The innovation in the cosmetic industry over the past decades brought us an overwhelming amount of skin care products. It is important to understand what different types of skincare products can do and which products to use. It gets especially confusing since the labeling system sometimes differs from brand to brand.
You don’t need to use all of the products mentioned below in your skin care routine. This skincare 101 guide meant to help you navigate through different types of skin care products and understand the difference between them. All skincare products can be divided into four main categories based on their functions:
- Cleansing products are solutions that are used for cleansing skin like makeup removers, wipes, face washes, and different types of facial cleansers.
- Toning products are usually water based and intended to restore pH balance and refresh skin. This includes toners, thermal waters, face sprays and mists.
- Moisturizers are skincare products like creams, lotions, oils, emulsions that create protective barrier layer, lubricate and hydrate skin.
- Treatments are highly concentrated solutions like serums, boosters, exfoliators, and facial masks that address certain skin concerns.
Makeup removing solution
Just as the name states, the main purpose of makeup removing solution is to remove makeup. Despite common misconception, makeup removing solution doesn’t replace cleansers but rather prepares your skin for cleansing (think of it as a pre-cleansing step). This solution can be in a form of liquid (water based) or have milky texture, and usually is used with cotton rounds. The makeup remover can be omitted if you don’t have much makeup on, but for heavy makeup users it’s a must.
Facial cleansing wipes
Also can be labeled as facial towelettes, wet cleansing cloth, makeup remover wipes or pads. Using facial wipes became a popular and convenient way to quickly clean the face, however most dermatologists don’t recommend using wipes on a daily basis. The wipes are soaked with a cleansing solution that lifts and dissolves dirt, pollutants, excess oils and make up, but without water rinse they leave makeup and dirt residue on the skin. In addition, most wipes contain harsh chemicals and alcohol that serve as preservatives and can irritate skin. Rinsing your face with water after wiping can minimize irritation and negative impact on the skin. Try not to use facial wipes every day and use them only when other cleansing methods are not accessible (like traveling, hiking, emergencies, etc.)
This is one of the most important steps in your daily routine as cleansers remove dirt, environmental pollutants, oils, sweat, and makeup residue allowing your skin to rest and regenerate. It is usually applied directly onto skin in circular motion and should be rinsed of with water. Cleansers don’t foam, which makes them a more gentle choice for cleaning your face on a daily basis, while also providing hydration to the skin.
There are many different types of cleansers on the market which differ mainly by their consistency:
- Cream cleanser (or cleansing milk) – has thick creamy consistency, gently cleans skin and is best for dry and sensitive skin.
- Gel cleanser – is a gel-like clear substance that provides mild cleaning, and is best for combination or normal skin.
- Oil cleanser (or cleansing oil) – is a gentle oil-based substance that cleans your skin without irritating and over drying it. The good oils in the cleanser remove excess oils (bad oils) accumulated on your skin (has to be washed off with water). This cleanser is recommended for dry, sensitive and aging skin.
- Micellar cleanser (micellar water) – is water based cleansers that contain oil molecules that work as cleaning agents, and lift and dissolve dirt and makeup. You don’t have to rinse it, but it has to be applied with the cotton rounds. Can also double as toner or makeup remover. Best for dry, sensitive and acne prone skin.
- Foaming cleanser – has foaming texture, and in addition to removing excess oil it also deep cleans your pores. It is more suitable for oily and acne prone skin
- Exfoliating cleanser – washes away excess oils and dirt while also exfoliating skin. Most exfoliating cleansers have a very small amount of gentle exfoliant and can be used daily, but may also dry out your skin if used for a long period of time.
- Powder cleanser– turn into creamy substances once mixed with water, can also provide light exfoliation. Since the ingredients in the powder are dry and don’t have to be stabilized, powder cleansers usually contain little (if any) chemicals and preservatives that irritate skin, and are a good option for sensitive skin.
- Bar cleanser (facial bar) – is a more affordable and natural alternative (no harsh preservatives) to the liquid cleanser. It is also environmentally friendly due to the eco packaging. Don’t apply directly on your face, but instead apply to your wet hands and then to your face.
Is very similar to cleanser but it cleans skin on a deeper level due to its foaming texture. It is more suitable for oily and combination skin. While facial wash is effective in cleaning pores and impurities, it doesn’t do a good job in dissolving excess oils like cleansers do. Facial wash can be used on its own or right after the cleanser, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Can also be labeled as tonique, tonic, toning lotion, or rose water. Toner is a liquid with active ingredients that tones, restores pH balance, locks in moisture and hydrates skin. Usually made by infusing botanical extracts, minerals, essential oils, or by distilling plants, flowers, and fruits. It helps your skin to absorb better serum and moisturizer, and is one of the essential steps in skincare 101. Toner should be used right after cleansing/washing or after exfoliating (if you are adding this step). It is usually applied with the help of cotton rounds. Alcohol free toners are the best.
Thermal water is water that is highly rich in minerals and comes from hot springs. Unlike toners, thermal water is not infused or distilled, but is naturally enriched with minerals. It has hydrating, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, and comes in spray form. Can be used as toner, or to set up makeup and refresh skin throughout the day. It is best for dry and sensitive skin, and is also a great option for dry climates (including air planes and office) or cold temperatures.
A refreshing water-based liquid that you spray on your face. It is similar to toner but is less concentrated and contains milder ingredients. Can be used a few times throughout the day to refresh skin or set up makeup.
Moisturizer - is a general term referred to the skin care products that lubricate, like creams, gels and lotions. However, nowadays many brands are labeling everyday facial creams as “moisturizers”. These skin care 101 products create protective barrier layer and lock moisture in your skin.
