Skin Care: All You Need Is Soap and Sunscreen

Unless you have prescription skin care needs, all you really need is cleaner and sunscreen says, Dr. Cook-Bolden, a dermatologist who is part of a back-to-basics movement. From The New York Times:

“Just two products, a gentle cleanser and a good sunscreen, are enough daily skin care for most people, and you can buy those at a drugstore or a grocery store.”

Are these Docs nuts?

“They are prescribing simplified skin-care routines requiring at most three steps: soap; sunscreen every day, no matter the weather or the season; and, if necessary, a product tailored to specific skin needs, whether a cream for pimples or pigmented spots, or a vitamin-enriched moisturizer for aging skin. Each product, they say, can be bought at drugstores for $30 or less.”

You heard it, folks. Stop wasting your money on a bunch of crap. —MEGHANN MARCO

The Cosmetics Restriction Diet [New York Times]

PREVIOUSLY: Wrinkle Cream Revealed


Edit Your Comment

  1. Citron says:

    I just use Proactiv and nothing else. My skin hasn’t looked better in my entire life, and I used to buy some really expensive Dermologica and MAC skincare/facewash junk.

    Proactiv is . . . $40 for what lasts for about 3 months, so I’m happy.

  2. clementine says:

    I’ve used the Cetaphil cleanser before and it says that it can be used as a moisturizer if I remember correctly. It’s actually a great product – a lot of bang for your buck so to speak. You might try writing to to see what Paula Begoun has to say. She researches the beauty industry and can tell you what is reality and what is wishful thinking with the products. However there is a difference between ‘needing’ something and ‘wouldn’t this be nice to have/do’ in the beauty industry. A lot of people wouldn’t care to ‘just get by’ when it comes to looks.

  3. Jillsy says:

    No, the docs aren’t nuts – it’s all true. Paula Begoun, a consumer advocate who evaluates beauty products, has been saying exactly this for years. Her web site and books are fantastic:

    Even though she has her own line now, she still does fair reviews of other companies’ products. I rarely see her interviewed in stories like these – pressure from newspaper and magazine advertisers perhaps? I think she’d make a great interview for the Consumerist.

  4. MissPinkKate says:


    Get real. It’s more complicated than that. I use expensive skin care because I *like* it. It makes me happy. It makes me feel better. You can pry my $25 eye cream and $70 body moisturizer out of my cold, dead hands.

  5. kerry says:

    Most sunscreens cause my face to do nasty, nasty things, so I only use them when really necessary (blah blah blah, skin cancer, I know) so this plan wouldn’t really work for me. What does work like a freaking miracle is the Clinique three step, which makes me feel dumb for spending so much money on creams and gels and scrubs and masks all those years when I could have been just doing mild soap, astringent and moisturizer twice a day with nary a pimple or dry spot. Live and learn, I guess.

  6. Bye says:

    You have to choose your sunscreen carefully because if it clogs your pores in any way, no gentle cleanser is going to clear that crap out of your face.

    I do agree that simplifying is the answer for many people. And I learned last year about the wonders of (some) Aveeno (products). They’re non-comedogenic and don’t smell like you’re walking through macy’s perfume counter.

  7. missdona says:

    They can say what they want, but for me, if I don’t moisturize, it will not be cute at all.

    Also, I changed husband’s regime from soap only to (a) glycolic face wash (b) gentle exfoliating scrub (c) Barc’s Bump Down Creme and for the first time in his life he doesn’t have breakouts from the massive amount of ingrown hairs.

    This might work for normal people with normal skin. There might be 1 in 10 in that category.

    Also, Kerry, if you’re looking for a non-greasy/non-gunky/slimy sunscreen, check out the Clarins UV Plus SPF 40. I was all “blah blah skin cancer” until I found it.

  8. misskaz says:

    I like RoC products. Just the facial cleanser and the daily moisturizer with SPF15. Does it prevent/erase wrinkles? Who knows. But my skin likes it and it’s not too expensive and you can pick it up at Walgreens.

    I’ve also heard Oil of Olay products are good for the price, but many of them seem to make my skin feel icky.

  9. coraspartan says:

    Citron: Before you used Proactiv, did you have acne-prone skin or some other skin problem? I am 33 years old and still have acne–about one new pimple a week. Admittedly, it’s not cystic acne or anything, but I figured by now my skin would be the skin of an adult woman, not the skin of a 15 year old! I’ve been thinking about trying Proactiv but don’t personally know anyone who’s tried it.

  10. flyover says:

    I use Olay Complete moisturizer. Mine has an SPF of 15 and is very lightweight. I think it’s about $12 for 6oz.

    Other than that, I usually wash with water & a washcloth. Don’t have any problems other than the occasional pimple that ususally pops up when I’m under a lot of stress or hormonal.

    I guess I am in the minority, but my skin always gets a lot worse when I try applying some sort of regiment to my face.

  11. flyover says:

    Argh! Lost my comment (I think – I refreshed etc…)

    Anyway, I use Olay Complete all day moisture lotion with SPF 15. It was about $12 for 6oz and is the sensitive skin kind, so very lightweight.

