Healthy, glowing skin typically relies on a good and balanced daily skin care routine. Whether you’re just starting out or an experienced skin care enthusiast, a solid routine can take time to perfect — especially when the efficacy of certain products depends on your skin type and tolerance levels, among many other factors.
Dermatologists have a lot of insight into the type of products and active ingredients that can help craft a skin care routine, which takes into account skin type and addresses any skin concerns. “There is an assumption that my skin care routine must be both complicated and too expensive — neither is true,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Erum Ilyas.
We asked four dermatologists about their own step-by-step morning and evening skin care routines, as well as their favorite products to use daily. They also gave us tips about the best order to apply your skin care products and what specific treatments to consider (and stay away from).
LEARN MORE In what order should you apply skin care products? | Tips for crafting the best skin care routine
Dermatologist-approved skin care routines in 2023
We spoke to four dermatologists about their daily skin care routines and highlighted their favorite products to use in the morning and at night. We also noted their skin type and any skin concerns they keep in mind while crafting their routines.
Dr. Erum Ilyas
- About the derm: Dr. Erum Ilyas is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology.
- Skin type: Oily
- Skin concerns and treatments: Ilyas tries to find a balance between treating wrinkles and combating the dryness that comes from products like retinoids. She balances anti-wrinkle products with moisturizers and clay masks to help remove the flaky dry skin that can build up.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Erum Ilyas said she’s maintained a similar skin care routine for decades: She started to incorporate retinoids and sunscreen about 30 years ago, and added a moisturizer formulated to reduce fine lines and wrinkles a few years later. “Skin care products and routines are a long game — they may not always reverse the changes you note in your skin, but they are pretty good at preventing the damage from occurring in the first place,” she said.
Ilyas starts her day by washing her face with a gentle cleanser, which she said changes at times based on availability — typically, she reaches for more sensitive skin brands like La Roche-Posay, Cerave and Neutrogena. After cleansing her face, she moves on to a daily moisturizer — usually, the Olay Total Effects Face Moisturizer — and follows that with her favorite tinted sunscreen. (Ilyas said she’ll typically reapply sunscreen every two hours if she’s spending time outdoors — if she’s at work and inside, she’ll only apply it in the morning.) This simple routine ultimately sets the base for her everyday makeup routine.
La Roche-Posay is a Select reader-favorite brand, and one we’ve previously recommended in our guides to rosacea and acne-prone skin. The brand’s Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Wash has been Ilyas’s go-to cleanser recently for both her morning and evening routine. The cream cleanser is non-comedogenic — which means it won’t clog pores — and contains niacinamide and ceramide-3 to help the skin retain its natural moisture, according to La Roche-Posay.
Another face wash Ilyas uses in the morning is Cerave’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser, which can remove makeup, dirt and other impurities while providing up to 24 hours of hydration, according to the brand. It contains hyaluronic acid, ceramides and glycerin to hydrate the skin and avoid leaving it feeling tight or dry, per Cerave. It’s also fragrance-free and non-comedogenic.
“I discovered this [product] almost 20 years ago and found that it gives my skin a glow — I actually notice a distinct difference in my skin when I do not use this product,” Ilyas said. The moisturizer includes SPF 15 protection and contains ingredients like niacinamide and glycerin to help even out the skin tone, brighten and smooth fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand.
“This SPF 30 contains titanium dioxide as its active ingredient — which is used in mineral sunscreens — along with a hint of tint that gives me the sun protection and blue light protection I need during the course of the day,” Ilyas said. Non-comedogenic and oil-free, The Bare Mineral Complexion Rescue provides a buildable sheer-to-light coverage for daily use, according to the brand, and contains hyaluronic acid and squalene to keep the skin hydrated.
Dr. Ilyas’ nighttime routine includes the same cleanser she uses in the morning. “To remove any wax-based or heavier makeup products, I use a cotton round dipped in Vaseline to remove mascara, eyeliner and similar products,” she said, noting that it’s a safe and gentle way to remove stubborn makeup.
She follows her cleansing routine with a prescription-strength retinoid. “Since my skin feels somewhat dry from the retinoid, I occasionally take a night off,” she said. She then applies the Cerave PM Face Moisturizer to hydrate her skin in the evening, as well as a lip mask to add moisture while she sleeps.
Ilyas said she uses Vaseline to remove any heavy makeup on the face and around the eyes at night. “It is hydrophobic and removes these products safely, gently and without leaving my skin feeling irritated,” she said.
To help keep her skin hydrated after applying a drying prescription-based retinoid, Ilyas said she loves using the Cerave PM face moisturizer in the evening. It has a lightweight, non-comedogenic formula that includes hyaluronic acid to help retain the skin’s natural moisture, according to the brand. The moisturizer is also hypoallergenic and fragrance- and oil-free.
Ilyas said she uses the La Roche-Posay Lipikar moisturizing cream on her body in the winter. It’s formulated with niacinamide, shea butter and glycerin to hydrate and soothe extremely dry skin, the brand says.
Another body moisturizing option Ilyas incorporates in her evening routine, the Osea Undaria Algae Body Oil “hydrates the skin nicely and softens it overall,” she said. The body oil is fast-absorbing and non-greasy, according to the brand, and it’s formulated with ingredients to help replenish the skin’s moisture barrier.
This lip mask from Laneige — a favorite of Ilyas — can be left on overnight and helps deliver moisture to the lips. It comes in various scents, including Vanilla and Sweet Candy, and each container is packaged with a tiny applicator so your hands never have to touch your lips.
“I find that using a clay mask gives my skin a polished look and feel,” Ilyas said. She likes this option from Origins, which can draw out impurities and gently exfoliate the skin. However, Ilyas said that she only uses a clay mask in her evening routine once a week since “using these too frequently can be too irritating for the skin.”
Dr. Paul Cellura
- About the derm: Dr. Paul Cellura is a board-certified dermatologist at Tribeca Skin Center in New York City.
- Skin type: Dry
- Skin concerns and treatments: No major underlying skin issues or conditions. To avoid breakouts, treat the occasional blemish and prevent wrinkles, Cellura uses prescription tretinoin at night.
Dr. Paul Cellura, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, prefers to keep his daily skin care routine as simple and evidence-based as possible. He noted that overdoing the routine with too many steps and ingredients can have negative effects on your skin. “From a time-saving perspective, it helps to keep things on the minimal side — I do three main steps in the morning, and three in the evening,” Cellura said.
Notably, Cellura doesn’t wash his face in the morning. “No matter the season, I tend to be on the dry side. As a New Yorker, this tends to be most challenging in the winter months,” he said. “I only wash my face once per day — in my evening routine — because washing twice per day is too drying for me.”
Cellura starts off his routine with a serum containing antioxidants, specifically ascorbic acid (vitamin C). He then layers on a product containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which helps improve skin texture and unclog pores. The final step in his morning routine is applying sunscreen. “I like my sunscreen with a little tint to help even my complexion,” Cellura noted. When he’s spending a significant amount of time outdoors, Cellura said he always applies sunscreen to any exposed areas about every 90 minutes.
SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum
Since Cellura starts his day with an antioxidant-containing serum, he typically reaches for this SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum. The serum is formulated with vitamins C and E, along with 17 other antioxidants, to help reduce redness and improve the appearance of uneven skin tone, according to the brand.
“I have been using Sunday Riley’s Good Genes, which contains lactic acid, for a while now,” Cellura said. The serum’s ingredients can help with a few different skin concerns: Lactic acid helps hydrate and exfoliate the skin, licorice and lemongrass can brighten the appearance of dark spots and discoloration, and prickly pear extract soothes redness, according to the brand.
