Skincare 101: A Step-By-Step Beginner’s Guide to Skincare

Washing your face, I know, sounds pretty simple in theory, but with the influx of Instagrammers posting their ten-step skincare routines and more product recommendations than you could possibly ever know what to do with, it can be a very overwhelming, confusing and all-around frustrating concept.

 I can’t even tell you how many of my friends call me from Sephora, panicking, asking what products to get, but more than that, what they all really want to know is how to create an influencer-worthy skincare routine without the headache. As me and my friends scoured the internet, we realized we were all struggling to find an easy-to-follow, step-by-step skincare guide, so I decided to make my own version to make it much easier for all of us!

I know this is long, but my hope is that this will be the first and last—well maybe not last—thing you’ll ever have to read before you embark on your own skincare journey, sans your impending migraine.

What To Buy

If you’re really new to washing your face, as in a reformed Cetaphil-twice-a-week user, then you don’t necessarily want to overwhelm your face by introducing too many products at once. I went ahead and italicized the ones you can leave out for the time being, and add on a little later as you and your skin become more comfortable with your new routine—one at a time, of course, to prevent any possible bad reactions.


Baby Washcloths
Makeup Remover/Micellar Water (Bioderma, cause it’s the only one I’ll ever use)
– Cleanser
– Toner
– Mask
– Serum(s)
– Moisturizer
– Eye Cream

What Kinds of Products?

Because you’re just starting this whole skincare thing, I recommend looking for products that are made for sensitive skin. I know, another thing to remember, but this one’s simple and worth it. Most products will advertise the fact that it is gentle enough for sensitive skin so that you can’t miss it but if you’re still having trouble, companies like Sephora and Space NK have sections–online and in-store– dedicated to sensitive skin products, so I would head there first if you need help getting started and are afraid of your skin reacting poorly to all these new products.


This is arguably the hardest part about starting a skincare routine—and I agree, it’s super intimidating and only gets more intimidating with the recent introduction of the K-beauty ‘ten-step routine’. More on that later, let’s stick to the basics for now, and then once we’ve mastered that, we can get fancy.

When I asked my dermatologist, he said that you can think of the order of your skincare products by starting with the thinnest consistency and end with the thickest. It makes sense if you think about it—products with thinner consistencies can’t penetrate through thicker creams or serums, for example. But even that trick can get really tricky, so the official order goes:

1. Cleanser
Exfoliant (if applicable)
2. Toner
3. Serum(s)
4.Eye Cream
5. Moisturizer
6. SPF

Rule No.1

Speaking of leaving your skin high and dry, don’t forget to wash with lukewarm or cool water only. No, I really mean it—don’t touch that left knob! It’s a total myth that using warm water will open your pores and strip your face of moisture. In fact, it can actually cause irritation or pimples, so try this easy fix and save the hot water for the shower.

Rule No. 2

I always forget this one—it really is the bane of my existence—but my mom has been drilling this into my head from the time I could walk. Whatever you do, don’t forget your chest. Your neck and chest are just as important as your face, and what I’ve learned from growing up in LA is that you can tell a woman’s real age, no matter how much work they’ve had done, by their neck and décolletage. A few months ago, I invested in a pack of really cheap v-neck shirts that I wear whenever I wash my face so that my neck and chest are super accessible. If it’s not easy, I’m not doing it, so if you feel the same way I highly suggest picking any v-neck shirt and using that as your skincare shirt.

Rule No.3

Consistency is absolutely everything. No product is going to work if you use it inconsistently or only when you remember it. These products need time to build in the cells, so don’t give up on something before you’ve used it consistently for a month—unless of course it’s irritating your skin, then by all means stop.

What You’ll Need

You’ll want to invest in baby washcloths because they’re delicate on the skin and will prevent you from scrubbing your face into a fury of redness and irritation. It’s often tempting to use the most aggressive products when you see a massive zit or have just reached your limit looking at the same, dull, or irritated complexion every day. But that’s not the best answer when it comes to your insanely delicate skin. Think of the skin on your face as tissue paper and treat it super gently while you’re doing your routine!

