This or That? A Guideline for Choosing Skincare Product Rationally (Part 1)

How to choose skincare products rationally part 1

Beauty industry is blooming rapidly these past few years. We are faced with more options than ever, each more interesting than others. Sadly, most of us are not exactly swimming in money right now, with the pandemic and everything. From myriads of options, we need to choose which skincare product we think would be the ‘best’ for us, hopefully in a rational way, because jumping to buy whatever is on sale right now is probably not a good approach to skincare (believe me, I know. I speak from experience LOL).

But how do we choose? And how do we define ‘the best skincare product’, anyway?

Well, there is no single, absolute answer for everyone, but we can have something even better! With the following simple skincare guide (based on ScienceTM), you can make skin care products priorities tailored to what you want and need! No more deciding based on eeny-meeny-miney-mo! No more blindly following social media influencers, or being victim of corporate marketing spiel! What a joy!


  1. Understand what you want/need
  2. Know what type of skincare products you are looking for
  3. Create a wishlist (part 2)
  4. Know what is important to you (part 2)
  5. Prioritize (part 2)
  6. Evaluate (part 2)

Since this skincare guide post is too long, I am going to split this post into two. This part will contain step 1 and 2. If you consider yourself a beginner, you might feel this part is more helpful, as it is some sort of “situational analysis”: knowing your skin and skincare products in general. I will also link to useful resources at the end of each steps.

Without further ado, let’s start with the first step:

Understand what you want/need

When people learned that I have a beauty blog (though I’m not doing a really good job in maintaining it LOL), they often asked me for skincare recommendation. Sometimes, their request could be as vague as, “Please recommend me a serum.”

Mmmmkay, you need to be more specific than that.

Knowing your skin is a basic before investing in any skin care products. By now, various blogs and sites already write about how to know your skin type (typically split into normal, oily, dry, and combination). Chances are you already have an idea of what your skin type is. That is a great starting point! Next, you need to also identify if your skin shows sensitivity towards certain ingredients, or other condition impacted by your environment and lifestyle, e.g. dehydrated skin.

Next step would be to identify what issue you want to tackle, and what objective you want to achieve. If you have oily skin with pimples, and you want to tackle the pimple issue first, you might need different products compared to if you want to tackle stubborn PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a.k.a. that pesky marks your pimples left after they disappear).

Envision the result you want and let it guide you

Here are a few helpful questions to guide yourself in knowing what your skin wants/needs :

a. What is my skin type? (dry, normal, combination,etc)
b. What are my skin issues that I want to address? (acnes, dryness, PIH, etc.)
c. Have I ever shown any sensitivity towards certain ingredients/products?
d. Do I have any other condition that might affect/be affected by skin care products? (pregnant, trying to conceive, certain skin disease, etc.)

Related resources:

Know what type of skincare product you are looking for

First thing first : is multiple-steps skincare really necessary?

Well, I think, inevitably, your skin care routine WILL have several steps. As much as we want it, a miracle product that can cleanse our skin, treat acne, moisturize it, prevent untimely wrinkles, and erase third-world poverty at the same time just doesn’t exist. At the very least, you will need a product to cleanse, another to moisturize, and please, for the love of all that is good and holy, a sunscreen for daytime use.

Secondly : Does it need to be an elaborate, 10 steps skincare routine, Korean or otherwise?

Nope, although of course you can if you want. If you have 10 steps skincare routine, mad respect to you because by GOD, keeping that many steps routine is HARD. Personally I do multi-steps skincare too. For some people (including me), skincare layering is helpful (my dehydrated skin loves humectant) . For others, it’s fun, or they just have disposable income. As long as you do it consciously, and you’re clear about how it benefits you, by all means, go ahead!

Having said that, skincare does have general sequence and principles, and it could be simplified to the following order:

1. Cleansing

Cleanser - Evening

Objective : to, well, keep your skin clean. After using make up/sunscreen, do double cleanse, using oil based cleanser/micellar water, followed by second cleanser to wash away all the remnants. In the morning, or on days you don’t use make up/sunscreen, you don’t need to double cleanse.