Cellura said he alternates between a few different sunscreens in his morning routine. He likes the TiZO3 Facial Mineral Sunscreen with SPF 40 because of its sheer tint, which provides lightweight coverage while also protecting against the sun’s rays. It’s free of chemical sunscreen filters, dyes and fragrances, the brand says.
Another favorite of Cellura’s, ISDIN’s Eryfotona Actinica sunscreen is 100% mineral-based and offers SPF 50+ protection. It also offers a lightweight consistency to avoid feeling greasy on the skin, according to the brand.
“I love Aquaphor ointment for my lips and will use this anytime they are feeling dry, cracked, or painful,” Cellura said. One of our favorite ways to combat dry lips, the Aquaphor Lip Repair Ointment is formulated with moisturizing and soothing ingredients like chamomile essence, shea butter and vitamin E.
Cellura starts his evening routine with a calming and non-irritating cleanser like Neutrogena’s Skin Balancing Milky Cleanser. Since Cellura has very dry skin, he follows that with a prescription-strength retinoid — tretinoin 0.05% — compounded with hyaluronic acid, turmeric and niacinamide to make it more tolerable for his skin. He then applies a thicker nighttime moisturizer to combat dryness and offset any irritation from the retinoid. “This is where I play around the most in my routine as I like to try out different moisturizers,” he said.
This cleanser from Neutrogena is formulated with 2% polyhydroxy acid (PHA), which works as a liquid exfoliant and moisturizing humectant for dry and sensitive skin, according to the brand.
Cellura said he likes to try out different moisturizers in his evening routine and is currently liking Skinfix’s Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream. It includes active lipids, peptides, hyaluronic acid and shea butter to hydrate and brighten the skin, according to the brand.
Tatcha’s The Dewy Skin Cream is another moisturizer that Cellura incorporates into his nighttime routine. Designed for dryness and uneven texture, the moisturizer includes ingredients like hyaluronic acid to maintain the skin’s natural moisture and botanical extracts to nourish the skin and help it retain and release moisture as needed, per Tatcha.
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 At-Home Facial Peel
Cellura will incorporate a chemical exfoliant into his routine once or twice a week. He reaches for this glycolic acid facial peel from Exuviance, which contains a 25% blend of AHAs and PHAs. In addition to glycolic acid, the formula includes mandelic acid and gluconolactone.
“In the winter months, I like to use a hydrating facial mask once a week for extra moisture,” Cellura said, adding that the Patchology Hydrate FlashMasque is his favorite one to use. The sheet mask is designed to be kept on for about five minutes and includes hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5.
Dr. Gabriela Soza
- About the derm: Dr. Gabriela Soza is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City.
- Skin type: Combination acne-prone skin
- Skin concerns and treatments: Soza uses prescription hydroquinone for her melasma, as well as prescription retinoids to treat discoloration and fine lines.
“I have combination acne-prone skin. Without any active skin care ingredients, my skin would be on the oily side. But the prescription retinoid [I use] tends to dry out my skin, so I need to find a balance,” said Dr. Gabriela Soza, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. That means she prefers incorporating gentle yet purifying cleansers and intense, effective hydrating serums and moisturizers into her routines.
Soza starts her morning routine by washing her face with a cleanser, and she’ll typically alternate between a few cleansers depending on whether her skin is feeling dryer than usual or if she’s experiencing more breakouts. “If my skin is feeling too dried out, I opt for gentle cleansers without active ingredients,” she said. “If I’m going to use an active cleanser once daily, I’m going to use it at night to wash off the grime from the day.”
She follows her cleanser with a vitamin C serum to brighten the skin and protect it from damage caused by free radicals, followed by a non-hydroquinone pigment corrector for her melasma to help reduce the appearance of dark spots and discoloration from the condition. She’ll then layer on a serum to help brighten and smooth out the skin, followed by an eye cream and a hydrating moisturizer.
The last step in her morning routine is applying an SPF 50 sunscreen and following that with a powder foundation to set it. “If I’m at work, I won’t reapply [sunscreen] during the day as I don’t see any sunlight,” Soza said. “If I’m going out, I’ll brush some of the ISDIN powder sunscreen on top and reapply every couple of hours, or even earlier if I’m sweating out in the sun.”
