Happy New Year, everyone! 🎉
2018 was… rough. Really rough! That’s not to say that it didn’t have its bright points, but I’m ready to keep moving forward and seek out better times.
Now that it’s 2019 and we’re all (well, a lot of us are) setting goals for the months ahead, I figured I’d share one of mine: keep up with a regular skincare routine. And I know I’m not the only one with that goal.
At this point in my life (my 20s) I’m blessed to say I have a solid routine and pretty clear skin, and I’d really love to keep both—knock on wood! However, it took quite a while (and a whole journey) to get to this point.
Let’s start at the beginning. Buckle your seatbelts, ’cause this is gonna be a long one.
As a teenager, I had super oily, acne-prone skin that broke out anytime anything came near my face. Between hormones and slathering stuff on my skin that I thought was supposed to help, it was all Really Bad.
Now, when I say I had acne-prone skin, I mean that I had little tiny bumps on my forehead/cheeks (they never turned into true whiteheads or anything) and a few legit pimples that popped up wherever they felt like it. I also had some cystic acne on my jawline, which was probably the biggest pain. However, it was never to the degree that my doctor/dermatologist would have prescribed something like Accutane to help it.
So honestly, I didn’t have it that bad, but it still wasn’t fun. And it definitely took a toll on my already ground-into-the-dirt self-esteem back then. (Ahh, the teenage years, I don’t miss you)
It wasn’t until I a) went on birth control, and b) realized I was freaking allergic to the stuff that was supposed to be helping my skin that things started to get better.
Let me repeat that: birth control and not being allergic to what I was putting on my face essentially cleared up my acne.
For me, hormones truly were the biggest culprit behind my not-so-great skin. After 6-ish months on birth control, my acne improved by about 80%. The cystic acne was pretty much gone, and I only got a whitehead pimple once in a blue moon. I will continue to sing the praises of birth control because of this—and because of, you know, it doing a handful of other important things that help my overall physical/mental health and well-being.
However, I still had those little bumps on my forehead and cheeks.
Back then, I was using a moisturizer with SPF. I thought I was being proactive in taking care of my skin! I was trying my best to prevent skin cancer later down the line! Sunscreen is a must! Never forget it!
So yes, sunscreen is incredibly important.
But uh… not when you’re allergic to it.
Yes! I’m allergic to (or at least sensitive to) two of the main components of physical sunscreen: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide! Who honestly would have thought that! Not me!!!! Which was why I’d been slathering it on my face like a woman afraid of the sun!!!!
It wasn’t until I ran out of that moisturizer and switched to something without SPF that those little bumps began to disappear. Turns out it probably wasn’t true acne… it was just a prolonged allergic reaction.
Boy, I can’t tell you how silly I felt when I realized that was the culprit. I ended up doing several experiments with other products that contained them, and each time the result was the same: the bumps came back and my skin was red from irritation.
As you may already know, or may discover if you look on the back of your skincare/makeup products, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are in so many things. Bless my esthetician who has to sit and read through all the ingredients of products, especially ones she can put on most of her other clients’ faces without thinking twice but can’t even bring near me. It definitely cuts down my options when it comes to both skincare and makeup.
But now that my acne was about 95% gone, I had to deal with the aftermath.
I had some relatively shallow icepick scarring (scars that look like enlarged pores, or little holes in the skin) and a lot of discoloration/hyperpigmentation.
In case you didn’t already know, I’m a brown girl. Most makeup brands like to call my (winter) shade “beige” or “sand” or, my favorite, “desert”. Essentially, I’m a medium brown shade at my palest, and a warm golden brown in the summer (or when I actually go outside and see the sun… which is rare). What that means is that I was left with much darker brown spots all over my face (hyperpigmentation). For some people, those spots might be red or a light-brown, it all depends on your skin tone and the amount of melanin in your skin.
This is where a true skincare routine really came in handy for me.
I think it’s really important to find a routine that works for you and your skin’s needs. Everyone is different! Some people have super sensitive skin while others could probably put anything on there and not have a single worry.
I’m going to go through the basic steps of my personal AM/PM routines and the products I’ve used / currently use. Some may work for you and your needs while others may not. Take it all with a grain of salt!
I’ve also linked all of the products I talk about in case you’re interested in buying them. I’m going to be up front with you, though: I spend a lot on skincare and I don’t use many products that can be found in the drugstore. Skincare is pretty much the one luxury I allow myself in life, so while I save on other things, I splurge on the health of my skin. That said, I’m sure you can find plenty of good and less expensive products if you do your research!
