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How to Use the Zoe Draelos Beauty Pyramid in Your Skincare Routine

How to Use the Zoe Draelos Beauty Pyramid in Your Skincare Routine

How to Use the Zoe Draelos Beauty Pyramid in Your Skincare Routine

Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos is a name that everyone in the skincare industry knows about. However, she’s now being mentioned all over by brands and creators. If you’re wondering why you’ve been seeing the Beauty Pyramid by Zoe Draelos, or what it’s about, you’ve come to the right place. That is to say, I’m a huge fan of her work and I’m here to let you know all about why she’s absolutely right about that pyramid.

Who is Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos?

Zoe Diana Draelos is a board-certified dermatologist, with more than 30 years of dermatology research experience. She’s the author of both “Cosmetics in Dermatology” and “Hair Care” and more than 200 published articles. Because of that, her work is quoted each year in around 900 published articles. All in all, she’s one of the academic icons that has been doing the rounds for decades. If you’ve studied Cosmetology or wanted to know more about cosmetics in your academic years, there is no way you have not encountered her work.

What is the Zoe Draelos Skin Health and Beauty Pyramid?

Zoe Draelos Skin Health & Beauty Pyramid

In 2014, Dr. Zoe Draelos decided to compile her years of cosmetic advice. She also decided she would take up a Maslow pyramid approach to compiling this advice. All in all, it means that the ingredients that target true basic needs are at the bottom of the pyramid. At every extra step, more ingredients are added, that penetrate deeply. As with the Maslow pyramid approach, the ideal is to have a bit of everything on your life, and so, after you’ve achieved the first level, you are supposed to add the following ones in your life. There are three different levels to the pyramid: the bottom with the really needed ingredients, the middle, with the extra step that is definitely going to improve your skin, and the top with the “nice to have” ingredients that act on a deeper layer.

Given that the cosmetics field is constantly coming out with new technology and ingredients, there is an updated version of the pyramid that came out in 2021. And this is why you’re seeing it pop all over.

Pyramid Base: Protection & repair

As you may have already imagined: sunscreen! At Care to Beauty we wouldn’t be fangirling all over the work of someone who states sunscreen is unimportant. So, of course, Dr. Zoe Draelos believes that at the base of every skincare routine, there is a great sunscreen. Here we’re not just talking about plain sunscreen that protects from both UVB and UVA radiation. We’re going further down, to the ones that also protect from visible light and infrared radiation.  You can either look for mineral sunscreens or organic ones, as they will both protect you.

The other main class of ingredients that compose the base of the pyramid are antioxidants. These are often already part of most sunscreens, precisely because they work great together during the day. Antioxidants help to protect the skin from oxidative damage, which in turn will result in the loss of collagen and elastin. All in all, they are all about preventing damage, not repairing it. As for antioxidants, we have vitamin C, resveratrol, vitamin E, ferulic acid, and Polypodium leucotomos (Fernblock).

However, with more and more people living in urban areas and with hectic lifestyles, protection from other aggressors is also important. Everything affects the skin, from pollution, tobacco, what we eat, and stress levels, to the number of hours we sleep. A lot of cosmetics present a pollution shield, by creating an impenetrable layer that prevents particles from reaching the skin. Moreover, focusing on the microbiome is also a key factor, so probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics are all the rage right now. Lastly, niacinamide and DNA-repairing enzymes are also considered pyramid-base ingredients, due to their reparative properties.

Pyramid Middle: Renewal

In this layer we’re going for three main topics: moisturizing the skin, exfoliating and cell turnover. So after protecting and preventing, we’re going for the top layer of the skin.

As for moisturizing the skin, the classics are always the perfect solutions. However, there are two different routes here: we can either go for occlusives, which form a protective barrier on the skin, or we can go for substances that increase the water content of the skin. When we’re talking about occlusives, we’re talking about vegetable oils, petrolatum, lanolin, waxes and silicones. As for humectants, meant to increase the water content, we’re going for glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, sodium PCA, among others. The overall idea is that the skin gains and/or doesn’t lose water throughout the day, thus increasing comfort, reducing wrinkles and improving the overall skin health.

Regarding exfoliation and increasing cell turnover, the standard ingredients are exfoliating acids. They can be AHA (glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, etc), PHA (gluconolactone, lactobionic acid), or salicylic acid. Retinoids are also great at exfoliating the skin, but we’ll cover them in the top layer. All in all, exfoliation allows your skin to have an even surface, look brighter, and allows other ingredients to penetrate further. It basically allows your skin to look better while simultaneously letting in the ingredients that can actually work on wrinkles.

Pyramid Top: Activation & Regeneration

Lastly, we’re approaching everything that is “anti-aging”. In order to have any effects on wrinkles or loss of firmness, ingredients need to deeply penetrate the skin. The classic ones are peptides, retinoids, stem cells and growth factors. All of these ingredients have different functions depending on their structure, but all of them will try to reduce wrinkles on a deeper level. This is where you go for the ones that will actually dramatically change your skin. So, why are they at the top of the pyramid if they are so important? Because if you don’t wear sunscreen and prevent aging, repairing that damage will not improve your skin, as you’re only just compensating the damage you’re allowing to happen each day. Moreover, if your skin isn’t hydrated you may easily disrupt the barrier function. Lastly, exfoliation is deeply important because these ingredients need to be able to penetrate the skin.

How to build a routine based on the Draelos Pyramid?

We’ll go step by step here, to make sure you understand that, even though there is a lot of science involved, the logistics of having a Draelos-approved routine are actually easy.

  1. Buy a cleanser suitable for your routine and skin type and a great sunscreen.
  2. If you feel you can use a serum before your sunscreen in the morning, buy an antioxidant serum. If not, make sure your sunscreen has antioxidants.
  3. If you have dry skin, make sure you also purchase a hydrating cream. If you have oily skin, make sure your serum and/or sunscreen already has moisturizing agents.
  4. Acquire an exfoliating cream and a retinoid/peptide cream. Use them on alternate days in the evening.

As you can see, the trick here is that you don’t need one product per ingredient. A great sunscreen can protect the skin, have antioxidants and hydrate the skin. And your hydrating cream can also have peptides in it. The fact that you need to check for different things in your routine doesn’t mean it has to be complicated.


The Draelos pyramid is all about making sure your skin gets everything it needs, not that you need to overcomplicate your routine to achieve perfect skin (whatever perfect skin is). We’re going for healthy skin with a minimalism and complete routine. If you need ideas for your skin routines, you can check our skincare routines section on the website.

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