How you wash your face is just as important as what products you use. It’s hard not to reach into a tub of cream and slather it on your face, but don’t do it! Your fingers are So. Dirty. Let me repeat, SO DIRTY… I hate to add yet another step to an already daunting routine, but washing your hands is insanely important before you go to clean your face. Not only that, but using a Q-Tip to scoop out the product is your best bet for not getting the product under your fingernail or transferring the germs from your hands to your face.

The Hack

Now, here’s the ultimate skincare hack: Next time you’re at the drugstore, opt for medical gauze instead of cotton rounds. Yes, that white, tissue-y stuff you used to see in your nurse’s office at school. Also, please forgive me for the amount of times I’m about to say gauze in the next few sentences because it’s just occurred to me that this is the weirdest word ever.

Anyways, zero exaggeration, this little trick changed my life (and wallet) forever. Around this time last year, I bought my first pack of gauze and graduated from the days of using the corner of a dirty washcloth.  Gauze is incredible for removing makeup or applying toners and serums to the skin and wastes significantly less product than when you use an average cotton round. Cotton rounds are great and all, but they absorb nearly all the product, leaving nothing to be transferred onto the skin which will make you run out of your precious products way earlier than you should. 

You can find gauze at really any drugstore or pharmacy, and each pack should last you a long time. Because I haven’t found a reusable alternative, I suggest cutting each sheet of gauze into four little squares so you really get your money’s worth. Which reminds me, another hack to always remember is to always sleep on a clean pillowcase–even if you don’t change your sheets, change your pillowcase because, chances are,  your dirty pillowcase is causing breakouts and you don’t even know it!


This is one’s tough because there are a lot of misconceptions about cleansers—and because it’s the first step, it’s super important that you get this one right (no pressure). Your cleanser is responsible for taking off the entire day’s/night’s grossness and is supposed to leave your face as a clean, blank canvas prepped for the next steps in your routine.


I love Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser for skincare beginners, and even now, it’s still one of my favorites that I use when I need a quick, good and hydrating clean–it’s super luxurious and feels like you’re actually moisturizing your skin while you wash. It’s so gentle, smells like roses, and really works for just about everybody. It’s a safe bet that if you buy it, it’ll work for you. 

Don’t Hesitate, Exfoliate.

When you think of exfoliating, you probably think of those little microbeads or rubbing your skin so hard it turns into a red ball of irritated fury. I remember those days, too— but no longer are the days of exfoliation irritation.

I was hesitant to introduce an exfoliator to my routine because I always remembered them being so drying. I used to use that Clean & Clear exfoliating bead cleanser, and I remember when I was finished, my skin would be so tight it felt like I just got the craziest face lift and couldn’t make any expressions. Needless to say, I’ve graduated from those days and have fallen head over heels with exfoliating.

Let me break it down. There are two types of exfoliators: Physical and chemical. Physical exfoliators, like Fresh Sugar Face Polish are scrubs or products with micro-grains or fibers that physically slough off dead skin by rubbing, and chemical exfoliators do the same thing but are made up of acids, so you don’t physically feel them exfoliating your skin. Chemical exfoliators are more popular today because they’re more advanced and often more gentle. Two of my all-time favorites, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50V 1970 and Glossier’s Solution double as chemical exfoliants and the combo  has become, by far, my favorite way to exfoliate–and definitely the easiest way.  For the beginners out there,  another super easy way to start exfoliating is to use Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pads. They come individually wrapped and are fool-proof and, even more importantly, they work like magic. Just wipe and go, piece of cake.

Tip: Now this is a big one, don’t over-exfoliate! Especially when you’re first starting out, you should really only exfoliate once or twice a week until your skin gets used to it. If you’re using retinol cream/serum, you really want to be careful about over-exfoliating—I switch off every other night between my exfoliator and my retinol products, otherwise my skin will get insanely dry and irritated. 


