I don’t really like sharing my skincare routine too often, for a few reasons.
Firstly, I’m usually testing products as part of my routine, so I don’t want to look like I’m endorsing a product I haven’t fully tested yet.
Secondly, I think it’s tempting for people to see my routine and try to replicate it exactly. I am a big believer in customised skincare routines. My skin’s needs won’t be the same as your skin’s needs, and my budget and the products that are easily available to me won’t be the same as yours (I’m in Australia, and according to my analytics, most of you are not; plus I’m a blogger, so I get sent PR samples plus I can justify buying more products than I can use for review purposes).
In my opinion, the most sensible route is to get to know your skin and its needs, then base a routine on that (and your budget and product accessibility). That’s why The Lab Muffin Guide to Basic Skincare starts with instructions on how to perform a skin assessment.
You can’t work out what your skin needs if you’re using products that aren’t right for your skin, then piling products suited to someone else’s skin on top. You just can’t.
But… I’ve had a lot of requests to talk about actives, and unfortunately I don’t yet have a ETA for my next skincare eBook (on building a more advanced skincare routine to target your skincare concerns), since writing a book takes a stupid amount of time – you’d think I’d remember from doing the first book!
So in the meantime, I thought I’d share my current evening skincare routine, so you can see an example of the considerations that I think should go into choosing products.
My morning routine (with sunscreen etc.) can be found here: My Morning Skincare and Makeup Routine
General Notes About My Routine
My routine isn’t rigid – I adapt it based on how my skin feels, and what its needs are that evening. To be able to adapt your routine effectively, you need to know how to assess your skin, and know how your skin reacts to specific products (which is why I bang on about the one-product-at-a-time method).
Considerations shaping my routine:
- My top priorities are anti-acne and anti-pigmentation, although anti-aging is good too (I’m turning 32 this year so I’m starting to see more white hairs and wrinkles). My skin is oily and dehydration-prone.
- I prefer not to layer too many products. Too many steps gets too confusing and heavy, and increases the chance of the products interacting and clumping up, or irritating my skin. Also it takes longer than I can handle. After cleansing, I like to use less than 4 products.
- I have a pretty low tolerance for products that are unpleasant to use, even if they’re more effective. I like to enjoy my skincare routine, so I tend to favour a product with more convenient packaging and easier application over a more effective product that’s just a pain to use. I also like pleasant textures and scents – while I’m fine with unscented products, I’ve been known to give up on stinky products pretty quickly.
- I have very little brand loyalty – I mix and match products from brands all the time, although as you’ll see from my routine, there are products and brands that show up multiple times.
- I’m also usually not attached to specific products, but rather types of products, and most of them have substitutes that work similarly at different price points. Since the point of this post is just to share the products I’ve actually been using lately, I’m not going to suggest similar products here, or go into discussions about brand philosophies or whether they’re worth the price – you can find that elsewhere on my blog (I’ll be linking to reviews I’ve done in the past of these products, if applicable). Similarly, just because I don’t regularly use a product I’ve loved in the past doesn’t mean I no longer recommend it – sometimes products just fall by the wayside as a similar product has replaced it, and I haven’t had the need to repurchase it; sometimes I’ve switched to a different product and forgotten how good it was (and 6 months down the line, you’ll see a post where I rediscover it and go on a rave).
In the evening, I cleanse with an oil cleanser, then a gentle foaming cleanser. Since I shower at night, I step into the shower with oil cleanser on my face, then step into the shower for the foaming cleanser.
I use a wide variety of cleansers, but they’re always gentle – switching to the right sorts of cleansers has been absolutely skin-changing for me. I’ve reviewed a few in a recent empties video, including some of the cleansers that have been in high rotation: Shu Uemura Ultime 8 Cleansing Oil, Farmacy Green Clean, Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Detox Foaming Cleanser, Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser, Paula’s Choice Hydrating Gel-to-Cream Cleanser, Youth To The People Kale Superfood Age Prevention Cleanser.
