Six skincare steps you can skip and one you NEVER should
by Deborah Duffey, Chief Product Development Officer and President July 23, 2021
The overwhelming number of products available, the dearth of new “It-Ingredients,” and
talk about 10-step routines can make skincare feel inaccessible. It can turn what should
be enjoyable into a source of stress. But building—and keeping up with—a solid
skincare routine doesn’t have to be so complicated.
Let’s focus on what products make up a good skincare routine. Between cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers, eye creams, sunscreen and more, which can you skip or eliminate from your routine, and which are vital? If you have to leave in the morning in a rush, what will happen if you skip out on your moisturizer or, worse, your sunscreen? If you arrive home late, is it okay to leave makeup removal until the next day?
The good news is that it’s okay to skip some steps some of the time as long as you stay consistent in the long run; just be prepared for some negative effects. Keep in mind that there’s one product in your routine that you should never skip however—we’ll share what and why soon.
The first step in a skincare routine is cleansing, and it’s usually done both morning and
night. Cleansing is crucial for removing excess oils, dirt, makeup, and anything else you
come in contact with throughout the day from your skin. It keeps pores clean and clear,
and sets up the foundation for the products you apply on top of it. While it might feel
unnecessary, cleansing in the morning removes excess buildup of skincare products
from the night before, and clears skin of the oils, dust, and haircare products that have
made their way to your skin overnight via your pillow.
What happens if you skip this first step? By forgoing cleansing, you’re setting your skin up for clogged pores and breakouts, and you won’t be getting the most out of the skincare products you apply on top of unclean skin. Skipping a thorough morning cleanse might be okay if your skin type allows it (aim for a quick water cleanse at minimum), but cleansing at night—especially if you’ve worn makeup or sunscreen, worked out, or spent time in a busy, polluted city—is essential to keep skin healthy.
If you can’t get yourself to a sink to wash with a facial cleanser, there are some alternatives. Micellar water and a cotton pad can cleanse skin without the need for a full wash, as can makeup remover wipes. These can leave residue on the skin, though, and won’t always completely clean skin, so don’t rely on these methods every day. But if you have to choose between going to bed with an unwashed face or relying on a quick wash, choose the quick wash. It’s the next best option until you can fully cleanse skin.
Especially in dry climates or during cold winter days, moisturizer is a must to keep skin
protected. Moisturizers range in textures and ingredients, and while many moisturizers
provide benefits beyond hydration, in general, they all work to keep skin full of moisture.
When skin is hydrated, it not only looks better and emits a healthy glow, but it’s better
able to repair itself, develops fewer wrinkles, and stays plump.
Without moisturizer, skin can become dry as soon as one missed application, and it might feel tight or itchy, too. It can start to look dull and flaky, and makeup may not apply as smoothly. Hydrated skin can hide fine lines and wrinkles, so without moisturizer your skin might show those more clearly. If you have dry skin and skip moisturizer frequently, your skin might become red and sensitive when the protective barrier begins to break down. This makes skin prone to irritation and injury.
Depending on your skin type, you might be able to skip moisturizer on some occasions without noticing any major consequences at all, especially if you live in a humid climate, if your skin tends to be oily, or if your routine is full of other hydrating products. But keep in mind that many moisturizers have benefits beyond hydration, so every time you skip moisturizer, you’re also depriving your skin of those other active ingredients. Your best bet is to learn what your skin needs so you can better assess whether a missed moisturizer application will result in problems the next day.
Skipping Eye Cream
When used in your morning routine, eye creams can lessen puffiness and dark circles,
and provide hydration that makes you look brighter and more awake. In the evening,
eye creams can moisturize to prevent skin from drying out or looking crepey the next
day. Eye cream also has benefits that span beyond the day you use it. For example, if
the cream contains gentle retinoids, it stimulates collagen, plumps skin, prevents
wrinkles, and lessens the look of dark circles.
After one day of skipping eye cream, puffiness and dark circles might be more apparent, and if the skin around your eyes tends to be dry, you might notice your makeup clinging to those dry spots. Skipping out on eye cream in the long run means missing out on its long-term benefits mentioned previously.
But if you’ve run out of eye cream (or just haven’t picked one up yet), it doesn’t mean you have to totally skip out on caring for your eye area. In most cases, the other products you use on your face, like your moisturizer or serums, can be used around your eyes, too (just check the label first!). As a bonus, you’ll stretch those benefits in your serums and moisturizers to your eye area. Be sure to avoid using intense treatments around your eye area, though, as the skin is thinner here and it can be more sensitive.
The toners of today have taken on different iterations than the toners of the past. While
toner was traditionally extremely astringent and skin-stripping, today it acts more like a
secondary cleanse and as a way to balance the pH of the skin. Some toners are
designed to clear extra oil or provide light exfoliation, while others add additional
If you haven’t yet begun using a toner and you’re currently happy with the state of your skin, there’s no need to be concerned about the lack of a toner in your routine. If you have a good cleanser and are happy with your other products, your skin can probably go without a toner.
