“Can Great Skin Be Created?” : Clinique’s 3-Step Skin Care System Says “Yes”


L to R – Liquid Facial Soap, Clarifying Lotion, DDML 

The mainstay of the Clinique brand is undoubtedly its 3-step skin care system which is what most people will think of if you ask them what’s the first thing that comes to their mind when you mention “Clinique”.

For millions of women (and perhas even men) through the past two decades, the 3-step was their first skincare system. It wasn’t my first basic skincare but I have been purchasing the Clarifying Lotion on and off for the past decade.

To understand how the 3-step came about, we have to journey back through time all the way to 1967 (when even yours truly ancient wasn’t born yet). Back then, people were averse to soap and water, the majority of people used cold cream (think of Pond’s) to wash their faces.

The belief then was that you were either born with good skin or you weren’t, it was all down to genetics and nothing could be done if you had a bad skin condition. Carol Phillips, a beauty editor for Vogue USA, interviewed Dr Norman Orentreich, a dermatologist, for her article “Can Good Skin Be Created?” which was published in the magazine in 1967.

Dr Norman Orentreich was of the opinion that good skin could be created at home by using the same skincare system he prescribed to his patients. Rather than one single product, he prescribed a complete 3-step comprising of cleansing, toning and moisturising.

Carol Phillips’ article in Vogue caught the attention of Mrs Estee Lauder who had already started the Estee Lauder brand but was aware that she hadn’t captured the entire market, especially those with sensitive skins and those intolerant of fragrance in skincare products.

Clinique was “born” when Mrs Estee Lauder recruited Carol Phillips and Dr Norman Orentreich to come up with dermatologist developed, allergy tested and 100% fragrance free skincare. The 3-step skincare system would be customized for all skin types and conditions.

Till today, the Clinique Consultants ask new customers a series of questions to determine which products in the 3-step system best suit their skin. The 3-step skincare system was considered to be revolutionary for the 60s because finally, there was a skincare range which was customized and designed specifically for sensitive/allergy-prone skins.

Read on for my review of the 3-step skincare products:-

(1) Step 1 : Liquid Facial Soap Mild

This liquid version of the famous soap bar was only introduced a few years ago. It’s more convenient than the soap bar which I’ve also used before (in sample size) since the liquid facial soap can be pumped out of a bottle. The dispenser can be locked to prevent any accidental leakages.

As my skin has been diagnosed as being Skin Type 2 or Dry Combination, I have the liquid facial soap mild (there’s also liquid facial soap extra-mild for very dry skin and liquid facial soap oily skin formula). The liquid facial soap has a gel consistency which doesn’t foam up like your normal bath soap.

I use the liquid facial soap twice a day, only requiring one pump in the mornings and four pumps in the evenings when I cleanse my face of makeup. Now, I’m fully aware that it’s NOT formulated to remove makeup but I just wanted to see how effective it is in that respect (it isn’t and you need a separate makeup remover prior to using the liquid facial soap).

One of the ingredients of the liquid facial soap is sodium laureth sulfate and also contains sodium hyaluronate which should make the cleanser moisturising. However, I have to say that while my face feels nicely cleansed (provided I use a separate makeup remover), there’s a tight, dry sensation after the cleanser has been washed off.

As far as Clinique cleansers go, my preferred cleanser is actually their rinse-off foaming cleanser which I’ve used on many occasions whenever I am lucky enough to receive a sample size as part of my Gift With Purchase (GWP).

The liquid facial soap is priced at RM78 and come in 200ml bottles. For a counter brand cleanser, the price is not bad considering most other counter brands retail close to RM100 these days. However, it is a basic cleanser which function is just to gently and deeply cleanse.

(2) Step 2 : Clarifying Lotion 2 for dry combination

Although I have purchased the Clarifying Lotion countless times over the years, I have a love-hate relationship with it. It’s not a toner so I don’t expect it to be as gentle or hydrating.

Essentially, the Clarifying Lotion acts as an exfoliator to sweep away dull flakes/dead skin cells and preps skin for the next and last step. I like it because it makes my skin less dull, even when I go through a week forgetting to scrub my face. I don’t like it so much because of the alcohol content which makes my skin sting and sometimes I cough when I inhale it.

Lately, Clinique has reformulated the Clarifying Lotion. While it still contains salicylic acid and acetyl glucosamine, the new formula contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin and trehalose. These new ingredients have been added to leave skin feeling comfortable, provide lubricity and counter dryness.

When I used this new Clarifying Lotion, I didn’t feel it had any difference, still the same skin tingling sensation and it still made me choke a bit if I inhaled it. As per instructions, I’ve always just swept the cotton pad over my face once, one should not overdo it.

It does make my skin feel dry and tight but I find that this Clarifying Lotion helps to alleviate the appearance of pimples because of the salicylic acid ingredient. Salicylic acid is one of the main ingredients of most acne treatment gels/creams.

If I’d ever considered the tingling sensation and slight choking to be major issues, I’d have stopped purchasing the Clarifying Lotion a long time ago but it has its benefits. My skin clarity improves every time I use this product which makes me bear with the minor downsides.

There are 4 Clarifying Lotions altogether. Clarifying Lotion 1 is for very dry skins (it’s a milder alternative for those who find Clarifying Lotion 2 too strong), Clarifying Lotion 3 is for combination oily skins and Clarifying Lotion 4 is for oily skins. They come in 2 sizes, 200ml (RM78) and 400ml (RM115).

(3) Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion (DDML)

Just about every skincare brand has an iconic product. Shu Uemura has its cleansing oil, Estee Lauder has the Advanced Night Repair, Laneige has the Water Sleeping Pack and Clinique has the DDML which every beauty addict has probably used at least once in their lifetime. DDML in sample size is almost always part of the brand’s GWPs.

DDML is probably the world’s most recognisable yellow moisturiser. It was formulated to match skin’s moisture barrier or “acid mantle”. As we age, our skin loses this moisture barrier due to harsh cleaning products.

Those with oily skins would find the Dramatically Different Moisturising Gel (DDMG) more suitable. I also prefer the lighter feel of the  DDMG even though I don’t have oily skin.

Because of my dry combination skin, I have no problems using the DDMG which is purely for moisturising purposes. It absorbs easily despite the thickness of the lotion. I like the smooth feel of my face after the lotion has been absorbed.

50ml of this product will last a long time because I don’t need much. It’s probably a very good moisturiser for cold climates due to the rich consistency. Do note however that the product contains mineral oil, petroleum, parabens (but then again most skincare products do!) and artificial colours.

DDML and DDMG come in two sizes, 50ml (RM87) and 125ml (RM150).


The 3-step skincare system is suitable for all ages but I think that it’s a system which would appeal most to people who are starting off with their first skincare because it’s one of the more affordable counter brand skincare.

Those with more mature skins can still use the 3-step supplemented by other special care skincare to address concerns such as hyperpigmentation, lines, wrinkles, lack of firmness, etc.

Note  : The 3-step skincare products were provided by Clinique for review.