More about finding the right cleanser: The Lab Muffin Guide to Basic Skincare
If I’m wearing heavy make-up I might use a tool for cleansing. My favourite so far is the Panasonic Micro-Foaming Facial Cleansing Brush, reviewed here, which has a bunch of different heads including one with massaging balls for when your skin can’t handle extra exfoliation.
Actives, moisturising etc.
I use a 3-night cycle for my leave-on evening products:
- Tretinoin night
- Alpha hydroxy acid night
- Vitamin C night
I added tretinoin to my routine carefully back in April 2018, as documented in my blog post from then. It’s been fantastic at keeping breakouts at bay, fading hyperpigmentation and smoothing out my skin texture, and it’s likely keeping the wrinkles away as well.
Related post: My Routine for Starting on Tretinoin (Retin-A) Cream
Despite adding it in carefully, I’ve found that my skin is still super sensitive to tretinoin. It’s really easy to go overboard and end up with a desiccating flaky face two days later. The most I can use it with minimal risk of overuse is once every three days.
Option 1: Tretinoin
A quarter to half pea sized blob of 0.05% tretinoin cream (Stieva-A, a bargain at $23.39 for 25 g) mixed with a few drops of oil (currently using Zelens Power D Drops) and moisturiser (usually Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream, mostly for the very handy flat pump top which is perfect for mixing). This will be the only layer I apply, although if my skin is a bit dry I’ll pat some oil on top carefully.
Related post: Drunk Elephant Skincare Review
Option 2: Gentle retinoid cream
If my skin is too flaky or irritated, I use Kate Ryan Total Nutrition Night Repair Complex instead. This is the gentlest retinoid product I own that has the biggest noticeable overnight effect, and I haven’t found a comparable product yet. It’s been a great all-in-one product for me, and I can go without moisturiser when using it, so the flat-top pump is sort of wasted on me.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid Night
Even though retinoids help with decreasing comedones (clogged pores), I still find that I get some whiteheads if I don’t use hydroxy acid exfoliants regularly. This is especially important if I’m trying out sunscreens, which means my jawline turns into clog country.
Related post: Why pH matters for AHAs and acids in skincare
The problem is that low pH hydroxy acid exfoliants tend to be irritating on my retinised skin, but luckily I have a bunch of different strengths!
I apply a niacinamide serum over my skin first, usually Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster or LeeJiHam Vita Propolis Ampoule. Niacinamide is a relatively new discovery for me. While I’ve known about its many clinical benefits for a long time, it’s only recently that I’ve noticed its effects on my skin.
Related post: What Is Niacinamide and What Does It Do in Skincare?
Then I follow with Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid all over my face. I haven’t found a comparable or better BHA product on my skin than Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid, which was actually my first ever “proper” skincare product!
Then I pick the strongest AHA product I can handle that night, and layer it on top. Sometimes I’ll have to skip AHA altogether if my skin is too irritated.
- High strength: Ultraceuticals Ultra Brightening Serum
- Medium strength: Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel or Drunk Elephant Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
- Low strength: Krave Beauty Kale-lalu-yAHA or Pixi Glow Tonic
Related post: The Science Behind My Favourite Skincare Acids
I finish with an oil or moisturiser if my skin is feeling dry or dehydrated. Because the first few products are pretty humectant and my face is quite sticky by this point, I usually use an oil as the last step rather than a regular moisturiser. I add a bunch of drops to my hands, rub them together and then pat my face all over to avoid clumping. If my skin is irritated I use Zelens Power D Drops, if it’s less irritated I use Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil, though in the past I’ve used a lot of other oils with good results (e.g. rose hip oil).
Order of application: niacinamide serum, BHA, AHA, oil or moisturiser (maybe)
Vitamin C Night
Vitamin C is a must for my hyperpigmentation-prone skin. I’ve found that it makes a huge difference to how quickly my acne marks fade.
Tretinoin irritation usually peaks for my skin 36 hours after I apply it, so I’ll pick a vitamin C product based on whether my skin has been flaky or not that day. L-Ascorbic acid is more irritating but more effective, while oil-based is gentle but I don’t see the effects quite as clearly. If I’ve had more acne recently, I’ll use Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid underneath as well.