The main ingredients in a moisturizer are water and oils, and the texture depends on the percentage of water in it (more water = lighter texture, less water/more oils = thicker texture and heavier moisturizer).
A type of moisturizer with thick cream-like texture that is richer than lotion and emulsion. Creams are considered as heavy moisturizers due to the high percentage of oils in them. Facial creams are often labeled as day/AM creams and night/PM creams. The main difference is that day cream is formulated to protect skin from the sun and pollutants, while night cream restores and repairs skin.
Emulsion is a water-based lightweight moisturizer that is lighter in texture than cream and lotion. Good option for oily and combination skin.
Unlike cleansing oil that has to be washed off, facial oil is used as a leave-on moisturizer. It improves skin’s protective barrier, and usually has more natural ingredients and fewer preservatives. Works better for dry, aging and non-sensitive skin.
A lightweight moisturizer with a liquid consistency. Since it has a higher percentage of water and less amount of oil, this non-greasy product gets absorbed fast by skin. It is great for oily and combination skin, especially in hot and humid climates.
A type of body moisturizer with thick and creamy texture. It contains a higher amount of oils in comparison to creams, and works better for dry skin.
Tinted cream that provides light coverage and has the benefits of a moisturizer. BB stands for “beauty balm” and is a convenient all-in-one beauty product.
Multipurpose cream similar to BB cream but it offers more coverage. CC stands for “color correcting” or “complexion correcting”. This is a great option for skin that has uneven color or texture, acne, redness or dark spots.
Skincare 101 treatment products include different types of exfoliators, facial masks and leave-on concentrated substances like serums and boosters. The main purpose of these products is to address and treat certain skin concerns.
Has liquid like texture, thicker than toner but usually thinner than serum. Main purpose of essence is to hydrate skin and restore pH balance. It is less concentrated than serum and ampoule. Think of it as an extra layer of hydration after toner. No need to use cotton pads, just simply pat it into your skin. Can be used before serum.
Highly concentrated gel-like watery substance packed with active ingredients that penetrates deep into skin layers. Serums target certain skin problems like wrinkles, acne, dark sports, etc. Applied after cleansing and toning, and before moisturizer.
Ampoule is more concentrated and more expensive than serum. Not only the active ingredients in ampoules are more concentrated, but also they (ingredients) are smaller in size, which allows instant penetration and almost instant visible results. Use it after toner and before serum/moisturizer. Think of it as a treatment course that should be used for a limited period of time (1-4 weeks) to target certain skin concerns.
Booster is a lightweight substance that you use before essence or serum. It helps your skin to absorb skin care products much faster and also enhances the work of serums and essences.
Usually refers to highly concentrated treatment that targets certain skin problems. Depending on a brand, the term “concentrate” can be applied to serums, ampoules, facial oils or light moisturizers. For best results, read instructions and fine print on the bottle as concentrate products vary greatly from brand to brand.
Spot on treatment
Concentrated substance that should be applied only on a small area like pimples, blemishes, scars or dark spots. Usually is applied before serum and moisturizer.
Face mask is skin care intensive treatment usually with high concentration of active ingredients that penetrate deep into the skin. Face masks should be applied on a clean skin usually for 5-30 minutes. Steaming your face or exfoliating the skin prior to the mask application can enhance overall results.
Some masks are intended for the overnight use for a deep intense treatment. There are different types of face masks that treat different skin issues and are formulated for different skin types.
- Sheet mask – is a fabric/tissue mask that is presoaked in a solution with beneficial ingredients. The fabric itself provides a physical barrier that prevents ingredients from the evaporation and intensifies the treatment.
- Cream mask – has creamy texture and is formulated mainly for dry, sensitive and aging skin. This type of mask is gentler than other face masks and it provides good hydration and soothing besides other benefits.
- Peel-off mask – is a gel like mask that dries out on your skin forming a thin, film-like layer that has to be peeled off. It is a good option for cleaning pores and blackheads.
- Clay mask – is a deep cleansing mask usually based on clay, kaolin or bentonite that draw out dirt, oils, and impurities. It tightens skin and enlarged pores and also has drying effect, that’s why it is recommended for oily, combination, and acne prone skin.
- Mud mask – is similar to clay mask, but it’s usually water based. Mud mask has cleansing properties without drying effect, and also heals, hydrates and moisturizes your skin. This mask is more beneficial for normal, dry and dull skin.
Exfoliator is a general term that describes a skincare product that buffs the skin and removes dead skin cells. Usually used once or twice a week after cleansing, Exfoliator can be either physical/mechanical (uses scrubbing particles) or chemical (uses acids or enzymes).
Peel is a chemical exfoliator that stimulates cell turnover, removes dead skin with the help of acids (AHA and BHA) or fruit enzymes. Peels are great for smoothing out skin texture and also have a brightening effect. This is considered to be a gentler option than scrubs or other physical exfoliators.
A physical exfoliator that contains grainy particles like beads, salt, sugar, etc. and provides deep cleaning by lifting dead skin cells. There are different scrub products for face, body, lips and scalp. It’s not recommended for sensitive or acne prone skin.
Include microdermabrasion scrubs, paste, crystals and creams (*note that this is different than microdermabrasion device). This is a physical exfoliator similar to scrub as it contains grainy particles or micro crystals. However, in addition to lifting and removing dead skin cells, microdermabrasion products also renew the surface of the skin and boost collagen production.
These are skin care products (cream, oil, spray) that protect your skin from damaging sun’s ultraviolet (UVA and UVB). Sunscreens come with different levels of UV protection also known as SPF – sun protection factor. Regardless of your age you should use sunscreen with SPF 15 or SPF 30 daily to protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation, sunburn and photo-aging.