6 min read

how to get radiant skin

how to get radiant skin
Photo by No Revisions / Unsplash

Skincare routines and products are a dime a dozen.

But what actually gets results?

I read a couple books (and a lot of Reddit) to find out. I learned:

  • What products are backed by clinical trials
  • And how to actually get those products to work

Note it isn't easy to get products to work!

We can put a lot effort into our skin, but unfortunately our effort goes to waste if we don't know how to choose and use products.

For example, we might not get results if:

  • We use products that aren't shelf stable
  • We use products with the wrong concentration of active ingredient
  • We don't know how much product to apply
  • We don't know what kind of product the active ingredient works best in
  • We don't wait long enough to see results

This guide will teach you all of that 💪

I've assembled my notes below on:

  • fundamentals
  • the "big four" treatments that are proven to work

The full routine is at the bottom if you want to skip the detail too 😠

Ultimately I'm a noob so no product recs yet. But I dutifully summarized all the theory :)

general notes

  • read ingredient lists! and pay attention to the concentration of the active ingredients we talk about.
  • patch test, patch test, patch test! test products on a patch of your skin before using it regularly.
  • less is more. it's more important to be consistent with a small routine than haphazard with a complicated one
  • you can expect to need 4 weeks of consistently applying to see results with treatments (the big four) we talk about.
  • skincare is personal - a product that works for one person might not work for you. know if your skin is oily/dry/sensitive/normal (or a combination). climate/seasons affect this too
  • see skincare as a self care ritual. after a long day, it should be relaxing and fun!

what are the fundamentals?

  • cleanse
  • moisturize
  • sun protection


  • wipe off daily grime
    • age-prevention step. accumulated grime has an impact, causing irritation and generating free radicals that worsen premature aging
    • if grime gets caught under the product, then it can cause acne, and also make the product less effective
  • get a cleanser that is gentle and not "stripping"
    • you want to feel clean
    • but you don't want your skin to feel squeaky tight after
  • consider double cleansing to remove makeup, SPF, and sebum
    • aka cleansing with both:
      • an oil based cleanser (first ingredient in ingredient list is oil)
      • and a water based cleanser (first ingredient is water)
    • double cleansing is useful as a guy too, to get the sunscreen and sebum off
    • FWIW oil based cleansers feel really nice on the skin
  • consider sonic brushes for cleansing if you wanna go all the way


  • get a simple moisturizer as your staple. they contain a nice mix of all 3 moisturizing ingredient types:
    • humectants - think hyaluronic acid etc
    • emollients - think oils, like argan oil
    • occlusives - think petroleum jelly
  • starting points by skin type:
    • oily - water gels and gel creams
    • dry - thicker lotions and creams (consider oil/balms for extra help)
  • get booster products if you need more help
    • humectants
      • consider 2 products from this list: toner, essence, water, serum and ampoules. these are mostly humectant only
    • emollients
      • do a face oil if you need extra help (aka you have dry skin)
    • occlusives
      • nice for spot treatment
  • layer order - humectant, emollient, occlusive


  • sunscreens should be:
    • SPF 30-50 for that balance of sun protection + lightness
    • labeled "broad spectrum" to protect you from UVB rays
      • labeled UVB in Europe or PA+++ in Japan
  • fam you gotta reapply every 2 hours
    • the film goes away after 2 hours, independent of how much sun exposure you've gotten
  • asian/european sunscreens feel nicer & leave less of a white cast than U.S. sunscreens. they contain ingredients that U.S. sunscreens can't yet
  • chemical are better than mineral sunscreens in terms of leaving a white cast etc
  • you need a shot glass of sunscreen to apply to your whole body. most people under apply!
    • if you use a hybrid moisturizer/sunscreen, make sure you cover your whole face
  • people commonly underapply to their lips, ears, feet, and back of neck

what are the big four treatments?

