4 Key Steps to Include in Your A.M. Skincare Routine

The difference between your a.m. and p.m. skincare routines is morning and night — literally.

While you may have done your homework to find out what ingredients can improve your major skincare concerns, along with what products to try with said ingredients in their formulas, you still might be confused about when and how to use them.

As far as your a.m. skincare routine goes, the focus should be on getting your skin ready for the day ahead.

"A morning skincare routine is important to prepare your skin for the day: UV exposure, high energy light (including blue light from our devices), visible light indoors, and even environmental pollutants," says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, CA.

But don't be led to believe you have to set your alarm early just to factor in enough time for your a.m. skincare routine. A simple product lineup can be effective and deliver results. Dr. Jeanine Downie, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Image Dermatology in Monclair, NJ, shares her tip.

"I recommend people get up in the morning, wash their face, put on sunblock, and exercise after they brush their teeth before they even get their day going," she says.

Ahead, the two dermatologists help us breakdown what steps should be in every basic morning skincare routine.

Just keep in mind that ingredients may vary based on your skin type and concerns, so consulting with a board-certified dermatologist is the best way to ensure you're using what's right for you.

Step One: Cleanse

"Having a consistent morning skincare routine is important because washing your face decreases your bacterial colony count," says Dr. Downie. In other words: cleansing your skin helps clear away dirt, oil, and bacteria that's built up on your face overnight.

As for what type of cleanser to use, that will vary based on your skin's needs. "Sensitive skin/rosacea/dry skin types need a gentle formulation, often a milky cleanser or foam, that settles inflammation and encourages moisture retention," says. Dr. Palm. "Normal skin types can benefit from foaming AHA/BHA/PHA formulations, that cleanse nighttime build up away and have collagen-building and skin-brightening benefits. Oily and acne-prone skin types likely needs a medicated cleanser — think sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, or even salicylic acid to help support the skin."

Optional: Toner/Gommage

For anyone unfamiliar with a gommage, it's an exfoliating product. Gommages are often creams, pastes, or gels and tend to be gentler than chemical exfoliants.

"I'm a big fan of gommages, gentle gel products that link onto dead keratin fragments and essentially exfoliate the skin without a chemical or physical particle component," Dr. Palm explains. "This prepares the skin gently to receive topical skincare in an evenly distributed manner."

Toner is an optional second step, too, but your dermatologist may suggest it based on the other products they've prescribed to you. "I think this is often totally optional," Dr. Palm says. "Only use if you are using products that need a specific pH for the skin, and your dermatologist can inform you on that."

Step Two: Anti-Aging

Both dermatologists recommend an antioxidant serum to help decrease free radicals, prevent and minimize fine lines and wrinkles, and improve the overall texture and tone of your skin.

As skin repairs itself overnight, anti-aging ingredients that promote cell turnover like retinol, are typically recommended for p.m. use.

Step Three: Moisturizer

"Moisturizer, helps to hydrate your skin, therefore decreasing dryness and builds your skin barrier," says Dr. Downie.

Again, the best moisturizer for you depends on your skin type and concerns.

VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot

Step Four: Sunscreen

The fourth and final step is applying sunscreen that's at least SPF 30 each and every day — yes, even if you're staying inside.

"It's important to wear sunblock inside and outside," says Dr. Downie. "We as human beings react to sunlight outside and photo damage/blue light/incidental sunlight inside as well as fluorescent lighting and incandescent lighting inside. So, we react to the computer screen, the iPad, the Apple Watch, and your cell phone."

Not protecting your skin can lead to skin cancer, along with photoaging, which encompasses hyperpigmentation, melasma, and texture changes like fine lines and wrinkles. "We now know as much as 15 to 20% of light-related aging of the skin is due to non-UV light — blue light from devices, visible light, and infrared," Dr. Palm adds.

Luckily there are a number of sunscreens out there, with options that suit every skin type and tone. Dr. Palm recommends using a physical SPF with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. "Look for iron oxides to protect against infrared damage, and antioxidant mixtures to protect against high energy light," she says.

Dr. Downie's picks include formulas that contain both physical and chemical SPF such as SkinMedica Total Defense, and 100% mineral ones such as ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica and Aveeno Ulta-Calm SPF 30 Moisturizer. All three formulas are oil-free, layer well under makeup, and typically don't make people break out, but again, everyone is different.

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