“My skin-care routine is important to me and not something I’m willing to put on hold for the pandemic," is how a Refinery29 reader recently described her skin-care spending habits during COVID-19. Many of us would probably agree. Our stay-closer-to-home life has had us spending more time slathering on — and soothing ourselves with — masks, serums, and moisturizers. (Constantly seeing our faces reflected back to us on Zoom might also have something to do with it.)
But if there’s one group of people who didn’t need a pandemic to push them towards consistent skin-care routines, it’s dermatologists. “I’m a creature of habit,” says Toronto-based derm Dr. Renée Beach. “I do my routines despite my surroundings, so not much has changed for me during quarantine.”
The good news is that even if you have totally ignored your complexion care in the past, now is a great time to start. And that doesn’t mean making an extreme commitment either; a derm-approved skin-care routine is, almost by definition, simple. No fussy extra steps — just science-based ingredients. To help you figure out where to start, we asked five of Canada’s top dermatologists to share the products and approach they stick to day in, day out.
Skin type: “I’m combination skin, so I get dry and develop eczema on my cheeks and neck, but can get greasy over my forehead, nose, and chin. I also pigment very easily after acne, an eczema flareup, or even the summer sun leaves me tanned on my forehead and chin, even with sunscreen.”
Morning routine: “I rotate among products, but the general process usually starts with a double cleanse. I like Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar followed by Bioderma Sensibio H2O micellar water because they both are gentle and without fragrance. Then, I alternate among serums that are thin and play nicely under sunscreen, depending on what particular issue I want to focus on. For maintenance, I use antioxidant serums such as Skinceuticals Phloretin CF and Vivier Radiance Serum; when I want more pigment-evening action, I use Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense. I finish with sunscreen; I like Vichy Idéal Soleil Sport or La Roche-Posay Anthelios because they rub in well and disappear into my skin tone.”
Evening routine: “I firmly believe that a clean face and sleep are the most critical elements of the routine. I’ll start with cleansing similar to the morning, or sometimes change it up with alpha-hydroxy acids, like the Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel. I then use lotion — La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Fluide is a favourite — and rotate among thicker serums, like Skinceuticals H.A. Intensifier or Vichy Minéral 89, or a prescription retinoid. If needed for acne prevention, I’ll use 1-2% salicylic acid by prescription or a gel like Neostrata's or Clinique's. After this, I aim for a minimum of six hours of sleep — not enough, I know! — ideally on my back to avoid ‘pillow face,’ the creases that form from the bed linens.”
Tip for the times: “Try to maintain your sleep patterns even if you may not be going out to work in the morning. Using great products won't matter if the body isn't getting sufficient sleep and a chance to repair.”
Medical director of Skinworks/Dermapure clinics in Vancouver
Skin type: “I’m Asian, so I have a skin type that us dermatologists call a type four, which means that we seldom burn and tan very easily. I have a background of eczema, which is very common in Chinese people. And, I’m in my 60s, so I worry about the saggy baggies just like everyone else.”
Morning routine: “I wash with an exfoliating cleanser. I like Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel; I find lactic acid gentle for my age and my sensitive skin. Then, I’ll apply a topical vitamin C and E, which are antioxidants that will help to neutralize free radicals [which damage skin]. It makes a difference to actually apply them on our skin as opposed to eating them [via berries and vegetables]. They also make sunscreen a little bit more effective, so that’s why I like to put mine on in the morning. Skinceuticals C E Ferulic is a great product, but it’s a little bit like gold; you’ll only want to use a couple drops.
"There’s been a lot of debate around some of the components in chemical sunscreens. As far as we’re concerned as dermatologists, at this present time, chemical sunscreens are fine, but there’s been some rumblings. I also tend to have very sensitive eyes, so I find if I use mineral micronized titanium dioxide, which is a mineral sunscreen, it works well for me. You’re supposed to use about half a teaspoon for your full face. I’ll give it five minutes and go do my hair or put on earrings, then I’ll rub it in more. I currently use SkinMedica’s Total Defense + Repair. I also love Neutrogena sunscreens, especially their sheer one."
Evening routine: “I barely even wash my face. I jump in the shower and use water. I might do the bar soap over my face, but I’m not rigorous about it. Then I’ll use two pumps of TNS Essential Serum by SkinMedica on my face and neck. It’s made from human growth factors, which I like because they’re well tolerated by older, more-sensitive skin. Then, I like a topical non-prescription retinol. I use one by a guy in Beverly Hills who’s been around for a long time practicing dermatology, named Zein Obagi. His products are very efficacious. I use the weakest concentration because I’m pretty dry.
Tip for the times: “I do think the skin is a reflection of how healthy we are. I exercise and eat healthy — I make my own kefir and drink it every morning — and I think it all reflects in your skin.”
Dermatologist at DLK on Avenue in Toronto
Skin type: “I’m of Irish descent, so there’s a little bit of rosacea. My main concern is always sun protection.”
Morning routine: “There should be scientific evidence–based medicine for whatever you’re using on your skin. I usually just splash with tepid water in the morning — we know that you increase absorption if you put something on wet skin — then apply vitamin C serum. It mops up free radicals that can be damaging and it’s good for brown spots. Usually, you’re looking for 20% or higher in terms of concentration, so I compound my own; it’s called Clear Clinical. And then I wait about 15 minutes before applying sunscreen. I like an alcohol-based sunscreen that looks like water. I don’t like anything too greasy because I put it on my face, neck, chest, and backs of hands, so it needs to feel like nothing and not get on my clothes. At the drugstore, you can look for something that sprays on clear.”