L-Ascorbic acid products
I think fresh antioxidant blends with vitamin E and ferulic acid are the best (e.g. Skin Deva 20% Vitamin C & E Plus Ferulic Acid Serum, Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster), but I’m really bad at repurchasing them regularly. So most of the time, I use either my DIY serum or a water-free suspension like Indeed Labs Vitamin C24 or Paula’s Choice C25 Super Booster.
Related post: Easy (5 Minute) DIY Vitamin C Serum Recipe
Since these suspensions tend to be quite irritating if the crystals are allowed to dissolve slowly, I apply it immediately after wetting my face generously with toner (it used to be Klairs Supple Preparation Toner, but after running out I’m using Jurlique Activating Water Essence).
Oil-based vitamin C products
If my skin is feeling irritated, I use an oil-based vitamin C. Currently I’m using Kate Ryan Vitamin C Night Repair Serum.
Order of application: niacinamide serum, toner, vitamin C, oil or moisturiser (maybe)
Other products: as needed
There are a few other products I use as needed:
Frequency: around 2-3 times a week depending on the products I’ve been trying and the time of the month
- Paula’s Choice 4% BHA
- Hydrocolloid bandages: I like Cosrx’s Acne Pimple Master Patches
- Microneedle patches: I’ve been trying out a few types, will be reviewing them soon
- Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Spot Treatment
Frequency: around once every 2-3 weeks in summer, more frequently (up to twice a week) in winter
Sheet mask + Panasonic: I love the ionic device for speeding up the sheet masking process. I don’t like the feeling of a sheet mask clinging to my face, and I like doing things during that time, so this makes it feel more worthwhile. I also own a lot of sheet masks that I bought back in the day, or I’ve been gifted, or I got as free samples, so I don’t really feel the need to buy them (I’m not sure I would repurchase them if I ran out).
The ionic device is also handy for increasing vitamin C penetration, so I try to time the sheet mask with vitamin C night (also hydration increases how permeable your skin is, so I avoid sheet masking on retinoid and hydroxy acid nights).
Overnight mask: I add this at the end on vitamin C night sometimes. I’ve been using Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask and Aquaphor Healing Ointment.
Clay mask: I don’t really see much of a difference between the clay masks I’ve tried, except for how dehydrating they feel. I avoid the more dehydrating masks (Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay, Queen Helene Mint Julep) that I used to love these days, since I’ve gotten a lot more aware of my skin’s need for hydration. A few I’ve tried and enjoyed: Alya Skin Pink Clay Mask, Generation Clay Ultra Violet Mask, Sukin Pink Clay Facial Masque, Raww Superfood Salad Green Clay Detox Mask.
If I’ve been holding off on alpha hydroxy acids because of irritation, I’ll sometimes do a quick catch-up in-shower peel if my skin is looking dull. The products I use the most for this are Kate Somerville Exfolikate and Dermalogica Rapid Reveal Peel (I use Exfolikate more because it’s so shower-friendly).
Sometimes when I’m doing a hair mask in the shower, I’ll also use June Jacobs Perfect Pumpkin Peeling Enzyme Masque. It’s nice for smoothing skin very gently, although the main reason I use it is that it smells like pumpkin pie and comes in a handy pouch.
Frequency: 1-2 times a week
Even though I do a lot of chemical exfoliation in my routine, I’ve found that gentle physical exfoliation is a must for removing skin flakes and keeping closed comedones at bay. I use peeling gels (e.g. It’s Skin Citron Peeling Gel) and sometimes a microfibre make-up remover (e.g. Face Halo) with the cleansing oil step.
More about exfoliation: The Essential Guide to Exfoliation (free download)
Written out like this my routine seems really long, but for me the core of the routine (cleansing and actives/moisturising) is generally 5-10 minutes a night, which is acceptable for me.