This foaming cleanser from La Roche-Posay is one of Soza’s favorites. Designed for normal to oily and sensitive skin, the cleanser helps remove excess oils and keeps the skin’s natural moisture barrier intact, according to the brand. It can also remove face and eye makeup, as well as dirt and other impurities.
For more breakout-heavy days, Soza uses this acne face wash from Neutrogena. One of our favorite face washes for acne-prone skin, it can remove dirt, oil, grime and bacteria, and it’s oil-free and non-comedogenic, according to the brand. It contains salicylic acid, which can help clean out pores and calm acne.
ISDIN Flavo-C Ultraglican 30 Ampoules
Soza’s favorite vitamin C serum is this option from ISDIN. It includes 30 ampoules of vitamin C serum that you simply break open and place on an applicator tip to apply it on your face, neck and neckline, according to the brand. In addition to vitamin C, the ampoules contain hyaluronic acid to provide hydration and elasticity, ISDIN says. It comes in a pack of 10 ampoules or 30 ampoules.
Since Soza uses a prescription hydroquinone pigment corrector for her melasma in the evening, she’ll use this skin-brightening serum from Skinceuticals, which uses ingredients like kojic acid, tranexamic acid and vitamin B3 to correct dark spots.
Soza uses Neocutis’ Bio Serum Firm both in her morning and evening routines. “My favorite products from [Neocutis] contain growth factors and proprietary peptides, which support collagen and elastin production — we know the benefits of growth factors, yet not everyone incorporates them into their skincare on a daily basis,” Soza said. The formula helps reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles and brightens the skin, according to the brand.
The Neocutis Bio Cream Firm is Soza’s favorite moisturizer to use both morning and night because it “hydrates my skin and doesn’t clog my pores.” It has a fragrance-free and non-comedogenic formula that’s designed to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also smoothing out the skin’s texture and tone, according to the brand.
Soza said she likes this tinted compact mineral sunscreen from Avene, which offers a cream-to-powder formula. “I suffer from melasma and it contains more than 3% iron oxide, an amount demonstrated to offer protection against visible and blue light, meaning it can prevent melasma and dark spots from getting worse,” Soza said.
Soza removes her sunscreen and makeup from the day using Bioderma’s Micellar Water, and moves on to a mild gentle cleanser to wash off any excess dirt and grime. Afterward, she’ll use the same Neocutis serum from her morning routine followed by a prescription hydroquinone cream to reduce the appearance of her melasma.
Soza then applies a prescription retinoid: Tretinoin for her face and Tazarotene for her body. Following her retinoid treatment, Soza applies her eye cream and moisturizes with the same Neocutis Bio Cream Firm from her morning routine.
Bioderma’s Sensibio Micellar Water removes face and eye makeup while gently cleansing the skin from the day’s dirt and grime, according to the brand. Its no-rinse formula is fragrance-, oil- and alcohol-free.
This oil-free gel cleanser from Glytone is one of Soza’s favorite face washes to include in her evening routine since it’s formulated with glycolic acid to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin. The cleanser can also remove makeup and unclog pores, according to the brand.
Similar to the other Neocutis products she uses, Soza wears this eye cream both day and night because it helps minimize the appearance of puffiness and dark circles. “It also contains caffeine, a key ingredient in eye creams that can help reduce puffiness,” she said. Soza added that she’ll use the Neocutis Lumiere Firm Riche in the winter since it’s “extra moisturizing.”
Dr. Rachel Westbay
- About the derm: Dr. Rachel Westbay is a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City.
- Skin type: Normal and mildly sensitive
- Skin concerns and treatments: Because of her sensitivity and fair complexion, Westbay focuses heavily on antioxidant protection to combat free radical damage and chemical exfoliants rather than physical ones.
