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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Self-care through skincare

A beginner’s guide to setting a skincare routine

Disclaimer: I’m not a dermatologist. Make sure to patch test any new products to avoid skin irritation. (And check in with a professional.)

 Gone are the days of Proactiv and St. Ives apricot scrubs. Skincare has taken over in this new age of self-care and self-preservation. But as new companies and formulas continue to advance, approaching the world of skincare becomes more intimidating with each new buzzword-filled article. Acids? Retinoids? I’m getting an English degree! 

But luckily for you, The Spectrumhas compiled a comprehensive guide to understanding these new skincare fads.

The Basics

 The first step to approaching skincare is figuring out your skin type. Skin types sit on a spectrum, but generally they align closer to dry, oily, combination or normal. This can shift between a number of factors including genetics, climate, season, age and diet. 

This step can be the most difficult because there are no set expectations for skin characteristics, but it’s also very important to establish what components you need in your products. 

 The foundation of any routine consists of three elements: a cleanser, a moisturizer and sunscreen. These basic products are meant to be building blocks and can be altered with additives and additional products for each unique skin type. 

 Cleansers are used to remove debris from the skin. It’s important to use a gentle cleanser at night to remove makeup and dirt from the day. You may not need to use a cleanser in the morning depending on your skin and can just rinse the skin with water to prevent it from drying out.

 When it comes to moisturizers, the vast number of options makes choosing one formula difficult. Moisturizers are essential for restoring natural oils and nourishing the skin barrier. This barrier, which is often the most overlooked element of basic skincare, protects the skin from losing essential nutrients and acts as a shield against harmful bacteria. Protecting the skin barrier will only contribute to the neutralization of skin quality. 

Depending on your skin type, there are a number of moisturizer types that vary in consistency and ingredients. It’s normal to try a variety of formulas to figure out which you prefer for daily use as well as overnight. But make sure to use a moisturizer designed for the face, not for the body. Body lotions contain comedogenic oils –– like coconut and argan –– which are too heavy to absorb into the skin and can clog pores. Non-comedogenic ingredients to look for in moisturizers include hyaluronic acid and glycerin. 

Sunscreen is no longer reserved for trips to the beach. It should be used regularly to avoid permanent sun damage, like dark spots and premature wrinkles. Although most people agree sunscreen application is no walk in the park –– with its terrible smell and ashy application –– sunscreen has been incorporated as an ingredient in a variety of products. From moisturizers and BB creams to liquid foundations and concealers, finding that SPF is easier than ever. 

More Advanced

 If you’re like the majority of millennials, you’ve been left with more confusion than clarity after reading a Cosmopolitan or Buzzfeed skincare article. They’re full of professional-sounding people recommending unexplained acronyms and harsh-sounding acids. But this confusing terminology can be broken down based on your skin’s needs. Whether you suffer from acne, discoloration, dry skin or leftover acne scars, there’s a product out there for you. 


 Almost everyone has experienced acne at some point in their lives, and finding a solution can feel impossible. When approaching acne, it’s important to try and figure out the root of the problem. Although acne is most commonly associated with poor hygiene, there are actually a number of reactants that cause it. 

Hormonal acne is incredibly common in younger people, which is why many teenagers experience acne when they begin puberty. This type of acne can usually be counteracted through prescription medications. It can be difficult to determine if acne is hormonal, and different products should be tried to rule out other causes.

An unexpected cause of acne can be dry or dehydrated skin. When the skin lacks moisture, it will overcompensate and produce more oils which can cause clogging. Many people mistake dehydrated skin for oily skin because of this. The key difference is a tight-feeling of skin after cleansing –– in dehydrated skin –– rather than the expected buoyancy of a fully-hydrated face. 

Some skin is just prone to acne. It’s normal and common to experience breakouts, but there are a number of products you can try that might lessen the chance of clogged pores.

Products that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are all over the market. They are used to combat acne breakouts; however, they are often advertised as the same thing. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant, which reduces the amount of dead skin cells to prevent clogged pores. Benzoyl peroxide is a topical antiseptic that fights the harmful bacteria on the face. While both can garner successful results, they are not interchangeable ingredients.

Discoloration, dullness and acne scars

 If you’ve already won the battle with acne, you might be experiencing discoloration or acne scars. Ice pick, boxcar and rolling scars are all the result of a loss of tissue in the skin. These can reach deep into the epidermis, which is the upper-most layer of the skin. 

Realistically, there aren’t products available on the market that target deep scarring. Professional procedures like chemical peels or fillers are often recommended, but derma-rollers can be purchased for at-home use. These are facial rollers that are equipped with microneedles, whose bi-monthly use can stimulate collagen production in the skin. 

 Some choose to approach acne scars with the same techniques that they use for discoloration, with products that work to lessen the amount of visible texture on the skin. While this will not replenish the loss of tissue, it will work to essentially blur the skin. Ingredients to look for include alpha hydroxy acids –– AHAs –– which are superficial exfoliants. 

Vitamin C is often suggested to combat discoloration, dullness and acne scars, as well.

Dry or dehydrated skin

 Sometimes approaching dry skin is not as easy as applying a simple moisturizer twice a day. There are many factors that go into skin condition, and dry skin can be caused by things completely out of your control like climate and humidity. If the skin appears to be flaking, scaly or feels uncomfortably tight, the problem could be right within your normal skincare routine. This can come from harsh cleaners that strip the natural moisture out of the skin. 

 When treating dry skin, it makes sense to use products and ingredients that promote hydration. Ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid are vital humectants, which are used to actively reduce the loss of moisture. Some people have luck using occlusive products, such as Vaseline, over a moisturizer. 

Skincare can be a rewarding investment, but it’s important to set realistic expectations. Although you might strive for flawless skin, it’s important to remember that you are human and everyone has flaws. Not every product will work for everyone and it takes time and patience to establish a solid routine that produces the best results. As long as you never try to DIY a lemon juice and baking soda face mask again, you’ll be working toward that goal.

Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor and can be reached at and on Twitter @SamMarieVargas

Sam Vargas.jpeg

Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor, an English/film studies double major with a minor in media study. She spends her free time finding shows around Buffalo and hanging out with her cat. 



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