(RealSimple.com) -- Overwashing, overapplying, and product overkill won't improve your skin. Rein in your regimen to get real results.
Want beautiful skin like model Megan Gale? Don't overdo it, experts say.
Cleansing and exfoliating
You don't need to wash or scrub as often -- or as vigorously -- as you may think. "Many women go overboard here, figuring it will make their skin look better if they do both more frequently," says dermatologist Leslie Baumann. "But that only damages the skin's natural barrier and creates dryness and irritation."
How often: Wash your face twice a day, and gently exfoliate once or twice a week; this is enough to keep skin balanced and encourage cell turnover, according to experts.
What to look for: A mild cleanser that isn't too rich or too drying, says Mary Lupo, a dermatologist in New Orleans, Louisiana. Use an exfoliant that contains gentle particles or acids to remove dead cells without abrading your skin.
Where to find it: Cleanser -- Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, $6 at drugstores. Exfoliant -- St. Ives Elements Microdermabrasion Scrub, $7 at drugstores.
How often: Cleanse skin at night, when it's dirtiest. Rinse with cool water in the morning to help maintain natural oils. If skin is flaky, exfoliate once a week, says Lisa Donofrio, a professor of dermatology at Yale University.
What to look for: A cleansing oil or creamy wash that has moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin. If you have sensitive skin to boot, avoid products that contain fragrances or alcohol, which can irritate.
Where to find it: Cleanser -- Laura Mercier Purifying Oil, $40, www.sephora.com; or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, $11.50 at drugstores. Exfoliant -- Your safest bet is to use a wet washcloth.
How often: Lather up two to three times a day (as needed) but never more; overwashing kicks oil glands into overproduction. Exfoliate once or twice a week, but skip this if you have acne; the friction can make it worse.
What to look for: An oil-free, non-comedogenic foaming cleanser that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to prevent breakouts. The scrub should contain mild acids to keep the pores open and clean.
Where to find it: Cleanser -- Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser, $7 at drugstores. Exfoliant -- Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub, $6 at drugstores.
How often: Wash once a day if your skin is irritated by nearly everything or if you have eczema or psoriasis; twice a day if your skin is dirty. Forget about exfoliating, as it's too abrasive for your skin type.
What to look for: Hypoallergenic and fragrance- and soap-free cleansers. Calming ingredients, like green tea, chamomile, feverfew, and aloe, are a bonus. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in a product, the better.
Where to find it: Cleanser -- La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser ($19.50, www.laroche-posay.com). Apply with your fingers. "Think of the way you'd touch a newborn," says Barbara Reed, a Denver, Colorado, dermatologist.
• Use a quarter-size amount of cleanser on most skin types.
• A dime-size dollop of scrub will do.
• A pea-size dab of cleanser is plenty for sensitive skin. Real Simple: Best facial cleansers
Moisturizing and protecting
No matter what your skin type, moisture is important. "If your skin isn't hydrated, it can't protect itself from the free radicals that cause damage, discoloration, and wrinkles," says dermatologist Leslie Baumann.
Year-round daily sun protection is also a must. Fortunately there are moisturizers with SPF available for every complexion.
How often: Each morning, apply moisturizer with SPF after cleansing your skin. Reapply if you're spending more than 30 minutes outside, as sun-screens break down in sunlight over time.
What to look for: A medium-weight lotion with skin-protective antioxidants, such as green tea, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin C, and broad-spectrum sun protection with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Where to find it: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift UV Daily Moisturizing Cream with Mexoryl SX SPF 15, $22 at drugstores; or Clinique Super-defense SPF 25 Age Defense Moisturizer Dry Combination, $43, www.clinique.com.
How often: To help seal in water, apply moisturizer with SPF once a day, right after cleansing, while your skin is still damp. Reapply at midday if your skin begins to feel tight, and use a cream at night.
What to look for: A rich cream that contains antioxidants, plus hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides. "Hyaluronic acid and glycerin bind in moisture, and ceramides prevent water loss from the skin," says Donofrio.
Where to find it: Dove Pro Age Day Moisturizer SPF 15, $14 at drugstores; or Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15, $10.50 at drugstores.
