Is it a 3 or 4-step facial skin care regimen now?

Most of you must be familiar with the world-famous 3-step skin care system, especially that promoted by Clinique, which comprises three products – a facial or liquid facial soap to cleanse, a clarifying lotion to exfoliate and a lotion to moisturize – twice a day. I remember using their three products in my early 20s. However, is the 3-step skin care approach still relevant today? Are three products really sufficient to meet the needs of our skin of any age? On a basic level, shouldn’t sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF be added as one of the skin care products? Perhaps the 3-step skin care approach is relevant for night usage but even then, it’s more applicable to those in their teens or early 20s without any other skin concerns because if you’re above 25, a treatment product may need to be introduced, whether it is for anti-aging or skin brightening or just to fight free radicals.

4-step facial skin care regimen in the day and night
So I would say the basic skin care regimen has evolved to one of a 4-step system now and that includes:
DAY: 1) Cleanse 2) Tone 3) Moisturize 4) Protect
NIGHT:1) Cleanse 2) Tone 3) Treatment 4) Moisturize

Usage of toners
Toners are subjective and if you’re just using it to remove last traces of impurities after cleansing, I’ll say junk your cleanser. Instead, a toner should be used to hydrate your skin further and in some cases, balance your skin’s pH level after cleansing especially after using a cleanser that is more acidic or more alkaline. Based on my personal experience, toners are necessary especially since moisturizers are better applied on damp skin as applying moisturizer to a damp face helps to lock in the water from the upper layers of the skin, preventing evaporation. So if you apply a moisturizer after using a toner, you’re effectively helping to seal the hydrating benefits from the toner deep into the skin. I always recommend people to get toners that are alcohol-free because the ingredient can dry your skin in the long run but I do know some women prefer to have some traces of alcohol in their toners.

Moisturizers with SPF
The 3-step skin care regimen is good in so far as the moisturizer contains some level of SPF. However, even then, those moisturizers are better used for casual sun exposure when you do not stay under the sun for any prolonged period of time. Personally, I always use a sunscreen after moisturizing with my facial oil as that gives me better peace of mind. And considering our crazy hot weather here, we really do need that extra layer of protection for our skin. If your sunscreen can double up as a moisturizer, then that’s good as well because it means you can basically keep to the 3-step skin care regimen.

Treatment products
As to what treatment products to use, I’ll say it depends on your skin condition. If you suffer from pigmentation woes like me, then a skin brightening serum or lotion would be useful before moisturizing. If your concerns are more about wrinkles, then a serum that promotes skin firming would suit you better. And even if you have no such concerns, I would say a serum with antioxidant benefits is going to benefit you as it’ll help your skin fight the free radicals from daily pollution. Some women apply treatment products in the day but I personally prefer to keep them in the night because it means, I’m not layering too much on my skin in the day.

No hard and fast rule
The number of steps isn’t a hard and fast rule as it really depends on your skin type, your skin concerns and the formulation of your products. However, I wanted to write about this because some of the market’s 3-step skin care systems really need to be updated to offer that extra level of skin protection. And let’s face it: many young people are going to buy that basic system since it means more convenience and lesser cost. This is one of the reasons why many of them aren’t using sun protection products as well. But if that basic 3-step approach does not help them protect their skin, what good is it going to do for them in the longer run?


  1. Jyoan says:

    haha, yes, there has been a bit of debate on this one.

    A year ago, the papers said skip toner, it’s cleanse, moisturize, sunscreen. But it’s definitely up to individual. #k8SjZc9Dxk#k8SjZc9Dxk

  2. Soos says:

    Day: Cleanse, no toner (rinse REALLY well), sometimes use Amarte Aqua Veil, moisturizer with sunscreen.

    Night: Cleanse, again no toner, serum AND other treatments.

    Day AND night: eye cream!

  3. sesame says:

    Between toner and sunscreen, I’ll choose the latter to keep it to a 3-step routine.

  4. sesame says:

    That reminds me…I need to get a new eye cream! Ran out of it and now only using oil.

  5. Susanna Hess says:

    I use a 3 step system and love it. The cleanser is a wash & toner in one (there are still important benefits from the toner). Then the treatment (which targets 8 different signs of aging).

    Following that up with either my day (SPF 22 included), or night moisturizer.

    I haven’t found anything better, and since about a month after using this system people I met started asking if my 17 year old son is my little brother.

    Anyway, I think if you can find the right 3 steps, you won’t need anything more. Short, easy, and effective. ?