    Other than that, I rinse my face with water & a washcloth. I’m blemish-free, other than an occasional pimple when I’m stressed or hormonal.

    I guess I’m in a minority, but regiments have always caused more problems for me. And yes, I had plenty of pimples in my teens but they have since subsided.

  12. flyover says:

    never mind – why do you hate me internets!?!

  13. Jillsy says:

    Coraspartan: Proactiv is a fine system with a cleanser, benzoyl peroxide disinfectant, and salicylic acid exfoliant. But the products aren’t cheap, and they’re automatically mailed to you each month, which can be inconvenient and difficult to cancel. You can find similar products at the drugstore – Cetaphil cleanser, one of Neutrogena’s benzoyl peroxide lotions, and any alcohol-free salicylic acid toner will work just as well.

    I know I sound like a shill for Paula Begoun, but I’m truly just a fan of her straight-talk on skincare – which is so hard to find, even (especially?) from dermatologists. Read her battle plan for blemishes:

    and give it a try with drugstore products.

  14. lmbrownmail says:

    I am 58 and people tell me I look about 45. I use Cetaphil Cleanser morning and night. At night I use Pure Aloe Vera Gel as a moisturizer. I’m growing an aloe vera plant now and as soon as it matures I’ll use fresh aloe vera and stop buying yje gel. During the day I use Neutrogena Healthy stuff with sunscreen. I do use an eyecream – just not a really expensive one.

    I’ve used this skincare regime for years. Guess I’m too lazy and cheap to buy the pricey, complicated stuff that would entail hours of prep and work.

  15. Uurp says:

    That doctor must not have a boat payment.

  16. ElizabethD says:

    Elizabeth (moi) shares her facial skin-care tips. Lucky you!

    Age 55 and no face wrinkles here. I’m fair-skinned but I do let myself get somewhat tan in the summer – my only remaining vice.

    Until my late 40s I used Dove for cleanser, no moisturizer, and before bedtime, a swipe of Vaseline (yes, ick, I know, but it works and is cheap) under each eye and on my lips.

    Now I use Dove or Neutrogena soap, a little witch hazel and/or Neutrogena salicylic acid gel on the occasional pimple, RoC overnight wrinkle-prevention cream (awesome stuff), and during the day St. Ives collagen-elastin skin cream.

    Unless I’ve worn a lot of makeup, I usually omit washing my face at bedtime and just do it in the morning. I read an article by a skin specialist once that said we all wash our faces way too much; it is very drying and can lead to more wrinkles. And, never use hot water; always tepid on the face. You’re welcome!

  17. Cetaphil is a good product, though I have to use Neutrogena’s Clear Pore cleanser, because like Coraspartan, I have adult acne!

  18. MarcAnthony says:

    You mean I should throw away my $100+ products from Kiehls, Dr. Brandts, etc. etc. Damn, good buy Nordstrom, Hello Walgreens?

    Heres my working regimen: Mild water in the AM with a cleanser(1-2 x a week use an exfoliant I recommend Kiehls Pineapple Pappaya Scrub).
    Dry face with a very clean towel or use paper towel to pat dry. Then use a moisturizer with an SPF in it! Ocassionally use a an astringent( I prefer Kiehls Blue Herbal Astringent) after you wash your face.

    At nite just wash face with water, and remoisturize!
    It works for me, haven’t had a pimple in years!!!

  19. elisa says:

    Vaseline is the bomb! for your lips and dry, relatively insensitive skin (like feet & elbows). Cheap and it works! only drawback is the greasiness, so I only do skin right before bed (lips can be all day).

  20. Clare says:

    To wash my face, I’ve been using Kiehl’s Foaming Non-Detergent Facial Cleanser for years, though in a pinch I bought Oil of Olay Foaming Face Wash and found that it was nearly identical to my Kiehls and way cheaper. I don’t think I’d switch forever, but it’s a good substitute.

    For moisturizing, until recently I used Oil of Olay Complete All Day UV Moisture Lotion – Combination/Oily, which has SPF 15. Right now I’m using Dove Deep Moisture Facial Lotion, which smells nice and hydrates well.

    Occasionally (like, every six weeks?) I slather my face with Queen Helene Mint Julep mask, which sucks out oil and gunk from my pores and leaves my face extremely smooth. I also use QHMJM to dry out pimples.

    But when I’m feeling really lazy I cut a Pond’s Clean Sweep sheet in half and swipe it over my face. Works great, even on waterproof mascara.

    For the record, I’m 25 years old, normal-to-oily complexion, medium skin.

  21. missdona says:

    Ohhh Dr Brandt. Love the products. Especially the Microdermobrasion in a Jar and Crease Release.

    And I met Peter Thomas Roth recently, and he was so nice (and has awesome skin, btw). He was so nice he made me want to buy all his products.

