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The secret to looking good without makeup is using the right skin-care products—it's that simple, but true: The better shape your skin is in, the less dependent you'll be on products like foundation and concealer to cover up problems. You certainly can use makeup to temporarily cover imperfections, but a good skin-care routine using well-formulated products will provide lasting solutions to concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and redness.
Where to start? Wash your face, especially at night! Using a gentle cleanser in the morning and again at night can make all the difference in the world. Many skin concerns stem from using a cleanser that is either too greasy or too drying.
A great cleanser for oily skin will remove bacteria, excess oil, and dead skin cells that clog pores and cause a dull complexion, without making skin feel dry! If you have dry skin, a gentle but slightly moisturizing cleanser will make it feel clean and soft at the same time. And, if you're struggling with breakouts and blackheads, clean skin increases your odds of getting clear, smooth skin.
Some people may be concerned that washing their face twice a day will be too harsh, but if you use a gentle, skin type–appropriate cleanser, you will not remove oils beyond the surface layers and your skin won't feel dry or tight. Even if you have dry skin, cleansing your face morning and evening is an essential step in a good skin-care care routine! Check out our top-rated cleansers here!
Exfoliating with an AHA or BHA (no, not with a scrub) is critical to having the skin you want and getting away with less makeup. Sun damage causes the surface of the skin to become abnormally thick and often discolored, making wrinkles and dry skin more pronounced.
Daily exfoliation also eliminates the buildup of dead skin cells and excess oil that, if left on the skin's surface, will lead to clogged pores, uneven skin tone, and breakouts. These are all things we try to cover up with makeup, but with great skin care that becomes far less necessary.
As we have said, the best exfoliants are those that contain AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) and that are gentle enough to leave on your skin overnight! Apply them after cleansing and toning. (Bonus tip: The right toner can make a remarkable difference in your skin's appearance.)
Both AHA and BHA leave-on exfoliants smooth the skin's surface and improve its texture, and both deliver anti-aging benefits that result in a more even skin tone. AHAs (the most common is glycolic acid) are best for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin; BHA (salicylic acid) is best for normal to oily, breakout-prone skin with enlarged pores.
You don't need to use both an AHA and BHA exfoliant. Choose one and see how your skin responds, then try the other if you like. Or, you can alternate them, using one one day and the other the next, and see how your skin does. For best results, apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice daily—you'll begin seeing results from the first use! Paula's Choice exfoliants are a great place to start!
If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times (and it's always worth repeating): Daily use of an antioxidant-boosted moisturizer with SPF 25 or greater will greatly improve the texture and appearance of all skin types. Slathering on concealer might mask rosacea, melasma, and marks from acne breakouts, but consistently using sunscreen helps keep those conditions from being worsened by sun exposure.
Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen is the number one thing you can do to minimize future skin damage and to aid in healing previously damaged or compromised skin. It's vital to the health and appearance of your skin that every morning you apply sunscreen to protect it from daylight (not just direct sunlight), whether sun, clouds, or rain are in the forecast—even if you spend most of your day indoors.
How do antioxidants make a difference? First, know that there is no single wonder antioxidant that will save your skin. Abundant research shows that using a cocktail of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, green tea, and resveratrol (among many others), keeps your skin looking and acting healthy. During the day, antioxidants also boost the effectiveness of sunscreens, and help reduce some of the free-radical damage and inflammation that, over time, destroys collagen. And remember, skin needs antioxidants morning and night! At night, applying an antioxidant-rich serum will help you wake up to younger-looking skin.
Last, if you're seeing dark spots or patchy brown discolorations on your skin, don't immediately reach for that full-coverage foundation! Instead, begin treating these areas with a skin-lightening product. Twice-daily application of a well-formulated skin lightener works within weeks to brighten and lighten discolorations, leaving you with an even complexion rather than a mottled one that you'll want to conceal with makeup.
Tip: For best results, always protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater (and when discolorations are a concern, greater is better). This is a key step in lightening dark spots that many people tend to overlook. If you're using a good sunscreen, and the discolorations persist, it might indicate that the skin-lightening product you're using simply does not work as intended.
It's no surprise to anyone with wrinkles that most makeup, even the best foundations, tends to emphasize lines rather than soften them. That's why we love those spackle-like wrinkle fillers; applied alone, before applying sunscreen, they temporarily fill and soften the appearance of lines—and they can have the same benefit when applied under makeup, too. Some of our favorites:
Now that you know the easy skin-care steps you can take to have better looking skin, you can feel confident going without makeup, or at least using less makeup, to enhance your skin rather than going to extremes to mask what you don't like about your complexion!
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! Learn more at Shop Paula's Choice.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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