A lot of the products I’ve listed I’ve been able to try through monthly beauty subscription boxes, which are great if you’re interested in trying new things. One day I’ll do a post on the ones I recommend the most!
(Okay, seriously last thing, I promise) Also, utilize samples! A lot of beauty stores and counters give out free samples if you want to try a product before you buy! Save your money!
OKAY LET’S DO THIS.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional! I am not trained in anything skincare related! Everything I know I’ve learned from my own research plus trial-and-error. Always pick products that are best suited for your skin.
1. If you’re a makeup wearer, make sure you’re taking it off well at the end of the day [PM]
I love makeup!! I think it’s so cool!! I love putting different concoctions on my face and watching it change!!!
That said, I haven’t worn more than mascara, eyebrow pencil, and lip balm in over a year. This is because a) I’m lazy, b) I don’t mind the way my face looks without makeup as well, and c) I work from home, so only my dog sees me on a daily basis. Still, I have mad respect for anyone who puts on makeup on every single day, no matter their reason for doing it. Even if you enjoy doing it, it’s still a pretty time consuming process.
So if you’re wearing makeup, please make sure you’re taking it off well.
I recommend by starting with some sort of makeup wipe to get the first layer of makeup off, especially if you’re wearing a complexion product (foundation, concealer, powder, color corrector, etc.)
Some people swear by them while others hate them. I personally love the convenience of them (they’re great for traveling!) and how I can get quite a bit of my makeup off in one step.
My two favorite makeup wipe options are the classic Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes and the Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes (either the ones for sensitive skin or the cucumber and sage). If you don’t like wipes, some Bioderma Micelle Solution on a cotton pad also works too.
After I take the first layer of makeup off with a wipe, I usually use something oil-based next.
I know some people will recoil in horror when I say this, but I use coconut oil to get rid of that last bit of stubborn makeup (including mascara). My skin has never had an adverse reaction to it, though for some people it can clog pores.
I usually spoon out about a quarter-sized chunk from the jar, warm it a little between my (just washed) fingers, and then massage it onto my face and eyelids for about a minute or so. When I feel like most of the remaining makeup has melted off, I wipe the coconut oil away with a super soft (white and bleachable) towel or washcloth. If I wore makeup that day, whatever was left on my face after the wipe is now on that towel.
Now, say you have an allergy to coconut or would rather sleep in your makeup than put coconut oil on your face. Don’t worry, there are other options! My second favorite is the CLINIQUE Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, which is a really great choice if you travel a lot since it’s a solid balm in a jar. CLINIQUE also makes a Cleansing Oil that’s great too.
If you have on stubborn eye makeup, like waterproof mascara, or if you’ve only worn eye makeup and don’t feel like going through the process of all this other stuff, you might want a special eye makeup remover. The Sephora Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover is great at getting off all that waterproof stuff. Just put some on a cotton ball, gently press it to your eye for about twenty to thirty seconds, then gently swipe off.
Once the majority of your makeup is off, it’s time for the next step.
2. Cleanse, and don’t half-ass it! [AM&PM]
Pick a cleanser, any cleanser!
Okay, maybe not any cleanser, but there are so many out there and hopefully you’ll be able to find one that works for you.
I recommend this particular cleanser for all skin types, but especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. First Aid Beauty’s Face Cleanser is a cream cleanser and is my every day go-to. It’s gentle on the skin, but it definitely gets it clean without stripping away moisture.
Another cleanser for sensitive skin is the HYMED Gentle Skin Cleanser. My esthetician recommended this to me, as I was dealing with some skin irritation at the time and this was one of the few things that didn’t make it worse. It’s perfect for anyone who needs a gentle cleanser but still wants their skin to feel clean.
If you have oily skin or just want a really deep clean, First Aid Beauty’s Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser with Red Clay is great. I use this gel cleanser once a week before applying an exfoliating mask. I wouldn’t personally use this as my every day cleanser, but I know a lot of people do and love it. It all just depends on your skin!
Another deep cleaning cleanser I like is the Boscia Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser. It looks a little scary at first (it’s a black gel) but it feels so luxurious since it warms on contact. It’s especially lovely on a cold winter day.