Evening routine: “Besides sunscreen, an exfoliating cleanser is one of the best ways to get your skin looking better because it gets rid of dead skin cells. I use Clear Clinical’s Gel Cleanser every night, but I tell my patients they can look for a gel-based exfoliating cleanser with beads at the drugstore. And after that, I apply a 1% retinol, because it’s one of the only things that has been shown to effectively cause a regeneration of collagen. Then I apply Latisse for eyelash growth.”
Tip for the times: “Keep it simple. During quarantine, people have been using things in their bathrooms like masks and peel pads that they haven’t had a chance to use before. But if something is working and it’s effective and it’s not irritating you, then sometimes it’s better to just stay the course.”
Medical director at Carruthers & Humphrey in Vancouver
Skin type: “I have very fair skin. It’s quite thin, on the dry side and reactive, so if I use products that are too harsh, the chances of me having dryness, redness, burning, or peeling are higher than the average person. It also means that as I age, fine lines will be more visible than someone with thicker or oilier skin.”
Morning routine: “I have four kids, and I start seeing patients at 7 a.m. I need to get out the door, so I try to keep it simple. I really like SkinBetter’s oxygen cleanser or Skinceuticals' Simply Clean Gel because they remove my overnight products, but I find them both gentle enough. I use an antioxidant, either Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, which I believe is the gold standard topical antioxidant, or Alto by SkinBetter, an evidence-based cosmeceutical company that’s just making inroads in Canada.
"After that, I switch to my hydration products. I use the SkinBetter Trio, which is a skin barrier-restoring moisturizer, and SkinBetter Lines, which is an advanced topical hyaluronic acid that is actually designed to be rubbed directly into areas where there are lines, but I smear it all over my face. For eyes, Skinceuticals A.G.E. Eye has an excellent occlusive texture that allows the skin barrier to keep water in, which smooths fine crinkles. And finally, of course, sun protection. I like the La Roche-Posay Hydraphase UV. It’s quite light, but it’s only an SPF 30 so I only consider it as an urban screen. It wouldn’t be suitable for going to the beach. I’ll often layer it in combination with Colorescience Sunforgettable, a mineral-based SPF 50 that's dusted on top.”
Evening routine: “This is the time that I really take a moment for indulgence and self-care. I don’t use all the same product lines morning and night. I want to benefit from the actives in different lines. I cleanse with the same cleanser I use in the morning, and then my most active product is the TNS Essential Serum by SkinMedica. If a patient says, ‘I can only do one thing morning and night and I want to know it has science to back it up,’ I’ll often pick the TNS Essential because it has a dual-chamber [pump] that gives both growth factors for collagen stimulation and also antioxidants. I slather that on my face and neck. Then I use my same eye cream. For a moisturizer, I use SkinMedica Dermal Repair and HA5, a hyaluronic acid serum. I put a dollop of both into my hand, mix them up and spread them on. And then I use a retinol; currently, I’m using SkinMedica’s 0.25 per cent retinol.”
Tip for the times: “We all have a little more time now, so we can add in areas like the body that may be the first thing to be dropped in hurried life.”
Dermatologist at Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto
Skin type: “Oily but sensitive. I have challenges with acne and being shiny throughout the day, but I also have to be really careful with what I use because I tend to react to different ingredients.”
Morning routine: “I have a seven-month-old son, so by the end of day, I like to keep it simple and go to bed. That means my morning routine is where I spend time layering products. Typically, I use Skinceuticals Simply Clean to wash on a daily basis. I’ll use my Clarisonic once or twice a week. I don’t tolerate it more often than that. And twice a week, on different days, I’ll use the Vichy Double Glow Peel on my face, neck and chest [editor's note: Dr. Abdulla is a consultant medical expert to Vichy]. I put it on when I walk in the shower, then do everything else, and emulsify with my cleanser at the end of my shower.
Once I’m out, I use Skinceuticals Phloretin CF, an antioxidant serum, on my face, neck, chest, and back of hands. It’s my favourite thing for skin luminosity and pigment. If I don't use it, I notice a difference. I follow it up with, from the same line, Discoloration Defense for its tranexamic acid. I’ve tried different tranexamic acids — it’s the new kid on the block for treating melasma — but I had trouble with acne. I need light hydration so that I don’t break out with my sunscreen layered in too, so I actually don’t use moisturizer in the morning. Instead, I use Skinceuticals Retexturizing Activator serum, then H.A. Intensifier serum.
On my eyes I use AOX+ Eye Gel followed by NeoCutis Lumière Eye Cream. It took me a long time to find sunscreen that I liked, and for me, it’s the SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 50, which I usually wear on my face, neck, and back of hands. I wanted to find a physical block to fight pigmentation, and because I’m spending more time in front of a computer than ever, blocking blue light was also a priority. And I’m more olive, so I wanted to find something that worked with my skin tone, and that didn’t make me break out.”
Evening routine: “If I’m wearing makeup, I’ll cleanse with La Roche-Posay Effaclar Gel using warm water and my hands. Your hands are good tools to massage, and when you’re using a cleanser with active ingredients like AHAs and BHAs, they can already be a bit irritating, so if you’re sensitive like me, you want to make sure you’re not using face cloths, sponges, or Clarisonics, to break down the skin barrier. Otherwise, I’ll just wipe down my face and neck with Bioderma Sébium micellar water. Then I will do the Vichy Minéral 89 and finish off with Skinceuticals Retinol. I find that having Minéral 89 on before helps slow the penetration of the retinol, so it’s not as irritating. I usually do it on my face nightly, and my neck and chest twice a week, and I try to do my hands, too.”
Tip for the times: “Quarantine has been a time for experimenting with new skincare routines, and patience has to be key when we’re trying something new. Give it at least a month. Especially when we are at home with fewer things to occupy our time, we have a tendency to switch gears more quickly, which can just lead to more irritation.”
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.