Our Beauty Editor shares her five-step skincare routine: simple, affordable and gentle to suit her problematic, sensitive skin.
As someone who’s suffered from adult acne and relentless allergic reactions, my skincare routine is something I’ve worked hard to streamline and perfect (to an extent!). Of course, everyone’s skin and skin needs are different — and I always love learning about routines packed full of soothing, hydrating ingredients and holy grail star products. Keep reading to get a look at my simple daily skincare routine, from cleanser to SPF — free of synthetic added fragrances and essential oils that may be too potent for hyper-sensitive skin like my own.
Some Background On My Sensitive Skin
My skin in June 2019. I just have product in my eyebrows (it was really hard to find a no-makeup selfie!). You can even see a little pimple patch sticker!
I’d describe my skin as reactive — previously acne-prone (especially hormonal!) and genetically sensitive with allergies and ingredient sensitivities. I had bouts of spotty skin throughout secondary school but my skin got worse after coming off hormonal birth control (prescribed for painful periods). I started suffering from red, angry and ever-persistent acne in 2016 that would only slightly decrease with the use of AHA and BHAs¹, especially glycolic acid and salicylic acid.
As my skin got worse, I had to start building a skincare routine and paying attention to the ingredients. I soon learnt double cleansing made a huge difference, that hydrating and soothing products were necessary to pair with my more aggressive chemical exfoliants and that I had sensitivities to higher doses of niacinamide.
My skin in February 2023. There’s just product in my eyebrows and on my lips. This is my bare face.
Then in 2022, I realised my sensitivity to mandarin peel essential oil was definitely an allergy to citrus essential oils, after a horrible two-month-long all-over body reaction — hives! After doing an allergy patch test with my immunologist, we narrowed down some ingredients and my condition: chronic spontaneous urticaria.
All this just meant simplifying my skincare routine down to being as gentle yet effective as possible. I also prefer more affordable products but skincare can totally be a luxurious and indulgent self-care activity! While my skin is never going to be perfect (poreless, single-tone complexion is perhaps the stuff of dreams!), I’m able to look in the mirror and feel pleased with its current state and how much progress I’ve made in the last few years.
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My Gentle Daily Skincare Routine
Current Age & Skin Type: 26, acne-prone and sensitive normal-to-oily skin
Skin Goals: Daily SPF protection, reduce redness and improve the look of textured skin
AM — Morning Skincare Routine
Water-Based Cleanser: Beauty of Joseon – Green Plum Refreshing Cleanser
I’ve cycled through many, many face washes (from foaming ones to milks and oils) and my current pick has been my go-to for about a year now. This no-nonsense gel-type face wash is non-drying and bouncy, with natural extracts from plum and mung bean for gentle exfoliation and hydration. I like how it leaves my face feeling clean, but not stripped and tight. It’s free of essential oils and added fragrance. The affordable price tag’s a nice bonus too.
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Hydrating Toner: I’m from – Rice Toner
I love a milky hydrating toner, and this one from I’m from has been my holy grail for three years! Infused with 77.78% goami rice extracts for anti-wrinkle, brightening and moisturising benefits, it also contains nourishing rice bran and anti-acne niacinamide that provides a little exfoliation. Although marketed for dry skin, I find that it’s super lightweight and that my skin drinks it up. A little pricier than I’d like for a bottle I go through very quickly (and one my skin misses when I take out of rotation), so I try to shop during sales. Fragrance and essential oil free.
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Nourishing Toner/Serum: COSRX – Full Fit Propolis Synergy Toner
Although this is a toner, I’d count this as a serum and/or essence step. I like the product after my hydrating toner to be something anti-acne; my skin can only take so much niacinamide and I’ve dialled back on harsher ingredients like tea tree, benzoyl peroxide and AHA/BHAs (although I liked all of these when my skin was breaking out!). I actually think snail mucin is a good option but the ingredient I’ve really enjoyed is propolis — a honey-like substance with promising anti-inflammatory and healing benefits that fights bacteria and fungi. This viscous toner pick is packed with 72% of black propolis extract and absorbs quicks into the skin. It’s fragrance and essential oil free.
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Moisturiser: Rovectin Clean – Lotus Water Cream
For a long time, I was using the Balancium Comfort Ceramide Cream by COSRX (which is still my absolute favourite moisturiser!) but after my allergic reaction last year, I’ve tried my best to phase out products with any essential oils. I know this one by Rovectin is completely free of artificial fragrances and colourants, essential oils, mineral oils and alcohol, and is also vegan and cruelty-free. It’s a lightweight water cream with lotus water extract, perfect to use in both summer and winter, in humid and drier climates. A great all-rounder.
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SPF: Canmake – Mermaid Skin Gel UV 01 Clear
This is like an alcohol and fragrance-free version of the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, with that same silky smooth gel feel and minimal white cast. I absolutely love this sunscreen, it’s affordable and offers the strongest sun protection rating in Japan’s beauty industry (SPF50+ and PA++++), and it absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving a supple look and slight shine that goes away as it dries down. Of course, there are a lot of great Japanese and Korean options out there; this is just the one I feel suits my skin best. You can get it in-store at any Watsons, Sasa, and Japanese mart (like @cosme and Matsumoto Kiyoshi) as well as online. Make sure to get 01 Clear and not a tinted version.
PM — Evening Skincare Routine
Oil-Based Cleanser: Beauty of Joseon – Radiance Cleansing Balm
In 2016, I started to use a cleansing balm to remove makeup. That is until I joined a POC Skincare group on Facebook and decided to try out double cleansing — where you use an oil-based cleanser in the evenings if you’ve been out all day and are wearing sunscreen and makeup and follow it with a water-based cleanser. I was a firm Banila cleansing balms girl for about six(!) years but I started the hunt last year for something similar, at the same price point, without any added fragrance or essential oils. This one by Beauty of Joseon is my preferred formula, a melting balm that emulsifies beautifully and removes all my stubborn makeup.
Then I simply repeat my morning routine, leaving out sun protection!
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Other Products On My Skincare Shelf
I like the idea of intuitive skincare, where you listen to your skin and use products based on need rather than sticking to a super rigid routine. I keep an eye cream and lip treatment on my shelf when I feel up to using it, as well as castor oil for my eyebrows.
In case of a breakout, I have tea tree oil to disinfect, benzoyl peroxide for stubborn under-the-skin spots without a head and pimple patches at the ready for any that I need to calm down.
I also keep a chemical exfoliant on hand for more humid, summer days and a skin-soothing serum in case of inflamed skin (due to medication, after an allergic reaction or illness for example). I also have a retinal night cream and a kombucha essence that I’ll hopefully start trialling soon!
¹Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are chemical exfoliants that help to gently dissolve dead skin cells, used often to counter acne and improve the look of skin. Source: Cerave
Editor’s Note: All listed prices were correct at the time of publication.
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All images courtesy of Sakina Abidi.