Clinique: The New 3-Step

clinique 3 step

Clinique’s 3-Step skincare system seems to divide people, opinion-wise, like no other beauty product I’ve seen. There are those that have used it religiously (and successfully) since their teens, and there are those who are so vehemently anti-three-step they would seemingly rather clean their face with washing-up liquid than touch that famous yellow bar of soap. A quick Google and you’ll find people who are almost evangelical about the three step – they’ve used it for twenty, thirty years and wouldn’t ever try anything else – and you’ll also find a heap of beauty reviewers who are, at best, scathing. They hate the soap for its drying effects, the toner (“clarifying lotion”) could “strip paint”, the bottle of yellow moisturiser is fine, but nothing to write home about….

I have to say that when it comes to the standard-issue 3-Step I am firmly in the second camp. Scathing. The 3 Step was commonly (probably for many people) the first foray into proper skincare. When I was in my teens, getting “fitted” for your Clinique 3 Step was a kind of rite of passage. The questions about skin type! The special board thing they had with the sliders that magically revealed which products would transform your spot-ridden, red-nosed life! I was prescribed a bar of soap, which came in its very own green dish, a toner that I had to use with my eyes shut for fear of the fumes burning out my retinas, and a moisturiser that would simultaneously moisturise (hydrate wasn’t really a buzzword twenty years ago) and help with my oiliness. I think that I lasted a week with my “regime” – the soap dried out my face and my hands into little shrivelled prunes, the toner ended up being used to clean my laminate floor in the bedroom after I’d had friends round and we’d dropped a packet of hair dye. The moisturiser  was the only product that stood the test of time, but it was, unfortunately, quite boring compared to the other mango/strawberry/orange-scented, brightly-packaged moisturisers that you could get in Boots for half the price, and I don’t think there was ever a repeat purchase.

clinique 3 step

So I wasn’t at all sold on Clinique’s bestselling beauty phenomenon. But a recent successful episode with their new Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream (above) had me thinking: Clinique have so many brilliant skincare products and none of them are included in the 3 Step System. The gorgeously effective Take the Day Off cleansers, the brilliant Super Rescue Antioxidant Moisturizer – there’s even a gentle version of the clarifying lotion (the Mild, a very well put-together acid toner) that I discovered through Caroline Hirons. Wouldn’t it be great if some of those products, that really work beautifully on the skin, were offered as part of the 3 Step routine? Here’s my idea for a new 3 Step – coming soon to a counter near you! (That part’s untrue. Though it would be nice.)


Step 1: begone, green dish of soap, and move over for the Queen of Cleansing Balms, Take the Day Off! Perfect for those who prefer unscented products, this tub of lard-esque cleanser quite literally removes anything, including mascara, but doesn’t strip the skin dry. Massage on and remove with a cloth or your cleansing brush or whatever it is you like to use. Your face will be spotless, fresh and non-dessicated. You can find it here online – it’s £22.

clinique 3 step

Step 2: out with the strong, alcohol-laden clarifying lotions and in with the mild version which is both alcohol free and also a very effective BHA exfoliant, so great for spotty skin or skin with an abundance of blackheads. You don’t have to use this daily (I use exfoliants about twice or three times a week) but you absolutely could, if you need to. It costs £16.50 for a bottle and if you were just using it as an exfoliating treatment it would last an age. Find the Mild Clarifying Lotion online here.

clinique 3 step

Step 3: the new cream version of the Dramatically Different is nice – very, very moisturising – but my top Clinique moisturiser choice would be the Super Rescue Antioxidant. I have used this for years and always go back to it as a default option for nighttime hydration. It leaves my skin plumptious and soft and it’s packed full of antioxidants for a bit of added skin protection and repair. It comes in different variants depending on your skin type – I use “dry combination” at the moment because my skin is still on the weird side, post-pregnancy. You can find this excellent moisturiser online here – it’s £40.

You can find all of the products, including the actual 3 Step system, if that sounds like something you’d fancy, on

*please note that this post is not sponsored. I wouldn’t normally point out that a post is unsponsored because I clearly mark when one is, but due to the overly-branded feel I thought it best to make it clear!

© 2018 A Model Recommends®: all opinions are my own and any sponsored or paid posts will always be clearly marked as an AD in the title. I accept press samples and receive product and services to review as part of my job. *Outbound links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a very small percentage of any sale made. This does not affect my content in any way and does not cost you anything, but you are most welcome to Google the products on a new page if you prefer. Please see here for full "about" section and disclaimer. A Model Recommends and Ruth Crilly are registered trademarks.



