Beauty & Fashion

The Ultimate Pared-Down Skin Care Routine with Only 3 Products

The skin is your body’s largest and most visible organ. No wonder so many people prioritize skin care.

According to Statista, 1.68 million people in the U.S. spent at least $500 on skin care products during the last 3 months of 2020.

But what if experts told you that it doesn’t take a vanity full of pricey products to give your skin exactly what it needs?

“We don’t believe in dumping the kitchen sink at people’s skin,” says Morgana Colombo, MD, FAAD and a co-founder of Skintap. “We believe in using things that are needed and have good active ingredients that have proven efficacy.”

Though those ingredients may vary from person to person, the building-block products remain the same.

Here’s what a pair of dermatologists say everyone needs to care for their skin. They also dished on nice-to-haves and items you can skip.

Must-have skin care products

Angelo Landriscina, MD, FAAD, says it’s easy to complicate things with so many products out there. When it comes to skin care, more isn’t always merrier.

You “can actually make your skin worse by using too many products,” he says.

A morning skin care routine is as easy as 1-2-3 (products). Landriscina advises people to apply the following three products in this order in the morning:

  1. cleanser
  2. moisturizer
  3. sunscreen

Landriscina says you can ditch the sunscreen at night and simply reapply cleanser and moisturizer.



Landriscina and Colombo agree that it’s essential to wash your face thoroughly with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser before applying any other products.

This allows you to start with a clean slate and prevents other products from washing off.

Landriscina suggests keeping it basic and avoiding something that strips the skin. However, figuring out what that means for you may not be an exact science.

“It’s a trial and error thing,” he says.

Plus, what works now may not be best for you in 10 years.

“The right fit may change,” Landriscina says. “As we get older, our skin gets drier.”

He says your best bet is to start with something designed for sensitive skin, as that’s least likely to cause irritation.

If you know your skin type, Colombo suggests opting for something designed for it.

For example, people with oily or acne-prone skin often do best with a foaming cleanser, whereas people with normal or dry skin typically prefer gentle, nonfoaming options.

Colombo suggests Cetaphil Dermacontrol Foaming Cleanser for oily skin and Cerave Hydrating Cleanser for dry skin.


Landriscina explains that the skin is designed to keep the outside out (dirt, bacteria) and inside in (organs, bones, and joints).

However, it can lose water. That’s where moisturizer comes in.

“Using a good moisturizer repairs skin barrier function and holds in water,” Landriscina says.

Landriscina recommends:


Though some moisturizers have SPF 15, Landriscina and Colombo say it’s essential to apply sunscreen and reapply it every 2 hours if you’re exposed to the sun.

They recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both harmful UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that is at least SPF 30.

“UV rays and UV radiation are the primary modifiable risk factor when it comes to skin cancer risk,” Landriscina says. “Using sunscreen every day consistently the correct way is one of the best things you can do to prevent skin cancer.”

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).

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