Ask an Esthetician: The Perfect Regimen For Your Skin Type

By Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

In This Article We consider ourselves quite the skincare fanatics here at Honayst HQ—it’s hard not to be when our desks look like they could be featured in an episode of Hoarders: Skincare Edition (currently in the process of pitching that idea to A&E). However, we are well aware that our plight is a unique one and that the average woman is more concerned about what to use on her face rather than where to store her eighth cleanser of the week.

Thus, we present to you our guide to a daily skincare routine for every skin type. With the expertise of skin guru and esthetician Renée Rouleau, we’ve put together the exact types of products (plus our best product picks, of course!) you should be looking for based on your particular skin type.

Meet the Expert Renée Rouleau is a celebrity esthetician based in Austin, TX. She is also the founder and creator of her eponymous skincare line.

Most people should be using a cleanser, a toner, and a moisturizer day (with SPF) and night (a creamier, richer one). For some of you, you'll be sprinkling some serums in there, too—antioxidants for day and retinol while you sleep. And everyone gets some extra à la carte options, because indulgent skin care is the best kind, in our humble opinion.

We’re hoping to help you take the guesswork out of your a. m. and p. m. skin routines and explain why those with dry skin should use a cleansing milk or why anyone with sensitive skin should try a gel-based mask (serious game changer, by the way).

Balanced Skin

You might find the word "normal" as a skin type classifier on product packaging, but no one actually has perfectly normal skin. However, if your skin isn’t particularly oily or dry, and if anti-aging, acne, and sensitivity aren’t concerns on your radar, then you have what we consider to be "balanced skin. "

Your Menu

Cleanser (Morning/Night): A sulfate-free cleanser with a gentle lather, like Renée Rouleau’s Purifying Face Wash ($37) or Fresh Soy Face Cleanser ($38), promises to help keep your skin blemish-free.

Toner (Morning/Night): Avoid ingredients like SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol; “These [ingredients] are commonly found in toners and should be avoided, ” Rouleau cautions. Try Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence ($48) for a boost of energizing, brightening hydration.

Moisturizer With SPF (Morning): “When you moisturize, do two applications, one on the face and one on the neck, " Rouleau says. She adds, "Sun protection isn’t just about the number—it’s about how generously you apply it. ” A light moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30 will protect your skin from the sun and hydrate without clogging your pores. Rouleau suggests looking for ingredients like dimethicone, panthenol, and sodium hyaluronate (also known as hyaluronic acid).

Antioxidant Serum (Night): Rouleau suggests looking for an antioxidant serum with brightening ingredients like vitamin C and algae extract, as well as naturally revitalizing ingredients like rosemary and peppermint. We’re fans of Caudalie Reveratrol Lift Firming Serum ($82).

Moisturizer (Night): At night, you can go with a creamier moisturizer, sans SPF, meant to nourish your skin while you sleep. Try Tatcha's The Water Cream ($68).

Your à La Carte Extra

When it comes to keeping your normal skin normal, Rouleau suggests incorporating glycolic acid into your routine a few times a week. “This is an [alpha-hydroxy acid] that is favored because it has the smallest molecular structure and can absorb deeper within the skin, ” Rouleau explains. “This helps to dissolve surface dry skin cells to encourage brighter, more even-toned, smoother skin. ” Try Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel ($88) for easy, on-the-go smoothing and brightening.

Key Ingredients Alpha-hydroxy acids are a group of acid compounds, most often derived from plant-based sources, which work to exfoliate the skin. They come in a variety of types (like glycolic and lactic acid) and differ in size, and subsequently, penetration and potency.  (Read more of Rouleau’s advice on serums. )

Dry Skin

The best skincare routine for dry skin typically contains products that keep skin hydrated. “Dry skin has a damaged moisture barrier, ” Rouleau says. “Your skin has invisible cracks in it and it allows moisture to escape and irritants to get in more easily. ”

Your Menu

Cleansing Lotion (Morning/Night): “A no-foam, no-lather, super-mild cleansing lotion is best for those with dry skin, ” Rouleau says. Try her line’s Calming Chamomile Cleanser ($36) or Clarins Cleansing Milk With Alpine Herbs ($49).

