Hello Boxy Ladies! I am thrilled to have been given the esteemed opportunity to guest blog. I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Lauren in a Facebook group of women who share mutual interests, including makeup, fashion and skincare, so the question of skincare routines has come up a time or two. And I am usually the one spouting off my laundry list the loudest. So in an effort to quiet me I think, Lauren offered me the chance to discuss my routine here. (Lauren’s Note: That is absolutely not true! I love hearing which products Loren is currently into and so selfishly, I thought she could just write them all down for me so I could refer to them later. And then I thought it would make for an interesting blog! So here we are! And I was right… it’s super interesting! And it’s actually going to be a little mini-series because Loren really knows her shit, so there is a lot to digest! So stay tuned for Part 2 [or 3?] soon! You’re in for a treat! And a belated Happy Birthday to Loren– her birthday was yesterday!)
To say I love skincare is an understatement. I have spent many a sleepless night falling down the dizzying rabbit hole of skincare blogs, subreddits and online magazine articles. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with good skin. I suffered with acne all through my adolescence, which has caused scarring as an adult, and I still experience painful hormonal breakouts. I spent my self-esteemless teenage years visiting dermatologists, trying infomercial products and even humoring my mother’s strange home-spun remedies (fun fact: camomile tea does absolutely nothing to clear up a white head. Shocking, I know!). And during college, self-care wasn’t exactly a priority compared to paper-writing marathons, so my skin suffered for it. Did 20 year old me know anything about exfoliation and SPF and hydration? Nope, but she knew plenty about Virginia Woolf and Weimar Germany! So useful! I was under the misconception that acne needed to be “dried out,” so I did not apply moisturizer properly for years. And sun protection? I don’t think I thought anyone in Connecticut needed sun protection.
Cut to: turning 30. That dreaded age when you inevitably flash back to the mistakes and misguided decisions of your youth. I was desperate to catch up for years of skin neglect. Seeing a dermatologist again, I finally found someone who understood my condition and prescribed medications that, miraculously, made a difference! But once my skin was clear, I knew that wasn’t the end of skincare. Suddenly I had to worry about: FINE LINES! LOSS OF ELASTICITY! DULLNESS! TEXTURE! DARK SPOTS! COLLAGEN PRODUCTION! The concerns seemed never-ending, and the opinions about the best products to use or methodologies to adopt even more bottomless. It felt impossible to sort through all the noise and actually settle on a good system, and my urgency to turn back the clock didn’t help matters.
For reference, my skin is dry and sensitive, easily irritated and prone to (mainly) hormonal breakouts. I suffer from hyper-pigmentation and scarring. So it has been a challenge to find products that treated these disparate concerns effectively, all while trying my best to remain cruelty-free (CF) and irritant-free (although imperfectly so). But <knock on wood> I think I am finally at that point of relative balance, and am happy to share the fruits of my skincare discoveries.
Depending on how quickly I need to leave the house in the morning, this part of my routine could, in all seriousness, take hours. I work from home, so I usually have the luxury to take my time and allow initial layers to absorb before adding more product. But I will vary this and other parts of my routine based on time constraints, and in general how my skin is looking or feeling that day. I believe that consistency in skincare is incredibly important, but that one also needs to “listen” to one’s skin and adjust treatments as necessary. You are treating an organ, not an academic concept on paper.
Step 1: Micellar Water
Although I don’t exactly “double cleanse” a la Kbeauty with an oil cleanser, I always pre-clean my face with micellar water before doing a proper cleansing. I tend to start the day with skin that is still caked with hydrators and oils from the night before, and want my skin to be as clear of these layers as possible before washing.
In general, micellar water is one of those superhero products I cannot live without. It is such a versatile product with myriad uses in my routine: as first-step cleanser, as a makeup remover, as a toner, as a light hydrator or refresher, as a substitute for “cleansing” during sweaty summer days or after the gym so I avoid over-washing my face. My preferred micellar waters at the moment are the Yes to Cotton Micellar Cleansing Water (Cruelty-Free CF) and the Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water for Sensitive Skin. They both do a good job of clearing any residue without drying my skin or annoying me with distracting fragrances.
