Navigating skincare routine steps can be confusing. In this article, our founder board-certified dermatologist and author of Skincare Bible Dermatologist’s Tips for Cosmeceutical Skincare shares her blueprint for minimalist regimens. Understand the purpose behind each step and get maximum results. Discover how skin type affects your skincare routine steps, products to use and learn exactly how to build the best regimen for you. Included are tips on selecting plant actives suited for various skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, oily skin, wrinkles and skin sensitivity.
Build a purposeful skincare routine with these steps:
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Skincare Fundamentals With Dr.TWL
The following is applicable for both day and night skincare routine steps. For night time skincare, you may omit sunscreen, and also add on application of a sheet mask and eye cream. Targeted treatment of spots such as with prescription creams containing retinol/retinoids or hydroquinone should also typically be applied at night in order to reduce the risk of photosensitivity.
Day and Night Skincare Routine Steps
Double cleansing is a 2 step process which involves first removing makeup and sunscreen, followed by a second cleanse. The first cleanse focuses on oil soluble pigments, sebum, grime whereas the second step is focused on removing the residue. The primary goal of cleansing is to restore the healthy skin microbiome—a balance of good and bad germs. However, it is equally important to respect the skin barrier. An ideal double cleansing regimen should not strip the skin of moisture. Rather, it should cleanse skin and restore moisture levels.
Skincare Routine Step 1 Makeup removal
There are two options for makeup removers. The first is a micellar formulation. The second, an oil-based cleanser or an emulsion, sometimes known as a “milk” cleanser. I will go through the pros and cons of each but first let us define some terms.
Micellar water works by hydrophobic (water-hating) and hydrophilic (water-loving) properties of a micelle. The makeup residue is attracted to the water-hating aspect, this is best thought of as a ball that is wrapped up which continues to roll on skin grabbing the residual pigment and dirt. To remove the ball which is a micelle, you use a cotton pad. Friction or rubbing is inevitable and this can be harsh for sensitive skin
Pure oil cleansers are often too greasy, my choice is an emulsion or a milk cleanser. Milk cleansers are oil in water formulations, the oil component dissolves makeup pigments and removes excess sebum. The “like for like” principle here is that oil soluble pigments are dissolved in a similar substance—an oil in water emulsion.
The benefits of an emulsion are that it is less greasy than pure oil formulations. It is also effective as a humectant if formulated with moisturising ingredients. When you physically rub off the makeup on a cotton pad, the oil component protects your skin. It acts as a barrier between the cotton pad and skin, hence reducing friction unlike with micellar solution.
Skincare Routine Step 2 Second cleanse with a lathering agent
This step is best paired with a natural emulsifier like honey or soy, or similar botanical emulsifiers. The process of generating a foam can help improve the cleansing experience, so users feel thoroughly cleansed. However, using chemical lathering agents like laureth sulfates can strip the skin of natural moisture and cause dysregulation of oil production. This can sometimes lead to the oily dehydrated skin phenomenon. Amino acid based lathering agents are also gentler on skin.
Skincare Routine Step 3 Serum application
Serums deliver high concentrations of water soluble actives such as hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. The reason why an all-in-1 skincare cream does not work well is because the entire process of skincare layering creates a moist skin healing environment, which is not achieved with the traditional cleanse-tone-moisturise regimen. Important skincare actives to look for:
Multi-weighted molecular hyaluronic acid has benefits because it can act on multiple layers of skin and activate different targets.
Stabilised forms of vitamin C include L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. L-ascorbic acid is acidic and can cause irritation to sensitive skin. For this reason, I usually recommend vitamin C serum formulations based on the latter ascorbyl phosphate compounds. Sodium ascorbyl phosphate also is effective at lower concentrations.
The effects of vitamin C are as follows:
Antioxidant environment to fight free radical stress caused by environmental damage (UV, air pollution)
Treatment of acne (reduces skin inflammation by inhibiting lipid peroxidation in acne-prone, oily skin)
Skincare Routine Step 4 Emulsion/Lotion
The equivalent of a day moisturising cream is a lotion or emulsion formula which is lightweight, feels comfortable on skin throughout the day and is quickly absorbed.
The oil-in-water texture is the ideal day moisturiser because it maintains effectiveness while reducing any uncomfortable sticky sensations. Some important active ingredients like ceramides and also water soluble actives like plant antioxidants show increased absorption when in an oil vehicle. The oil-in-water formula is hence ideal.
