Celebrities love to say that the secret to glowing skin is to drink a lot of water—and by the way, use this cream, or take this supplement. But not everyone has a camera-ready complexion, every cream doesn’t work for every skin type, supplements aren’t magic elixirs, and drinking plenty of water is a super healthy habit, sure, but guzzling a ton of H2O isn’t going to remedy the chronic eczema I’ve been dealing with since age 8. After spending more than a decade playing with beauty products as part of my job—and more importantly, interviewing hundreds of dermatologists and skin experts—I’ve learned to parse out the BS advice from what really works and is worth spending your hard-earned money on. Here’s the most important skin-care advice I’ve learned. Oh, and make sure to drink plenty of water.
1. Squeezing a pimple will never, ever make it better, faster.
Translation: Stop touching your face. Your hands are covered in bacteria most of the time (just think about all the stuff you touch). If you’re touching an already-inflamed zit or infection, you’re only adding debris to the pimple and delaying its demise. Plus, popping a pimple doesn’t do your skin or the zit itself any good, particularly if it’s a swollen, large cyst without a whitehead on top, which will only get worse when you try to squeeze.
2. More product does not equal better skin. In fact, there are certain products you should never mix.
As a product hoarder, I have an entire armoire filled with masks, lotions, creams, peels, oils, and serums. It’s incredibly tempting to pile on at least one of each every day and night because, it’s right there, and well, it’s my job. But more product isn’t a good thing. Too much product can clog pores (especially if the moisturizers aren’t noncomedogenic). Plus, certain ingredients don’t play well together. For example, retinol and other exfoliating ingredients—salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide—should not be used at the same time because the skin can get really dry.
3. You don’t need to spend $300 on a skin-care product for it to be really good.
Listen, we’ve all heard about the miraculous powers of ultra-expensive potions and lotions, but there’s just zero reason you’d ever need to spend a week’s worth of grocery money on a little hydration boost. Frankly, most top dermatologists I’ve worked with prefer skin-care products sourced from the drugstore. For example, my current derm, Michele Farber, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology in New York City, pushes drugstore-staple CeraVe samples on me after every visit. It’s just the best one, in her professional opinion. I have combination skin, but derms love it for acne-prone complexions, too.
4. SPF is key—and you can make it even better with some mix-ins, too.
If you needed to have a skin-care desert island pick, it’s gotta be SPF. Any dermatologist will tell you that sunscreen is the most-important skin-care step because it protects from free radical damage that can cause skin cancer and early signs of aging. Hot tip: If it leaves a bit of a white residue, try adding a few drops of a liquid luminizer, bronzer, or even face tint to avoid that whole ghostly look.
5. Your neck deserve as much TLC as your mug.
Just because your neck and décolletage—you know, the fancy French term for the delicate area around your clavicle and above the breasts—aren’t technically on your face doesn’t mean they don’t need the same kind of TLC. In fact, dermatologists consider the face and neck as a part of one skin unit because your décolletage is susceptible to the same signs of skin damage. There are many products designed specifically for the area below the chin. Some of them advertise lifting and firming properties. (Though as someone with a 34D bra size, I can tell you I haven’t seen any of that kick in.)
6. Save the bulk of your skin-care routine for bedtime.
Several years ago, I asked a fellow beauty editor and colleague who had the most baby-soft skin about her routine. She was also perennially late every morning, so I assumed her morning skin-care routine was extensive. But actually, she was rushing in after oversleeping. She admitted to a lengthy nighttime skin-care regimen. Before bed, she was diligent doing a double cleanse, exfoliation, toner or mask, plus a few targeted serums and a night cream. In the morning, though? She’d splash her face with water and use a bit of simple moisturizer. It’s a tip I haven’t forgotten after all these years. Derms agree that the skin repairs itself overnight, so things like retinol and thick moisturizer are best used in the evening.
7. Layer skin-care products from thinnest to thickest in terms of texture.
Think about your skin like a sponge that wants to soak up all of the goodness you’re applying. Therefore, it’s important to first employ the thinnest, water-like products such as an essence or serum and then follow with heavier moisturizers and oils, which help to seal everything in. Oils, in particular, have occlusive properties, which literally create a barrier between skin and the air—anything applied on top of them is basically done in vain.
8. You can give your skin a rosy glow with just some sleight of hand (or a Downward Dog).
Facial massage is not just something out of a self-care book. It’s a quick way to get a gorgeous, natural flush. Personally, I like to use a jade roller to boost circulation (I’m a huge fan of crystals). You can use your fingertips, too. Just make sure you use a serum or oil with some slip to it in order to gently glide over the skin without too much friction.
9. When it’s warmer outside, stow all your skin care in the fridge.
I do this year-round for my eye cream, as I’m convinced the cool temperature helps deflate puffiness while also waking me up with a quick cooling rush. (Think about all those eye creams with metal ball roller tips—that’s why those exist!) When it gets hot out, I start to stow everything in the fridge. Nail polish, for example, doesn’t thicken as quickly if it’s kept cool. Face masks are even more relaxing when chilled. The gel creams I love don’t evaporate in my sweltering apartment. And during the summer, there’s literally nothing more refreshing than piling on a tub of a thick minty body lotion fresh out the fridge, especially after a great workout.