Washing your face is the last thing you want to do before crawling into bed (let alone confront the bottles of skin-care products that stand shoulder to shoulder on your vanity like soldiers going into battle). But going to sleep with a dirty face can wreak havoc on your complexion. Luckily, caring for your skin doesn't have to be a chore. All it really calls for is two steps: cleansing and then moisturizing. "Anything else is icing on the cake," says Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York. And it doesn't have to be accomplished just before bed: Do it when you get home from work, after the gym, or while you give your kids a bath. (And once washing doesn't feel like an uphill battle, you might be inspired to go a few extra steps.) Here are the most basic actions needed for healthy skin, plus additional measures to take when you can resist the call of the covers.
Of the four products here, most people can make do with two. Using the others is a little like doing the extra-credit assignment -- nice, but not mandatory.
"You don't scrub your face the way you scrub a floor," dermatologist Francesca Fusco says. Go gently, and be sure to get your neck; it also needs rejuvenation.
Step 1: Clean
If you don’t hew to the conventional face-washing routine of one round in the morning and another at night, it’s actually fine. A once-a-day cleaning done in the evening will suffice for most people, says Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City.
It doesn't take much to remove the day's buildup of dirt and naturally occurring oils, bacteria, and yeast, Fusco says. You don't even need to go to the sink. For lazy nights, "towelettes do a good job, and they don't require water -- you can leave them by your bedside," she says.
Try Burt's Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes (burtsbees.com). The disposable cloths are enhanced with white tea, which contains antioxidants, and they're able to wipe away a fair amount of makeup.
For softer, healthier-looking skin, use a cleanser with an exfoliant, which whisks away dead skin cells. "It evens out texture, and smoother skin reflects light better, giving you a glow," says Ava Shamban, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and the author of "Heal Your Skin."
Try Garnier The Expert Exfoliator Daily Exfoliating Gel (at drugstores). It has the antioxidant vitamin E and jojoba microbeads, which are gentle enough for daily use.
Step 2: Moisturize
Moisturizer is good only when you remember to use it -- ideally, every day. “Keeping a bottle in your kitchen, office, purse, and car helps,” Shamban says. “So do Post-it Notes on the fridge.” Look for one with at least SPF 30.
Little kids don't need moisturizer since enzymes naturally keep their skin smooth and plump. But with age, enzymes break down and can no longer lock in moisture and healthy lipids, Graf says. Thus the need for daily moisturizer -- the more the better. Look for ones with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides.
Try Yes to Blueberries Age Refresh Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 (drugstore.com), a paraben-free lotion that contains physical sun-blockers and antioxidant-rich blueberry juice.
Eye cream isn't essential, but depending on the formula, it can help firm skin and smooth fine lines. Just be careful with the application -- don't daub it any higher than the bone under your eye, Fusco says. Otherwise, it might migrate upward and leave your eyes red and irritated.
Try Lancome Renergie Eye Multiple Action Ultimate Eye Care Duo (lancome.com). The base of the pot contains a luxurious eye cream; the lid holds an under-eye concealer.
Optional: Apply Treatment
When dark spots, acne, or redness are issues, skin may benefit from a product that goes beyond the basics and contains specialized ingredients.
Hyperpigmenation is the term for dark spots or patches from sun damage, aging, or pregnancy, among other causes. Look for products with lightening agents such as hydroquinone and hexylresorcinol. Try: Clarins Vital Light Serum, clarins.com.
Acne can be triggered by genetics, stress, and hormonal changes. The best ingredients for clearing clogged pores are salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur. Try: Olay Professional Pro-X Clear Intensive Refining Sulfur Mask, at drugstores.
Redness can be caused by sun damage or rosacea, which is set off by many things, including cosmetics ingredients and spicy foods, so reach for mild, fragrance-free products. Try: NIA 24 Skin Strengthening Complex, nia24.com.