Now, when I say “don’t half-ass it” I mean give your skin the care and attention that it needs. That means not neglecting your hairline, jawline, and down your neck. The oils from our hair and products we put in it can make their way onto our skin, possibly causing breakouts. If you’re wearing makeup and blending it into your jaw/down your neck, accidentally leaving some behind can also cause breakouts.
So when you’re cleansing, make sure you’re taking a solid minute to go over the middle of your face, the perimeter, and down your neck. Does it get a little messy sometimes? For sure. But it’s well worth it.
This is a great video to show you the motions of how properly cleanse your face. Of course, I’m not out here using thermal water or anything (the tap is just fine for me) so we can just… ignore that part. (Unless you want to use thermal water! More power to ya, my friend!)
Also, remember to pat or dab your face dry, never rub!
3. Toner, I guess? [AM&PM]
I’ve never really been big on toners. Like, I understand they have their role in skincare, and there are a million kinds that do a bunch of different things, but… I’ve never really used one that I think does all that much for my skin.
Maybe that means I just need to do some more experimenting! I’m up for it. Maybe 2019 is the year I finally find a toner that I think does something. I’ve heard good things about the Pixi Glow Tonic and the Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol Free Toner, so maybe when I’m willing to spend some more money, I’ll try those out.
This isn’t to say I don’t use a toner. I do! I use the Thayers Alcohol-Free Cucumber Witch Hazel Toner, which smells and feels super refreshing. I splash some on a cotton pad, gently rub it over my face, and witness any leftover dirt/oil come away—which usually isn’t much after essentially double cleansing. It doesn’t feel like the most important step, but I do it anyway.
I know a lot of people use rose and rosewater based (or infused) toners and love them, but I Cannot Do That unless I want to break out in the worst rash of my life. Remember when I said “don’t put things on your face that you’re allergic to”? Well, I’m allergic to roses as well. It’s an actual tragedy. I deserve to have all of my Middle Eastern street cred revoked because of this. How can I be Persian if I’m allergic to rosewater? That stuff’s in everything.
4. Exfoliate! (If you shout it, it sounds like a spell from Harry Potter) [1 to 2x per week OR as needed]
So, there are two kinds of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliants are what most people are familiar with, like sugar scrubs or those face washes with little beads (or other scrubby-bits) in them. Chemical exfoliants are, well, chemicals. They use relatively gentle acids to help essentially slough off dead skin cells over time and help reveal new cells.
For this step, I’m going to be talking about physical exfoliants, the kind you’d probably use after cleansing, or even in conjunction with.
I don’t use physical exfoliants very often because I use other products that do the same job, just in a different form. I’ll explain more about chemical exfoliants when we get to section on serums and acids.
When I do use them, tbh… I’m not picky as long as it doesn’t have rough or jagged particles that can really damage the skin. I usually use whatever has been sent to me in a beauty subscription box. I honestly don’t think I’ve bought any since I was in, like, sixth grade and using that awful St. Ives Apricot Scrub. Believe me, there are better choices you can get at the drugstore than that!
Of the exfoliants that I’ve used, these are the ones I really like: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment (expensive as heck but I’ve never purchased it, just gotten a lot of samples), the Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Face Polish (again, samples only), and the Vasanti Brighten Up! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator (from a beauty subscription box).
A couple of my friends rave about the Fresh Sugar Face Polish, but I have yet to try it!
Now, the next step is also something you don’t have to do every day: a face mask.
STOP. Masking Time. [1 to 2x per week OR as needed]
Sundays are my big self-care days. For me, that includes a face mask.
I do the Origins Original Skin Retexurizing Mask once a week which helps to exfoliate and “boost radiance”, which I’d say it does pretty darn well. Since it’s an exfoliating mask, I only use other physical exfoliators (see the previous step) when I feel like my skin needs a scrub in between.
Of course, there are plenty of other masks out there that will suit your personal skin needs. For clogged pores and acne, I suggest Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask. For dry skin in need of moisture, I suggest Origins Hello, Calm Relaxing & Hydrating Mask.
(Before you ask, no, I promise you this post is not sponsored by Origins—or anyone else, for that matter—I just love their masks. So, Origins, if you see this… call me)
Another mask I use every so often when I feel like my skin is looking dull and I’m dealing with any sort of discoloration is the Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask. It’s expensive, but it lasts for ages and I look pretty dang fresh after using it.
