the skincare pharmD

A Step by Step Guide to Creating The Perfect Skincare Routine

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Until about 6 months ago, my skin care "routine" consisted of relentlessly scrubbing my face with some gritty apricot stuff followed by lathering on whatever moisturizer I could find. Yet, I wondered how my face could possibly be breaking out yet dry at the same time. Sigh. I decided that I needed to give my skin the attention it deserved!


As Lauryn of The Skinny Confidential says:

"Here’s the thing: people go to the gym, they work their ass off, & they keep their homes clean but then they neglect their skin? I DON’T GET IT."




Additionally, Nicki of FutureDerm conveys her take on the importance of skin care:

"Our skin works 24/7 to protect our bodies from harsh weather, UV rays, injuries, pain and a host of other unpleasant sensations, so setting aside a few minutes each day to tend to our skin seems a small price to pay."


I understand that some people actually do want to take care of their skin, but might not know how or where to start. That was me just a short time ago! But trust me, I've done my homework. Literally, though. I know and understand the biology and chemistry behind skin care products based on what I learned in pharmacy school. 

Even so, I still dedicated a significant amount of time researching WHAT works, WHO makes it, and WHEN to apply it. With the overwhelming amount of skin care products and brands on the market all claiming to be THE best, it was a daunting task! All of that research has paid off because now I have my routine down to a tee and my skin is looking the best it has looked. EVER! Combining the right products at the right times has been extremely helpful for my skin. If you aren't sure where to start when it comes to taking care of your skin, START HERE: 





When to use:

Before going to bed or as needed to remove makeup 

Why it's important:

Going to sleep with your makeup on deprives skin of a crucial nutrient: OXYGEN! Skin that is deprived of oxygen can look dull and dry - gross!

Ingredients to look for:

  • Jojoba oil (By far my favorite way to remove makeup, reviewed in a previous post)





  • Calming Feverfew - I read on FutureDerm that this botanical has anti-inflammatory and calming properties. It is contained in products such as Aveeno Ultra Calming Makeup Removing Wipes. 





When to use:

Both morning and night!

Why it's important in the morning:

According to Livestrong, just washing your face with good ole H2O only removes about 65% of oil and dirt. Yuck! Cleansers grab onto the oil, dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria that build up on your skin overnight and dissolve them. Thus allowing you to get rid of all that nastiness when you rinse with water. Cleansing unclogs pores and helps to prevent skin conditions such as acne. (Wikipedia)

"Many of the environmental impurities and cosmetic products are not water soluble and so washing the skin with simple water would not be sufficient to remove them." (Indian Journal of Dermatology)

Why it's important in the evening:

All day your skin is exposed to environmental factors that cause dirt, pollution, and other environmental factors to accumulate on the surface. Add on the sweat and oil that has been produced all day and it should be a no-brainer as to why using a cleanser at night is so important! Research also shows that making cleansing before bed a ritual is the key to keeping your skin looking younger, longer:

"Every day your skin is aging. And the very simple process of washing your face before bed is an excellent way to mitigate the external factors associated with aging and to stimulate the internal processes that fight aging." (FutureDerm)


Ingredients to look for:

When it comes to ingredients in cleansers, it is important to first determine your skin type.

normal, oily, or dry?

If you aren't sure what skin type you would be classified as, try taking my solution tool.

Listing each ingredient to look for in a cleanser for all of the different types of skin would be a post all on its own! I plan to write this in the near future, but in the meantime, the secret to success with your cleanser (besides using it both morning and night) is this:





When to use:

Both morning and night

Why it's important: 

Toner is the second step of the cleansing process, according to  Dr. Alicia Zalka, a Yale-affiliated dermatologist.

“The benefit is that, when used correctly, it can help remove excess oils and dead skin cells that may lurk on the face after washing." (The Huffington Post)

However, if your skin is typically on the dry side, it is recommended to skip this step since toners can exacerbate dryness and may cause irritation. But if you have oily or combination skin, adding the right toner to your regimen could benefit you!

Ingredients to look for:

  • Glycerin - a humectant moisturizer
  • Alcohols - some alcohols have moisturizing properties (such as butylene glycol), but high concentrations of alcohols can cause dryness or irritation!
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) - a natural astringent that can decrease oily areas of skin while still being calming and soothing



When to use:

Dependent on which problem you are addressing. See below

Why they are important: 

Correcting treatments are probably the easiest part of skin care routines to understand: you have a problem that you want to correct (or prevent!) There are many different types of correcting treatments, however, which is where things can become a little tricky. Look for an antioxidant to combat the free radicals that contribute to aging. Benzoyl Peroxide is the gold standard for over-the-counter acne treatment (RxPrep)  Vitamin A derivatives can be over-the-counter (retinol, retinyl palmitate) or prescription (tretinoin, generic for Retin-A). AHAs and BHAs are beneficial ingredients in both anti-aging and acne products.  

Ingredients to look for:

  • Antioxidant: Vitamins C and E, beta carotene, glutathione
    • Apply in the morning


  • Benzoyl Peroxide: listed under the "Active Ingredients" section of a product. 
    • Apply at night


  • Vitamin A derivatives: retinol, retinyl palmitate, tretinoin (prescription only)
    • Apply at night, at least 10 to 15 minutes after washing face and allowing it to dry


  • AHA (alpha hydroxy acids)*: glycolic acid, lactobionic acid, lactic acid
    • Apply in the morning, always underneath a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30


  • BHA (beta hydroxy acids)*: salicylic acid
    • Apply in the morning, always underneath a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30


*NOTE: do not use retinoids and AHA/BHA at the same time! AHA/BHA products should be applied in the morning and retinoids should be applied at night (FutureDerm)




Why it's important: 

Moisturizers are intended to coat the skin to prevent it from losing water, can help to restore the skin barrier, and provide protection and healing.

A good moisturizer should also be hypoallergenic, non-sensitizing, and non-comedogenic. (The Dermatologist)

There are three types of moisturizers:

1. Occlusive

2. Humectant

3. Reparative


Occlusive moisturizers physically prevent against water loss by forming a thin film over the surface of the skin and can be very helpful for severe dryness. However, they can be messy and not very cosmetically appealing (these mostly consist of oils - see below). Humectant moisturizers absorb water from the atmosphere and also from the lower layers of the skin, making the upper skin that is touchable, more moisturized (FutureDerm). One negative about humectants is their potential to draw water from surrounding cells that can actually dry the skin further. (The Dermatologist)  Reparative moisturizers combine the properties of both occlusive and humectant moisturizers. 

Ingredients to look for:


  • Petrolatum
  • Lanolin
  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Soybean Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Mineral Oil
  • Triglycerides


  • Propylene glycol
  • Glycerin
  • Sorbitol
  • Urea
  • Lactic acid
  • Glycerol


  • Ceramides
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Cetyl Stearate


6. SPF

When to use:

In the morning, before exposure to sunlight

Why it's important: 

Skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, yet each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon. (Skin Cancer Foundation)

If preventing cancer isn't enough to convince you to wear sunscreen, think about this: UV rays mutate DNA, generate free radicals, degrade collage, and reduce the size of the dermis layer of skin...AKA they cause wrinkles, lack of firmness, and dark spots! (Wikipedia)

Ingredients to look for:

  • Zinc Oxide
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • An SPF of at least 15


this post was intended to give a basic overview of what a skin care routine should consist of. I will be writing a post on the specific products I have tried and what I like and dislike about each of them. subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you are the first to hear about it!!

xo kaitlyn