1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Skin Care 101

Straight Talk About Skin Care Basics

By

Updated May 20, 2014

Are you overwhelmed by all the commercials and advertisements that claim their lotion or potion will make your skin look so much better? Do you scratch your head in confusion at all the choices in the skin care aisle of your local drugstore or supermarket? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you're normal.

The Good News About Skin Care

The good news is skin care can be simple. Washing your face doesn't have to be a 10-step process, and you don't have to spend a lot of money to fill up your medicine cabinet with shelves of products. The fact is, good skin care involves 3 basic steps:
  • Cleansing - Getting rid of grime and chemicals while limiting the stress of daily cleansing
  • Moisturizing - Hydrating and replenishing the skin
  • Using Sunscreen - Protecting the skin from harmful UV rays

Step 1 - Cleansing

Most of us know that cleansing is an important part of good skin care. The purpose of a cleanser, or soap, is to surround, loosen, and make it easy to remove dirt, debris, germs, excess oils, and left-over products applied to the skin. Unfortunately, there are harmful effects of cleansers on the skin.

Many people have dry skin because of their cleansing routines, not because their skin is normally dry. Often people think that their skin isn't clean unless it feels dry and tight after they wash it. People get used to the way their skin normally feels. They come to expect that they will have dry, rough patches on the backs of their hands, itch in winter time, and sometimes have a dull complexion. They don't know that their choice of cleanser could be hurting their skin.

How do you know what type of cleanser to use and where? The first step is to understand your cleanser options:

  • Bar soaps - The most irritating cleansers but the best to get rid of dirt and grime
  • Liquid cleansers - A wide variety of tolerability - good for cleaning all but the oiliest skin
  • Facial cleansers - The mildest cleanser but may not remove oil and dirt as well.

Cleansing Bottom Line

  • You don't have to feel dry to be clean
  • You have good options
  • Use the mildest cleanser possible that still removes dirt, oil and debris

Step 2 - Moisturizing

Moisturizing is an essential step in good skin care. A good moisturizer can stop the dry skin cycle from spiraling into cracked, thick, flaky skin. An effective moisturizer will have a combination of ingredients that:
  • Replenish the skin's natural ingredients that help maintain its structure
  • Cut down on damage from free-radicals
  • Help the cells function more normally

Good Moisturizer Ingredients

In the past, moisturizers were essentially water and wax mixtures that worked by trying to hold water in the skin. The only real difference between these moisturizers was how they "felt" to the consumer. Now there is complex science behind the new state-of-the-art moisturizers that are available. Some ingredients that you'll find in a state-of-the-art moisturizer are:
  • Glycerol - Helps water and other moisturizer ingredients penetrate the skin to get where they are needed.
  • Ceramides - Help replenish the skin's natural oils.
  • Hydroxy Acids - Help with exfoliation of dead skin cells
  • Niacinamide - Helps the skin produce more natural oils, and may also help reverse the signs of sun-damaged skin, like brown spots and blotchiness

How to Choose a Moisturizer

Not all skin is the same, and not all moisturizers are the same. Picking out the best moisturizer for your skin depends on what your skin needs. Consider the following skin conditions when choosing a moisturizer:
  • Moisturizers for dry skin
  • Moisturizers for oily skin
  • Moisturizers for normal skin
  • Moisturizers for acne-prone skin
  • Moisturizers for red skin
  • Moisturizers for eczema, atopic dermatitis, or sensitive skin
  • Moisturizers with sunscreen

Moisturizer Bottom Line

Don't settle for your grandmother's old cold cream. Pick a moisturizer with good ingredients for your skin, and enjoy your healthier skin.

Step 3 - Sunscreen

The final step in a good skin care program is using sunscreen, but it's the most forgotten. It's easy to tell if your skin is dirty or dry, requiring a good washing or some added moisture. We can see or feel that our skin needs some extra care. Unfortunately, most of the damage to the skin from UV radiation is beneath the surface and happens so slowly that we don't realize how much damage is being done.

Most people know that exposure to UV radiation can cause sun damage to the skin, including sunburn, photoaging, and increased risk of skin cancer. But did you know this damage also occurs when you walk from your house to your car or sit next to a window during the day? Even those little bits of exposure add up over the years and can cause wrinkles, dark spots and skin cancer.

Sunscreen Decisions

There are several factors to consider when picking out a sunscreen:
  • How sunscreens work
  • Everyday sunscreen vs out-in-the-sun sunscreen
  • Using a sunscreen alone vs sunscreen plus moisturizer
  • Understanding the UV-index
  • How to be safe in the sun

Sunscreen Bottom Line

You've worked hard to take care of your skin by cleansing and moisturizing it. Don't undo all those benefits by exposing it to UV radiation. Find a good broad-spectrum sunscreen and make its application a part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth and bathing.

Sources:

Abbas, S, JW Goldberg, and M Massaro. "Personal Cleanser Technology and Clinical Performance." Dermatologic Therapy 17(2004): 35-42.

Begoun, Paula, and Bryan Barron. "Healthy Skin: Rules to Live By." Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, 7th Edition. Washington: Beginning Press, 2007. 14-49.

Johnson, Anthony. "Overview: fundamental skin care - protecting the barrier." Dermatologic Therapy. 17(2004): 1-5.

Nash, Frank, et al. "Maintenance of healthy skin: cleansing, moisturization, and ultraviolet protection." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 6(2007): 7-11.

Rawlings, AV, et al. "Moisturizer Technology Versus Clinical Performance." Dermatologic Therapy 17(2004): 49-56.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Dermatology
  4. Skin Care
  5. Skin Care 101

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.