5. Serums and acids and treatments, oh my! [AM or PM, depending on formulation]
I’m not a scientist. I went into college thinking I was going to major in Chemistry and walked out with a degree in Geography. I don’t know diddly squat about chemical compounds and scary sounding acids. I can make you a map though.
The first two are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), a type of chemical exfoliant. The last one is all about moisture, as it helps draw in and lock in moisture, helping your skin stay hydrated.
As I mentioned in the section on exfoliation, I prefer chemical exfoliants and use them far more often than physical ones. They really help with hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and generally evening out skintone.
But ughhhh, these babies can be expensive, especially the ones that I really love. However, there are companies coming out with more affordable versions, which makes me so happy.
Let’s start with the bougie ones first, though.
I genuinely hate myself for saying this, but my holy grail product is the Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment. Dear God, it’s expensive. So expensive!! Why must it make my skin so smooth and glowy!!! I always use it on my Sunday self-care days, right after I rinse the exfoliating mask off. The next morning my skin looks fantastic.
I try to limit myself to using this only twice a week (at night) but it’s hard to hold back. The stuff’s just so good.
I also like the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum, another chemical exfoliant and also unsettlingly expensive. But it works so dang well. It’s also one I apply at night. And remember, if you’re putting these AHAs on your skin, you definitely need to be wearing sunscreen, as they can make your skin even more sensitive to UV rays.
More reasonably priced options would be The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid Serum (which is honestly pretty great and SUPER inexpensive) and their super scary but super cool looking AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution which is actually a treatment you wash off and not a serum you leave on (like the Ren Glycolic Acid mask). I honestly love The Ordinary and their prices.
For daytime, I like to use a hyaluronic acid serum. My go-to is the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum. Or you could try The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic 2% +B5 Serum. (Are you sensing an Ordinary theme yet? And also a First Aid Beauty one? They’re two of my favorite brands, for sure)
Also, for those of you dealing with hyperpigmentation, a serum with Vitamin C can definitely help. However, my skin hates serums with Vitamin C; it makes me break out like crazy, thus defeating the purpose of the serum. Still, it might be a good option for you! A bougie choice would be either the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum or the Sunday Riley CEO Rapid Flash Brightening Serum. A far more reasonable choice would be The Ordinary’s Vitamin C Suspension.
STOP. Sheet Masking Time. [1 to 2x per week OR as needed, but totally optional]
Y’all hear about the 10-step Korean skincare routine? I feel like this is essentially my own version of it, sheet masks included.
I love sheet masks!!! I love the slime and the goo and the way you can scare the living daylights out of your neighbor if you go to check the mail with one on!!! Plus, they just feel so cool and soothing and luxurious. They’re a favorite of mine.
I love them so much that I get a sheet mask subscription box each month and hit up The Face Shop whenever I can. One day when I talk about subscription boxes, I’ll go into more detail about my favorite sheet masks that I’ve gotten from Facetory.
Sephora also has a great line of sheet masks. My favorite is the algae one.
6. Eye cream, ’cause yo’ girl’s got lines AND dark circles [AM&PM]
According to the lines under my eyes, I am a Woman of Age. An elder. An auntie asking when you’re going to get married. (When are you getting married, hmm?)
In actuality, I’m only in my 20s, but lemme tell ya, I wish I’d started using eye cream earlier, if only for the moisturizing properties and nothing else. The skin under your eyes is pretty thin and delicate, and the better care you give it now, the healthier it will be later on in life.
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with lines and dark circles. I rock mine without concealer or any sort of covering with no shame. The darkness under my eyes is both hereditary and a proud badge of honor that I Have Not Slept Peacefully In Seven Years, Thank You For Asking.
I rely a lot on samples for eye creams because, just like serums, they can be distressingly expensive for such a tiny amount of product. But honestly, I’m sure there are relatively inexpensive ones out there that get the job done just as well as their pricey friends. I just need to do some more experimenting!
My favorites are the Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, the IT Costmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Cream, the Algenist Complete Eye Renewal Balm, the Shiseido Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Intensive Eye Contour Cream, and the slightly more reasonably priced (ha!) CLINIQUE Pep-Start Eye Cream. All of them are super hydrating and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my dark circles after using the Algenist balm (though not so much with the other ones).
7. Moisturize! Moisturize! Moisturize! [AM&PM]
You know all that good stuff you’ve just put on your face? You gotta lock all that ish in!!
