There’s no better way to start your day than with a little TLC, but when it comes to your morning skin care routine, what are truly the best ways to ensure you’re nourishing and protecting your skin? Beyond waking you up, your morning skin care routine preps your skin for all the stress, pollutants, dirt, and more that the day will bring. The last thing you want is to dedicate all your time to a morning routine that’s not protecting your skin — or worse, potentially irritating it.
Elite Daily tapped five skin care experts, including dermatologists and estheticians — for their insight on the best possible skin care routines, steps, and products to use in the morning. And with how much wisdom they’ve dropped, you’ll want to take notes. From the right water temperature for washing your face to a prime selection of morning sunscreens, here’s your guide to developing the ideal morning skin care routine.
What is the best water temperature for washing your face?
No matter how nice it feels to start your day with some hot water to the face to wake you up, super hot water is not actually the best for your skin. “I recommend using cool to warm water when washing your face,” Jessica Houston, vice president of operations and lead esthetician at BEAUTYBEEZ, tells Elite Daily. “Water that is too hot may strip your skin of its natural moisture.” While you can also give yourself a little splash of cold water to wake yourself up, it’s still best for your skin that you use lukewarm water to cleanse, so you don’t shock it with any sort of extreme temperature.
What are the best morning face cleansers?
There are a few paths you can go down when you wash your face in the morning. Rather than using a harsher, exfoliating face cleanser in the AM, Dr. Ervina Wu and Angela Chau Gray, the co-founders of skin care and wellness brand YINA, recommend using a soft, gentle cleanser or even just warm water to wash (particularly if you have dry skin). Among the experts' favorite softer cleansers are YINA’s Bio-Adaptive Cleanser ($68, YINA), Philosophy’s Purity Facial Cleansing Gel ($19, BEAUTYBEEZ), and Dermalogica’s Special Cleansing Gel ($39, Dermalogica).
Generally speaking, you’ll want to save exfoliating cleansers for nighttime use, given that they might leave your skin a little red and sensitive. “If you do choose to exfoliate in the morning, always apply a layer of sunscreen afterwards,” Lin Chen, founder of Pink Moon, tells Elite Daily.
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Should you use toner in the morning?
“A toner can dry the skin and often contains alcohol or witch hazel (both drying),” says Dr. Tracy Evans, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology, adding that it’s not a necessary step in a morning skin care routine.
That said, if you can’t imagine skipping a toner during your routine, choose a gentle one with hydrating ingredients, or at least one that’s alcohol free. For example, Houston likes to use Thayers’ Witch Hazel Facial Mist ($7, Ulta Beauty). Regardless of what you choose, just make sure to follow up with a moisturizer.
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What are the best morning serums and moisturizers to use?
With a new serum and moisturizer cropping up every second (literally), choosing the best ones for the morning probably feels like an impossible task. Not to mention, there’s a wide rabbit hole of morning serums and moisturizers you can fall down, depending on your skin type. Across the board, though, vitamin C serums are often the most expert-approved picks to incorporate into your morning routine.
“I highly recommend adding a good vitamin C serum into your regimen, as it helps with hyperpigmentation and protects against free radicals that could potentially harm your skin,” Houston says, noting that her personal favorite is Hyper Skin’s Hyper Even Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum ($36, Hyper Skin). Aside from a vitamin C serum, you typically can’t go wrong with a morning serum infused with hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, squalane, or ceramides, or the widely loved niacinamide.
The same goes for moisturizers, too. Although, you might want to adjust the level of hydration or the thickness of your moisturizer, depending on how oily or dry your skin is. “If you tend to experience more oil production throughout the day, I recommend a more lightweight, mattifying moisturizer, like the Philosophy Purity Made Simple Moisturizer,” says Houston.
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Make time for a little gua sha in your morning skin care routine.
If you have the time, making time for gua sha in the morning can be a very invigorating way to start your day. “Apply a few drops of [the YINA Botanical Serum ($75, YINA)] and gua sha each side of your face for one minute. Take your gua sha routine down along your neck, chest, and arms for another minute,” both Wu and Gray say. “This helps improve lymphatic flow and increase circulation ... A daily gua sha ritual helps your skin stay healthy and glowing all year-round.” If you don’t already have a gua sha stone, YINA offers a Bian Stone ($50, YINA).
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Your morning skin care routine needs SPF.
Whenever you plan on leaving the house, no matter what the weather looks like, you should first apply a layer of sunscreen to protect your skin. Point, blank, period. “I have two favorite facial sun protectants: Pink Moon’s AKT Therapy Elemental Sun Balm SPF 30 ($48, Pink Moon and Earthwise Beauty Farizad's Veil Sun Reflector ($44, Pink Moon),” Chen says. “I reach for the AKT Balm during the fall/winter when my skin is drier, and I reach for the Earthwise one during the spring/summer or when I am dealing with a breakout. I love the balm because it's a multitasker and gives skin an even-toned glow. The Earthwise Sun Reflector is powder-based, and I love how I can customize how lightweight I want the sun protectant lotion to be.”
Most experts recommend using at least SPF 30 or 35 each day. But before you hunt high and low for SPF 10,000, Dr. Orit Markowitz, board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin, previously told Elite Daily that the SPF number isn’t the be-all and end-all of choosing the right sunscreen. Rather, the best SPF to use in your morning routine is the one that you’ll actually use — and reapply — every day, throughout the day.
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What shouldn’t you include in your morning skin care routine?
Each of the experts was clear that there is one ingredient you should steer clear of in the mornings: retinol. Since retinol can be broken down by the sun, it can leave your skin exposed throughout the day, and you might a liiiiiiittle more sensitive to the sunlight. Typically, it’s best to save the retinol for your nighttime routine, when it can work its magic in the dark while you sleep.