Step 2: Cleanser
A no-brainer step, but one I try to do as sparingly as possible. I think over-cleansing can be as much a problem as not washing your face enough, so I try to use gentle products that won’t strip my skin. My HOLY GRAIL OF ALL TIME cleanser I have been using for over a decade is Philosophy Purity Made Simple. This milky cleanser does such a great job of breaking down dirt and leftover makeup while still keeping my skin smooth and supple. For a long time, it was the only cleanser that did not cause an irritated reaction or result in more breakouts. But recently I have found a new cleansing love: Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser (CF). Like Purity Made Simple, the Glossier face wash is extremely gentle and leaves my skin feeling soft and clean in a non-screechy way.
Step 3: Toner
Toner was always a step that seemed unnecessary until I learned how necessary it was. In the past, toner was important for restoring the ph of your skin after cleansing, but most face washes no longer affect ph dramatically. Nevertheless, toner is important for restoring hydration balance to your skin after cleansing, and can provide an infusion of good-for-you ingredients like anti-oxidants. I like to user toner to make sure my skin doesn’t dry out after washing, because I am still many steps away from applying my main moisturizer.
During the day, my preferred toner is Lush Eau Roma Water (CF). I love the spray bottle application and the feeling of the light mist on my skin. This is also a product that is a staple in my gym bag, because it provides hydration to my sweaty skin without my having to use thick creams.
Step 4a: Vitamin C
Along with retinol, peptides, niacinamide and exfoliating acids, vitamin C is one of my Top 5 best anti-aging skincare ingredients. It’s an important step for the prevention and correction I want to achieve for my skin, but it can also be a difficult ingredient to incorporate correctly or find the right version. There is plenty of research available regarding the best type of vitamin C to use, how to use it, how to layer it, how to store it, how to keep it stable, etc. – research that, while helpful, can also be overwhelming.
My vitamin C product of choice is Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum (CF) for the concentration and type of vitamin C it provides (15% L-Ascorbic Acid). It is also a more hydrating way of delivering vitamin C to my skin, contains other good-for-you ingredients, and comes in a nice, opaque pump bottle. Nevertheless, I still need to be careful how I use this product. I have read, mostly on Asian Beauty blogs, about the need to apply vitamin C directly to clean, dry skin, and how one can layer exfoliating acids over top. However, my skin cannot handle this application; I choose instead to layer the C-Firma Day Serum AFTER I apply toner, and I can only use it a few days a week. I am sure to slather on the SPF afterwards, and save the exfoliating acids for my evening routine. I keep this serum in my fridge to extend its shelf life – it will always smell like turkey cutlets though, no matter how chilled!
Step 4b: Essence
Ah, this is might be my absolute favorite step in my routine! I decided to incorporate an essence into my skincare routine after 1) reading so many Kbeauty skincare blogs; and 2) finding that I needed an additional hydrating step during the day. I wanted to achieve this extra level of hydration without incorporating heavier, fattier creams; I just needed an infusion of water-light hydration. Basically, I wanted the feeling of a sheet mask without having to buy a kajillion sheet masks.
I found this dream product with the Blithe 5 Energy Roots Vital Treatment Essence (for Hydration) (CF). Blithe, a Korean beauty and skincare company, is one of my favorite current brands, and I am very tempted to try their entire line of multi-tasking skincare products. I will apply this essence as a step in between toner and serum. It is one of the most versatile products I own: I use it an essence; as a kind of splash hydrator immediately after showering when my pores are nicely steamed; as a pre-gym moisturizer; and as a makeshift face-mask using pieces of cotton. It is also great for preparing my skin to receive additional layers of serums or creams. I am excited to try the version for lifting next!