  • chemical exfoliants
  • vitamin C
  • retinol
  • niacinamide

chemical exfoliants

  • simple starting point - 5% glycolic acid
  • there are AHAs and BHAs (also PHAs but whatever)
    • AHAs - default to AHAs, they work for all skin types
      • Do 5-10% glycolic acid
      • Or do >8% lactic and mandelic acids
    • BHAs can be good for inflamed/acne prone skin
      • Do 0.2-2% salicylic acid
  • products with concentration of under 10% AHA can be used daily
  • chemical exfoliation > physical exfoliation if you have to pick
    • both exfoliants buff the cells on the surface
    • but chemical exfoliants also have extra benefits to brighten skin and reduce fine lines/wrinkles
  • don't bother with exfoliants in your cleanser - that isn't an effective way to exfoliate
    • rip that's what I was doing
  • use them in wipes, toners, or serums, right after cleansing

vitamin C

  • fantastic but not very shelf stable
    • don't use water based serum (water first ingredient in list, meh shelf life)
      • rip that is what i was using
    • oil based serums are better (oil first ingredient in list)
    • best shelf life is vitamin C powder, but it's a little fussy
  • if it's brown it's time to toss out. if it's yellow it's OK.
  • start out with simple 5% ascorbic acid serum
    • 15-20% once expert
  • look for L Ascorbic Acid - gold standard form of vitamin C
  • use after cleansing/exfoliating and before moisturizing/sunscreen
Skincare Decoded


  • also not very shelf stable 🥲
    • aluminum tubes with tiny nozzle are best, least amount of oxygen exposure
    • airless pumps are next best
    • dropper bottles are meh
    • jars are a no
      • this explains why I didn't get any results from my retinol originally
  • store in cool dark places, out of sunlight
  • start with .1-.3% of retinol 2-3 times a week
    • retinol can cause irritation so start conservative 
  • can eventually work your way up to .5-1% over years
  • retinol comes after serum and before moisturizer


  • it's great
  • it's combined with a lot of products, so check if your routine already has it
  • aim for 2-5% concentration
  • consider trying to get a moisturizer with niacinamide in it

drop the routine king

here's a possible routine I devised from the above


  • water based cleanser
  • 5-10% glycolic acid toner
  • vitamin C powder or oil based serum
  • moisturizer with SPF 30 or 50 (and a broad spectrum label)
    • need to make sure to protect from sun after vitamin C and exfoliation


  • reapply sunscreen!


  • oil cleanse
  • water cleanse
  • .1%-.3% retinol (only 2-3x a week)
  • moisturizer with 2-5% niacinamide

I might consider more moisturizing support one day but not yet.

how does this compare to ten step Korean routines?

the ten step korean skincare routine per Little Book of Skincare is this:

  1. makeup remover / oil cleanser
  2. water cleanser
  3. toner (hydrating toners not astringent ones)
  4. essence
  5. exfoliate
  6. treatments
  7. sheet masks
  8. eye creams
  9. moisturize
  10. sun protection

what I know/notice here:

  • Lots of redundancy (which can be a good thing!). In cleansing, hydrating, etc.
    • e.g. Korean routines have a lot of moisturizing redundancy built in, with the toner, essence, moisturizing, and possibly the treatments and sheet masks
  • Toners help even out your face's pH before applying product + can provide an extra cleansing/moisturizing function (redundancy)
  • Sheet masks are zen and nice and people mention results from them. But do note they aren't the most cost effective way to get the benefits of moisturizing or active ingredients!
  • In the book I read, the authors said there isn't a lot of definitive proof backing the efficacy of eye area specific creams? So they don't prioritize it in their recommendations. But idk.
  • Also it's nice to have a skincare routine that feels culturally inspired rather than scientific. e.g. essence is a skincare category created in Korea

If you wanna go ten steps, go ten steps 😄


remember to patch test! and make sure you'll use what you buy 😂 recommend not buying everything at once


this was fun for me to write.

I wish you a skincare journey as fun :)