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Yes, you can ditch the 20-step routine and still have healthy skin

Three skin tools lay on a white countertop: roller, sponge, and brush.
The steps to take care of your skin can range from person to person, but there are certain essentials that professionals recommend to have healthy skin that you can be confident about.

Genetics determine a lot in how our skin looks. But there are still countless products out there for skin health and treatment. How do you make sense of it all?

You grab a bar of soap, wash your face and don’t think twice about it. Your approach to skincare: utilitarian. Or maybe you have seven products lined up on the counter and methodically use each one in just the right order.

No matter how complex, the routine act of doing something for yourself a few times a day can feel significant and reassuring. But what do experts consider the essentials of a skincare routine, and why?

Host Anita Rao talks with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Chesahna Kindred and physician assistant Anay Castro about three main components of skincare: cleanser, moisturizer and the all-important SPF. Rao also talks with beauty and skincare industry professional Leo Louie about how to not get caught up in skincare marketing and the idea of “perfect” skin.

Nothing is a must-have, you-cannot-live-if-you-don't-do-this type of thing with skincare — outside of applying sunscreen.
Leo Louie

Essential skincare elements, according to the professionals

CLEANSER 

Anay Castro: We need to remove basically what people would say impurities — not really impurities, it's just residue from our own skin shedding. But also think about it, we're applying like — there's a myriad of products now in the market. And you know, every day we apply things to our skin, so you do have to cleanse it: makeup, products that we apply, etc. So cleansing is important, it's kind of like starting fresh and making sure that you know a canvas is ready to receive whatever you put on it.

MOISTURIZER

Dr. Chesahna Kindred: The skin can get so dry that it triggers the skin to make excess oil, and that can be a problem for patients with acne. [For] patients with an overproduction of yeast that leads to a folliculitis, definitely for our kiddos and our patients with eczema, moisturization is very important. … If you live in an area where there's a lot of humidity, sometimes it's not quite as critical. And we kind of switch from saying moisturize to hydration, and what's great [is] there are hydrating serums that contain hyaluronic acid. So between moisturizing and hydrating, there's something for everyone, and it helps to prevent certain conditions down the road.

SUNSCREEN

Dr. Chesahna Kindred: The bare minimum is a facial moisturizer that has SPF 30. We don't really have to say broadspectrum anymore, because now that's a requirement. But we would like for it to have antioxidants and SPF 30. And antioxidants are the bare minimum in your moisturizer. If you want to get fancy, you want iron oxides. Iron oxides protect against the blue light that we get from our cell phones, tablets and computer screens.

WHATEVER MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD

Leo Louie: Just stick to a real step-by-step approach of having one goal in mind, finding ways to achieve that one goal, trying one thing at a time and then slowly adding from there. And realize that past a certain point, like we're here to just have fun. We're here to feel good about ourselves. It's the same as putting on your favorite outfit, getting a haircut you like — there's definitely a point where skincare crosses into that territory that's very valid and can be very important and influential. But nothing is a must-have, you-cannot-live-if-you-don't-do-this type of thing with skincare — outside of applying sunscreen.

Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anthony Howard, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill and the fall intern for Embodied, is currently majoring in media and journalism at UNC's Hussman School. He has interests in creative writing, musical theatre, and fashion. Whether it be writing for The Daily Tar Heel as an arts & culture staff writer or listening to the latest Megan Thee Stallion, Howard is excited to broaden his experience with Embodied and create impactful storytelling.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.