This post is not sponsored, but many of the products mentioned were provided as PR samples for editorial consideration; however, these are still my honest opinions of the products. This post also contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and purchase any product, you’ll be supporting Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.
35 thoughts on “My Current Evening Skincare Routine”
I finally gave Paula’s Choice BHA 2% liquid ago as I’d like to see if I could reduce the congested black heads that I got since I was a teenager. However now that I’m older my skin is no longer acne-prone but could be quite dehydrated during dry days. I used it last night and since then I have this light tightness in my cheeks today. There’s no obvious redness or pain but just this little tightness that I didn’t feel before. Is this expected? How long should I keep using it before I write the product off?
Sooooo curious…what do you think of the Neutrogena Light Therapy Spot Treatment wand? My daughter is looking for new treatment options. She also uses the CosRX patches. I’m so excited to hear your opinion of the microneedle patches, as I’ve been tempted by ones I have seen on the YesStyle website. Can’t wait to hear what you think.
I haven’t looked too deeply into the science behind light treatment yet, that’s going to be a topic for a future post! But so far I’ve found that it seems to help with deeper spots that topical treatments don’t do much for.
I work in cosmetics and recently the Skinceuticals rep/educator told us to only use CE Ferulic in the mornings…you use it at night?
Yep. The advantage in using it during the day is that it can help soak up free radicals from sun exposure (there are a few studies on vitamin C decreasing erythema when applied before sun exposure), but there’s no reason not to use it at night. I personally try to reduce the number of steps in the morning, so I can sleep in and so my sunscreen is disturbed as little as possible.
Hi, Michelle! Do you wait between niacinamide and AHA and between AHA and BHA or you layer them immediately?
I wait a little bit but not on purpose! Just long enough for it to dry.
When you use the retinol cream fo you use anything before or after?
Nope, I use it by itself – it contains retinyl acetate rather than retinol though.
Thank you so much for this! I’ve been wondering for awhile whether it’s a good idea to apply all/some/none of your products to areas like your lips, eyelids/eyelash/eyebrow area, particularly when it comes to ingredients like tretinoin and vitamin C. Do you have any rules surrounding what goes whole face or what might just go on partially? Thank you very much!
I apply both everywhere, but I use slightly less around the nose and chin, and I usually just pat what’s left on my fingers around my eyes.
Ah I see! Thank you for your time 🙂
Amazing – thanks as always 🙂
Wow. I am so impressed with your knowledge and straight talk about skin care products. I noticed most of your users are younger. I am 56 and a skin care junkie. I tried so many items on your lists and have never had a “routine” because I use so many products. The only one I’ve ever been loyal to is Purity cleanser by Philosophy.
I was wondering if your Basic Skincare Guide is someone my age? Have you advised your mother/grandmother/aunt about products for older skin?
I’m looking to pare down my routine but I’m afraid I’m going to die before I get through all the products I’ve purchased making some extravagant claim. Thanks for any advise.
Hi Stephanie! I give my mum advice (she’s 64) but she only listens to me half the time… but yes, the Basic Skincare Guide does cover issues with older skin like increased sensitivity and anti-aging! It doesn’t talk about actives though (apart from sunscreen of course), that will be in the next installment but in the meantime there’s my exfoliation guide 🙂
I didn’t realize that I can use AHA and BHA on the same night. I alternate AHA, BHA and Vitamin C on different nights (essentially using each 2x a week, and then taking a break on Sunday night). I had the idea that it may be too exfoliating to use both on the same night.
Wow! I’m always too lazy to do my skin care at night. But will try some of the products you’ve mentioned. Thanks for sharing your skin care 🙂
I loved reading this post! It gave me ideas to work with my own routine. We have the exact same skin type and skin issues, so even better. 🙂
I was wondering why you have a Vitamin C night vs. using Vitamin C daily? I suppose my only comparison is what I see others doing. Is it because it can stay in the skin longer? I believe I read recently it can work for up to 72 hours?