  1. September 6, 2015 / 7:56 pm

    I’m so torn with clinique products, it’s extremely expensive and I wasn’t convinced by their moisturizers at all but thank you for the above it’s so helpful for a clinique guide! x

  2. Sarah
    September 6, 2015 / 8:10 pm

    I dunno… On my dry, newly-diagnosed rosacea skin (what is UP with 30s skin?! Just when I have a couple years of pimple-free flawlessness, one bad winter rockets it to hypersensitivity!), I just CAN’T with Clinique. It’s too science-fiction-y.

  3. Olga
    September 6, 2015 / 8:23 pm

    I use the same 3-step system and I love it! But I definitely did enough damage to my skin in my teens with that clarifying lotion 3!

  4. September 6, 2015 / 8:48 pm

    I love the Take the Day off Cleansing Balm, it;s just so effective and a staple for me xx

  5. September 6, 2015 / 8:55 pm

    Take the Day Off is a must have once the colder weather sets in. And the 7 Day Scrub cream is a fav with me and the OH. To those two I would add the Repair Wear serum, and presto! that’s my three favourite Clinique skin care products. Not a proper 3 Step regime, but my picks.

  6. Emma Kerr
    September 6, 2015 / 9:17 pm

    I have to say that I swear by the clinique 3 step skincare system!! It’s the only thing that has ever worked for my skin and kept it clean and clear. Clinique products are my godsend!! xx

  7. September 6, 2015 / 9:46 pm

    All my producties are Clinique. It s wat works for me.

  8. Jo.C
    September 6, 2015 / 9:49 pm

    Hmm I also had the soap with green dish, toner and moisturiser. The soap was drying, the toner stripped my face (admittedly I did like the clean feel after, even though half my face had come off with the cotton ball) and my least favourite was the moisturiser as it felt like I was rubbing on Sudocrem mixed with fish oil. So after I had used it all I didn’t bother buying anymore. Strange that eh! Lol

  9. Joli
    September 6, 2015 / 10:25 pm

    Oh what a brilliant blog entry. I love reading your intelligent posts anyway, but I could relate to this description so well. As someone with allergic skin all over I appreciate some Clinique products and have been using some of their gentle stuff for years. DDML even in the duller plus version, gentle lotion and so on. Had the same skin reaction you describe with the harsher things but love all the products you mention. Strange enough products are much more expensive in Germany than in the US where I usually purchase when there.
    Love you blogs, I have to add. Honestly!

  10. lauren
    September 6, 2015 / 11:43 pm

    I work for Clinique and completely agree why there is such disparity between those who love and those who hate (I myself am not convinced of the regiment). I think that this is partly due to poor marketing (and no fragrance to mask astringent chemical smell) that has not done much to move away from the connotations of the old 3 step, even though formulas have changed (I religiously recommend the mild regardless of skin type). Definitely worth having a proper skin diagnostic on counter as whilst 3 step is a foundation of the brand, it is the principle of ‘cleanse, exfoliate, moisturise’ that has stayed true rather than the actual 3 step system or specific regiment of products. Not propaganda I promise- there are some absolute gems and consultants are wise to them!

  11. September 6, 2015 / 11:51 pm

    I really want to get the cleansing balm. I actually saw one of your videos ages ago about it and have been eyeing it since then but it’s quite expensive in Australia.

  12. September 7, 2015 / 12:09 am

    I have used the 3 step for over 20 years and LOVE it, I have normal skin though so that could be why, I have tried many other brands over the years but always go back to the original. I have been itching to try their new cream though and the balm… maybe a trip to the store is in need.

  13. September 7, 2015 / 12:36 am

    If they had these three as the 3-step, I’d be at the counter in a heartbeat!

  14. September 7, 2015 / 12:59 am

    haha, yes! It was a right of passage. I must admit I haven’t tried a Clinique product in a long time! My favourite was their Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel. I’ll have to try the new version.

  15. Meghan
    September 7, 2015 / 4:48 am

    I love the Take Off The Day Balm for removing makeup. It was a fast favourite because it so emollient and so gentle! There are so many oil-based cleansers that just sting your eyes for removing eye makeup (like the Body Shop camomile one… Ugh). It’s a must-have for me!

  16. Jan Kelley
    September 7, 2015 / 6:18 am

    OMG! I remember using the Clinique 3 step system. I had that horrid soap, killer toner and that yellow moisturizer. I don’t remember it I ever finished it. I do remember the yellow moisturizer gave me spots and the soap and toner dried me out.

  17. September 7, 2015 / 8:04 am

    I am curious about the moisturizer. I had used a big bottle of the famous yellow lotion for years before I started reading Caroline’s blog and discovered just how much we should pay attention to what we put on our face. So, I’m concerned about the dye’s in the lotion, and they are packed with dyes. (I don’t think there’s a difference between the American version and the UK version as both are yellow, and that’s just not a natural color). Is it harmful to use the lotion? I’m just not sure about putting dye on my face. I’d love to see more information about that if you have it.

