Your daily skin care routine should vary depending on whether your skin is oily or dry, dark or fair, sensitive or non-sensitive and any extraneous factors such as rosacea, acne, or ezcema.
However, the basics should be:
Preferably twice a day. If you can only wash once do it at night. More grime and makeup accumulates during the day so a night wash is better and should take a bit longer. Wash your face gently. Do not scrub. If you have blackheads realize that it is the melanin that gives them their darkness not dirt. No need to try to abrade them away. Cleansing cloths are especially good if you apply a lot of makeup since they gently loosen grime and dirt, leaving the skin alone. Dove Facial Cleansing Cloths or Neutragena Make-Up Remover Cleansing Towelettes are good inexpensive choices.
Use as gentle a wash as you feel is effective. You should choose a wash which is strong enough that you do not have to wash twice. The wash should not be so strong that it takes away your own natural oils. If your skin begins to feel irritated, dry or tight your cleanser may be too strong.
Buy a simple, inexpensive wash. Realize the wash is only going to be in contact with your face for seconds. While some companies put in some ingredients to make your skin feel refreshed, these add cost and do not help your skin any more than an inexpensive wash. Tingling sensations may feel good, but they are due to chemicals such as menthol or peppermint which are irritating.
Since I have a feeling you would like some names, here are some that I like. There are plenty others which I am sure do a very good job also.
Bars: Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar; Purpose Gentle Cleansing Bar; Cetophil Gentle Cleansing Bar
Liquid Cleansers: Milder for more sensitive Skin: Cetaphil Gentle Daily Cleanser; CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, Dove Sensitive Skin Foaming Facial Cleanser, and Oil of Olay Foaming Face Wash and if you feel a bit more extravagent: Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Foaming Cleanser, and Shiseido Pureness Cleansing Gel
Stronger for more Tolerant Skin: Neutragena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser, Aveeno Clear Complexiion Foaming Cleanser and Eau Thermale Avene Emollient Cleansing Gel with Cold Cream . A bit more pricey but perhaps worth it: Clinique Wash Away, Peter Thomas Roth Chamomile Cleansing Lotion ( I am partial toward chamomile) and Clarins Cleansing Milk
For just taking makeup off I like Albolene cream
I think that toners are overused. I would recommend them if you have particularly oily skin or use very heavy makeup. Use only at night. Cleansers have improved over the years. Toners were once needed (as astringents) to remove soap scum and detritus, but are usually not necessary today. So most people can save their money and cut out this step
This is a very important step. Make sure you have a sunscreen next to your makeup cabinet, in your car and at work. Get two sunscreens: one with an SPF 15 and one with an SPF 30 or above. Use the SPF 15 with daily routines and the stronger one when you anticipate long and strong sun exposure. The technically perfect sunscreen for you is of no use unless you use it. This means finding one that feels comfortable on your skin.
My bias is toward the physical sunscreens. I prefer them over the chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens work by deflecting the harmful sun's rays off the skin while a chemical sunscreen creates a chemical reaction on the skin in which the light energy bounces off the sunscreen , creating a chemical reaction, until they lose their energy.
Being somewhat green, my bias is towards the physical sunscreens. These sit on top of the skin rather than meld into the skin , which might create an allegic or irritant reation. In addition, many of these sunscreens contain zinc which is well known to be an auspicious visitor to the skin surface. Most modern formulations using zinc are cosmetically elegant, not the paste you might remember emblazened on the noses of lifeguards in the past.
Names I like: Vanicream Sunscreen, Solbar Zinc 38, Blue Lizard Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin.
A chemical sunscreen I like, due to its antioxidant and anti-irritant effect, (great for patients with rosacea: is Aveeno Ultra-calming cream with Feverfew.
These are all inexpensive.
One of the most innovative areas of sunscreen research is the area of DNA repair sunscreens. As the sun hits are skin, numerous mutations are created. Our skin has rather neat and tidy ways to repair these mutations. Clever molecular biologists have found innovative ways to aid our own systems in augmenting DNA repair. They have put UV endonucleases into sunscreens which increase the normal rate of DNA repair. Photolyase has been added to reverse DNA damage by directly splitting the fragments which were fused together by sunlight.
There are some products that use that technology including Oil of Olay Definity Correcting Protective Lotion SPF 15, Avon beCalming Un-Flowed Damage Recovery Complex ( We will be interviewing a woman who helped develop this product on our radio show), and Mary Kay TimeWise Day Solutiion Sunscreens SPF 25. At the high end, but at the vanguard of this research, are Remergent DNA Repair, Remergent High Intensity SPF 30 and Clinique Stop Signs ( which uses the same technology as the Remergent brands.)
We discussed Cleansers and Sunscreens on our radio shows of June 4th and May 14th for those who are interested in learning more.
The final step is moisturizing. This will be covered in an answer to another question.