If you’re already using one, however (and it’s the appropriate type for your skin), skipping a night can make a major difference in either how oily or how dry your skin becomes. If you use a toner to soak up excess oil or clear pores, skipping even one application can make your skin feel oilier later. On the other end of the spectrum, if you rely heavily on a toner to hydrate skin, you might notice flakier skin if you skip it. Usually, both of these can be remedied through other products in your routine, whether via acids or extra moisturizer. In the long term, a missed toner application won’t lead to issues that stick around.
Serums are often used just before moisturizing and address specific skin concerns.
They can provide light hydration while also packing strong active ingredients, like
vitamin C, peptides, or antioxidants. Think of serums like the cherry on top of a sundae:
they are nice to have, but the other products in your routine can do a good job for your
skin on their own when they need to.
Skipping a few days of your serum won’t yield a big difference right away (most serums are more beneficial in the long term, not day-to-day), but if there is a skin issue your serum is targeting, you may notice an eventual difference if you completely stop using a serum. And if you rely on your serum for hydration, skipping an application might mean drier skin in the morning or later in the day.
If skipping out on your serum has you worried (or if you haven’t begun using one in the first place), know that a good moisturizer can make up for it and prevent any immediate issues. It’s a good idea to stick with your serum when possible, though, because serums can be quite powerful and the right one can be transformative for your skin!
Acids, including lactic, glycolic, and salicylic, each have their own specialities, but in
general they all exfoliate skin, prevent clogged pores, and keep skin looking clear and
even. They can help acne-prone skin cut down on blemishes, slough away discoloration
over time, and help skin produce collagen.
Acids can make skin feel clean and exfoliated, so a night off from them might leave skin feeling more oily than normal, and your skin might look more dull. After several nights or more without using acids on your skin, clogged pores may appear, especially in those who are using acids to treat acne-prone skin. It can also mean it takes longer for discoloration to disappear.
In some circumstances skipping acids is not only okay, but it’s actually preferred. Acids can be strong, and giving your skin a break can give it time to heal. It also helps prevent over-exfoliation, which can lead to a compromised skin barrier (which leads to red, inflamed skin that’s prone to acne). If you’ve been using acids every single night, it might be beneficial to cut back your usage to every other day or less to see if your skin prefers a less intensive treatment. Or, you might try an acid product specifically formulated to prevent inflammation and redness while it regenerates skin. This is what we created with our Glycol-X Treatment Lotion, which has fruit acids to exfoliate and treat fine lines and beta glucan to draw moisture to the skin. It includes encapsulated anti-inflammatories which work at a nano level to cut down on the irritation from glycolic acid without negating any of its benefits.
Your skin type might not need acids in your routine at all. Sensitive skin might find certain types of acid too strong, leading to redness or irritation. Sometimes lactic or glycolic acid is added into moisturizers or other skin treatments rather than standalone products, so these might be easier to incorporate into a routine.
NEVER Skip Sun Protection
By now it’s clear that skipping out on your skincare routine is okay sometimes. When
moisturizer or eye cream is occasionally missed, your skin won’t be harmed in the long
term (you just might miss out on the benefits or have to deal with flaky skin). But there’s
one step in your routine that can actually be detrimental if you skip it: sun protection.
Just one sunburn increases a person’s risk of skin cancer. UVA and UVB rays from the
sun burn skin and cause DNA damage that exists even after the burn heals.
While it’s easy to be exposed to damaging sun rays (even on cloudy days!), it’s nearly as easy to protect yourself. The most simple step you can take is applying sunscreen every day—making it a consistent habit is key. To make it even easier, you can use a moisturizer with SPF for full sun protection while cutting down on the number of products you apply.
Besides skin cancer, sun damage also causes premature aging—nearly 90% of it! That means that applying sunscreen every day not only protects your health, it also staves off wrinkles, discoloration, and sagging skin. The immediate effects of a sunburn aren’t fun to deal with either. Not only are they uncomfortable, sunburns make skin red, dry, and flaky, and sometimes even blister.
Because of the effects of sun damage—both immediate and long term, aesthetic and healthwise—sunscreen is the one product that you should never skip.
If you should ever find yourself out in the sun without sunscreen (again, apply every day no matter what to avoid this!), there are ways to mitigate your risk. Stay in the shade when possible, and wear a hat to protect your face if you can. Long sleeves and pants can help protect the rest of your body. Decreasing the amount of time you’re in the sun can go a long way to protect your skin, too.
Consistency is Key
Except for the damage done when you forgo sun protection, your skin can bounce back
from a missed product application. While you might wake up with dry skin after a night
without moisturizer, or find a blemish when you skip cleansing and treatments, getting
back on track again will clear up these issues quickly. When it comes to skincare, long-
term results is what we’re after, and a night off from your routine is nothing to stress
over. Maintaining overall good habits is important, and in this case, consistency is key.
Just don’t forget the sunscreen.