New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Rachel Westbay said she has sensitive, fair skin, meaning she doesn’t incorporate physical exfoliants into her skin care routines that can cause irritation and redness. She also never skips out on sunscreen: “Sunscreen is a must apply, every day like brushing my teeth, irrespective of weather and whether I’m staying indoors or going outside,” Westbay noted.
Westbay’s morning routine begins with a foaming cleanser that she said leaves her face feeling hydrated and clean. She then adds a vitamin C serum, which “acts as a potent antioxidant that helps prevent free radical damage generated from pollution, UV light and other environmental toxins,” she said, adding that a vitamin C serum helps “prevent unwanted pigment formation and other signs of sun damage, like collagen loss.”
After the serum, Westbay applies a hydrating moisturizer; specifically, she uses SkinFix’s Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream. However, “I am a firm believer that moisturizers do not need to be crazy expensive or fancy, particularly in the morning time — I like my morning moisturizer to be about barrier repair and hydration,” she said.
Similar to Cellura, Westbay follows her moisturizer with ISDIN’s Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ sunscreen, which is a staple in her morning routine. “It’s an outstanding choice for those who’ve become diligent about sun protection a little late in life — its milky formula goes on sheer and feels non-greasy and light, so is excellent both alone and under makeup,” she said.
This foaming oil-free cleanser contains a hydrating hyaluronate blend and aloe, which helps the skin retain water and is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids. “Despite being so luscious, it is oil-free and does not cause breakouts, and it’s also able to remove even stubborn makeup,” Westbay said.
The Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum is formulated with a combination of l-ascorbic acid (the most powerful form of vitamin C), vitamin E2 and ferulic acid. “This serum is really the gold standard of all antioxidant serums and my favorite Skinceuticals product — it’s totally worth the splurge,” Westbay said.
Westbay said she uses a powder sunscreen like this option from Colorescience for touch-ups throughout the day. “I carry this in my purse at all times,” she said. It’s a mineral sunscreen powder with broad-spectrum SPF 50 and contains iron oxide for blue light protection, according to the brand.
Westbay uses the Skinfix cleanser from her morning routine in the evening — if she’s wearing makeup, Westbay will use a makeup removing cleansing balm before her face wash. She’ll then move on to a serum that helps diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
Westbay said she’s really struggled to tolerate prescription retinol since having her son, so she typically uses an over-the-counter retinol cream, followed by a wrinkle-reducing eye cream and moisturizer. She ends her routine with a facial oil that helps support the skin barrier and makes her skin feel and look firm.
“This is a great cleansing balm that I only use maybe one to two times per week when I really feel like I need a double cleanse,” Westbay said. She mentioned that she enjoys its “silky” consistency and how it melts easily into the skin. The cleansing balm contains sunflower and ginger root oils to help remove eye makeup without stripping or drying out the skin. It’s also formulated with papaya extract to gently exfoliate, according to the brand.
Westbay said this serum from Skinmedica is “worth the splurge” — it contains potent growth ingredients to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, according to the brand. The serum combines two formulas: One includes a growth factor blend that helps make the skin stronger over time by giving it more structural support, and the other features a blend of botanicals and marine extracts, which contains collagen-stimulating peptides and hydrators to diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles. “It’s basically a powerhouse anti-aging product and I see big differences in my skin when I use it,” Westbay said.
“This rich, non-retinol eye cream improves signs of skin aging, including dark circles, puffiness, skin laxity, crow’s feet and crepiness by promoting healthy collagen and moisture-rich hydration,” Westbay said. It contains antioxidants and peptides to help support collagen and elastin, according to the brand.
Exuviance Rebuild-5 Firming & Moisturizing Face Cream
”This cream feels very luxurious,” Westbay said. It supports five of the skin’s natural building blocks, including elastin, collagen and triple hyaluronic acid, according to the brand. “It helps my skin resist future signs of aging, plumps and firms it, and helps keep my cheekbones and jawline defined,” she added.
