Ask any beauty editor, influencer, or celebrity to run through their current skincare routine, and I bet you that a Joanna Vargas product will make an appearance. The celebrity esthetician works on some of the most famous faces in the world, including Keri Russell, Rachel Brosnahan, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. As such, her namesake skincare brand—recognizable by its black-and-white packaging—is a trusted source for effective, problem-solving products. Even I use a couple of her products in my current routine (but more on that in a minute).
Imagine my excitement, then, when I had the opportunity to ask Vargas all of my burning skincare questions and learn which products she recommends incorporating into an at-home skincare routine. I could gatekeep, but I won't. Ahead, see every one of her seven best skincare tips, including the best at-home devices to invest in, which Japanese sunscreen she swears by, and why you're probably not spending enough time washing your face.
First, My Skin Type and Top Skincare Concerns
Before getting into my current product lineup, I think it's worth talking about my skin type and my top skincare concerns. After all, everyone's skin is unique. What works for one person might not work for another.
I struggle with redness, which is why I consider my skin to be more on the sensitive side than not. It gets easily irritated, and it tends to get dehydrated if I'm not using the right skin-quenching products. As for my top skincare concerns, I'm focused on maintaining my skin's health and preventing premature signs of aging from appearing. I'm in my late 20s, so I've started to notice subtle changes in my skin, like the slow formation of fine lines and wrinkles and a slight loss of firmness around my cheeks and jawline.
I'm also concerned with hyperpigmentation. I don't have widespread hyperpigmentation or melasma, but I do have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from old breakouts. I also have some sun damage that's leftover from when I was irresponsible with sunscreen application in high school. When I think about how often I played tennis or swam at the beach without wearing SPF, I cringe. Learn from my mistakes.
Tip #1: There Are 4 Nonnegotiable Skincare Steps
The first question I asked was what products and steps Vargas considers to be nonnegotiable. After all, if you scroll through Instagram or TikTok, you'll see some people with 12-step routines and others who use only one or two products. I needed to know—what does she consider to be absolutely essential?
"Generally speaking, I'd say nonnegotiables would be cleansing night and day, some kind of serum night and day (because that's your treatment step), and moisturizer because that holds all the treatment in your skin better and protects your skin from the outside," Vargas says. "And SPF, of course."
She says retinol can be beneficial for all skin types, so it's worth incorporating into your nighttime routine as the serum step if you haven't already. From there, alternate using the retinol serum and another treatment serum on different nights. "Obviously, from summer to winter, I might vary that a little bit, like maybe skip the [retinol] and just use serum and moisturizer. Maybe there's some skin cycling involved too," she says. "For example, maybe you don't use retinol every single night. Maybe you use retinol twice a week. Studies have shown that even once-a-week retinol yields a very good result, whether you have acne and you want to calm down the breakouts or you're just worried about anti-aging."
Speaking of the serum step, Vargas doesn't like to stop at one. "Personally, I like layering serums, and that's what I recommend to my clients that I work on," she says. "For example, after cleansing, I like giving someone a hyaluronic acid serum, something that either has epidermal growth factors, stem cells, or lots of greens for increased circulation. … The type of hyaluronic acid serum would depend on the client's skin. Then, I like an oil-based serum to go on top. Oil-based serums are anti-inflammatory. They help hold hydration in the skin better, and they're usually loaded with antioxidants. So that would be what goes on top of the hyaluronic acid, and then a moisturizer as that protective hold-everything-in step."
As for the sunscreen formulas Vargas swears by, there are two. "At the salon, we sell a brand called MDSolarSciences, which was created by 12 dermatologists," she says. "They have a beauty balm that's extremely popular. It's SPF 50, and it has a tint to it. There are only two tint colors, but it's not meant to be a foundation. It's so it doesn't leave a white cast on the skin. I really love that one."
She also says she's "personally obsessed" with a Japanese sunscreen from a brand called Suqqu. "They have a face SPF 50 that's unbelievable. I play tennis every day, so finding something that works outdoors, for when you're all sweaty and stuff … that's amazing for me. I get melasma really easily, and it helps prevent melasma in my skin, which I really like."