How often: Moisturize every morning. Oily skin needs the right type of moisture and lightweight, non-comedogenic sun protection. Reapply as needed, since blotting away shine can remove sunscreen.
What to look for: An oil-free, featherweight lotion, serum, or gel with antioxidants. If you're acne-prone, avoid products with cocoa butter, cinnamon, or coconut oil, as they can trigger breakouts, says Baumann.
Where to find it: DDF Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Moisturizing Dew SPF 15, $38, www.ddfskincare.com; or Clean & Clear Soft Oil-Free Day Moisturizer SPF 15, $8.50 at drugstores.
How often: In the morning, apply moisturizer to skin that has been dabbed dry. Ingredients penetrate wet skin more deeply, which is often a good thing, but this can irritate sensitive skin.
What to look for: Fragrance-free lotions or creams that contain anti-inflammatories, such as chamomile, green tea, feverfew, and caffeine. Avoid lipoic acid, as it can be irritating.
Where to find it: Eucerin Redness Relief Soothing Moisture Lotion SPF 15, $14 at drugstores; or Dermalogica Super Sensitive Faceblock SPF 30, $45, www.dermalogica.com for locations.
Use a nickel-to quarter-size amount of moisturizer with SPF for face coverage. Real Simple: Seventeen affordable moisturizers
Treating and troubleshooting
Nighttime is best for targeting fine lines, blemishes, and discoloration. That's when the skin repairs itself, and the sun isn't around to degrade the active ingredients in the treatments. Careful and consistent use of effective products (most also provide moisture) will gradually yield great results.
To keep it smooth: Four nights a week, use a cream with retinol, a potent, tried-and-true wrinkle reducer. Try: Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment, $45, www.philosophy.com.
To clear it up: Use a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide or 2 percent salicylic acid gel nightly. Try: B. Kamins Medicated Acne Gel 5, $26, www.bkamins.com; or Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Gel, $8 at drugstores.
To even tone: Retinol evens tone, but for darker spots, at night use a formula that also has skin-lightening licorice, kojic acid, soy, or vitamin C. Try: RoC Multi-Correxion Night Treatment, $25 at drugstores.
To keep it smooth: As dry skin can be sensitive, apply gentle retinols every other night with a moisturizer. Try: Avène Rétrinal Cream .05, $56, www.skincarerx.com. Other nights, just moisturize.
To clear it up: Heal blemishes using a moisturizing 2 percent salicylic acid treatment or a sulfur-based salve once or twice a week. Try: AcneWorx Gentle Moisturizing Clear Acne Treatment Gel, $20, www.amazon.com.
To even tone: Slather on a rich cream that contains skin-brightening ingredients, like coffeeberry extract, each night. Try: RevaléSkin Night Cream, $99, www.skincarerx.com.
To keep it smooth: Nightly use of a retinol gel or serum softens fine lines (skip it on nights you treat blemishes, as below). Try: Replenix Retinol Plus Smoothing Serum 3X, $56, www.skincarerx.com.
To clear it up: Oily skin can take a 5 or 10 percent benzoyl peroxide gel twice a day, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a dermatologist in Danville, California. Try: Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, $5 at drugstores.
To even tone: Each night smooth a thin layer of a lightweight vitamin C serum over your face to gradually lighten any discoloration. Try: Avon Anew Alternative Clearly C 10% Vitamin C Serum, $20, www.avon.com.
To keep it smooth: Every third night, apply a mild retinol (see dry skin). Or use peptides nightly on lines. Try: Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Moisturizing Treatment, $18 at drugstores.
To clear it up: Treat blemishes with a 2 percent salicylic acid treatment and follow with moisturizer. Try: Exuviance Blemish Treatment Gel, $16, www.exuviance.com. Avoid benzoyl peroxide, which can be irritating.
To even tone: Consider a nightly application of a lotion with a gentle lightener, like a niacin derivative or vitamin C. Try: NIA 24 Intensive Recovery Complex, $110, www.skincarerx.com.
• A pea-size amount of a retinol cream is adequate.
• A dime-size dollop of a skin brightener or moisturizer will do the trick.
• A sunflower seed--size dot of an acne salve is all your spots require.
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