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How to Put Together a Skincare Routine

How to Put Together a Skincare Routine

Knowing what products work together, how they benefit your skin, and the order in which to use them is incredibly important when developing a skincare routine that is best for you. The information we provide below will help you select a Paula’s Choice Essential or Advanced skincare routine or to custom-select products based on what works best for you and your specific skin concerns, step by step! Armed with the tips in this guide, you’ll soon be seeing the best skin of your life!

The following table provides key details about how each type of product works, when it should be applied, and what results you can expect.

Keep in mind that if you have multiple skincare concerns, you may need to add more than one targeted-solution product. And you might need to alternate its use with other products or layer them as needed, such as with our boosters.

Developing a more advanced routine may require some experimentation to discover which method and frequency of application works best for you. We promise we’ll help you make sense of this and cut through the confusion! And remember, you don’t have to apply every anti-aging product in your routine every single day—alternating different products on different days can work great!

For complete details, please visit the skincare product pages using the links below.


Skincare Product What is this for? Why do I need this? What results will I see?
Cleanser (Step 1) A gentle, water-soluble cleanser removes debris, oil, and makeup. Rinsing with water is not enough to clean your face. When your face is clean, it allows the other products you use to work even better, morning and evening. With a Paula's Choice cleanser, your skin will look and feel healthier, smoother, and be ready to receive maximum benefits from your other products.
Toner (Step 2) Our well-formulated toners smooth, soften, and calm skin, while removing the last traces of makeup. They also add vital skin-replenishing ingredients after cleansing. Toners with skin-replenishing ingredients hydrate, refresh, and revitalize the skin's surface immediately after cleansing. They also help diminish the look of redness and dry patches. With a Paula's Choice toner, your skin will feel softer and look smoother, and redness will be visibly improved. Those with oily skin will see minimized appearance of pores.

Daily use will give your skin what it needs to look smoother, younger, and soft.
Exfoliant (Step 3) Our exfoliants gently remove built-up dead skin for smoother, noticeably renewed skin.

AHAs exfoliate the surface of skin; BHA exfoliates the surface of skin and can penetrate oil that leads to clogged pores.
Environmental damage causes the surface of the skin to become dull, rough, and uneven. Exfoliating eliminates this build up, which otherwise would cause clogged pores, uneven skin tone, and worsen the appearance of fine lines and deeper wrinkles. Overnight your skin will look radiant, smoother, and younger (really)!