The only downside? Vargas says to be prepared for the price tag, especially since it comes in a "depressingly small tube." However, it lasts for a long time. "My tube has lasted me a whole summer," she says."
Tip #2: Use Kojic, Lactic, and Mandelic Acids to Improve Hyperpigmentation
Remember how I said I struggle with old breakout marks and sun damage? That's why I'm always looking for ingredients to help lighten dark spots and even my skin tone. According to Vargas, the best ingredients to look for are gentle yet effective acids—kojic, lactic, and mandelic acids, to be specific.
"Hyperpigmentation can come from several different sources, so if you have hyperpigmentation from hormones, that's tough to treat with a product, although it's a good idea," Vargas says. "Let's say you had a breakout, and you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or you're like me, and you have sun damage that's come out over time. I would look for kojic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acids. I have my Exfoliating Mask ($75) with kojic and lactic acids, plus pineapple enzymes. Leaving it on as a mask will help even out the pigment in the skin."
As for mandelic acid, Vargas recommends this sheet mask. "It has mandelic acid and vitamin C. Those ingredients work really well together even if you have sensitive skin," she says.
Speaking of vitamin C, that's another tried-and-true ingredient for fighting hyperpigmentation. When I ask which vitamin C serums she likes, I'm not at all surprised to hear this one—the iconic SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. Vargas calls it a "classic," and the entire Who What Wear team agrees.
If you need another reason to use vitamin C, consider this: It isn't just beneficial for fighting hyperpigmentation. Vargas says that antioxidants like vitamin C increase the efficacy of sunscreen (yes, really). "When you use [antioxidants] underneath sunscreen, they help protect your skin against sun damage, so it actually increases the efficacy of your sunscreen. I highly recommend antioxidant serums for everybody."
And by the way, when dealing with hyperpigmentation, prevention (aka sun protection) is key. Vargas cites a specific pop culture reference. "In the '90s, there would be paparazzi pictures of Madonna on the beach because she had a house in Miami. She was in full mumu with a hat and long sleeves. … You kind of have to be the odd one on the beach," she laughs.
Tip #3: The Efficacy of Professional Treatments Often Comes Down to Consistency
People tend to look at a professional skin treatment as a one-and-done thing. That's not always the case, especially when it comes to certain professional treatments like radio frequency. "Radio frequency is awesome. It's just like, … 'You have to move in with me,'" Vargas laughs. "It's not meant to be a one-time thing. I can't stress that enough. I feel like people have gotten the wrong idea. It's meant to be done once a week for eight weeks to start. Then, a monthly session and then redoing that eight-week thing every year. It's very time-consuming."
"I explain to clients that it depends on how much time you're willing to commit," Vargas adds. "If you have all the time in the world and you want to go noninvasive, then radio frequency is great. If you struggle with melasma or have any issues with heat, it might be a challenge. In that case, I'm super in love with the Morpheus8. We do Morpheus8 facials and body treatments here in NYC. It's micro-needling combined with radio frequency."
As for other professional treatments, Vargas swears by a combination of microcurrent and LED therapy. In fact, she says choosing between them is like "choosing which child is your favorite." She uses them in tandem. "I don't think I could live without microcurrent and LED because they go hand in hand. They're completely noninvasive, and they work no matter if you're 25 or 85," she says. "I love technologies that are universal."
Tip #4: Consider Adding an At-Home Skin Device to Your Routine
Vargas is a fan of supplementing a skincare routine with a high-tech skin device. Her namesake device, the Magic Glow Wand ($285), uses vibration to massage the skin while multiple temperature settings expose the skin to heat or cold (depending on the desired result). "Use it over a sheet mask. Use it over your exfoliating mask or a clay mask. It can de-puff and calm inflammation and all that," she says.
"I also really like TheraFace. They have this percussive face device that does a vigorous massage and has LED light attachments. I'm in love with that," she adds.
Speaking of LED, Vargas swears by this futuristic face and neck mask, which promises to visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles, firm the skin, and improve tone in as little as four weeks thanks to red LED light. For anyone who's unfamiliar, red LED light has been shown to stimulate collagen in the skin and reduce inflammation. "I really like CurrentBody's LED face mask and neck attachment," Vargas says. "It's amazing. I travel with it everywhere I go."