  18. September 7, 2015 / 8:16 am

    Thanks so much for this, the overnight moisturiser looks excatly what I have been looking for. Also thanks for the Carvela post. Think you’ve just cost me about £200 haha! x

  19. September 7, 2015 / 8:27 am

    I bought the Clinique 3 Step program in my first week of university and gave up with it two weeks later because my skin felt TORTURED.
    I haven’t used a single Clinique product since but this post has made me wonder if it is time to reconsider – I do like the sound of Take The Day Off.

  20. Sharron
    September 7, 2015 / 8:42 am

    I’m a Clinique fan – adore thei city block spf 25 (no chemical filters), great range of foundations my special favourite is the Perfectly Real. Like Ruth I really rate the super rescue antioxidant moisturiser The mild clarifying lotion is okay, all the others I feel too harsh for me. Oh and the super rescue serum is really nice – does the job.

  21. Felicity JD
    September 7, 2015 / 9:54 am

    I used to work in Liberty beauty hall. We would use the clarifying lotion to get nail polish off the wooden floor. it was a big hall joke. I just can not bring myself to try anything from Clinique, as a kind of snobby throwback grudge kind of thing. Silly I know as you can’t judge a brand by one product.

  22. September 7, 2015 / 10:03 am

    Now this is a three step after my own heart. I have tried everything except the mild lotion, and while the cleansing balm is a staple in my routine, the (old) moisturizer was just okay. Maybe the new one will get me all excited..

  23. September 7, 2015 / 10:03 am

    I’m definitely in the second camp. I have to admit I do loath the “one size fits all” approach to skincare and think its a much better idea to go with what works for you. Maybe I will venture, tentatively, back to clinique! xx

  24. Anne
    September 7, 2015 / 10:52 am

    take the day off balm and the mild lotion are amazing! :D

  25. Trisha
    September 7, 2015 / 11:01 am

    I’m always baffled by the whole Clinique presentation although I’m always tempted to try their products. Perhaps it’s because here in the States the SA’s do such a hard sell, and I’m rather suspicious of their claims especially since I read about so many negative reactions. I do appreciate your totally honest review though and will look again at a few of their products I’ve read about. Oh, and it is SO AWESOME and FAB that you do in fact acknowledge “sponsored” products. That is a game changer for me. I have dropped quite a few big name blogger/voggers recently because they refuse to have transparency in their recommendations. I don’t care if you got the product free- just say so! There’s a movement underfoot to call out and give the boot to bloggers who avoid disclosure. You, are so refreshing though-& I’m totally enjoying everything you post!

  26. September 7, 2015 / 12:26 pm

    You are so right Ruth, it really is in need of a re-vamp for those of use who have moved on/don’t like it! I also dabble in Clinique and they do have some lovely things but like you say they’re not organized particularly into a system. (I have a feeling they still do the card thing?!) I did really like their turnaround cream, the Cleansing balm and antioxidant moisturizer both sound nice!

  27. Claire L
    September 7, 2015 / 12:55 pm

    I used to love the Clinique 3 step routine, but then they changed the formula of the Dramatically Different lotion to ‘+’ and I got cystic acne for the first time in my life! I don’t have the best skin anyway but this was awful! So I’m into La Roche Posay now and I’m very happy with my skin x

  28. September 7, 2015 / 2:07 pm

    So true! Clinique’s fab skincare range is so often overlooked because of the prominence of their 3-step system. Although thankfully I have seen SAs recommend products not in the system more recently, instead of immediately jumping in with that old one-size-fits-all system.

    Rachel |

  29. September 7, 2015 / 7:55 pm

    Oh man, how true! The original 3-step was my gateway drug to skincare. And it is a shame, because the terrible bar soap and stripping toner put me off Clinique for about a dozen years. Ironically, now I am a huge fan and proponent of Clinique skincare and credit the fragrance-free change for finally being happy with my skin. The mild toner (I am also a fan of Caroline!) and antioxidant night rescue are staples, as well as the DDM gel. I love Clinique skincare so much I feel like I always should preface my enthusiasm with a non-sponsored disclaimer too :)

  30. September 7, 2015 / 8:00 pm

    Do you believe that I never (ever) tried the 3 step?! For a reason I cannot explain I had a dislike towards Clinique! Thanks to Caroline I discovered the Take the Day Off (and balms really) and I realized that my skin loves balms instead of micellar waters for getting make up off my face (on both occasions I follow up with a gel cleanser).