  22. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    Unless you are spending a lot of continuous time outdoors — in full sun — do yourself a favor and skip the sunscreen. Your body needs several minutes of sun exposure every few days to keep Vitamin D3 serum levels up. You can’t get enough D3 from milk, supplements, etc.

    This is especially important as you age, as D3 synthesis slows considerably.

  23. flyover says:

    Oh I also use 100% Shea Butter all over when I am dry – legs, lips, face, hair….

    I buy L’Occitane, which is pricy, but the tin lasts me at least six months because I use so little each time. I love the little tins for travel too.

  24. missdona: “if I don’t moisturize, it will not be cute at all.”

    It’s all about the MOISTURIZING SUNBLOCK. Then you get to sneak the moisturizer in with the sunblock. It’s still just one product. ;)

    (I use Neutrogena moisturizing sunblock SPF 15 for face … comes in the little tub. I’m ashamed to say that’s a big selling point; it seems so old fashioned and elegant to scoop my goop out of a tub instead of pump it out of a tube!)

  25. curlyheatherg says:

    knave77: my derm told me that you get all the vitamin D you need from less than 10 minutes a day of sun exposure to your forearms. People with vitiligo or that rare ‘allergic to the sun’ disease maintain normal vitamin D levels without any UV exposure at all.

    I have fair skin, and her exact words were “you need to think of the sun as a carcinogen.” I’ve worn moisturizer with sunscreen every day since.

  26. juri squared says:

    I agree, but moisturizer works wonders for stretching your foundation and making it look good.

    That is, when I bother to wear makeup…

  27. Anonymously says:

    If you have dry skin, washing your face with dandruff shampoo once a day might help.

    The suggested sunscreen in this article supposedly won’t clog pores, FYI.

  28. missdona says:

    Eyebrows McGee. I never found a moisturizing sunblock that met my moisurturizing needs. It’s a texture thing. Sunblock feels like it sits on top of my skin, moisturizer sinks in.

    The Clairins stuff is the only sunblock I’ve found that doesn’t feel gross on me.

  29. synergy says:

    Both my mother and I have the same skin type and we end up with the greasiest faces. I used to use a bunch of stuff on my face and washed it over and over and had the pimple face from hell and always whined about it. Meanwhile my mother had a clear complexion and looked about 10-15 years younger than her real age, despite living a hard life.

    So, I finally listened to her and stopped putting all sorts of junk on my face and washing non-stop. All she ever did was wash with soap twice a day and used witch hazel on her skin. Neither one of us needs any more grease on our face, so you all can keep the moisturizers and sunscreens. Oh and we keep our makeup down to lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara. Let your skin breathe!!!

    That reminds me, a local anchor was seen without her makeup on and was unrecognizable and a little scary. Her skin looked kind of gray probably from never seeing the light of day under foundation and powder!

  30. jyo says:

    I swear by Cetaphil as a general cleaner, Neutrongena Clear Pore cleanser/mask when I’m breaking out and a light swipe of Neutrogena oil-free, combination-skin moisturizer at night. During the day, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer oil-free sunscreen is the bomb as both a sunscreen and moisturizer. I have super oily skin but this sunscreen contains silica and keeps me from blinding people with my shine. Years ago, I used to buy the expensive department store skin-care crap and kept breaking out. After I read one of Paula Begouin’s books, I ditched everything for a simple bottle of Cetaphil cleanser, and life has been grand ever since.

  31. Citron says:

    coraspartan, before I started using Proactiv, I had some blemishes and occasional breakouts of maybe two to three pimples at a time perhaps once every two weeks or so. I was using a really expensive kaolin clay face wash (Dermalogica, swanky stuff) and a boxful of MAC junk, like I said before, and switched to Proactiv at my boyfriend’s advice, because he had used it in highschool and it worked marvelously for him.

    I haven’t had a blemish in months now. Not one. And my face can handle being touched by hands and pillowcases without freaking out, and I don’t need to wash my face immediately after coming home from sweating because of heavy bike riding.

    But I never subscribed to Proactiv, so I don’t get sent anything. So many malls around here have Proactiv kiosks that I can pretty much buy it whenever I need to. The one I bought from in Indiana even included the 60-day satisfaction guarantee you get from the television, saying they’d refund me for empty bottles if I wasn’t happy with it. It’s good stuff, really — maybe the only product sold in infomercials that actually does what it claims to.

  32. Judge373 says:

    Yea, if I don’t moisturize every morning after my shower, it literally hurts to smile. I gots to get my moisture!

  33. sweetas says:

    hi! i read this skin care article on an internet address referred to by take 5 which i read almost every week. i have to say that after approx 10 years & a few hundred dollars spent in trying to find what works, i have to agree THIS does. i’m fair with slightly dry/sentsitive skin, but in pretty good condition & i now use phisophex which is similar to cetaphil (i think!)& an olay moisturiser which includes sunscreen. (only cause it was given to me for christmas) but it makes sense. why spend oodles of money on something that can cost less than $50 to keep your skin in the same if not better condition! good on someone for finally making this clear that expensive skin regimes aren’t necessary unless of cause your skin needs it!