Looking for something a little more low-key or travel-friendly? Solawave's newest red light therapy wand acts like a spendy in-office treatment via your fingertips. It boasts twice the red light therapy (so you'll notice healthier-looking skin in roughly two weeks) and the special Galvanic Current amplifies serum absorption so your skincare works smarter not harder. The enhanced therapeutic warmth and facial massage benefits are just the *two* cherries on top.
The next device that Vargas recommends isn't technically a skin device—it's more of a wellness device that can benefit the skin. I'm talking about air-compression garments like these boots on Amazon.
In her NYC salon, Vargas uses a "fancy air-compression garment" called the Ballancer Pro, which aids in lymphatic drainage for the whole body. "Any kind of thing that gets rid of water retention on a regular basis is good because your lymphatic system is good for getting rid of breakouts and bringing fresh nutrients to the skin. All of that is really important," she says.
Tip #5: Focus on Skin Prep (Not Makeup) for a Big Event
Vargas specializes in doing pre–red carpet facials for her celebrity clients. She says skin prep doesn't always start the day of. In fact, it can start months out. "Last summer, for example, I had a client come to me, and her movie was going to get a big push from the studio. We weren't really sure where it was going to go, but the idea was that it was possibly going to mean an Oscars nomination down the road or an active award season," she says. "It's not like people come to me and are like, 'I'm going to win an Oscar this year.' It's more like, 'I might have to do a lot of press, and that stresses me out.' Or somebody has a big wedding or, more horribly, a high school reunion. … If you have six months and you want an anti-aging effect, I would do Morpheus8, LED, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments."
For younger clients who just want their skin to look bright and dewy, Vargas would recommend something slightly different. "I would alternate between microcurrent, LED, and chemical peels—maybe dermaplaning, which is a new obsession of mine," she says. "Dermaplaning gives you a glow like crazy, and it's really good for pigment."
She also recommends investing in body treatments so the skin south of your neck gets just as much TLC as the skin on your face: "Certainly before big red carpets when I'm giving facials on Oscars morning, I have someone on my team exfoliating with the microdermabrasion on the body and then giving them what I call 'the rub,' which is like hot coconut balls that we moisturize the skin with. One thing that people don't realize is that you're not wearing a ton of makeup on the red carpet. People wear more makeup to get married than they do to walk a red carpet for the Oscars."
Tip #6: Take More Time to Cleanse Your Skin
This skin tip struck a chord with me because it's something I'm guilty of doing. "Lots of people—even estheticians are guilty of this—think the cleansing step is the throwaway step," she says. "It's the step you get done in two seconds to move on to the special stuff like serums, but the cleanse is the holy step. It's a time to be detail oriented."
Vargas says she can't stress this enough because, no matter what sunscreen or makeup you wear, you're unconsciously touching your face throughout the day, which can lead to dirt and debris buildup. "Nighttime is your body's time to repair yourself. If you're not washing your face well, you're robbing your body's ability to heal itself while you sleep. Instead of cleansing for 20 seconds as everybody does, my challenge to you is to cleanse for two or more minutes, which is excruciatingly long, but that's what it takes to get everything out of your pores and really penetrate that cleanser into your skin," she says.
Tip #7: Focus on What You Love About Your Face, Not What You Don't
This last skin tip goes beyond products and treatments. It's all about how you perceive yourself. "I encourage clients to take a minute and stop staring at their faces and thinking about all the things they wish were different," she says. "How about thinking of one thing that you love about yourself or one thing you did well with your day? It's transforming in the sense that you have this moment of clarity that you spend most of the time in the mirror hating yourself, and that needs to change. No one can love you better than you can love yourself. You need to ritualize being at peace with yourself. I always think that using the cleansing step for that is a great opportunity to reconsider what you think about yourself."
3 More Joanna Vargas Skincare Products I Love
This hyaluronic acid serum is like a green juice for my skin. It makes it look calm and bright.
Whenever I need a dose of skin-soothing hydration, I reach for this sheet mask. Sometimes, I put it in the fridge for a few minutes before applying it for extra soothing effects.
This moisturizer keeps my skin calm while simultaneously offering anti-aging benefits.