See also : Reviews of Foaming Cleansers and Non-Foaming Cleansers in The Charming Snarker Blog

2. Tone

Objective : to “prepare” your skin for the next products. Could be exfoliating or hydrating. If you do use both in the same routine, use exfoliating toner before hydrating toner, because it’s best to scrap the dead skin layer before nurturing and hydrating the living layers. Many people treat this step as optional, and frankly, I agree.

3. Treatment

Objective : to target a specific skin issue. Typically contain active ingredients (vitamin C, retinol, etc), but not always. Usually marketed with sciencey-sounding names : serum, ampoule, essence, etc.

Example of serum : Wardah C-Defense Vitamin C Serum

Do you need to use everything? Nah. Which one to put first, ampoule or serum? Honestly the terms are interchangeable, BUT if they come from the same brand/skincare line, typically ampoule is followed by serum. Then again, not everyone need ampoule AND serum in the same skincare routine (though, as always, if you want to, please do. Even better if you do it consciously, with clear purpose in mind). When in doubt, layer your products from the thinnest one to the most viscous one.

See also : Reviews of Serum and Essences in The Charming Snarker Blog

4. Moisturizer

Objective: to keep your skin hydrated/moisturized and seal those moisture in. Typically in form of lotions or creams. Some source differentiate between “hydrating” and “moisturizing”; “hydrating” referring to ensuring that your skin contain enough water, and “moisturizing” to your skin having enough “oil”/lipid-based layer that seal the moisture in. In practice, it is not always that clear-cut, if you only rely on how a product is named. You need to look a bit further into the ingredients to find out this three types of ingredients that gives a product its ‘hydrating/moisturizing’ properties :

  • Humectants are hygroscopic substance, which basically means it attracts and holding water to your skin. When products are talking about ‘hydrating’ properties, they usually refers to humectant. Common examples of humectants are glycerine, propylene glycol, butylene glycol. Some AHAs, such as lactic acid, also serves as humectant.
  • Emollients soften skin, making it looks and feels better It makes a product glides on your skin. Common examples of emollients are isopropyl palmitate, and some silicons. Creams labeled as “rich” typically have loads of emollients, and…
  • Occlusives create physical barriers to prevent water loss. It should be used as the last step of your skincare routine (before sunscreen, that is). Common occlusives including olive oils, lanolin, vaseline.

See also : reviews of day creams in The Charming Snarker Blog

5. Sunscreen (for day use)

Objective : to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB, thus preventing melanin overproduction and minimizing risk of skin cancer. Typically split into “physical” (using “physical” filter : zinc oxide and titanium oxide) and “chemical” sunscreen (using “chemical” filter : oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate,etc…basically other than zinc oxide and titanium oxide). I personally dislike these naming because LITERALLY EVERYTHING is chemical, but the mainstream media still use those terms, so it is important to know. I prefer to refer to them in this blog as “organic” filter (as in, using carbon-containing compound, i.e. most “chemical” filter) and “inorganic” filter (basically mineral filter that do not have carbon-containing compound. That is, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide)

See also : Reviews of sunscreens in The Charming Snarker Blog

There are also weekly treatment products, such as masks and exfoliators. They also come in various textures and purposes. They are fun and could be very helpful, but I’d say they are not as essential as the daily skincare routine you (hopefully) keep.

As you know your skin (and skincare ingredients) better, it is easier also for you to customize. For example if your skin type is normal, and you have used a vitamin C serum with glycerine (humectant), following by a niacinamide essence with hyaluronic acid (also humectant), you might not need a specific moisturizing product. Just put your sunscreen and go, as sunscreens are typically occlusive by nature, considering they need to create layer(s) on your skin to actually protect it.

Useful resources:

The next part will cover the next steps : actually prioritizing stuffs and choosing the best skincare for you. Here is the link to Rational Skincare Guide part 2

Feel free to leave any comments, and see you in the next part!

2 Replies to “This or That? A Guideline for Choosing Skincare Product Rationally (Part 1)”

  1. Oh.My.God
    I’ve watched hyram vids and follow other skincare expert account including dermatologist but this is hands down the bible-est guidelines for dummies like me.
    So glad your blog showed up in my Google search today.

    1. Hello, and thanks for reading! I am glad if this is useful for you. Please do come again for the Part 2 in the next few days 🙂

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