When it comes to skincare, it is scarily easy to get your routine wrong. After all, there are
so many products on the market and so many mysterious ingredients to decode that at some point you just want to throw your hands up in the air, cleanse your face with leftover shampoo foam from the shower, and call it a day. (But, like, please don’t do that.)
In an effort to understand the only skincare mistakes we — actually have to worry about, we got in touch with two of our favorite celebrity facislists Renée Rouleau and Shani Darden—to break it down nice and easy. These two skincare gurus got real with us about the only five skincare products and ingredients you really should make an effort to avoid (plus five easy swaps you can make instead). Keep scrolling for your no-frills guide to fixing five common skincare missteps.
There’s no doubt about it: Lots of bar soaps are gentler and more natural than they used to be, but Rouleau says that the binding ingredients that hold the bar in shape are still the same—and they’re no good for the skin. These binding ingredients have a pH between 8 and 10, which is higher than the skin, which is usually at about 5.5. Soaps with such a high pH can “instantly strip the skin of moisture” since they can “cause the skin to go into an alkaline state, resulting in dryness,” says Rouleau.
No matter your skin type, Rouleau recommends looking for a cleanser that’s sulfate-free and low-foaming cleanser. “This should ensure that the cleanser is gentle and safe,” she says. (And make sure to moisturize immediately after, so your skin doesn’t have time to dry out.)
“Alcohol” is not always a dangerous and dirty word when it comes to skincare. “Not all are harmful or drying, so you do not have to worry about avoiding the word ‘alcohol’ in skincare altogether,” says Rouleau. The ones to avoid (because they’re extremely drying) are: alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol. Sometimes these harmful ingredients can be found hiding in certain cleansers and acne treatments.
Certain alcohols commonly found in skincare are actually good for the skin. For example, this moisturizer by The Ordinary is made with cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, a product thickener and an emollient. (You can nerd out more about skincare alcohols on Renée’s blog.)
Alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid are by no means bad for the skin—they’re amazing exfoliators that can brighten, reduce wrinkles, and prevent and treat breakouts. However, according to Darden, they’re often over-used. “I am a huge fan of chemical exfoliants overall, but people tend to use them too often. You don’t need to use them morning and night, every single day,” she says. “Depending on your skin type and the other products you’re using, you really only need to exfoliate one-to-two times a week.”
If you’re new to serums and brightening/wrinkle treatments, or have easily irritated skin, try introducing a retinol to your nighttime routine. Shani Darden’s recently released Texture Reform is gentle enough for sensitive skin types but also does the job of increasing cellular turnover, boosting collagen, evening skin texture, and minimizing dark spots.
It is certainly satisfying to peel a pore strip off your nose and see all the gunk it unearthed, but estheticians do not endorse this behavior. “The best way to clean the pores is through manual extraction,” says Rouleau (ideally by a professional, of course). “A pore clearing strip will not do the trick. When there is a blockage of hardened oil that is impacted deep in the pore, it must be gently extracted out.”
Renée Rouleau’s zit care kit comes with everything you could possibly need to decongest and treat clogged pores the facialist’s way—including spot treatments, cotton swaps, lancets, and more.
Lots of people love solid cleansing balms and oils for their luxurious feel and effectiveness at removing makeup, but estheticians generally aren’t as smitten. “The sole purpose of a cleanser is to clean the skin. Doing so allows your skincare products that follow to work,” says Rouleau. “Many people aren’t aware that [cleansing balms] actually deposit a coating of oil on the face. This is more of a moisturizing experience, rather than cleansing.”
You can get the decadent experience and makeup removing action of a balm while cleansing the skin more effectively with a lightweight cleansing lotion or emulsion made with emollients in the formula. Try this 100% plant-based pick by In Fiore or Renée’s Vitamin-Infused Cleansing Emulsion ($36). Next: Celebrity facialists say these are the only skincare products worth applying this winter.