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Skin care tips: Skin care 101

Cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers, toners and sunscreens: What's the big deal, anyway? Find out why each of these products is critical to your skin care regimen.

Just step outside and your skin is instantly attacked by an onward marching army of pollutants in the air. Your freshly washed, glowing complexion is immediately vulnerable to outdoor elements, and there's not much you can do about it while you're out and about. But what you can do is stick to a tried-and-true, at-home skin care regimen, both day and night.

What's your skin care routine? Do you mix and match products from the drugstore or splurge on a complete line of higher-end products? Share your favourite products and tips with other readers in the comments section below.

So what's the importance of using a cleanser, an exfoliator, a moisturizer, a toner and a sunscreen? Besides cluttering the bathroom counter, these five products are necessary parts of any skin care routine for healthy, happy skin. We checked in with Julia McEwen, assistant editor for Fashion and Beauty at Canadian Living magazine, to find out the importance of each of these skin care essentials.

"This is an essential step for everyone's skin care routine, no matter what your skin concerns happen to be," says McEwen. "Cleansers replenish and balance the skin. They remove impurities, makeup and excess oil that can clog pores and provide a haven for bacteria." Cleansing should be the first step in both your morning and nighttime skin care routines, she says. "It helps clean the skin and allows it to absorb your moisturizer's active ingredients."

Exfoliating is an important step, especially for mature skin, says McEwen. "It helps slough off dead skin cells and accelerates the cell renewal rate." But, she cautions, you shouldn't exfoliate every day. "Depending on your skin concerns and sensitivity, you should do this step one to four times a week," McEwan says. "People with sensitive skin should choose a scrub with smaller spherical beads, and only exfoliate one to two times a week. Many women prefer chemical exfoliants, derived from fruit acids such as pineapple: It thoroughly exfoliates skin without the damage or irritation that can sometimes be caused by mechanical abrasion.

"Before choosing a moisturizer, you really have to ask yourself, What skin concerns do I want to target? This will help you choose a moisturizer that will fight on your side and give you the results you're after." Generally, McEwen says, moisturizers give skin added moisture, protect it from UVA and UVB rays, protect against pollution and, finally, fight signs of aging, such as loss of firmness and elasticity, and development of fine lines. "It's important to be diligent and apply moisturizers day and night in order to see results."

"Toners aren't for all skin types," says McEwen. "In fact, several beauty experts have said that toners aren't necessary for most individuals' daily skin care routines. However, if you have oily skin and larger pores, toners should be introduced into your skin care plan. They help improve the ph balance of your skin and tighten pores." She adds that toners also help improve the cleanliness of the skin by removing leftover dirt and dead skin cells, ensuring skin is properly cleansed.
"The most important product you can put on your skin is sunscreen," McEwen stresses. "No matter what time of year, it is always important to apply a sunscreen with a SPF 30 or higher. Gone are the days when a ‘healthy tan' looked good. Keep skin young by protecting it and staying in the shade. Sun damage leads to the formation of deep wrinkles and unsightly sunspots. Sun damage is the number one environmental factor that leads to aging skin."

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