The new year is the perfect time to put healthy habits into practice. Now, 2023 brings a fresh start, and that comes with the opportunity to make lifestyle changes for better skin. Whether your skin care goals include washing your face before bed or applying sunscreen every day, creating a realistic routine can help skin care become second nature.

New Year's resolutions are notorious for being broken, but starting small can help ensure yours will last. Here's how to build a skin care routine that can help you achieve your best complexion at any time of the year.

Choose Products Based on Your Skin Type

The first step to updating or creating any skin care routine is identifying your skin type. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are five main skin types: sensitive, normal, dry, oily, and combination.

Learning which category best describes your skin can help you choose products that address your unique needs. For example, those with oily skin may benefit from oil-free skin care products, whereas those with sensitive skin may want to avoid products made with common irritants, like fragrances.

Identifying your skin type can usually tell you what your skin is lacking—and therefore, what it needs. For example, dry skin may benefit from moisturizers formulated with Hyaluronic Acid, like EltaMD AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer, which helps soothe and replenish dry skin.

You should also consider any skin conditions you might have, such as acne, eczema, or rosacea. Certain skin conditions come with their own set of recommendations, such as non-comedogenic routines for acne-prone skin or gentle formulas for those with eczema.

Consider the Active Ingredients That Fit Your Goals

Part of building a skin care routine involves getting to know the active ingredients in your products. Consider your skin goals and the benefits you'd like to see and then go from there.

Some active ingredients, like antioxidants, are generally beneficial for all skin types. Antioxidants like Vitamin C fend off unstable molecules called free radicals, which cause skin damage that increases the risk of skin cancer and contributes to aging. If your concerns include dullness, dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, consider incorporating antioxidants like Vitamin E and Niacinamide.

Every daytime skin care routine should include sunscreen, per the AAD, which likens sunscreen to a "fountain of youth." EltaMD UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is suitable for all skin types and contains anti-aging ingredients to ward off sun damage.

Other skin goals that can be supported by certain active ingredients include reducing visible signs of aging, supporting skin barrier health, and reducing acne. For these concerns, peptides encourage firm skin, amino acids help improve a weakened skin barrier, and Salicylic Acid unclogs pores.

For every skin condition, there's usually an active ingredient (or several) that can help. But before you go piling on the active ingredients, it's important to understand that some shouldn't be combined and that using too many at once may result in irritation. So, incorporate new active ingredients slowly and focus on just a couple that are highly targeted to your goals.

Prepare for a Smooth Transition as Your Skin Adjusts

Starting a new skin care routine isn't always a seamless process. You can't know for sure how your skin will react to a new ingredient or product. Some people experience redness, irritation, flaking, acne, contact dermatitis, and other reactions when switching up their skin care routine. Fortunately, there are things you can do to support a smooth transition.

Begin by incorporating one new product at a time. If the product contains potentially harsh ingredients like chemical exfoliants or Retinoids, use it on a weekly basis to start and slowly increase the frequency of use as your skin adjusts. A little irritation is to be expected, but using the product sparingly and introducing one active ingredient at a time can help to minimize unwanted effects.

If you have very sensitive skin, perform a patch test before applying a new product all over. As the name implies, dab a small amount of the product on a small patch of skin. The AAD recommends applying the product on the inside of your arm for 10 days to see if you develop any kind of reaction. If not, you can use the product on your face.

In some cases, certain acne treatments can also cause skin purging. This is when you experience an increase in breakouts as your skin adjusts to an ingredient that encourages cell turnover. Essentially, your complexion gets worse before it gets better. After some time, the breakouts should subside and the product will start to show its stuff.

Identify Products That Work for You

Over time, you'll get better at identifying products that seem like they would complement your skin. It's like looking at a menu—after eating at so many restaurants, you can tell which dishes you would enjoy.

When you start a new skin care routine, you may not have a lengthy history with the variety of products, so you won't immediately know what to look for. Choosing products that are suitable for your skin type and contain active ingredients targeted to your concerns is a great place to start, but you should also consider different types of products and pay attention to whether they're working for you or not.

The basics of any skin care routine usually start with a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. As you nail down the basics, you can branch out into toners, serums, eye creams, nighttime moisturizers, and so on. For instance, people with oily skin tend to benefit from using a toner, which can help cleanse skin of excess residue and even decongest pores. A toner like EltaMD Skin Recovery Essence Toner is great for oily, acne-prone skin because it detoxes and removes impurities.

To determine whether a product has earned a spot in your routine, give it time. It can take at least four weeks to notice any changes in your skin after starting a new product. Look for signs like less dryness, breakouts, and redness to know it's working. Irritation, flaking, and acne may mean it's time to move on.

Be Patient and Consistent

Change doesn't often happen overnight, so you can't expect your new moisturizer or cleanser to work miracles in a day. Learning how to build a skin care routine involves setting realistic expectations and acknowledging that products work best when you use them consistently. If you only wash your face or apply sunscreen when you remember to, you may not achieve the results you're looking for.

So, patience is key. It may take longer than the often-repeated 21 days to form a new habit. But the more you apply your skin care products, the easier it'll become to stick to that routine. There's a psychological strategy behind habit forming, and repetition is part of the recipe.

You might make mistakes along the way—and that's OK. Just try again the next day, and don't give up. Eventually, you'll move through the steps of your skin care routine without even thinking about it, until your radiant complexion reminds you just how far you've come.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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