Skincare Routine Step 5 Facial Mist
Many consider this to be optional, but it is actually a key step to increase penetration of all the skincare actives. The concept of sheet masking is really wet occlusion therapy which means applying products on damp skin and creating a moist microclimate enhances skincare absorption. The outermost layer of skin known as the stratum corneum naturally impedes absorption of skincare actives, enhancing permeability is hence an important principle in effective skincare routine steps.
The ideal facial mist should contain hyaluronic and polyglutamic acid, as these are hygroscopic molecules that help trap moisture under the surface of skin. Ultimately this prevents transepidermal water loss, which is a key problem in dehydrated skin.
For day skincare routine steps, I will usually wait 2-3 minutes for the facial mist to fully absorb before applying sunscreen. The ideal sunscreen formula should possess the following properties:
SPF 50, broad spectrum
Compatible with natural skin color (for asians and other skin of color individuals, a white-cast is unpleasant and will affect compliance. I.e. insufficient product use can lead to lower sunprotection)
Lightweight, easily absorbed, cosmetically appealing tor reapply
Optional Skincare Routine Step: Face & Eye Cream application
For daytime, oily and combination skin types will do well with the day moisturiser lotion alone. However dry skin types should use a moisturiser cream formula containing ceramides both day and night. In the case of a day skincare routine, the cream should be used before sunscreen. Ideally, it should be left on to be absorbed for 3-5 minutes to minimise sunscreen or makeup pilling.
For night time, all skin types including oily and combination skin will benefit from using a ceramide based moisturiser.
It is also important to use a targeted eye cream to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. The key actives in eye creams can include
4% Niacinamide (skin barrier repair and skin lightening)
Actives like prescription retinoids, hydroquinone and OTC retinol are to be used at night. This is to reduce the risk of sun sensitivity. Generally, retinoids can be used over an entire area, avoiding the part around the eyes and lips as the skin is more sensitive. Hydroquinone is a bleaching agent which should only be used on pigmented spots or as per physician’s directions.
Weekly treatment routine
It is also a good idea to include in your weekly skincare routine steps a day or two for exfoliation and masking. Masking can be done as frequently as daily, although that would also depend on the individual’s preference. I cover some points on exfoliation and masking in this final section.
Weekly Skincare Routine Step #1 Exfoliation
Exfoliation Is the removal of dead skin cells from the top most layer of skin, but most importantly, a process that encourages cell renewal. It’s also important to understand the skin cycle here, the entire process from new skin cells moving to the surface and shedding it takes about 27-28 days. Exfoliation helps remove the dead skin cells to reveal younger, brighter and more radiant skin.
There are two main types of exfoliation. Physical exfoliation using granules or abrasive beads which I don’t recommend, especially for sensitive skin or those with active inflamed acne. Chemical exfoliation with AHAs, BHAs and lactic acids exfoliate microscopically and can improve skin irregularities.
Home use chemical exfoliants: the most important aspect is a low concentration that does not irritate skin and also a formulation that has moisturising effects on skin to reduce the risk of irritant contact dermatitis.
Weekly Skincare Routine Step #2 Masking
The concept of face masks are twofold:
Creating a micro-climate around your skin that enhances skin healing and stimulates beneficial processes like collagen production and cell talk
Wet occlusion therapy which increases the absorption of skincare active ingredients by improving epidermal penetration. I.e. the ability of the cosmeceuticals to cross the skin barrier is important for efficacy.
There are 4 main types of face masks
Sheet masks (reusable or one-time disposable)
Leave on gel masks (high dose antioxidants like vitamin C, skin barrier repair actives like aloe, glycerin)
Dry masks (polymers like silicone, hydrocolloid that create an artificial micro-climate around skin)
Textiles (face masks, pillowcases engineered from novel nanomaterials like copper that exert anti-aging effects on skin).
I recommend using leave on gel masks together with reusable sheet masks made of polysaccharide for ideal results. Dry masking can be implemented simply by switching to biofunctional textiles for your pillowcase for instance.
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Glowing skin isn’t a myth. It’s achievable with the right products incorporated into your skincare routine. Dr.TWL’s encyclopedia of skincare routines is a distillation of her expertise as a dermatologist and also chief scientific officer of clinical skincare brand Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals. In this first installment, we cover one of the most frequently asked questions about skincare routines: how do you get glowing skin?
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Ep 1 Skincare Routines 101: How to Get Glowing Skin
We’ll begin with the science:
The anatomy of glowing skin
This is the key to an instant glow—select skincare products that target strategic layers of skin. Let’s break down what exactly makes skin glow, by first explaining what causes dull skin. With that we’ll understand the anatomy of skin, before we begin to talk about how to get naturally glowing skin.
