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Basic Skincare Routine: Effective Skincare According to a Dermatologist

January 28, 2024

Skincare truly can be simple. The best way to conceptualise how skincare affects the skin is really as straightforward as how water interacts with skin. Beauty marketing and buzzwords like “science of beauty” sometimes intimidate users who just want a simple way, a basic skincare routine to care for their skin, for skin health. 

Science of Basic Skincare Routine

My first goal is really to show you the simplicity of a basic skincare routine. Let’s build on what we all already know well: water is fundamental to life on earth. It could not ring truer for the skin. Starting with cleansing, which everyone intuitively does, whether with water alone or with a cleanser (which is preferred). Water is a universal solvent, this means that any cleaning process begins with water. The concepts of surface tension are at play when one uses facial cleansers as surfactants to remove dirt, grime and bacteria.

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    The basis of healthy skin is a healthy microbiome. The microbiome is the balance of good and bad bacteria essential to the intricate daily functionings of healthy skin cells. Eczema patients have a disturbance of the microbiome with staphylococcus aureus, otherwise a harmless commensal, becoming pathogenic and causing worsening flare ups with infections. Acne sufferers also have been found to have a microbiome imbalance, Cutibacterium acnes is the chief culprit. Again it is commonly found on the skin of healthy individuals as well.

    Basic 2 Minute Skincare Regimen

    Cleansers also play an important role in rebalancing oil production. Contrary to what many oily skin sufferers may intuitively believe, cleansing is not to remove oil! Rather, cleansing should focus on restoring the ideal skin microenvironment which ensures that sebum production is regulated. Oily skin is caused by sebum production in overdrive. This is the reason why you should never use harsh astringents to dry out oily skin. You will likely experience even oilier skin- reactive seborrhea is real. Rather, opt for a gentle cleanser. Botanicals can be infused as natural emulsifiers which helps it foam up without or with less laureth sulfates. 

    1-Step Beauty Skincare - Cleansing

    Asian Toner Moisturiser Hack for a Basic Skincare Routine

    Heard of the classic 3-step basic skincare routine of cleanse, tone and moisturise? Well, Asian beauty products pack more complexity into each step, while keeping it minimal. In the early 2000s, the story of SKII’s Pitera essence came to epitomise Asian beauty’s obsession with toning essences based on rice water. The science does support using toning essences with non-astringent actives, in contrast to its western counterpart where alcohol, salicylic acid are incorporated to reduce sebum and tighten pores. These toning essences are really moisturising solutions delivered in a water base. Water itself is an ideal toner, without alcohol.

    @drtwlderma All in 1 facial toning essence UNIVERSAL TONER BEAUTY ESSENCE- CUSTOMISABLE Conscious Beauty Cleansing Range •Good for Skin, Great for the Planet• 100% recyclable packaging with airless spray pump. 0% product wastage + full skin penetration. Treats enlarged pores and regulates sebum production with pharmaceutical plant extracts. Controls root cause of oil production with hydrating humectant polyglutamic acid and hyaluronic acid Suitable for all skin types including dry/combination/oily skin with additional anti-aging benefits. Used in TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre to treat enlarged pores and irregular skin texture/pigmentation. #facialtoner #facialessence #dermatologist #sgdoctor #dermatologistskincare #fyp ♬ Ballet song like "Waltz of flowers" _3 minutes(965255) – yulu-ism project

    When infused with antioxidants, the toning/moisturising process becomes an efficient 2 in 1 basic skincare routine step replacing the traditional separate tone and moisturise steps. Skipping a cream moisturiser is perfectly acceptable especially for those with combination/oily skin types in the daytime. Whilst you may have heard of dermatologists saying to never skip moisturiser, the fine print here is that Asian skincare products like the toner essence does itself contain heavy duty moisturising ingredients like glycerin, polyglutamic acid and hyaluronic acid. The same is not true for toners in the traditional cleanse/tone/moisturise regimen.

