When choosing skin care products, your ethnicity and skin color are not what matter most. The determining factor is actually your skin type, whether it's normal/combination, oily, dry/mature or sensitive. But no matter your skin type or tone, our guide makes it easy to find essential products for your needs—we've even included some of our readers' top-rated favorites to help get you started.
Skin tone circumstances
While your skin type—not tone—determines the products you should choose, there are a few important differences between darker and lighter complexions to keep in mind.
Darker skin tones from olive to ebony, as seen in African-American, Asian and Latina women, are characterized by a thicker dermis, which can make richer product formulations appropriate for some women. The skin's higher melanin content makes it darker but also more susceptible to dark spots. African-American skin can be particularly prone to keloids—raised darkened marks in response to a trauma—so don't pick at acne or exfoliate aggressively. Sun care products can help keep dark spots and keloids from getting darker.
Lighter skin tones from porcelain to golden, as seen in Caucasian women, tend to have relatively thinner skin, which makes them more prone to dryness over time. These tones also burn, freckle and show signs of aging more easily, making sunscreen and anti-aging treatments especially important.
Basic skin care steps
Regardless of your skin tone and type, your skin care routine should include the four basic steps listed below.
To get tips on each step, check out "Daily beauty regimen."
Essential products by skin type
If choosing basic skin care products by skin type is new to you—or you're just ready for a change—start with the top-rated products mentioned below, all recommended by our readers.
Or if you're ready to take your routine to the next level, read "Daily beauty regimen" for tips on advanced skin care options.
Likes products that can handle the double-trouble combo of an oily t-zone and dry patches elsewhere. Choose gentle skin care that is neither too drying nor too heavy.
- Cleanse: Basis Cleaner Clean Face Wash
- Tone: Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Toner
- Moisturize: Olay Active Hydrating Beauty Fluid Original Facial Moisturizer
- Protect: Aveeno Smart Essentials Daily Nourishing Moisturizer, SPF 30
Still needs moisture! The trick is finding the right formulation. Go for oil-free products, and avoid the temptation to use harsh skin care that strips your skin.
- Cleanse: Clean & Clear Deep Action Cream Cleanser
- Tone: Olay Oil Minimizing Toner With Witch Hazel
- Moisturize: Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer
- Protect: Neutrogena SPF 15 Oil Free Moisture
Craves extra moisture and can also be sensitive. Choose cream cleansers (not soap!) and richer face creams.
- Cleanse: Shikai Borage Dry Skin Therapy Facial Cleanser
- Tone: L'Oreal Dermo-Expertise HydraFresh Toner
- Moisturize: L'Oreal Hydra-Renewal Moisture Cream with Pro-Vitamin B5 for dry skin and L'Oreal Age Perfect For Mature Skin, Night Formula Skin Cream for mature skin
- Protect: Simple Vital Vitamin SPF 15 Day Cream
Needs extra TLC. Stick to gentle formulations made especially for sensitive skin. When possible, choose fragrance-free options and keep your product arsenal to a minimum (fewer products = fewer chances for skin to react).
- Cleanse: Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
- Tone: Simple Smoothing Facial Toner
- Moisturize: Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Oil Free Moisture
- Protect: Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer With Broad Spectrum SPF 15
Is more about the skin care products you choose and less about your skin type. These products tend to have fewer chemicals and ingredients that can irritate some skin.
- Cleanse: Burt's Bees Deep Cleansing Cream
- Tone: Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner
- Moisturize: Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Daily Regenerating Moisture Cream
- Protect: Yes To Carrots Nourishing Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15