The epidermis is the top most layer of skin. Dull skin is due to reduced skin cell renewal rates, which is directly related to skin age. That is why youthful looking skin is described as radiant. This is due to healthy cell turnover rate. The corneocytes are the superficial skin cells which are retained on the skin surface. This results in skin dullness. The moisture content of skin also affects glow—dry skin is due to increased loss of water to the environment. This is also known as trans-epidermal water loss. Hydrating the skin, enhancing healthy cell turnover rate are ways to achieve glowing skin at the level of the epidermis.
The dermis is the second layer of skin and is primarily composed of elastin and collagen. Both elastin and collagen content are also lost with aging skin. On the surface it looks like reduced plumpness and elasticity of skin. By restoring plumpness and elasticity, skin appears taut, lifted and also adds to the illusion of glowing skin from within.
Overall health, blood circulation
Inside out beauty is for real. Skin is supplied by blood vessels transporting nutrients that feed it. If you are in an optimal state of health, your skin will be too. A plant-based diet rich in antioxidants will ensure that your body has sufficient antioxidant reserve to fight free-radical damage.
Formulation of skincare products
Skincare products can be understood this way:
The vehicle (cleanser, lotion, serum, cream, mask) which determines texture and function
Cleansers work at the level of the epidermis. The rest are leave-on products which can penetrate deeper into the dermis and achieve desired effects on skin.
Active ingredients for glowing skin
Skincare active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and polyglutamic acid are glycosaminoglycans which penetrate deeper into skin at the level of the dermis. There are multiple biological effects including enhancing skin barrier function, encouraging healthy immune system regulation. These all essential to achieve a glowing skin effect.
In the next section, I’ll teach you how to get glowing skin with 5 of my best glowing skin hacks, including tips on how to choose the best skincare products for instant glow effects.
If we had all the time in the world, I’m sure we would be applying skincare products all day long, just kidding. As a dermatologist, I prioritise efficient skincare routines. So here’s the deal, my list of 5 glowing skin hacks crystallises top tips for achieving glowing skin in under 3 minutes, in under 3 steps with 3 products or less.
Skincare Routine Steps for an Instant Glow Facial At Home
Cleanse & peel in 1 step for glowing skin
Glowing skin tip #1:
I wet my face, apply a pea-sized amount of a brightening cleanser (natural emulsifiers like those honey-based or with soy/botanical emulsifiers work). Then, I use home skincare device with a microcrystalline copper oxide tip for gentle microdermabrasion. It works with vacuum technology and the microcrystalline tip exfoliates skin on a microscopic level, similar to what a chemical peel does.
The science behind this is that skin dullness is not just caused by retention of dead skin cells, but also because of surface oxidative stress caused by pollution. Thorough cleansing itself removes the pollutants and instantly restores the glow. The key is to cleanse effectively with the help of technology, I prefer microdermabrasion or hydrodermabrasion over sonic cleansing but you would do well to use both really.
Best serums for glowing skin
Glowing skin tip #2:
Use serums religiously in your skincare routine if you desire to achieve glowing skin. The two best serums for glowing skin are hyaluronic acid and vitamin c serums. Use a vitamin C serum after cleansing, when your skin is slightly damp. This enhances absorption of the serum. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which means it eats up the free radicals generated by environmental damage on skin. UV exposure, PM2.5 pollutants, these directly cause oxidative stress on skin which causes skin to be dull.
If you have dry sensitive skin, be careful with this though. I would choose sodium ascorbyl phosphate or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate over L-ascorbic acid formulations because the latter can cause irritation due to increased acidity of the skin environment. Don’t mistake skins dryness for dullness—in this case you’ll actually need to repair the skin barrier (see 3.) The best hyaluronic acid is a multi-weighted molecular formula that targets both layers of skin. The epidermis, where it has a humectant function. The dermis, where it targets cell activity and signalling. The latter known as cell talk.
Use a moisturiser that contains peptides, botanicals and niacinamide
Glowing skin tip #3:
If you aren’t in a hurry, apply a palm-sized amount of your favorite moisturiser and let it absorb for at least half an hour (I usually get on with my tasks at home!) Also apply a damp cotton towel over your skin if you’re taking a nap—this will increase the absorption of the moisturiser which will guarantee your skin looks doubly radiant when you wake up.
Facial mists are the most underrated skincare step in my opinion. Face mists are an in between skincare step, which means it can be applied anytime. Unlike the rules of skincare layering which means the most lightweight goes first, i.e. serum, lotion, emulsion, moisturiser/mask. Facial mists can act as a boost to any skincare step by dampening the skin environment which makes skincare absorption more effective.
