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Review of Clinique's 3-Step Skincare Routine: Does It Work?

I tried Clinique's 3-step skincare routine recently and wanted to share my experience.

Photo © Redberry Sky

Photo © Redberry Sky

As part of a recent makeover I got at the Clinique counter, my bag of goodies included products to try out the Clinique 3-Step program.

The mantra of daily beauty care is cleanse-tone-moisturise, but Clinique slightly changed this mantra to cleanse-exfoliate-moisturise. For any woman who has ever used a beauty product, this can sound like a harsh regime to use every day, because exfoliating products often contain tiny solid particles that scrub away dead skin. Exfoliating makes skin soft, smooth, clean and glowing, but it’s really just a once-a-week ritual. Clinique has substituted something different for its own exfoliating step, though—a ‘Clarifying Lotion’ that ‘de-flakes’ rather than scrubs away dead skin.

I’m not convinced that Clinique’s exfoliating Clarifying Lotion is really different from a toner. Toners are astringent, wiping away oily buildup and tightening pores, whereas exfoliants scrub away the top layer of dead skin that can make your complexion a little dull and grey. I don’t think I’d be happy to completely do away with a facial scrub exfoliation once or twice a month, but for day-to-day use, I really like this regime.

Clinique’s 3-Step Program: Is It Good?

When I spoke to the consultant about my skin type—combination tending towards dry, and sometimes sensitive—she didn’t hesitate to recommend Clarifying Lotion No. 2, but she supplied me with free samples of the foaming cleanser and the Dramatically Different Moisturiser for ‘Very dry to dry combination skin.'

Whilst I like the products, I didn’t have much confidence in the sales assistant as far as skincare goes. She was the same person who gave me a beauty makeover, and I was very impressed with her knowledge of makeup, but I don’t think this knowledge extended beyond cosmetics, and I had to return to different Clinique counters twice to get the products that really suited my skin.

See below for a more in-depth review of each product.

Preliminary Step: Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser

I was given a sample size of this as part of my ‘freebie haul’ when I bought some products as part of my makeover with the brand. The consultant said that it would be fine for me to use instead of its Liquid Soap while I tried out the three-step program, though I suspect I was being a little bit ‘fobbed off,’ and it simply didn’t have any liquid soap samples, because on the tube of the Foaming Cleanser it says that it’s for use before following the 3-Step routine.

However, I really liked using this as a cleanser. It didn’t make my skin feel as completely ‘squeaky clean’ as I would have liked, but it didn’t make my skin feel taut or dry either.

I don’t think the cleansing action is strong enough to use by itself, which is another reason I think the consultant was fobbing me off a little, but it foams easily and feels great on my skin, and I could definitely get used to using this as a little extra ‘prelim’ step of my morning routine.

Step 1: Cleanse With Liquid Soap

I did get hold of some of the Liquid Soap a couple of days later from a different store. I went for the ‘Mild’ soap, for skin typed by Clinique as 1 or 2 (dry and combination).

Contrary to what the Sales Assistant/Beauty Consultant told me (that the Foaming Cleanser would be fine to use to test out the 3-Step Programme), I believe that the Liquid Soap (or Bar, if you prefer, although having used the mild one of these from Clinique in the past I think it gets quite messy quickly and dissolves into mush!) is a must as a part of the routine. The Foaming Cleanser is nice, but it has a very mild cleansing action, whereas the Liquid Soap has the rare quality of making my skin feel thoroughly clean without making it feel dry and ‘tight.'

I’ve been using this for about a month now, morning and evening, and I finished the bottle a couple of days ago. Because of the price (£15, or $16.50 in the US), I’m not sure I could afford to use this all the time, but I am very impressed with it and I think I’ll continue to use it whenever possible.

Photo © Redberry Sky

Photo © Redberry Sky

Step 2: Exfoliate With Clarifying Lotion

Clinique’s ‘exfoliate’ step in the program is not really an ordinary exfoliator, as I’ve said. Instead, it’s a ‘Clarifying Lotion’ that the brand says ‘de-flakes to reveal clearer skin.'

Clarifying Lotion Number 2 (for combination skin) was recommended to me at first, but I found it just a little too harsh and astringent for my (sometimes sensitive) skin, and I changed after a few days to the ‘Mild’ Clarifying Lotion. The Mild lotion was much better and I’ve found it to be really good for my complexion and I think it ‘brightens’ my skin. Because it is so mild, I still use a facial scrub once a week or fortnight—I don’t think the Clarifying Lotion can replace that—but I’ve been very impressed by the clearness of my skin since I started to use this.

I did actually prefer the Clarifying Lotion Number 2—after using it my skin felt soft and very clear, but it was really too astringent and drying for me to use every day. I think I might use the ‘Mild’ lotion daily, but use the more astringent one a couple of times a week, to get the best of both worlds without upsetting the balance of my skin.

Step 3: Moisturise With Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion

The directions for this indicate that it’s only to be used on dry areas of the skin, and that raised alarm bells with me straight away because it means that I have to use yet more products on the other—non-dry—areas and take more time in the morning putting a little bit of this here and a little bit of that there.

In practice, because mornings can be a rush, I wasn’t terribly careful about hunting down the ‘dry areas’ to dab this on, and I was quite blasé about smearing this on my face and neck. A word of warning—if you use this and have quite sensitive eyes (as I do) leave a big area around them because this moisturiser is very unforgiving and will sting if it gets onto the delicate skin around your eyes.

That said, Dramatically Different Moisturiser lives up to its reputation, and my skin felt incredibly smooth and soothed after applying it. It absorbed into the skin almost right away and gave a wonderful sheer base for my makeup. I do have moisturisers that I would rate a little bit higher than this that leave my skin feeling less ‘coated’ and leave me feeling just that bit fresher, but I certainly rate this very highly—although I do wish the cream wasn’t bright yellow, which I think is off-putting and unnecessary in a moisturiser!

Overall Impressions of Clinique's 3-Step Program

I think the 3-Step routine is very good; it’s getting the right combination of products that’s the tricky part!

Know your skin type (combination/dry/oily, and how sensitive your skin is) before you buy, and don’t be ‘fobbed off’ with other products if the ones you want are out of stock! I was impressed with some of the sales assistant’s knowledge, but some of her recommendations were way off base for my skin and I think I should have been more aware of the product ranges beforehand. Clinique is usually very good about giving free samples when you’re buying other products, so the next time you buy anything from Clinique, ask if you can try out a couple of the 3-step samples.

After a little experimentation, my slightly sensitive skin, which is fairly normal/combination, is suited to the Foaming Cleanser, the ‘Mild’ Liquid Soap and Clarifying Lotion, and the Dramatically Different moisturiser. After trying one of the stronger Clarifying Lotions, I’d be a little wary of them really stripping the natural oils completely because the one I tried was very astringent, perhaps too much, unless you really are prone to oily skin—but even then, over-washing and applying astringents can make skin ‘rebel’ and over-compensate and become even more oily!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Nicole S Hanson from Minnesota on April 05, 2013:

I need a new skin care lineup, but the good stuff is so spendy!

Redberry Sky (author) on August 07, 2012:

Cheers TToombs :) great fun to do too - indulging in my girly side to test out all these products!

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on August 06, 2012:

This is some very useful information on the pros and cons of the Clinique products. Great job, Redberry!

Redberry Sky (author) on July 19, 2012:

I love all the freebies too, nancynurse :)

Cheers, mhatter :)

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on July 18, 2012:

Great product review.

Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on July 18, 2012:

I used to use Clinique all the time. Loved the free gifts every quarter