I have a soft spot in my heart for toners because they  get an unfairly, bad rap. OK, I guess not entirely unfairly—a lot of them just used to have alcohol as one of the primary ingredients, which isn’t great to put on your skin for a number of reasons and used to dry people out like crazy. Now, that’s not the case at all–in recent years toners have gotten much more sophisticated and are essential to:

  • prepping the skin to make things like your serums or acids more effective—think primer for skincare.
  • cleaning off anything your cleanser may have missed
  • Balancing skin’s PH level

For beginners, to make sure a toner won’t dry you out or irritate your skin, dilute the toner with some water before applying and pressing into the skin. Don’t swipe. And remember that Korean-brand toners are more gentle on the skin than their US counterparts, so if you have sensitive skin, I’d definitely look at those first.


In addition to acids like hyaluronic acid, are two groups of acids more important than the rest. Well, OK, maybe not more important, but definitely the two you need to familiarize yourself with when you’re starting a skincare routine. AHAs, which include acids like glycolic–the most gentle and the ‘safe-for-beginners’ acid– and lactic acid, and BHAs which include acids like salicylic acid–the anti-acne acid, are chemical exfoliants and have gotten crazy popular in recent years. Chemical Exfoliants slough off dead skin to reveal clear, soft and smooth skin. 

TIP: I have two tips for acids…if you’re currently using a retinol product, I would avoid using a chemical exfoliant or acids at the same time. I usually use retinol three times a week and exfoliate one-two times a week, but on different days.

If you have sensitive skin, or are just getting your skin used to acidic products, I’d start out using products with bromelain and papain as gentle alternatives to acids to get rid of dead skin cells.

Remember: Acids (or any AHA/BHA combo) are applied after you’ve cleansed and before your serums.

Get Personal

When you think of a serum, think of this as the place to get really personal with your routine and target the specific issues you have with your skin. After tons of research, I’ve learned you can use more than one serum at a time, but for the beginner I suggest starting with one and working up from there based on how your skin reacts. Serums should target your skin’s specific, personal problems. For example, I often feel like my skin is looking dull and I have major sun damage so I use brightening serums like The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA Serum or Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum to make my skin look vibrant and help fade my millions of dark spots. This is where you can target specific problems with your skin’s appearance or texture, but I totally know the feeling of hearing the word serum and immediately having FOMO from the latest and greatest. A good rule of thumb is to just stick to a maximum of three serums at a time.


I can’t even tell you how of my friends have  come to my house scouring my bathroom shelves for my moisturizers. They usually all have the same story of investing in an insanely expensive moisturizer that yielded less-than-satisfactory results. They complain about the dry patches or dull complexion even after trying a million moisturizers. I have a secret… it’s not entirely your moisturizer’s fault. More often than not, it’s actually your cleanser that is drying your skin out or leaving you with those unwanted dry patches. Your cleanser could be stripping your skin of so much moisture that your moisturizer is working way too hard and can’t live up to its full potential and probably showing little, if any results. So, next time you go to throw your tenth new moisturizing lotion or gel in the trash, consider changing your cleanser instead.

Use Protection

Last but certainly not least, SPF. OK, I hate to sound like a total mom here—and honestly, I forget more times than I would like to admit—but do as I say not as I do ;)! SPF. Yes, SPF all day every day, no matter where, no matter what—no really, no matter what. Even if you swear you’re going to spend the entire day inside your office, USE SPF. Pro Tip: Minimum SPF 30, otherwise it ain’t workin’.

There’s really no other sunscreen I would recommend to you. Supergoop’s Defense Refresh SPF50 Setting Mist is one of the more revolutionary products I’ve ever encountered, and has completely changed the way I look at sunscreen. I used to think it was this oily gunk that left me looking like a greasy ghost, but evidently they’ve changed sunscreen a lot from the days when your mom had to chase you around the pool to get it on. Supergoop’s setting mist goes on after you apply your makeup and are ready to walk out the door! It goes on clear, and you don’t need to rub it in because the mist finely dissolves onto the skin without any white streaks–which might be my favorite part.

Know Thyself

Know thyself, know thy skin. Oily, dry, sensitive, normal or combination, make sure you know what kind of skin you have before you buy any product. Everyone’s skin is so different so remember… be patient. It’s hard not to always look for that immediate fix, but most of the time, even the greatest products need a minute to show results. Don’t lose faith, it will pay off sooner than you think!