  31. September 8, 2015 / 12:20 am

    I really want to try this new three step you’ve come up with! I hated the 3 step when I tried it, their toners are so harsh, but these products all sound great.

  32. sumaira
    September 8, 2015 / 1:42 am

    All excellent options from their range, I agree with you on the 3 step process. You kind of need to pick and choose your own products to make it up! The Clinique moisture surge extended thirst relief is absolutely lovely! It was recommended by Caroline Hirons a few months ago and I have loved using it. Hydrates and sinks in leaving a nice smooth feeling! Highly recommended :)

  33. September 8, 2015 / 7:28 am

    Awesome post Ruth!
    Like you I am uber critical of the 3 step but do love certain products from Clinique (including that divine cleansing balm) that I just can’t bear not to have a restock ready in the cupboard! Will definitely be trying that moisturiser!

  34. Angeline
    September 8, 2015 / 2:40 pm

    I love that cleansing bar, it’s brilliant! x

  35. littlemissnaughty
    September 8, 2015 / 3:38 pm

    Ha! Yes, the 3-step. Tried it at 16 and thought the end was near, it was awful. My face was never so oily and dehydrated as it was back then. I didn’t touch the brand again for over 10 years (not counting makeup), until I discovered Caroline’s blog and the magic of cleansing balms. I was skeptical to say the least but the TDO and Mild Clarifying Lotion are great. As is the Moisture Surge gel. Also love their Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Lotion SPF 20. They do offer great products. Just stay away from the Clarifying Lotion 4. ;-)

  36. September 8, 2015 / 6:07 pm

    I love Clinique skincare products. The cleansing balm looks lovely, will have to try that x

  37. Anne
    September 8, 2015 / 6:36 pm

    I remember the slidey board thing!!! so high tech…. They also used to do a weird sellotape demonstration on the back of your hand to show you how much dead skin you had. My first moisturiser was the turnaround cream and I loved their foaming cleanser and superpower (loved their jade/marble-like compacts). I will take another look at their new products.

  38. Anne
    September 8, 2015 / 6:41 pm

    One of the other posts here mentioned city block. YES! I love this too, used to use it all the time but completely forgot all about it. Used to love how it was tinted and doubled as a foundation. Basically, the original bb cream.

  39. September 8, 2015 / 10:55 pm

    Great post!

    Maybe I’m alone here, but I LOVE the clarifying lotion no.2 for its paint stripping effects, I’ve just gotten so used to it that something gentler just doesn’t seem like it’s doing the trick for me now. x

  40. Emma
    September 9, 2015 / 8:07 am

    Feels like I’ve written this post myself! Also 100% in the second camp, my struggling teenage skin went absolutely mad with the 3 step. Now the Take the day off Balm and the Super Rescue both belong to my absolute faves :))) Also, the Dramatically Different in gel format is just great! Especially as eye cream, highly recommend (Beautypedia gave it a full rating as well) Thanks Ruth for a brilliant blog!

  41. September 10, 2015 / 8:01 am

    Your 3 step is loads nicer than the standard!! I love your recommendations. I’ve been meaning to pick up the toner from when Caroline Hirons mentioned it on her blog.

  42. September 13, 2015 / 1:44 pm

    I have yet to try their products and your thorough post makes me wanna get my hands on these now!

  43. Hannah
    September 13, 2015 / 2:59 pm

    Ruth, if you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend Clinique’s Even Better Essense Lotion, especially if your skin is still a bit more of a dry type. I use the version for dry skin and it doesn’t feel heavy or greasy or anything, but they have a version for oiler skin as well.

    It’s one of those Asian-style “softener” lotions that you pat on with your hands, and apparently it has a lot of the key ingredients as the SKII version, but a third of the price and without any weird scent. You could use it instead of the toner, or apply after the toner. Then you go in with serum, moisturizer, etc. I seriously love this stuff, it has made my skin so soft and hydrated, so I wanted to share!

  44. Anne
    September 17, 2015 / 2:58 am

    this is exactly my 3-step every night! i do add the take the day off for eyes because i use waterproof mascara. then after the mild toner, i use the even better essence lotion for oily/combination. i love that essence! the moment i pat it on, it instantly calms my face (i learned to use essences or watery lotions when i was living in japan). then serum (a different one for each night of the week) and then the dramatically different moisturizer.

  45. Heidi Adams
    January 11, 2018 / 2:12 pm

    I love this! Q for those that use oils like marula…when would you use it with a system like this? I use TOTD balm, Tone with 1.0 mild clarifying, put DDMG on. Would you put it on before DDMG? Or after? Or maybe skip DDMG altogether and use the oil as the 3rd step?

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