I’m often asked what products I would recommend for people who are skincare newbies, so I decided to put together my ultimate “starter pack” skincare routine for beginners. The truth is, a simple skincare routine doesn’t need to be overly complicated—and it also doesn’t have to be expensive.
At it’s most basic level, the order in which you do your skincare can be boiled down to three steps: cleanser, serum, moisturizer. There are additional steps you can add—like toner, eye cream, or an oil—but if you really want something simple, just remember “C. S. M.” (cleanser, serum, moisturizer.) That’s it!
I will note that an important (but often overlooked) step is exfoliating, which you ideally should do 2-3x a week. I go into that a bit more below!
Here are my absolute must-haves for skincare beginners and the order in which you should use them:
The Perfect Skincare Routine for Beginners
1. MAKEUP REMOVER:
Bioderma Micellar Water or Elemis Cleansing Balm
MICELLAR WATER: If you prefer a more traditional liquid makeup remover, micellar water is great. It’s gentle enough that it won’t irritate your skin but effective enough to break down makeup (even waterproof mascara!)
Pour it on a cotton pad (these square ones are my favorite) to soak off mascara, then swipe all over face to remove makeup. Much better for your skin than makeup wipes, which leave behind a chemical film.
CLEANSING BALM: I am absolutely obsessed with the Elemis pro-collagen cleansing balm and its rich, buttery texture. The full-sized version might be considered a bit pricey for someone just getting into skincare, but there’s a travel-sized version for $14 that’s perfect for a beginner routine.
The balm should be applied to the skin while it’s dry, and then you’ll want to add a bit of water to emulsify. If you decide to go the cleansing balm route and you prefer to keep things simple, you can skip step 2—it works as both a makeup remover and cleanser.
Most experts will tell you that the cleanser you use is the least important aspect of your skincare routine, and also the product you should spend the least amount of money on.
I prefer to stick with cream cleansers vs foams or gels (which tend to strip the skin.) Cetaphil—or anything you buy at the drugstore—works just fine.
If you’re really keen to learn about skincare, I have an entire blog post dedicated to the proper way to wash your face.
Thayer’s Natural Witch Hazel
Even if you think you’ve removed all of your makeup, you probably haven’t. A quick sweep of this toner will guarantee there’s not a single thing left on your face.
The toning step is definitely optional. If you really want a pared down routine, feel free to skip.
4. EXFOLIANT: (2-3x/week only)
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads
You guys know I’m obsessed with these—they’re one of my “hero” beauty products for a reason. I consider them to be worth every penny and then some. I PROMISE. Everyone I recommend them to tells me that they notice a difference in their skin after using them ONE TIME. I like to use mine twice a week at night, after I cleanse but before I apply my creams and serums.
Another great (albeit significantly more pricey) exfoliant is Biologique Recherche P50.
Here’s where things really get interesting! The right serum can seriously be a gamechanger for your skin. Depending on the active ingredient, every serum will theoretically do something different and target a different issue. So, before choosing a serum, you want to consider what your biggest skincare concern is.
If you’re concerned with fine lines and anti-aging, you’ll want a Vitamin A (aka retinol.) I have a big list of the best anti-aging serums here.
If you’re struggling with dry skin, you might consider a hyaluronic acid serum, which helps restore moisture and keeps your skin looking plump and healthy. Hyaluronic acid products are typically expensive, but The Ordinary’s version is jaw-droppingly affordable—and it actually works.
The aforementioned serums can be used at night before you go to bed.
In the morning, however, you’ll want to use a Vitamin C serum, regardless of your skin type or skin concern. The benefits of Vitamin C are pretty mind blowing—it increases radiance, builds firmness, increases collagen, and helps prevent skin from the effects of pollution.
I have a blog post with a full list of my personal favorite brands, as well as additional info on how to properly apply your Vitamin C serum.
6. NIGHT CREAM:
First Aid Beauty Ultra-Repair Hydra-Firm Sleeping Cream
This is one of my favorite super rich, super luxe feeling night creams. (Matt is obsessed with it too—it’s the only moisturizer he’ll use.) The texture reminds me of some of my more expensive products, but it’s way more reasonably priced.
7. EYE CREAM:
IT Cosmetics Confidence in an Eye Cream
This is a great affordable eye cream option that actually works and isn’t irritating. It even has a peachy tint that helps conceal undereye bags. You can use it in the morning before your concealer, and at night before you go to sleep.
Check out my list of the best eye creams for anti-aging and dark circles for additional options at different price points.
Have any other questions about how to build the perfect skincare routine for beginners? Leave them in the comments below!
