A 7-Step Clean Beauty Routine for Clear Skin

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated on: July 26, 2022


No matter how broken-out your skin is, establish a skin-care routine and really stick to it, give it time to work, and then you should see real improvements. Consistency can make an enormous difference for problem skin.

So can shifting to a completely clean skin care routine. Blemish-prone skin is already sensitive, so simply eliminating the irritating and potentially toxic chemicals, preservatives, and synthetic fragrances (one of the most irritant-laden categories in the industry) found in conventional skin care can help soothe congestion on its own.

Another potential source of irritation: The drying formulas that are the mainstays of many conventional acne treatments, which can have an inflaming effect on breakout-prone skin. Gentler formulas that don’t strip skin can help keep oil glands from going into overdrive, as overdried skin actually cues more oil production.

Cutting out dairy, processed foods, and refined sugar as much as possible can be as important as what you put on your face, as can trying to control stress; rising cortisol levels trigger breakouts. Your skin (and your entire body and mind, for that matter) will thank you.

The clear-skin regimens below are completely clean, work for day and night, and employ a gentle but powerful approach that makes a real difference long-term. Choose a product within each step, and go all in, the way you would if you were buying a step-by-step acne kit. Do each step, every day, and replenish as soon as you start to run out of something; the routine is everything.

The thing to remember once your skin starts to improve—you need to give any new routine at least six weeks before judging its results—is that consistency remains just as important when your skin becomes clearer. In the absence of active breakouts, it’s easy to imagine that your problem skin no longer needs its routine. But stay with your routine and the results should keep coming.

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    Regular cleansing diminishes excess oil and helps keep bacteria on the skin in check. For the breakout-prone, the key ingredient in a cleanser (and indeed, in practically every skin-routine step) is salicylic acid, which both exfoliates and soothes (another form of salicylic acid is aspirin; it can also appear on a label as willow bark or beta hydroxy acid). Cleanse morning and night if you’re at all oily, and always cleanse after a workout. Face wipes like the ones from RMS—saturated in cold-centrifuged, noncomedogenic organic coconut oil—are smart to carry in your makeup and gym bags (they’re also brilliant for nights when you can’t be bothered to wash your face).

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  2. TONE

    Toners and essences can add to both your cleansing step and your treatment step: A good one accomplishes a mild bit of exfoliating and leaves treatment ingredients behind on your skin to do their work. Our G.Tox tonic contains detoxifying malachite plus glycolic, phytic, and fruit acids to clear pores and refine texture; the essence from Vintner’s Daughter contains lactic acid, pre- and probiotics, pore-clearing apple cider vinegar, plus antioxidant vitamin C and gluconolactone.

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    Exfoliating—removing the top, dead layers of skin, along with oil, dirt, debris, makeup, and anything else that can clog pores—is critical in any skin-clearing routine. Along with addressing troubled skin, exfoliants can help soften the appearance of dark spots and lines, as well as allow any treatments you apply afterward to better absorb into your skin. You can use chemical or physical exfoliation, or both—a combined approach is often ideal. Alpha (lactic, citric, and malic acids) and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) are the gold standard for chemical exfoliation; other chemical exfoliants include enzymes found in fruit. Physical exfoliants can be granules, grains, or even just a rough washcloth. The number of times a week you exfoliate depends on your skin, so find your sweet spot and stick to it (but note that the GOOPGLOW overnight peel, a powerful chemical exfoliant, should be done no more than once a week).

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    Detoxifying, skin-calming face masks can be powerful adjuncts to a daily routine, whether you do them several times a week or only once. A mask sits on skin longer than a cleanser, giving active ingredients more time to work. Treatments made with charcoal are great for troubled skin, as charcoal has an incredible ability to draw impurities from skin and shrink the appearance of pores. The botanical blue tansy is super soothing, so a mask made with it can really calm skin.

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    Vitamin C, an antioxidant that targets pores and mildly exfoliates in the bargain, is great for all skin types and helps support any blemish-fighting routine you choose. It can be used morning or night; we love it first thing after we wake up and cleanse.

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    The temptation to combat oily skin by drying it out is understandable, but because overdryness can both spur oil production and cause irritation, keeping acne-prone skin moisturized is important. Naturally infused with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other soothing compounds, face oils and creams can help balance skin. Go with blends specifically designed to treat breakouts and clarify. And note that for many people, mineral SPF (itself very skin-soothing) can often provide all you need, moisture-wise, for daytime.

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    Try hard to resist the urge to pick—it can make a blemish last much longer, not to mention lead to scarring. Spot treatments satisfy the same must-do-something urge, and they can actually help if you’ve got an obtrusive blemish. Mighty Patch invisible-ish stickers, made of hydrocolloid, are genius: Place them over spots, go about your day or go to sleep, and in a few hours, the blemish should be less noticeable. And dabbing on a turbocharged blend of zinc, magnesium, and essential oils like the Tata Harper infusion below can help shrink blemishes overnight.

Acids, as well as mixing certain acids with vitamin C, may be too strong for those with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions.