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).
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.