SkinBetter Intensive AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Westbay said she’s able to better tolerate this overnight cream compared to prescription retinoids. “I love it because the retinol is combined with lactic acid, both of which are potent anti-aging ingredients,” she said, adding that it’s non-irritating without compromising on efficacy. It also contains hydrating ingredients like squalane, niacinamide and ceramides to keep the skin moisturized and avoid dryness from the retinol, the brand says.
This nutrient-dense oil blends vitamins F, A, C and E, as well as botanical oils, to support the skin’s natural collagen and lipid barrier and firm the skin, according to the brand. “This is just the icing on the cake for my routine that I use in part for its benefits and just for how it makes my skin feel,” Westbay said.
What order should you apply skin care products?
Generally, the order in which you apply the products in your skin care routine depends on the function of the product and its viscosity or thickness, according to Cellura. Our experts recommended the following general order during both your morning and night routine to ensure you’re getting the appropriate benefits from each product.
- Wash your face with your favorite cleanser, depending on your skin type.
- Apply lighter treatments, like toners and serum-based treatments.
- Apply thicker treatments like gels and creams so they “don’t block absorption of the lighter products into the skin,” Cellura said. This can include acne spot treatments and products that reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
- Introduce a moisturizing gel, lotion or cream, from lightweight — such as a hydrating serum — to heavier moisturizers and sunscreens.
“Products designed to address a specific skin concern should go first as these products will have active ingredients and should be most effective if they have direct skin contact,” Ilyas said. Moisturizers and sunscreens come after these treatments since they can help “seal in” the products while also adding in hydration.
If applicable, pigments and makeup should be the last part of your routine. “Use the base as your palette to create the look you are trying to achieve,” Ilyas said.
Should you add an eye cream to your routine?
Eye creams can be important, but they’re not completely necessary. For people who have a difficult time committing to a more basic skincare regimen, “most good moisturizers are safe to use around the eye area,” Soza said.
The under-eye area is notoriously difficult to improve, and understanding what is causing dark under-eye circles or puffiness in the first place can be the key to improving it. Genetics and aging can cause dark circles and volume loss under the eyes, and some people may benefit more from in-office treatments like dermal fillers in the tear troughs than eye creams, Cellura said. Allergies can also cause dark circles and discoloration due to friction when rubbing the eyes, Ilyas added.
Ilyas noted that she uses Vaseline and Aquaphor around the eyes to help with dryness and soothe the delicate skin. “I find that many eye creams contain anti-aging ingredients that can dry out or exfoliate the skin. I cannot tell you how often patients use eye creams with the intent to calm irritation and don’t realize the eye cream is making it worse,” she said.
Tips for crafting the best skin care routine
A skin care routine is more than just the products you use — and, sometimes, certain products won’t target the specific skin concerns you’re hoping to improve. Our dermatologists told us there are a few things to keep in mind when creating a skin care routine that fits your skin type and needs.
- Pay attention to your skin type and underlying skin concerns. If you have dry skin, for example, you should introduce hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, while staying away from foaming cleansers and other products that can strip the skin of its natural oils. If you have acne-prone skin, Cellura suggested steering clear of products containing vitamin E since they can clog pores and worsen acne. Always consult a dermatologist if you have a specific concern you’re hoping to address.
- Wear sunscreen every day, and reapply at least every 90 minutes to 2 hours. Our dermatologists recommended wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protection.
- Don’t switch up your skin care ingredients too frequently. Ilyas noted you can keep the same routine for years and even decades. “There is a lot of ‘product surfing’ that goes on among my patients [because] products can be tempting to purchase based on packaging, marketing and influencer input,” she said. But there is only so much that a skin care product can achieve — many can’t change your appearance, they can only support the maintenance of your skin overall.
- Use retinol or a retinoid if you can tolerate it, but don’t overdo it. “A little goes a long way — I often find my patients are overusing the product and then becoming irritated,” Cellura said, adding that “a very thin layer to the full face is all you need.”