  6. stella says:

    in the day, i use a japanese “lotion” i.e. a moisturizing toner so no need for separate products; my oily skin probably can’t take so much anyway

  7. Rinka says:

    right now, my routine is:
    day: rinse with warm water – toner – essence – sunblock.
    night: face wash – toner – essence – cream.

    i use neutrogena’s ultra sheer sunblock in the morning and i find it quite hydrating, so i use it as my moisturiser (plus its SPF 85+!)
    the essence i use in the morning is a pore-minimizing one which especially helps on days that i wear makeup because it has a priming effect. however sometimes i worry that im using too many products because i am still quite young. i remember chizu saeki (the japanese author of the japanese skincare revolution) says that young people shouldnt apply too many products because our skin is still able to take care of itself. however my current routine works for me so i guess ill just carry on with my 4-step routine.

  8. OS says:

    3 times a day face wash with toner – essence will do.

  9. sesame says:

    A cleanser and a toner! Sounds interesting. I haven’t come across a product like that yet.

  10. sesame says:

    So you don’t use a moisturizer after? I guess it depends on skin type. I used to rely just on sunscreen to moisturize but my skin condition has changed and I can no longer do so.

  11. sesame says:

    I think 4 products is okay. It’s true that we should layer too much products. It may cause more problems for some – like clogged pores.

  12. sesame says:

    Washing 3 times seems quite a lot. Is your skin oily?

  13. nao says:

    I guess the steps are totally individual: depending on a type of skin and a cleanser. It is possible to have only 1 step. #k8SjZc9Dxk__~

  14. Lissy says:

    Im looking for a good toner as Im not using one right now. Can you recommend one which is gentle but effective?

  15. sesame says:

    Haha…haven’t come across. 1-step if you don’t wash your face. Maybe 2 at the minimum…cos if you can get a good sunscreen that is moisturizing, you only need to wash your face and then apply that in the day. For night, replace with a night cream or lotion. But those products must be darn good too.

  16. sesame says:

    Have you tried hydrosols? I like them as toners too. There are various according to your needs and you can mist them on or apply like toners.

  17. stella says:

    i only moisturize at night; the anthelios sunscreen i use is moisturizing enough for me, however i’m also using a light Vit C serum in between toner and sunscreen for better sun protection, i think it moisturizes somewhat too

  18. sesame says:

    I see…now that you mentioned it, I recall that’s what I used to do – using John Masters Vit C serum + sunscreen. But now, I keep the vit C in the night.

  19. Jasmine says:

    I think young people are very savvy about treatments — like masks , but are terrible at keeping up with routines. This is probably because routines are going really complex! Some young people I know spend almost all their money on treatments instead of routine products.

    Day: Cleanser – Toner – Lotion – Serum – Eye Cream – Emulsion – Sunscreen – Primer – Makeup

    Night: Cleansing Oil – Cleansing Milk – Toner – Mask – Lotion – Ampoule – Serum – Eye Cream – Moisturising Night Cream

  20. sesame says:

    Routines can be kept simple really. If they’re young, a 3 or 4 step routine would suffice. Treatments can be done weekly.

  21. jackie says:

    I use products like laneige where it requires the essence after the moisturizer…so does that mean i should switch the two? ive been contemplating about that lately.

    and according to many to korean girls, they have a 10+ step. i always wonder how their faces could handle so much.

  22. sesame says:

    If the essence doesn’t do much, then maybe you can skip it. Or if the essence is moisturizing too, then skip the moisturizer.

    The Korean girls count their makeup into their skincare steps. I remember it was about 17 or so.

  23. babysaffron says:

    Hi…sometimes, i do 3, sometimes i do 4… but where can i squeeze in the anti acne thing? at which step usually you put it in your face…

  24. sesame says:

    If it’s an active, then it should be after the toner.

  25. Michelle says:

    I use the face wash, then spray my face with toner, then apply serum, then eye creme then face lotion. I also have a special creme for the neck/decollete because the skin is much thinner there than your face, thus you need smaller molecules to penetrate effectively. The neck creme I contains caffeine and oat kernel which has a nice tightening effect. And then, every other day, i use a face scrub or mask. I have been told I look 15 years younger than I am and i used to have horrible skin. ?

  26. sesame says:

    15 years younger. Wow, I would love to be told that I look 10 years younger.

  27. Jackie says:

    Every expert will tell you a toner isn’t necessary and a waste of your money.

  28. sesame says:

    To each her own. If you don’t think it’s necessary and you want to go with the experts, by all means. ?

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