Toner (Morning/Night): To rebalance your skin's pH level, restore moisture, and protect against environmental stress, try Indie Lee COQ-10 Toner ($34).

Antioxidant Serum (Morning): Rouleau recommends using a highly potent antioxidant serum (look for vitamins E, A, and C) during the daytime to help prevent collagen breakdown—just make sure to follow with SPF. We love Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin A Serum ($35).

Moisturizer With SPF (Morning): A hydrating moisturizer with SPF is the final step in your a. m. skin routine. Try Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47 ($34), which contains hydrating ingredients meant to help your skin retain moisture while guarding against UVA/UVB rays.

Retinol Serum (Night): Rouleau recommends incorporating an over-the-counter retinol serum into your regimen five nights a week. “I prefer serums over creams because they have smaller molecules and can better penetrate the skin, ” she says. Some of our favorite retinol serums for dry skin include Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65) and Chantecaille Retinol Intense+ ($140).

Eye Cream (Night): “Look for an eye serum with peptides because they’re good for boosting collagen activity, ” Rouleau says. Try Youth to the People Superfood Peptide Eye Cream ($35).

Hydrating Moisturizer (Night): “Some ingredients I recommend to look for in moisturizers are rose hip seed oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil, phospholipids, cranberry oil, sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil, ” Rouleau says. “All of these ingredients mimic the natural lipids in your skin and do a better job of repairing your skin’s moisture barrier. ” Try Perricone MD Nourishing Moisturizer ($69) or Intraceuticals Rejuvenate Moisture Binding Cream ($75) for a big dose of moisture that doesn’t feel greasy.

Your à La Carte Extras

“Dry skin responds well to [gentle] exfoliation, ” Rouleau says. “If your skin is dry, it means you have dead skin cell buildup—if you try to hydrate dried skin cells that are expired, it makes no sense. ” She says that dry skin has invisible “cracks, ” so you should avoid using a facial scrub with sharp edges. “Chemical exfoliants do a better job of dissolving dead skin cells without tearing at your skin, ” she says. Try her line’s Triple Berry Smoothing Peel ($86) or AmorePacific Treatment Enzyme Peel ($60).

If your skin is extremely dry, you can swap your p. m. moisturizer for a nourishing face oil like Shiva Rose Face Oil ($120) or Mun Brightening Youth Serum ($38), both of which are 100-percent organic and full of hydrating natural oils.

Oily Skin

“Oily skin has larger oil glands and a high sebum content, ” Rouleau says. “This is genetic. Oily skinned women have built-in oil, so the goal is to lessen the oil activity by keeping your skin cells lightly hydrated. ” The skincare routine for oily skin contains ingredients that help control excess oil production.

Your Menu

Cleansing Gel (Morning/Night): “In the case of oily skin, oil breeds bacteria, and bacteria leads to breakouts, ” Rouleau says. “Wash your skin three times a day if possible. The more oil, the more breeding ground for blemishes. ” She recommends using a gel or foam cleanser that’s free of sulfates. “You want agents that will cut the oil but you don’t want to dry your skin out with too many detergents, ” she says. We love The Organic Pharmacy Peppermint, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus Face Wash ($67).

Toner (Morning/Night): Rouleau says to look for an alcohol-free toner that has ingredients like sodium PCA (a humectant meant to hold water to your skin), geranium (an essential oil good for cutting oil), and witch hazel (a natural astringent without the drying effects of alcohol). 

AHA/BHA Serum (Morning): Any serum with alpha-hydroxy acids or beta-hydroxy acids will help reduce the appearance of large pores as well as brighten dull spots.  If you have acne-prone, look for ingredients like salicylic acid and tea tree oil to keep your skin clear. Try Ren Radiance Perfection Serum ($56).

