The best simple skin care routine with 3 products

The skin is your body’s largest and most visible organ. No wonder so many people prioritize skin care.

According to Statista, 1.68 million people in the United States spent at least $500 on skincare products in the last 3 months of 2020.

But what if the experts told you that it doesn’t take a vanity full of expensive products to give your skin exactly what it needs?

“We don’t believe in throwing the kitchen sink at people’s skin,” says Morgana Colombo, MD, FAAD and co-founder of Skintap. “We believe in using the things that are needed and have good active ingredients that are proven to work.”

Although these ingredients may vary from person to person, the basic products remain the same.

Here’s what two dermatologists say everyone needs to take care of their skin. They also offered cool items and items you can ignore.

Angelo Landriscina, MD, FAAD, says it’s easy to overcomplicate things with so many products. When it comes to skincare, more isn’t always happier.

You “can actually make your skin worse by using too many products,” he says.

A morning skincare routine is as easy as 1-2-3 (products). Landriscina advises people to apply the following three products in this order in the morning:

  1. cleanser
  2. moisturizer
  3. Solar cream

Landriscina says you can ditch sunscreen at night and just reapply cleanser and moisturizer.

So !


Both Landriscina and Colombo agree that it’s essential to wash your face thoroughly with warm water and a gentle cleanser before applying any other product.

This allows you to start with a clean slate and prevents other products from washing out.

Landriscina suggests keeping it basic and avoiding anything that strips the skin. However, understanding what this means to you may not be an exact science.

“It’s a trial and error thing,” he says.

Plus, what works now might not be the best for you 10 years from now.

“The right fit can change,” Landriscina says. “As we age, our skin becomes drier.”

He says your best bet is to start with something designed for sensitive skin, as this is the least likely to cause irritation.

If you know your skin type, Colombo suggests opting for something designed for it.

For example, people with oily or acne-prone skin often prefer a foaming cleanser, while people with normal or dry skin usually prefer gentle, non-foaming options.

Colombo suggests Cetaphil Dermacontrol Foaming Cleanser for oily skin and Cerave Hydrating Cleanser for dry skin.


Landriscina explains that the skin is designed to keep the outside (dirt, bacteria) and the inside (organs, bones and joints) together.

However, it can lose water. This is where moisturizer comes in.

“Using a good moisturizer repairs the skin barrier function and retains water,” says Landriscina.

Landriscina recommends:

Solar cream

Although some moisturizers have an SPF of 15, Landriscina and Colombo say it’s essential to apply sunscreen and reapply it every 2 hours if you’re exposed to the sun.

They recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that is at least SPF 30.

“UV rays and UV radiation are the single biggest modifiable risk factor for skin cancer risk,” Landriscina says. “Using sunscreen consistently every day is one of the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer.”

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

Sunscreen should always be applied after cleanser and moisturizer. Allow to dry before applying makeup.

“It should form an even film on the skin,” says Landriscina. “Putting on skincare products after that can upset it.”

Some products aren’t necessary, but having them can give your skin an extra boost. These include:


Landriscina says that products with antioxidants can help prevent or reverse skin damage.

Antioxidants include:

Ingredients containing these antioxidants include:

“The main way UV radiation damages skin is through a process called free radical formation,” Landriscina said. “Antioxidants can neutralize these free radicals.”

Science aside, Colombo loves the look of these antioxidant-rich products.

“It helps skin look radiant and [reduces] redness,” she says.

A study 2017 reported that topical use of vitamin C had anti-aging (or as we like to say “pro-aging”) benefits.

Another one 2015 study suggested that topical application of products containing ubiquinone (coQ10) may reduce free radicals.

A systematic review 2016 notes that early evidence shows that turmeric may have a positive effect on skin health if applied topically or taken by mouth.

Landriscina says antioxidants are often found in moisturizers, so you may not need an additional product. You can also find them in serums. Colombo recommends Vidaderma Vitamin C Serum.

Moisturizing serum

While a quality moisturizer should do the trick, a moisturizing serum can be especially helpful for people with dry skin or who live in drier climates.

Landriscina recommends looking for one with hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

“They are humectants and lock in moisture,” says Landriscina.

A 2012 study suggested that hyaluronic acid could hydrate the skin, but a 2021 study reported that these benefits are dependent on molecular weight.

The AAD lists glycerin as an ingredient in creams or ointments that can help relieve dry skin.

Retinol or retinoids

Retinols and retinoids can be great for aging skin.

Colombo explains that retinols are available without a prescription, while retinoids require a prescription from a dermatologist or primary care physician.

A 2016 study found that topical application of retinoids significantly reduced wrinkles after 12 weeks.

Landriscina and Colombo believe that skincare is about quality, not quantity. Some tools seem more valuable than they actually are.

They recommend avoiding:

  • Cleaning brushes. They can be harsh on the skin. “Two clean hands are a perfect way to cleanse the skin,” says Landriscina.
  • Single-use face masks. “They’re like sheet masks soaked in a hydrating serum,” says Landriscina. He adds that a hydrating serum can be used multiple times, so it’s more economical and environmentally friendly to opt for a bottle.
  • Skin oils. “For most people, these don’t hydrate enough and can clog pores and [exacerbate acne]“, says Colombo.

Keeping it simple is the name of the game, but people with certain skin conditions, such as acne, may want to take a few extra steps.


Colombo says acne sufferers will want to seek out specialty cleansers. Ingredients she often recommends for acne patients include:

A review for 2021 indicated that salicylic acid may help in the treatment of mild to moderate acne.

A separate 2021 review noted that salicylic acid was probably no more effective than benzoyl peroxide. He also indicated that topical products containing sulfur in concentrations of 1-10% may help in the treatment of acne.

Colombo suggests avoiding petroleum-rich products, which can make rashes worse.

Eczema, rosacea and sensitive skin

Fragrances can irritate eczema, rosacea, and sensitive skin, so Landriscina suggests people with these conditions avoid scented products.

Colombo suggests keeping products as basic as possible without too many bells and whistles. She recommends gentle mineral cleansers and moisturizers.

“Chemical ones with acid [like glycolic acid and retinols] cause more irritation,” she adds. “Ceramides help replenish the skin barrier and retain moisture.”

Talk to a dermatologist

Landriscina says people with skin conditions should make it a point to see a dermatologist in person at least once for personalized care and recommendations.

If a person does not have access to a dermatologist, he suggests seeing a primary care physician.

“Many of them are familiar with common skin conditions like eczema and acne and may be able to help with prescription medications,” he says.

Do a patch test

Landriscina recommends people with skin conditions, especially those prone to irritation and inflammation, to test products before using them. To do this, it offers:

  1. Apply a small amount of product once daily to a non-esthetically sensitive area, such as behind the ear.
  2. Check if you have a reaction.
  3. Repeat for several days.
  4. If your skin does not respond after several days of patch testing, you are probably safe to use the product as intended.
  5. Stop use and talk to a dermatologist if you have any reactions.

Skincare doesn’t have to be about applying lots of products and constantly changing your routine. In fact, dermatologists advise against this.

It’s best to stick with a few products that really work for you. Consider a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen as non-negotiable basics. Products with antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients, like serums, are helpful bonuses.

If you have a skin condition like acne or eczema, talk to a dermatologist or primary care physician and test products before using them.

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist specializing in health and parenting writing. His work has been published in Parents, Shape and Inside Lacrosse. She is co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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