Daily exfoliation with a Paula's Choice AHA or BHA exfoliant will unclog pores, help minimize redness, diminish the look of wrinkles, hydrate, and visibly improve uneven skin tone.
Acne Treatment (Step 4, if needed) After exfoliating with an AHA or BHA exfoliant, an acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria and helps prevent new acne. When acne is your concern, research shows that topical treatment with benzoyl peroxide is an essential step for achieving clear skin. With consistent use of Paula's Choice acne treatments, you will see fewer breakouts and a reduction in large, red, swollen pimples. Plant-based soothing ingredients calm redness.
Skin Lightening Treatment (Step 4, if needed; step 5 if you're using an acne treatment) Applied at least once daily, skin lighteners that contain hydroquinone gradually fade brown spots and discolorations from sun exposure or other factors. Using a skin-lightening product with hydroquinone reduces brown spots, age spots, and other tan to brown discolorations. After 8–12 weeks of daily use, you will see discolorations fade or possibly disappear completely. Your skin tone will be more even and radiant. Ongoing use is needed to maintain results and daily use of broad spectrum sunscreen is required.
Serum (Step 4 if you're not using an acne treatment or skin lightener; otherwise, those go on first) Applied morning and evening, serums filled with antioxidants and other anti-aging ingredients help defend your skin from environmental assault, including visible effects of pollution. Paula's Choice serums with antioxidants improve your skin in numerous ways, from calming redness to improving the appearance of wrinkles, skin texture, and helping skin look and feel firmer and radiant. Immediately, your skin will feel smoother and look radiant. With twice-daily use, visible signs of aging will soften and your skin will look healthier, remarkably smoother, and younger.
Anti-Aging Moisturizer with Sunscreen (the last step in your morning routine) This essential morning step keeps your skin protected from visible effects of sun damage. It must have an SPF 30 or higher rating, and offer broad-spectrum protection. Our sunscreens with antioxidants are essential to protect your skin from UV light exposure, which is the #1 cause of wrinkles, uneven skin tone, loss of firmness, and many other signs of aging. Protecting your skin from further sun (UV) damage allows it begin looking younger and healthier. This is the critical step to having radiant skin. With liberal daily application, you will see fewer signs of aging!
Anti-Aging Moisturizer (the last step in your evening routine) All skin types will benefit from our moisturizers because they contain the types of ingredients research has shown help your skin look smoother, perfectly hydrated, and visibly younger. Used daily, moisturizers (cream, lotion, gel, or liquid texture) improve skin's appearance, helping to keep it feeling smooth, plumped and soft. You can use them around the eye area; however, if you prefer using an eye cream, you can apply it over or instead of your moisturizer around your eyes. When you use the right Paula's Choice moisturizer for your skin type, you will see smoother, radiant skin that's hydrated and healthier-looking. Dry, dull, or flaky skin will be replaced by skin that looks visibly younger and replenished!
Targeted Solutions (when and how often to apply depends on the product and personal preference) These products are optional extras you can add, depending on your personal skincare concerns. Examples include our anti-aging boosters, facial masks, mattifiers, and lip care. These products may be needed as an extra step to hydrate skin, absorb excess oil, calm skin, or address a special need or occasional skin concern, especially those related to visible signs of aging. Results depend on the targeted product you choose. For example, our Shine Stopper will leave your skin shine-free and help large pores look smaller.



Your Essential Routine

The following simple, step-by-step routine covers the basic types of products everyone should use and the order in which to use them every day. These steps apply regardless of skin type.

Essential Routine: MORNING

  1. Cleanser
  2. Exfoliant
  3. Moisturizer with sunscreen

Essential Routine: EVENING

  1. Cleanser
  2. Exfoliant
  3. Moisturizer

Wondering about an eye cream? We left this step out of our essential routine because your daytime and nighttime moisturizer can be applied around your eyes. However, if you wish to use an eye cream, choose one with sunscreen for daytime and one without for night, and dab it gently around your eyes.


Your Advanced Routine

An Advanced Routine is one most people concerned with signs of aging, large pores, uneven skin tone, or breakouts will need. It includes targeted solutions that build on the foundation of the Essential Routine to address your personal skincare concerns, such as acne, clogged pores, redness, wrinkles, lack of firmness, and dehydration.

For example, if your sole concern is dry skin, you’ll do fine following the Essential Routine. But if you have dry skin and wrinkles or oily skin and wrinkles and breakouts you will want to follow an Advanced Routine for best results, making sure to add products from our CLEAR line to help keep acne under control.

The Advanced Routine includes a gentle toner as the second step, morning and evening. If you’ve never used a well-formulated toner before, prepare to be amazed by the results! Learn why toner is such an important step in a comprehensive skincare routine.

Advanced Routine: MORNING

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Exfoliant
  4. Serum
  5. Moisturizer with sunscreen
  6. Optional: Targeted solution (applied as needed before sunscreen)

Advanced Routine: EVENING

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Exfoliant
  4. Serum
  5. Moisturizer
  6. Optional: Targeted solution, as needed, applied before or after your moisturizer or eye cream.

References for this information:

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2015, page 28; and November 2012, pages 1,013-1,024
Dermatology Research and Practice, February 2015, ePublication
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, December 2012, pages 1,447-1,454
Dermatologic Therapy, May-June 2012, pages 229-233
Skin Research and Technology, November 2010, pages 444-449
Cutis, December 2005, Supplement, pages 19-25

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!