Oil-Free Moisturizer (Morning/Night): Lest you think your skin’s oil production warrants skipping moisturizer, know this: Your skin might actually get oilier when it’s dehydrated, by overcompensating. With this in mind, choose a light, oil-free moisturizer with sodium PCA and glycerin in the ingredient list—they’re humectants that are meant to help your skin retain moisture. Our oily-skinned editor reaches for Intraceuticals Hydration Gel ($89).

Zinc Oxide Sunscreen (Morning): “Oily skinned ladies are the least likely to use sunscreen because they can’t find one compatible to their skin type, ” Rouleau says. “Definitely look for zinc oxide sunscreens because those will leave a more matte finish to your skin. Plus, it’s a natural antibacterial and ideal for people prone to breakouts. ” Try Rouleau’s Weightless Protection SPF 30 ($56). If you can’t find an SPF that works for you, try a mineral-based powder like Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($65) to act as your sunscreen.

Key Ingredients Zinc is an essential mineral that is needed for numerous healthy bodily functions, including boosting the immune system, healing wounds, and assisting in DNA/protein synthesis and growth. Applied topically, it's shown to aid in wound healing and regeneration, as well as protect the skin by deflecting UV rays.  Retinol Serum (Night): “Retinol is good for oily skin because it helps your pores look smaller with continued use, ” Rouleau says. Try Verso Super Facial Serum ($130) or RoC’s Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum ($25).

Your à La Carte Extras

Rouleau recommends indulging in a gentle clay mask once a week. “Make sure your clay mask doesn’t dry too much before rinsing it off, ” she warns. “If you smile and it cracks into 10, 000 pieces, you’ve waited too long and it’s gotten too dry—this can actually dehydrate your skin. ”

Face oil and oily skin might seem a strange pair, but Rouleau says it’s a good product to have on hand in super-dry environments like airplanes. “Use one drop of oil over moisturizer every hour you’re flying to prevent dryness and extra oil production, but I wouldn’t recommend using it as part of your daily routine, ” Rouleau says.

Combination Skin

The skincare routine for combination skin contains ingredients that treat a wide range of skin concerns. “The concept of combination skin is that you’re oily in some places and dry in others, ” Rouleau says. “You don’t necessarily want to use two different routines, but instead find one in the middle of the road. ”

Your Menu

Cleansing Gel (Morning/Night): Start with a cleansing gel like Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel ($14). If your skin starts getting too dry, you can switch to a cleansing lotion like OSEA Ocean Cleansing Milk ($54).

Toner (Morning/Night): Try a simple balancing witch hazel toner like Thayer's Witch Hazel Rose Petal Facial Toner ($9).

AHA/BHA Serum (Morning): AHAs and BHAs minimize the appearance of pores and brighten up dull skin.  If you’re acne-prone, look for ingredients like salicylic acid and tea-tree oil to keep your skin clear. Caudalie Vinopure Natural Salicylic Acid Pore Minimizing Serum ($49) is fine like wine.

Lightweight Moisturizer (Morning/Night): “Combination skin doesn’t need an oil- free moisturizer, but it does need a lightweight one, ” Rouleau says. Try Fresh Peony Brightening Moisture Face Cream ($73) for a silky texture and a dose of hyaluronic acid.

Zinc Oxide Sunscreen (Morning): Just like with oily skin, zinc oxide sunscreens are great for combo skin, thanks to the matte finish. Try Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30 ($34).

Retinol Serum (Night): A retinol serum is pretty much a friend to all skin types, and combination skin is no exception. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane ($14) is super affordable, yet potent. You'll wake up with practically brand new skin.

Your à La Carte Extras

Since combination skin tends to get oily around the T-zone, focus on that area alone when using a clay mask.

Face oils can do wonders for combination skin—save them for nighttime, however, to avoid an overly dewy face in the a. m.

Sensitive Skin

The skincare routine for sensitive skin needs to be nonirritating. “A lot of people think of sensitive skin as acne-prone, but I think of it as skin that gets red and irritated easily, ” Rouleau says. “It’s more delicate skin that you can’t be aggressive with. ”

Your Menu

Cleansing Lotion (Morning/Night): A gentle, sulfate-free cleansing lotion like Peet Rivko Gentle Skin Cleanser ($28) will get rid of your makeup and any impurities without disrupting your skin’s natural barrier.