Also, my fellow oily-skin friends: your skin still needs moisture, don’t deprive it! Honestly, when I started using a truly hydrating moisturizer, I noticed that my oiliness got a lot better. And whenever I use one of those “oil free” gel moisturizers, I become an oil slick in about a half hour because my skin is overproducing oil to compensate for the lack of moisture.
My holy grail moisturizer is the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream. I can’t live without this stuff. I buy the biggest tube available and slather it all over my face, neck, chest, hands, and elbows because it’s so hydrating and soothing. It’s amazing. And an 8oz tube of it will last me about six months.
If you’re interested in a lighter moisturizer, I’m a fan of the Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Cream. It’s hideously expensive, but a little goes a looong way.
Now, if it’s daytime and you’re planning to out in the sun, you definitely need sun protection.
8. Please wear sunscreen (that you’re not allergic to) [AM]
Everyone should be wearing sunscreen. Everyone! From those with the lightest skin to the darkest skin, we all need to be protecting our body’s largest organ from sun damage.
That said, I know how hard it can be to find the right one for you personally.
There are two main types of sunscreen available: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens usually contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting UV rays. Chemical sunscreens usually contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and/or avobenzone. They work by converting those UV rays into heat and then they release that heat from the skin. Essentially, it’s absorbing the UV rays instead of your skin.
Each has their pros and cons, so do some research to find what will work best for you. Because of my strange sensitivity to titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, I can’t use physical sunscreen, so I usually stick to chemical formulas.
Now, if you’re a darker-skinned person like me, there’s something else we have to worry about with sunscreen: the ash-factor. Certain sunscreens, no matter how much I rub them into my skin, will make me look “ashy”, or weirdly bluish-purple toned. It’s, uh, not very flattering.
Check out this video from Naturally Curly where they test sunscreens for the ash-factor. It’s hilarious and full of valuable information.
They test two of my favorite sunscreens in that video: the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Drytouch Sunblock and the (horrifically expensive but amazing!!!) Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield. I also love the Dr. Jart UV Sun Fluid, but I’m pretty sure it’s been discontinued since I can’t find it anymore 😭
9. Don’t forget your lips! [as needed]
Your lips are important too! They can also get sunburned and dry/flaky, so keep them protected and moisturized. Find a balm or treatment that has SPF in it for daytime and something really moisturizing at night. I’m always using something different, and this is something you can buy at any price point! My main go-to is the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm with SPF 25 in either natural mint or black tea & blackberry.
Also, you might want to exfoliate your lips with a nice sugar scrub if they’re a little flaky, just to help remove the dead skin.
If you are able, see a dermatologist and/or a trained esthetician
I’ve been to dermatologists on and off over my life for various skin issues/questions. My derm was the one who actually first suggested I stop using a moisturizer with SPF to see what would happen. If you have severe or painful acne, super dry/itchy skin, or severe redness/irritation, they can prescribe you certain medications/creams that you might not otherwise have access to. They’re the doctors you should definitely go see if you’re having little to no luck with various skin issues.
As for estheticians, they can perform various skin treatments, like facials and chemical peels. I had my first ever facial in August 2018 and oh my God, it was amazing. I mean, the fire alarm went off in the middle of my appointment, but like… it was still the best experience. My skin had never felt so clean! I was a new woman! My amazing esthetician even suggested products for my particular skin type and helped me improve my skincare routine.
Unfortunately, access to dermatologists and estheticians can be limited because of cost (especially in the US). If you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, it still may not cover certain dermatologist visits or certain prescriptions, as they’re seen as “cosmetic” and not exactly crucial to your health. Not to mention facials are usually seen as a luxury and can cost a pretty penny.
Still, if you have access to and can afford either, I definitely suggest a visit.
Nice skin starts from the inside
Ugh, I know no one wants to hear that, but it’s true. Please stay hydrated. Eat your fruits and veggies. Cut down on (or cut out completely) dairy products if you notice they congest your skin. Try to keep your stress levels down (ha!). And remember that hormones can play a huge role in the clarity of your skin.
Wow, this was an extremely long post, but I hope it was helpful or informational in some way.
In the comments, let me know what your skincare routine is like! Is it similar to mine? Does it have 15 extra steps that I missed? Or are you just a wash-and-moisturize kind of person? If it works for you, there’s no shame in it!
Thanks for taking the time to read through all of this!
P.S. Make sure you’re changing your pillowcases at least once a week as well! Dirt and oil builds up on them and can make you break out!