The skin care industry is massive. Market insights expect it to be worth over $183 billion by 2025, so it’s not slowing down anytime soon. But, with the ever-growing number of products on the shelves combined with beauty influencers raving about the “top” skin care products on every social media platform, it’s easy to get confused about what to use in your own routine. And that’s exactly why I’m breaking down how to find skin care products that work.

I’ve been an esthetician for 14 years, and the biggest mistake folks make when buying skin care is purchasing for the wrong reasons. More often than not, my clients say they get serums and moisturizers and other staples based on pretty packaging, scents, or friend recommendations. This can keep you on a cyclical path of wasting money and possibly damaging your complexion if you use something that doesn’t agree with your skin.

To help you become a savvier beauty shopper, I’ve created a five-part guide with the help of board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Dina Strachan of Aglow Dermatology in New York City, so you can cut back on the guesswork and find skin care products that work no matter what.

1. Figure Out Your Skin Type

You must determine your skin type before purchasing any product to ensure you avoid unnecessary irritation and feed your complexion proper nutrients. Note that there’s a major difference between your skin type and skin condition: Skin type is determined by genetics (oily, dry, normal, combo) whereas the condition varies greatly according to many internal and external factors (think acne, sensitivity, rosacea, dehydration, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and aging).

Once you identify your complexion type, it sets a firm foundation for keeping the skin barrier healthy. For pointers, Strachan breaks down the four main skin types into the following:

  • Normal: Well-balanced and neither too oily nor too dry.
  • Oily: Has a glossy shine, visible pores with heightened sebum (aka your skin’s natural oil production), and you’ll often have the urge to blot skin often.
  • Dry: Feels tight, looks dull, and is rough to the touch. This type produces less sebum than the normal skin type and has to use a lot of moisturizer.
  • Combination: A combination of skin types that’s typically oily in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and/or chin area).

2. Determine Your Skin Goals

It’s also important to figure out what you want your skin care products to do. Do you want your cleanser to treat breakouts while simultaneously calming inflammation? “Many patients don’t understand what they are expecting from the products they are using,” says Strachan. “A gentle skin cleanser may be good to calm inflammation in acne-prone skin, but it’s not [always] an acne treatment.”

For example, if you’re on the market for a new face wash that treats both your skin type (oily/acne-prone) and condition (sensitive/reactive), opt for a product that’s free of sulfates — aka offensive surfactants found in some cleansers that can wear away your skin’s healthy fats and cause dryness. I recommend the EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser, which contains bromelain, a fruit-derived enzyme that reduces inflammation caused by breakouts, and amino acids to hydrate the skin.

3. Do A Patch Test

Time to take advantage of those testers. A patch test is a wise method in your process of product elimination, and can help you figure out if certain products or ingredients will cause allergic responses, clog pores, or irritate your skin. Shopping looks different these days due to COIVD-19, but try to find a retailer that offers testers before you commit to buying. Yes, this method takes some time, but it’ll save you a good amount of money (and grief) in the end.

To do a patch test properly, apply a small amount of product behind your ear or on your inner wrist and wait 24 hours. If you see any sign of redness, rash, bumps, or itchiness, it’s likely you’re allergic or sensitive to the product and should avoid it.

4. Always Check The Ingredients List

Unfortunately, many skin care products on the market contain ingredients that don’t always agree with your skin. One example is parabens, which has a bad reputation for the way it combines with estrogen cells. It can have a damaging effect over time by throwing off your hormonal balance. Another culprit I beg my clients to avoid is fragrance — added fragrances have a high chance of causing skin allergies and irritation. Look for more soothing, science-backed ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C, or shop for clean beauty products to be on the safe side.

5. Keep It Simple

When you’re mixing too many skin care products, all of the ingredients make you more prone to irritation. Not only that, but it leaves little room for your products to do their work. For best results, it’s best to abide by a “less is more” philosophy in your beauty routine. Stick with just the essentials, and your skin will thank you.