Alcohol-Free Toner (Morning/Night): Ingredients like white tea extract, green tea, chamomile, and bisabolol are all calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients to look for in toners and moisturizers.  Rouleau also says beta-glucan is an ingredient that helps support your skin’s immune system to make it less sensitive over time. Try Origins A Perfect World Age-Defense Treatment Lotion With White Tea ($25.

Fragrance-Free Moisturizer (Morning/Night): When it comes to choosing a moisturizer, make sure to find one that doesn’t contain synthetic fragrances, which can cause irritation and allergic reactions.  Avoid alcohol and synthetic dyes as well if your skin gets irritated easily.

Zinc Oxide SPF (Morning): “Zinc oxide sunscreens are the least likely to irritate sensitive skin, ” Rouleau says. “Titanium dioxide sunscreens are good, but not as compatible with medium and darker skin tones because they can leave a white cast. ” Try CeraVe Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF 50 ($12) or Supergoop Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($28).

Your à La Carte Extras

A gel-based mask has a naturally cooler temperature, which makes it perfect for irritated, inflamed skin. “It helps to put out the fire and delivers water- based hydration, ” Rouleau says. We love her line’s Bio Calm Repair Masque ($50) as well as Skin Inc Pure Deepsea Hydration Mask ($75), one of our favorite overnight masks.

Just because you have sensitive skin doesn’t mean you should skip exfoliating. If glycolic acid is too harsh, try a lactic acid serum like Goldfaden MD Fresh A Peel ($85) instead—it’s milder and better for sensitive skin. Rouleau suggests using a lactic acid–based serum twice a week.

Aging Skin

Finally, for a skincare routine for older skin, your main goal is to plump up wrinkles, banish dark spots, and lift sagging. Rouleau says that your skin regimen will be similar to that of those with dry skin, with a few small differences. Your Menu

Cleansing Lotion (Morning/Night): For aging skin specifically, Rouleau says to remember your neck when it comes to cleansing, treating, and sunscreen—it’s a secret spot that often shows the first sign of aging. Try Elemis Pro-Collagen Rose Cleansing Balm ($64)

Toner (Morning/Night): Some toners have AHAs and BHAs in them, like Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner ($23), which helps gently brighten mature skin.

Antioxidant Serum (Morning): Rouleau suggests looking for an antioxidant serum with brightening ingredients like licorice and vitamin C, to fade dark spots and discoloration. Korres Black Pine 3D Sculpting, Firming & Lifting Face Serum ($75) will brighten as well as plump fine lines and wrinkles with peptides, hyaluronic acid, and resveratrol.

Moisturizer With SPF (Morning): For moisture and sun protection with an antioxidant kick, try Paula's Choice Defense Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30 ($29).

Physical Exfoliator (Night): Skin gets more delicate as it ages, which is why Rouleau says a gentle physical exfoliator with round beads works best on aging skin—especially on your neck.

Retinol Serum (Night): Depending on the severity of your wrinkles, you may want to visit a dermatologist for a prescription retin-a. Confused about the difference? Check out our ultimate guide to retinol.

Eye Cream (Night): Look for an eye cream with peptides meant to absorb easily, like Skin Laundry Wrinkle Release Eye Cream ($30).

Hydrating Moisturizer (Night): A moisturizer with retinol, like Verso Day Cream ($110), is meant to smooth fine lines and prevent future ones from forming.

Your à La Carte Extras

If dark spots and hyperpigmentation are your main concerns, try a brightening serum like SK-II GenOptics Spot Essence ($225).

Your skin may get drier as it ages, so consider incorporating a nourishing face oil with anti-aging ingredients, like Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil ($72), into your p. m. skin regimen a few times a week.

A weekly glycolic peel like Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Mask ($56) will reveal fresh, clear skin and leave your complexion looking polished.

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