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BethOctober 19, 2018 at 12:31 pm
Hi Lindsay, Thanks for sharing your routine How does your morning routine differ? Maybe a post on your mom’s morning and evening skincare routine for us 50+ ladies.
Lindsay SilbermanOctober 20, 2018 at 10:03 pm
That’s a great idea! I’m totally going to do a post on her routine – she’s obsessed with beauty and skincare like me 🙂
Valerie TowellAugust 9, 2020 at 10:30 am
Can u use the sleep cream alongside retinol? Thanks
Lindsay SilbermanSeptember 5, 2020 at 8:57 pm
KellyOctober 19, 2018 at 8:15 pm
I ordered the alpha beta peel pads two weeks ago and am obsessed. Now I just ordered the Bioderma Micellar Water and First Aid Beauty Ultra-Repair Hydra-Firm Sleeping Cream.
Lindsay SilbermanOctober 20, 2018 at 10:05 pm
HOW GOOD ARE THE PEELS THOUGH?! Now you probably understand why I don’t shut up about them haha you’ll love the other stuff too, promise!
VeraOctober 26, 2018 at 6:28 pm
I’ve been watching you use and recommend this starter system for so long and I finally ordered everything (except the witch hazel bc I already have one.) Every other product that I’ve bought on your recommendation has been incredible so I’m super excited to try this all out! This really makes it so easy and straightforward- exactly what a beauty product simpleton like me needs :X
Lindsay SilbermanOctober 29, 2018 at 1:52 am
So glad to hear that!!! xox
MelissaNovember 27, 2018 at 9:03 am
Linds I was told that the Ordinary brand is no more! 😥😥😥 Could it be true?? Of course the item that always fits in my budget 😡
Lindsay SilbermanNovember 30, 2018 at 12:50 am
Last I heard there was drama with the founder after they had been bought by Estee Lauder!
MELISSAApril 4, 2019 at 2:44 pm
They are definitely back now because I just bought a bunch of stuff to try to reduce my aging wrinkles that I just realized existed 😅😅😅
AmberMay 9, 2019 at 1:28 am
Those peel pads are legit!! Tried another brand…not the same.
Lindsay SilbermanMay 9, 2019 at 7:31 pm
Emily GoldfischerJune 17, 2020 at 1:31 pm
The peel pads are GREAT. Going to try the night cream. Thanks for the tips!
Lindsay SilbermanJune 22, 2020 at 8:24 pm
so glad to hear that!
LizJune 18, 2020 at 1:08 am
This so so helpful! Skincare is so important
Lindsay SilbermanJune 22, 2020 at 8:24 pm
Beauty-tripsJuly 15, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Very useful… Thanks
BriannaAugust 16, 2020 at 3:35 pm
When would you recommend applying retinol in this routine? Thanks!
Lindsay SilbermanSeptember 5, 2020 at 8:57 pm
During the “serum’ step! after toner + before moisturizer 🙂
LisaAugust 31, 2020 at 8:15 am
There is best skincare routine in this article. I can add some new steps in my skincare routine by following this blog. Thanks for the idea.
KateNovember 14, 2020 at 9:34 pm
I don’t want to offend you but I have to ask—- how old are you? Your face, neck, décolleté and hands (you know, the giveaway areas) are all either covered or just difficult to see in the pictures you’ve posted. The pics are cute, please don’t take me wrong but I found your site while doing a deep dive into P50 and I’m afraid that our concerns may not be the same. I somehow doubt you have hyperpigmentation/melasma and the kind of wrinkles only a syringe full of the ‘tox will smooth out. That is not an insult, I promise you! (More like envy! 😉) Just trying to find a P50 user with the same issues so I can get an idea of what to expect from it for my skin. I hope this doesn’t offend you. Your site, and advice I’ve seen is bang on. Cetaphil=my cleanser for at least 20 years now! And TO’s serums are a Godsend. I plan to read your alpha beta peel article next as I’ve heard the raves but would love to know specifics about the results. Thank you so much for your time and again, I hope you understand that there’s no criticism here, just curiosity. Take care.
AliceDecember 28, 2020 at 3:52 am
Can I use a vitamin C serum and also a dark spot corrector serum in my evening routine? Would it be too much to use two or three different serums?
Lindsay SilbermanJanuary 13, 2021 at 8:57 pm
Great question – I usually recommend using Vitamin C in the am (with SPF) and then your other serums in the evening. Layering serums is OK as long as the ingredients mesh well together. (For ex: I would avoid retinol + vitamin c in the same routine; and same for using two exfoliating serums)… browse through my posts on retinol, hyraluronic acid, and AHAs/BHAs…those are helpful!!