Polyglutamic acid can hold 5X the weight of water compared to hyaluronic acid, but is less commonly found in skincare because it is more expensive. Botanicals are commonly used in K-beauty facial mists, these help to fight surface free radical damage. I usually spritz on right after cleansing and again after moisturiser before I apply any makeup. I also use it throughout the day to hydrate my skin.
The facial mist is a multifunctional skincare product I highly recommend, I use it to cleanse my skin for touch-ups—water itself is a solvent and when paired with a micellar makeup remover pad it is sufficient to remove makeup. Makeup wipes are bad for skin and definitely won’t give you a glow. They are usually formulated with harsh surfactants that will disrupt the skin barrier.
Glowing skin also needs a little help sometimes-use a BB or CC cream
Glowing skin tip #5:
If you’ve followed all the above steps, you are well on your way to achieving the coveted glowing skin look. But, truth be told, the glowing skin sported by our favorite K-pop celebrities also comes with a little help, in the form of K-beauty makeup. To be clear, I’m not talking about layering full face foundation, loose powder and all.
What I’m referring to is skincare makeup, also known as the BB and CC creams which contain active ingredients in the makeup itself. The valuable aspect about incorporating skincare in makeup is that it literally boosts your skincare regimen. Your foundation sits on your skin the entire day plus it makes us all a bit more confident when we get to conceal our flaws.
BB creams and CC creams—we inherited these terms courtesy of K-beauty but the western beauty brands like Chanel and Dior have also caught up in a big way the last couple years. I’ve seen updated formulations from european brands which look a lot more similar to K-beauty CC creams in the last year for instance. My preference is always for skincare makeup that is loaded with antioxidants because they literally brighten your skin by zapping the free radical stress away.
Welcome to my skin diary! As a dermatologist, you may imagine that I do get asked about my best skincare tips A WHOLE LOT. But if you watched my video on lazy girl cooking hacks, you may have discovered by now that I value efficiency. You know, as a former fencer, speed to me, is really everything (epeeists are also known as the…slowest). So in this series, I decided it’s time to get brutally honest about whether I practice what I preach. I’ve distilled it down to just 5 things I swear by–rain or shine, busy or not.
(I think you’ll find it interesting).
Introducing the compilation…The Lazy Derm’s Best Skincare Tips for Everyone
#1 Cleansing begins with understanding skin types
Choosing the right cleansing regimen is the most important part of any skincare routine
Don’t just cleanse, cleanse mindfully
This means using either a very gentle washcloth (unless you have extremely dry/sensitive skin) a reusable soft microfibre pad can help attract the particulate matter settled on skin. PM2.5, airborne pollutants are known to accelerate skin aging and worsen skin conditions like acne. Cleansing is the most important step in any skincare regimen because it directly targets the skin microbiome.
When the skin microbiome is disturbed, skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema result.
How to up your cleansing game:
Add a cleansing device
Sonic technology, microdermabrasion are some clinic technologies that have now been adapted for home use.
Besides being eco-friendly, it’s also a quick and cost-effective way to quickly up your skincare regimen.
#2 Best Skincare Tips for Lazy Girls
Don’t use a toner. Use facial essences instead
Aren’t they the same? They may look similar but they aren’t. The traditional cleanse-tone-moisturise skincare mantra is passé. Toners of the past were marketed as being astringents to remove excess oil. However, this is a terrible skincare faux pas. These days, we know that oily skin isn’t to be dehydrated like a greasy wok. Oily skin can be dehydrated as well. It’s a paradox, but not really.
Here’s the science: skin knows it has to regulate itself. Those who are born with genetic tendencies to develop greasy/oily skin tend to produce more sebum at the onset of puberty. The key is to regulate oil production and not to superficially remove oil like an astringent toner does. Instead, doing so leads to a dehydrated-oily skin phenomenon. A situation in which skin feels greasy from the inside and looks dehydrated, flaky and inflamed on the surface.
Use a facial essence
K-beauty inspired facial essences are water-based. Water itself is a fantastic astringent/cleanser on its own—without stripping skin dry. This is why our skin feels cleansed after a bath. For the same reason dermatologists advise applying water compresses to wounds to gently cleanse and remove exudates.
Face mist hack
I completely eliminate toners in my skincare regimen. Instead, my facial mist is multi-purposed as an on-the-go cleanser, toner and moisturiser. I choose one that is free of potentially irritating skincare actives like AHA, BHAs and retinol. The formulation should include a mix of different hydrating ingredients such as glycerin, sodium hyaluronate, polyglutamic acid and also antioxidants. In this case, especially in summer climates, I simply spray on my face mist right after cleansing and I’m done!