    2-in-1 Toner/Moisturiser Basic Skincare

    Never forget sunblock in a Basic Skincare Routine

    While it is all true that Asian beauty idolises fair skin (for better or for worse), the message is pretty consistent with modern day sun protection advocacy. The downside to Asian beauty’s obsession with fair skin is the dangerous practice of skin whitening with harmful bleaching agents. Otherwise, the good in Asian society’s desire to keep fair skinned is apparent in the sun avoidance strategies practised by most of the population. It is clear from dermatological research that UV radiation increases oxidative stress which ultimately reduces the skin cell’s ability to repair damaged cells. This first of all manifests as skin ageing but ultimately leads to increased risk of skin cancers. 

    Some basic skincare routine principles to follow here are – choose a minimum SPF of 30. SPF 50 is the industry standard for dermatologist recommended sunscreens. However, higher SPFs are not meaningful, because it does not obviate the need to reapply sunscreen 3-hourly for example. Broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays are the medical standard. Physical sunscreen tends to be less allergenic for those with sensitive skin. However, the chunky texture and whitish cast is cosmetically unappealing. For this reason, most facial sunscreens are a mix of chemical and physical sunscreen actives. These perform well on both a functional and cosmetic level.

    Asian formulated sunscreens have highly distinct properties compared to their western counterparts. For one, formulations catering to the Asian market have a less distinct white cast which shows up prominently on darker Asian complexions. The addition of functional ingredients is notable with K-beauty sunscreen formulas. These have an added anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can boost UV protection and enhance DNA repair.

    SPF 50 Sunscreen Dermatologist Recommended

    The Asian Beauty Edit & the A,B,Cs…C-Beauty, J-Beauty, K-Beauty

    We’ve covered the principles of basic skincare and now time for the Asian beauty spin. As a dermatologist looking up the historical and modern perspectives on Asian beauty – I find the following points pertinent to the scope of this book, Asian Beauty Secrets—Korean Skin Cycling with Plant-based Natural Ingredients:

    Ethnobotany was practised as traditional therapy for dermatological conditions. Active herbs were delivered in skincare for treatment of acne, eczema and psoriasis.

    The beginnings of the Gut-Skin connection. Way before science demonstrated that antioxidants in certain foods were helpful in fighting inflammation – the ancient Chinese women were obsessed with herbal teas as the elixir of youth. Mung beans, snow fungus were all incorporated as dietary beauty elixirs- a modern concept we now call nutraceuticals.

    Gua Sha and jade rollers began to epitomise Asian beauty in the last decade, as modern science uncovered how these traditional rituals were indeed assisting in lymphatic drainage and enhancing collagen stimulation.

    Beyond a basic skincare routine, these are the same concepts which will be considered in an intermediate-advanced skincare regimen laid out below:

    Intermediate Skincare Routine

    I like to use a time based method to classify the different “levels” of the ideal skincare regimen. After all, time is the chief concern for many. “I don’t have time to do this 5 step regimen,” “I’m too busy”… one rarely hears that one is too busy to eat or sleep. This allegory aptly highlights the importance of skin nutrition. Sadly, many people only realise this after they develop a skin condition. 

    The societal idea of beauty must progress to that of skin health, instead of aesthetic standards. In turn, our understanding of skin health must be closely tied in with skin immune function. As with all organs, the skin is a complex living organism that has a host of germs called the microbiome co-existing on its surface. 

    Mechanisms involving cell communication are at work daily keeping skin resilient and free from damage. Skin health interventions then must move away from meeting aesthetic standards, but towards developing an inner resilience. Empowering skin cells to do what they are designed to, helping them develop their fullest potential. 

    An effective basic skincare routine is like good counsel. Creating the ideal microenvironment that enhances cell talk, teamwork and dynamic interactions. Cell talk refers to the various signals that occur between cells that enable physiological processes to function properly. Ageing, skin damage and various dermatological conditions arise from a breakdown in cell communication. 

    Beyond Basic Skincare: Intermediate-Advanced Skincare Regimens 

    It may be daunting to start with a 9 step skincare regimen if you are new to skincare. Think of it like learning a new recipe or a skill. You always have to start from the basics! The good news is, you will progress and get more efficient at your routine eventually, saving you time and effort. What I advocate here is essentially second nature to many of my patients. However, this explanation of the different levels of skincare routines I recommend should help you progressively develop the understanding and skills to care for your skin. No aesthetician or facialist required!

    Once you’ve mastered basic skincare, you will benefit from some understanding of how different skincare products work when progressing to the next level.

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