With so many skincare products out there, it's hard to truly know what we need, how to apply them and when. So, in the interests of clarity, I've put together a cheat sheet on what steps will really benefit our skin and the best order in which to apply them.
The five-step skincare plan
Step one: Cleanser
The first (and arguably most important) step of any skincare routine is cleansing. It's as necessary in the morning (as we sweat in our sleep) as it is in the evening, when our skin's covered in make-up and grime. Other than ridding your skin of gunk, it will also "help the skin become more receptive to the products you apply next", explains skincare expert Sarah Chapman, as the products will absorb more effectively into completely clean skin. You can't beat a proper cleanse with a hot cloth, while oily cleansers are especially effective, attracting other oils and drawing them out of your skin along with make-up and dirt.
Step two: Toner
Toner is perhaps beauty's most divisive product – some love it; others can't see the point. Although not essential, toners do all sorts to benefit your skin. They'll remove any leftover make-up you might have missed, which (like your cleanser) improves the absorption of the rest of your skincare. Depending on which you choose, they'll exfoliate – clearing skin of dead cells and residue (try Clarins Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner, £26), they'll balance your skin's pH (try Elemis Balancing Lavender Toner, £24.50), rehydrate (try The Body Shop's Vitamin E hydrating toner, £8) or soothe (try Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic, from £6.50).
Step three: Serum
"Serums are formulated differently from a cream. They are designed to absorb easily and deliver a higher concentration of actives [potent ingredients such as salicylic acid and vitamin C] into the skin in a super speedy weightless formulation," says Chapman, so use them to target specific concerns. Want something for redness? La Roche-Posay Rosaliac AR Intense Serum (£18.50) is great. The Ordinary Advanced Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, (£8) works wonders for firming, while Origins Mega-Bright Dark Spot Correcting Serum (£56) is excellent at helping pigmentation. Apply your serum before your moisturiser, advises skincare expert Teresa Tarmey: "It's a lighter product, so would struggle to get through creams and moisturisers that are generally thicker.”
Eye cream (optional)
Not everyone will need an eye cream, but if you like to use them, as with serums, they're best applied before moisturiser, owing to their thinner consistency (to match with the skin around our eyes, which is much thinner than the rest of our face). That way, they can penetrate into your skin more easily without getting lost in a heavy moisturiser. Botanics' new All Bright Refeshing Eye Roll On (£8.99) is lovely and cooling for waking tired eyes in the morning, while Clinique's Pep-Start eye cream hydrates, brightens and de-puffs.
Step four: Moisturiser
The purpose of moisturiser is to balance the moisture levels of your skin, ensuring it looks and feels plump and healthy. Even if you're oily, you can suffer from dehydrated skin (which is a lack of water, rather than oil), so it's a good idea to use an oil-free moisturiser such as Nivea's Daily Essentials Oil Free Moisturising Day Cream (£4.10). Very dry skins will benefit from something richer, such as Vichy's Aqualia Thermale Rich cream (£20). However, if you want something lightweight and non-greasy but ultra-hydrating, try L'Oreal's Hydra Genius Liquid Care moisturiser. Specifically for sensitive skin, it contains soothing aloe vera and moisturising hyaluronic acid.
Step fivE (IN THE MORNING): SPF
It's an extra step and an extra five seconds in front of the mirror in the morning, but SPF will ring-fence your face from the harm caused by UVA and UVB rays. Try suncare brand Heliocare, which uses Fernblock technology, harnessing a natural mechanism found in fern plants that protects from sun radiation. "I personally use the one with the tint for my make-up, too – it also has antioxidants in and is my number-one favourite product," says Tarmey. Always apply your SPF last, as anything on top can block its effectiveness.
Step five (IN THE EVENING): Oils, masks or night creams
Overnight is the longest your skin will usually have to recover from outside pollution or office air con, and it's also the longest amount of time your skincare will have to sink in before SPF and make-up is applied. So now's the time to make the most of richer or slippier formulas. Avene's Soothing Moisture Mask (£11.50) is very gentle and brilliant for dry or dehydrated skin, while Sarah Chapman's cult favourite, Skinesis Overnight Facial, is my absolute go-to for a skin overhaul. A silky oil rich in anti-inflammatory omegas, collagen-boosting peptides and a cocktail of antioxidants, it's a – very healthy, very luxurious – feast for your face.