#3 Want to know a dermatologist’s skincare hack?
The best skincare tips from dermatologists are free, really.
Use your favorite moisturiser as your sleeping mask
THE SKINCARE SCAM All sleeping mask formulas are the same as moisturisers, as these are leave-on rather than wash-off ingredients. They work by absorbing onto the skin to produce moisturising effects.
Are overnight masks more effective?
It really depends on the formulation. Overnight masks are really just moisturisers. Sleeping masks could possibly be more effective because it contains richer active ingredients that repair the skin barrier. It also has to do with the amount you apply. Directions to use for sleeping masks usually involve applying much more than your regular moisturiser.
Leaving a topical on the skin for more than 12 hours for example, it would be important to first ascertain suitability of the ingredients, preservative and vehicle, including concentrations and types, and all of the components being intended to be applied on the skin for an extended period and not as a wash off. It is really a good marketing invention, because this encourages people to apply the proper amount of moisturiser, which is a really liberal amount, overnight, as during the day they may not be as inclined to because of whitish cream residue that may be seen under makeup.
If the active ingredients contain irritating substances such as lactic, salicylic, glycol acids or retinols, one could actually develop skin irritation or skin allergies from masking over an extended period. Most topicals would be fully absorbed into the skin within a couple of hours, so it’s not necessary to leave something on overnight. It is more important to consider that a liberal amount of a good moisturiser is used during sleep, as that is when the skin repairs itself.
#4 Beauty Sleep is Seriously Underrated
I am obsessed with sleeping 8-9 hours a day. This dermatologist says: do not disturb (my sleep). If you need a takeaway from this article, this is it—the best of all skincare tips I have for you is to SLEEP. It’s essential to being alive, by the way. And I don’t meant to sleep at 2 am and wake up at 2 pm. To be beautiful (and healthy) you need to follow the circadian rhythm. Like the cicada…you know? Bugs?
Is beauty sleep real? I guarantee it. During the sleep cycle, skin cells work to repair damaged DNA. We all know about the sunscreen doctrine—how it prevents UV rays from damaging skin cells by preventing oxidative stress. But did you know that skin does repair its own damaged DNA? This is why the older you get, the higher the risk of developing skin cancer. Biological and chronological aging slows down the DNA repair process. Sleep helps to rejuvenate cell mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of skin cells. There is scientific evidence that backs up skin dullness and lack of radiance in sleep-deprived skin—and it isn’t psychological.
How I wake up with good skin
Sleep by 9 and wake by 6 am
Your biological clock follows the circadian rhythm—which is the sun rise and sun down pattern. Our body’s physiological processes follow that too. This ensures your cells are optimally rested and can focus on fighting the bad guys (pollution, stress, UV damage) in the daytime.
Choose cooling bedlinen
If you live in tropical humidity like I do (Singapore, land of crazy hot), you know your body heats up when you sleep. Pure cotton works well, choose higher thread counts which are gentler on skin. Your pillowcase makes a difference—use silk pillowcases or in my case I use one with copper silk which gives extra anti-aging skin benefits.
Consider sleeping without A/C
This may be heretical for some—I used to be an aircon worshipper too. But it’s also true that A/C is bad for those with allergies, asthma and eczema. It dries out the skin barrier and it’s no different when you sleep. Sleep with a fan—that’s better for your skin and healthier for the environment too. Your skin will wake up feeling more moisturised (without sleeping masks, it’s free!).
FUN FACT ABOUT ME: I have a sleep journal
I am an avid dreamer—and I think that also means I sleep deeply. I have wacky dreams most of the time, and it also gives me insights into problems I face in the day. But more than that, I look forward to sleeping every night—it’s like catching up on a new episode in dreamland!
#5 Get Your Heart Pumping
That rounds up my list of my best skincare tips. If you have no time for serum, facials or mists—I understand, just don’t forget to keep your body in good shape. Your heart does a good job of caring for your skin and plays a big part in my skincare tips.
Most people wrongly assume the best skincare tips involve skincare products/facials. Skin is an organ, much like any other organ of the body. When you are healthy, your skin will be too. Twenty minutes each day isn’t too much to ask for, especially if you are already committed to a skincare routine. The post-workout glow is real—the increased blood flow benefits the entire body and also stimulates the cell powerhouses. This is one way to instantly anti-age your skin—it does work, according to studies!
(For those who suffer from dermatological conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, medical therapy may be necessary. This post talks about general skincare tips for those seeking to maintain healthy skin.)
Did you enjoy my compilation of the top 5 skincare tips on my radar? Do leave a comment below and let me know!
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