Everybody knows that if you take care of your skin when you’re young, you’ll have a great foundation in your later years. This is why you’ll see so many TikTok or YouTube videos purporting to repackage some miracle skincare product or routine. While the methods vary, having a skincare routine that works for you will prove to be a great foundation for your years ahead.
If you’re just starting to work out your own regime, here are some basic rules – as recommended by dermatologists.
Rule 1: Moisturise
At its core, the skin is a barrier that keeps the outside world out, and the inside world of your body in. If that barrier gets dry/cracked, local cells will get inflamed so they’ll feel itchy and look red. So, always moisturise to keep that barrier intact. Pick products with ingredients that are sufficiently hydrating and also form effective barriers. Ingredients can be simple, like petrolatum and mineral oil, or a bit fancy like hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
Remember that a cream you’ll use consistently is ALWAYS better than one used once, so try out a few brands to see what suits your skin (especially if you have any sensitivity).
Rule 2: Sunscreen
In sunny Singapore, the sun shoots radiation at our skin each day. This can cause DNA mutations in cells and breaking down collagen in deeper layers. When this happens enough, you can get wrinkles and dark spots, and also skin cancers (un-repaired DNA mutations that then snowball).
Sunscreen acts as barrier to capture this radiation and prevent it from mutating your skin cells. This leads to less wrinkles and less dark spots. The best kinds of sunscreen are the mineral (or physical) kinds. The gold standard is zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – two naturally occurring minerals that sit on top of your skin to create a barrier and reflect the sun’s powerful UVA and UVB rays (their chemical counterparts work by absorbing the sun’s harmful rays).
Dermatologists recommend SPF 50+, applied twice daily, but ANY sunscreen is good. Go for the highest (SPF30+) you can tolerate, as often as you can.
Rule 3: Retinoids
The closest thing to a ‘magic’ ingredient in skincare, retinoids are a class of chemicals that derive from vitamin A. They’re anti-aging, helps dark spots, minimises acne, anti-cancer, and gives subtle scarring improvement. Weaker forms are available over the counter, and a doctor can prescribe stronger ones which can also be (ironically) more drying.
However, they’re slow to work and can be very drying or irritating to start with. It’s recommended to start with tiny amounts, every other night, and work your way up to once a night. To counter the drying effect, apply generous moisturiser to help. Fair warning: using it can get worse for a week or two before it gets better.
Rule 4: ‘Active ingredients’
A lot of beauty products purport to have multiple ‘active ingredients.’ Here’s a quick guide to common actives and what they’re useful for:
Salicyclic acid: gentle exfoliant; unblocks pores
Benzoyl peroxide: anti-inflammatory; kills acne bacteria
Azelaic acid: anti-inflammatory; helps with rosacea, acne, and dark spots
For dark spot treatment, there’s hydroquinone, lactic acid, azelaic acid, vitamin C, and retinoid.
Every beauty company has a product with each of these ingredients. The ‘right one’ needs trial and error for your own skin, but you don’t have to spend more than $40-50 on any skincare item. It’s just branding.
Rule 5: Scarring/stretch marks
Any cream claiming to make a huge difference treating these is lying. Ingredients like retinoids can only offer minor help. Extensive scarring need cosmetic procedure(s) like microneedling, laser resurfacing, or deep chemical peels. These can be expensive, but are the only treatments that really work.
Rule 6: Don’t use physically abrasive products on your skin
Don’t use too many ‘actives’ at the same time – remember, less is more. Over-exfoliation is also a real issue. Anything that makes your skin feel tight, itchy, red, painful on a consistent basis should be stopped.
Rule 7: Compounding skin gains
If you want to have good skin later in life, find a moisturiser, hydrating cleanser, sunscreen, and retinoid you like in your 20s and 30s. The key is to use consistently, and that’s it.
Even with the best skincare regime, real beautiful skin starts with nourishment from within, and therefore a steady supply of key nutrients is essential. If you suffer from skin conditions, like acne or eczema, then you’ll need to remove trigger foods as well. Among the most common culprits are peanuts, wheat, eggs, cow’s milk, soy, and shellfish, but even citric (acidic) foods as well as some spices (ie. cinnamon, cloves, coriander, garlic, etc) can cause irritation.
Eat the correct balance of foods and optimise your nutrition by eating antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish and nuts, and a diet that supplies you with beta carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc, and selenium.