to use a cream whose sole purpose is to hydrate.
MC: How often should I exfoliate?
You'll want to exfoliate two to three times a week. I prefer a facial scrub with perfectly round beads (so this is one time that natural is not necessarily best). Your scrub can be used in lieu of a cleanser in the morning. Leave it in the shower for ease of use.
MC: What ingredients should be avoided?
Synthetic fragrance, typically listed as "fragrance" or "parfum," is the number one reason for allergic reaction. Steer clear of alcohol — except in spot treatments — as it dries skin out. Mineral oil, which is often found in products geared toward older women, can suffocate the skin and exacerbate redness.
MC: What about products for all skin types?
Beware of products for all skin types. Very few products work for all skin types. Scrubs are okay, but clay masks, for example, should be used for oily skin or spot treatments only.
MC: When should I use serums and oils?
Use serums at night, underneath your night cream. Essential oils can be used in lieu of a night cream, or in combination.
MC: At what age should I start using an eye cream?
The skin around the eye is very sensitive, so it's great if you can add an eye cream to your routine. Avoid greasy eye creams, because they generally have a high concentration of oil — which can create puffiness. You want a light-weight cream or gel.
Notes from the field ...
What I kept:
Dior's HydrAction Deep Hydration Rich Crème (sephora.com; $54) doesn't have SPF, so it's not great for day, but I can slather it on at night to keep my skin hydrated.
In lieu of a scrub, I can apply Elemis's Papaya Enzyme Peel (beauty.com; $42), which uses enzymes to exfoliate.
Renee gives Ole Henriksen's Balancing Cucumber Face Tonic (olehenriksen.com; $21) the thumbs-up because it doesn't contain alcohol (even if it is unnaturally green).
Oil is a big trend and this works: Active oil (barneys.com; $59) is 100 percent natural.
Sundari's Apricot and Shea Hydrasoothing Mask (spalook.com; $40) is perfect for my sensitive skin.
What I threw out:
Caudalie's Eau de Beaute, a spray to make my complexion glow, contains alcohol, so it got the heave-ho.
The Umbrian Clay Face Treatment by Fresh is too drying for my already dry and sensitive skin. I can donate this one to a friend with oily skin.
Maria Galland's Success Moisture Cream smells like perfume, which means it probably contains synthetic fragrances.
The Crème Reconciliante Riche by Payot is too greasy for my skin and better suited for someone a bit older.
My Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream uses mineral oils, another no-no.
Get tips on how to Spring Clean Your Makeup Bag here.