Beauty consultants might recommend a facial treatment trifecta — cleanse, tone and moisturize — but dermatologists say that comfortable-for-you cleansing is key, and moisturizing may help some skin types.

First and Foremost: The Cleanser Itself

Use a gentle, water-soluble cleanser to avoid irritating the skin — not one that needs to be wiped away with a tissue or washcloth.

Besides the fact that it washes away with water (use tepid, not hot), all you need to know about a cleanser is that it makes your skin feel soft, clean and neither dry nor greasy. Experts' picks for efficient, mild cleansing: Cetaphil, Aveeno, Neutrogena and Eucerin brands.

Second for Some: A Separate Toner

If you feel you need a toner, think about finding a better-for-you cleanser instead.

A toner's role is to remove oily residue and provide a fresh feeling; it does nothing to firm the skin long-term. With today's rinse-off cleansers, you'll rarely need a toner — you might want one, though, if your face has become oily over the course of the day.

Last but Not Least: Should You Use a Moisturizer? Maybe.

For dry-skin sufferers, a moisturizer can soothe and protect — the test is whether your skin feels too tight. There are many effective moisturizers — try one (sample size available?), then listen to your skin. These brands come recommended: by day, Oil of Olay; while you sleep, Estee Lauder.

Additional Products: A Matter of Preference

  • To exfoliate or not? Removing dead skin cells can make your skin look less dull, but go easy or you could injure skin that's sensitive. Instructs dermatologist Lisa Donofrio, M.D.: Use a little grapeseed or olive oil, a non-soap cleanser like Burt's Bees or Cetaphil, or a cold cream such as Pond's, and with the rough side of a washcloth make small, gentle circles all over your face.
  • Can creams turn you into a cover girl? These three ingredients are common in face creams:
    • Retinoids. For rejuvenation of photo-damaged skin, these members of the vitamin A family (the best-known being Retin-A) are effective — in prescription concentrations, at least — in reducing wrinkles, as well as clearing up acne.
    • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Also known as fruit acids, these can give the skin a luster by keeping the skin free of dead cells. Over-the-counter preparations don't make as dramatic a difference as the ones used by dermatologists.
    • Antioxidants. The vitamins A, C and E are said to have the ability to protect and possibly repair the skin by fighting destructive molecules called free radicals.