There’s some evidence to show that it’s photoprotective, so theoretically it could be good to top it up right before you go into the sun, but it just doesn’t fit into my morning routine (it tends to mess up my sunscreen, and it doesn’t sink in properly on my oily skin).
Love your blog! I do agree with you about going for products that are easy to apply and in simple packaging even if there are others that are more effective. Convenience is key.
Thanks for the info on the leave in products, I must have a look into these especially Tretinoin. I’m pretty lazy at night to be honest!
Question – why do you apply the Niacinamide before BHA exfoliating? Does that help create a protective barrier? I’ve just never heard of that step before. Thank you in advance!
I’ve just read this again, and noticed that you use niacinamide and vitamin C on the same night. How long do you wait between the niacinamide and vitamin C?
I tend to use vitamin c, sometimes mixed with reservatrol and Ferulic acid in the morning under my sunscreen because I tend to spend more than the average person outdoors in the harsh Australian sun. Does this make sense or do you think it’s best to use sunscreen on a face with less product? I use Make Prem Blue Ray sun gel on days I am just commuting and ultra sun 50+face on days I am doing a long bike ride and tend to never get sunburnt
I’m surprised you use acids and vit c with tretanoin. My approach to adapalene was use only barrier repairing products so I can tolerate adapalene daily. I’m impressed with the dance you do to incorporate other actives which I bet pays off!
It’s definitely a bit of a dance! I found some research that suggests that after a while, you can use tretinoin less than daily and still maintain the benefits, so that gave me a bit more breathing room (plus I think my skin would just be irritated all the time if I used tretinoin daily). Not sure if that works for adapalene though!
Great read 🙂 I have a very similar approach to you, in that I don’t stick to one particular brand and I like to mix things up. Part of the fun of skincare for me is experimenting with different brands and combinations. I also find that some products have a positive affect when I start using them but after some time I stop seeing any improvements, which tells me it’s time to get experimenting again!
Love your blog, so informative!
Could you please explain how to use peptides? There is so much contradicting info online.
I thought they aren’t supposed to be layered with any acid or vitamin C but I see here that you mix DE Protini with your tret, also it seems DE themselves encourage use of Protini along with C-Firma.
Omg im a bit confuaed with the order of products. I follow the toner – essence – serum order. What is the right order? Is it really serum – toner? Where do i fit the essence since they say its before heavier creams? Well now that I think about it, the serum is not a cream so is it serum – toner – essence – moisturizer?
I read a few articles on internet which says that one shouldn’t use aha/bha with niacinamide and if one does so, he should wait for half an hour in between applications. So I was bit afraid of using these products. Do you wait sometime in between applications of aha/bha and niacinamide?
Nope, it’s fine to use them together!
Thank you ma’am for the clarification
Hey I was wondering do you use the niacinamide 2x a day or just only at night? Also is there a difference when you apply it before the bha toner rather than after? Thank you
Thanks for sharing this!
Do you use any special products for around your eyes? I’ve been trying to figure out what to use there. My skin is generally combination, even oily in the summer, but the skin around my eyes is rather dry, thin and sensitive. I wonder if I should use a special eye cream or just a richer moisturizer. But then I also have milia and my dermatologist told me not to use too rich of a cream around the eyes.
I’m in a little bit of a conundrum.
I’ve never commented before but there are so many products out there and I’m trying to help my daughter put together a acne/scarring routine before she goes off to college. She is currently using clindamycin and tretinoin. Hoping to replace the clindamycin but am getting really confused how to combine products properly for a.m and p.m routines. Thinking vitamin C and niacinamide and glycolic acid are the key products with just simple cerave moisterizers but was hoping you had advice. Heard great things about Krave and Paulas choice but also love the price of The Ordinary. Thanks!
hi Michelle, long time fan of many years! wondering if you still follow this model of skincare in terms of alternating actives, and also wondering if you were up for doing a dive into vitamin C products anytime soon? there are so many options these days… anhydrous, new derivatives (is ethylated aa from deciem good??).. I’m seeing mention of this gold stabilization that I’m not sure is legit? basically I only trust your opinion lol