The three steps to better skin are as follows: Cleanse, Tone and Moisturize.
Step #1: Cleanse
The importance of cleansing the face is probably obvious to most of you; cleansing washes away makeup and the grime (or, as my dear great grandmother, Rose, used to say, "grim") that your face has accumulated throughout the day. Most people I talk to that have a skincare regimen at least do this step; however, a lot of times they're not using the correct products to cleanse their skin.
Yes, I am sure there's at least one of you out their who can get away with washing your face with hand soap or something equally awful, and not experience breakouts, but this is something I would stray away from. Having extremely sensitive and acne-prone skin myself has been good for me in many ways, because I have had to seek out the best and least irritating products for my face. Luckily, I have been able to find things that work for almost every budget.
The first thing you should consider when purchasing a cleanser is your skin type. The typical delineations for skin type are dry, combination and oily. If you, like me, live in a dry climate and are constantly in need of lotion, you've got dry skin. If your face tends to be oily in some places (namely, your t-zone*) and dry in others, you have combination skin. If your skin is constantly oily, with no traces of dry skin, you've got oily skin. For those who have dry to combination skin, choosing a creamier cleanser is oft times the best bet. For oilier skin, a foam or a gel cleanser will clean your skin without over-moisturizing it. Below are a list of products that I have used and absolutely love.
Purity Made Simple by Philosophy. I cannot express to you all how amazing this product is. Not only does it do a fabulous job of gently cleansing, but it also incorporates the toning step into the cleanser. Thus, this product is perfect for those of you who don't want to have to take the two steps to cleanse and then tone. It's a two in one product that actually works. It works for all skin types, and also comes in a foam form for those with oilier skin. However...
if you have extremely oily skin but love the idea of Purity, you should try the Never Let Them See You Shine cleanser also by Philosophy.
For those on a budget, I recommend products by Neutrogena. I have personally used the Deep Clean Cream Cleanser and was really impressed by the quality of the product. This is obviously really creamy and most suitable for dry skin, but Neutrogena has the same product in different forms in order to accommodate all skin types.
Step #2: Tone
This step is perhaps the least used, yet it is integrally important. A toner basically finishes cleaning the skin after you cleanse. It gets rid of remaining traces of makeup, dirt or oil, and decreases the look of your pores. To tone, squeeze a small amount of the toner onto a cotton ball or pad (I would recommend the flat pads that you can find in the makeup isle of a drug store) and gently swipe it across your face. Unless you have extremely oily skin, choose toners that do not have alcohol in them, as this can irritate and damage the skin. If you have incredibly oily skin, you can choose an astringent (which is basically a toner with a higher alcohol content) to help alleviate excess oil.
As stated above, Philosophy's Purity product is both a cleanser and a toner (huzzah) which cuts down on cotton pad consumption and facial care time. Here's an inexpensive alternative to those who either can't afford the Philosophy product or who prefer to do the toning step the old-fashioned way.
Alcohol-Free Toner by Neutrogena. A great, non-irritating toner that is super cheap but works really well. Great for all skin types.
Step #3: Moisturize
Like the other two steps, this last step is a crucial part of facial care; it's vital to help your skin stay young. This step is especially important for those who have dry skin, because dry skin can cause premature aging. (Sun damage will also cause your skin to age prematurely.) You should moisturize at night after you cleanse and tone, and then again in the morning before you put your makeup on. Another important factor to consider when choosing a face lotion is finding one that has sunscreen in it. Ideally, you should have a moisturizer for day that contains at least an SPF of 15 and one for night that does not have SPF. If you choose to only buy one moisturizer, I would recommend getting the one that works best with your current skin care regimen. For instance, my makeup has SPF 15 in it, so the moisturizer I currently use does not have SPF in it.
Finding a moisturizer that works with your skin's unique composition can be difficult, but I have a found a few that work well with most skin types. Also, don't skimp on your neck. Even if your face looks amazing, if your neck is all sun-damaged and wrinkly, you'll still look old. This is where having a moisturizer with SPF is useful, because you should be using it on your neck as well.
Clean and Clear Soft Daily Moisturizer SPF 15. This is great because it has a Night Moisturizer counterpart. I actually use the night version of this moisturizer, which is the exact same except it doesn't have SPF in it. What I like about this idea is that you could (and should) conceivably buy both the day and the night moisturizer and use them in tandem. And at only 7 bucks apiece, that option is completely affordable.
Another great and inexpensive moisturizer is Neutrogena's Oil-Free Moisturizer SPF 15. One of the reasons I am reticent to buy a moisturizer that contains SPF is because I don't like wearing a moisturizer that has SPF to bed. This product, however, I did use for awhile, and I did not find that my skin was irritated by the SPF when I used it before bed. So if you want an inexpensive lotion with SPF content, I would definitely suggest trying this product.
Another vital part of moisturizing (and the part that is most often overlooked) is the use of eye cream. The skin underneath your eyes is the most sensitive and the most vulnerable. Though I only started using it this year, I would recommend starting as early as possible in order to prevent bags and discoloration under the eyes. Ultimately, the goal would be to start using eye cream as early as 16, but for sure by the time you're in your twenties. My mom and her sisters look ten years younger because they did this. Many women their age look older because of the aging that has taken place under their eyes. You don't want to start using eye cream when you notice these flaws, you want to use it before they ever take place.
Eye cream should be applied gently with the ring finger (which is your weakest) focusing on the under-eye area, and the area to the side of your eyes that is prone to crow's feet. You should use as little pressure as possible and apply in a circular motion.
Philosophy's Hope in a Tube is an excellent eye cream to use in your twenties and thirties (and beyond if you started early enough). You can also use this on the delicate skin around your lips to prevent aging in that area as well.
Oil of Olay Total Effects Eye Transforming Cream. Oil of Olay makes an incredible product for being in the mid-range price point. This brand focuses on the restoration of already aging skin, and is wonderful for preventative care because of that. It's a surprising effective and tenacious product for its cost.
Another great cost-effective eye cream is Neutrogena's Visibly Firm Eye Cream. This is the eye cream I use, and I like it a lot. It's got a great creamy consistency and a little goes a long way. Thus, though it may seem a bit pricey for a drug store brand, it will last you months. So you're getting an incredible value. I have also read reviews where women have bought much more expensive eye creams and like this one the best. So I'm in the majority when I say this eye cream is top-notch.
There you have it. These are the basics to proper skin care of the face, and I hope it's been helpful to you all.
Because my skin is prone to breakouts, I use the Proactiv Solution kit, which is sent to my house every other month. The reason I have stuck with Proactiv the past five years is because it's affordable and it keeps my acne under wraps. (It's also really convenient to sign up for the shipments and whatnot, which saves me a trip to the store.) I would love to someday segue into the Philosophy Makeup Optional kit, which is phenomenal, but pricey. So, I'd have to say, I like the Neutrogena and Clean and Clear products, I love the Proactiv and I lust the Philosophy.
*the region of your face that is comprised of your forehead and the bridge of your nose