Layering for Great Skin
Last week, I discussed the virtues of adding a beauty essence to your skin care routine. East Asian women, admired throughout the world for their porcelain, pore-less, ageless complexions, have long used beauty essences as part of their intricate, multi-step skin care regimens that involve the layering of multiple products. There’s no better time than now, at the cusp of autumn, to augment your skin care by mastering the art of layering.
The East Asian approach, as epitomized by Koreans who have perfected the elaborate 10-step skin care ritual, is to focus on the skin. Instead of covering imperfections with makeup and a making a panicked splurge on exorbitant eye cream at the first appearance of crow’s feet, Asians learn to care for their skin from an early age. Less is more when it comes to makeup, but the opposite is true for skin care. Expunge the words “low-maintenance skin care” from your vocabulary, dear reader, as I enumerate the steps of the typical East Asian skin care routine.
Step 1: Remove eye makeup
For the health and beauty of your eyes, it’s critical that you remove every last trace of eye makeup (I’m sure your ophthalmologist would agree — residual makeup can be bad for eye health). Try Clarins Gentle Eye Makeup Remover on a cotton ball or Innisfree Cleansing Tissue. Be gentle — no pulling or tugging the fragile skin around your eyes!
Step 2: Double cleanse
For a thorough make up removal, use an oil cleanser in the evening. Apply with a gentle, circular motion to massage your skin. Follow with a mild foaming cleanser for perfectly cleansed skin. In the morning you can dispense with the oil cleanser since you won’t be removing makeup.
Step 3: Exfoliate
Use a natural exfoliator to keep your skin smooth and congestion-free. This step should be performed only once or twice a week. Excessive exfoliation can be irritating.
Step 4: Toner
Typically formulated without alcohol or strong acids, Asian toners or lotions are designed to restore the skin’s ph balance and prepare for the subsequent steps of essence and serum.
Step 5: Beauty Essence
Last week I extolled the virtues of adding a beauty essence to your regimen. Think of it as a watery, yet powerful serum. It softens the dead skin cells on the stratum corneum (top layer), thus facilitating absorption of your serum and moisturizer. Essences promote cellular turnover and adding one to your routine will result in a smoother, more luminous complexion.
Step 6: Serum/ampoule
Commonly known as a serums in the West, ampoules are heavier than essences and are chock full of skin-saving ingredients such as antioxidants, vitamin B extracts such as niacinamide and bifida ferment lysate (a fermented, probiotic-rich ingredient that’s currently all the rage). Be sure to let the serum dry and sink in before proceeding to the next step.
Step 7: Sheet mask
Add a sheet mask twice a week to give your skin an extra boost — SK II Facial Treatment Mask will make your skin glow by drenching it in amino acid, vitamin and mineral rich pitera extract. I also love their eye mask; try it and see fine lines and puffiness disappear. Get into the sheet mask habit to achieve a flawless complexion like that of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who purportedly goes through 600 sheet masks a year.
Step 8: Eye serum/cream
Gently apply eye cream by using your ring or pinky finger, which exert the least amount of pressure, to avoid stretching this delicate skin. A great eye cream to try: Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream.
Step 9: Emulsion/moisturizer
The penultimate step — a light moisturizer, known in Asia as an emulsion, locks in the anti-aging cocktail of ingredients applied in the preceding steps.
Step 10: Night cream/sleep mask/BB cream
If you’re about to retire for the evening, you can either add a rich night cream (or a retinol cream) for additional moisturizing and age-combating benefits. Another nighttime option is a sleep mask, which can be used several times a week. The gel-like texture of this sleep mask seals in moisture and plumps up the skin without a trace of greasiness.
In the morning, finish up with a BB or CC cream with a generous SPF, and you’re ready to face the day.
For maximum efficacy and absorption, remember to go from lightest to heaviest — start with the essence, followed by the serum and finally, the moisturizer and heavier cream/sleep mask.
Do not layer the following:
- Beta or alpha hydroxyl acids (salicylic, glycolic and lactic) and retinoids. Layering these can cause red, peeling, irritated skin. Use one in the morning and the other in the evening.
- Vitamin C and beta or alpha hydroxyl acids. The acid destabilizes the vitamin C, rendering it ineffective.
- Benzoyl peroxide and retinoids. Combining the two may cause over-drying, and the two ingredients deactivate each other, canceling out any benefits from either.
When done right, layering will yield remarkable skin-enhancing results. Just about everyone I know who’s adopted this technique has seen noticeable improvement. It doesn’t take quite as long as one would expect, and I suggest enjoying a few leisurely sips of your morning café au lait or evening tisane while you’re waiting for your ampoule to dry.