Step 5: Serum
Another hydration step in my routine, I like to use a serum to deliver additional anti-aging ingredients to my skin and add moisture on the days I need the help. My current go-to is Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel (CR), which I like for its medley of ingredients (including hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5) and gel-like texture. It is advertised as a moisturizer for oily skin, but I could never use it as a stand-alone moisturizer. For me, it works as a serum or as a way to infuse other products with additional hydration. And while I enjoy the ingredients it contains, I do find the finish slightly mattifying and more drying than I would prefer. So once the bottle is used up, I will test Glossier Super Bounce (CF) or Arcona Hydrating Serum (CF), both of which are similar concept, hyaluronic acid serums. I apply my hydrating serum either after the Blithe essence or the C-Firma Day Serum.
Step 6: Moisturizer, Oils and Boosters
This is the step where I feel like all the fun, good work of skincare can happen. My day cream is one of the only things I will change in my routine between seasons. In the winter, I want to go as thick and fatty with my moisturizer as possible. My favorite winter moisturizer is Lush Celestial (CF) since it is incredibly nourishing and kind to sensitive skin. Because this cream does not contain any anti-oxidants or other anti-aging ingredients, however, I like to boost it with a beauty oil. My two favorite oils for this step are the Cover FX C + Lemongrass Custom Infusion Drops (CF) (when I do not use another vitamin C product) and Nude Skincare ProGenius Rescue Oil (CF) (which has been discontinued in the US sadly, boo!). The Cover FX C + Lemongrass is my preferred oil to apply before foundation, because this little vile of goodness will transform your complexion makeup into gorgeous sunshiney radiance.
In the summer, I opt for a light, more gel-like day moisturizer. Like the essence, I am looking for water-based hydration rather than anything too thick and creamy. Korean skincare is a great place to find these types of moisturizers, my favorites being Etude House Moistfull Collagen Water Jelly Cream, Missha Super Aqua Ultra Waterfull Clear Cream and Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb (CF), which smells delightfully of lemon-lime soda!
Step 7: SPF
Perhaps THE most important step of any skincare routine. I really wish I had understood the importance of sunscreen for more than beach sunburn protection at a younger age. Not just a preventative measure against skin cancer, SPF also protects against photo-aging, which means all these fancy, anti-oxidant charged serums and creams are worthless if not used with sunscreen.
I prefer to use mineral/physical SPFs, i.e., those that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, of at least 30 all-year round (between 30-40 SPF for the winter, and closer to 50 for summer months). Most of my sunscreens are combo SPF and moisturizer, so there are times I will only use my sunscreen as my main moisturizer. I cycle through a variety of sunscreens, some heavier and better suited for drier months, some oil-free for summertime, and some tinted to use in place of foundation. My current stable includes Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Daily Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 (CF) (perhaps my favorite due to its elegant, non-greasy finish and also best for layering over a regular moisturizer), Mineral Fusion SPF 40 Facial Moisturizer (CF) (a greasier but higher-protection sunscreen; best for use on its own when I don’t have time to layer) and Exuviance Sheer Daily Protector SPF 50 (CF) (tinted so it’s a nice option for travel or light-makeup days). I am still searching for the best oil-free physical SPF, and I plan to test CeraVe SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Lotion (CF) this summer.
Step 8: Eye Cream
Sigh. Eye creams are incredibly frustrating to me, because I have yet to find a magical product that has any concrete effect. I think my expectations are just too high, because my under-eyes are the source of my greatest anti-aging concerns. I blame all that silly smiling and laughing I did in my youth! I should have been far more taciturn and humorless!
Just kidding of course, but I do have lines to show for all those good times. So far, the best eye creams I have tried are mostly good at moisturizing and not fine-line improvement. But as far as hydration, I do have some favorites. In the mornings, I like to use a light eye cream or even just eye serum, such as Alpha Skincare Nourishing Eye Cream (CF) (a great choice for ingredients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid) and CSI Vivid Eyes Cucumber Eye Cream (CF). I apply by very gently dabbing (either with my middle or ring finger) and always follow with sunscreen in the daytime.
A step I haven’t mentioned is my prescription acne medication. Truth is, I am not always sure the best way to fit in this step, given the variety of toners, serums and creams I use. Lately, I have been choosing to use this medication sparingly on spots of distress. I will skip my acne cream on the days I use the vitamin C serum because my skin would dry out too much. I like to apply it after the toner and essence steps, but before serum and moisturizer. Since the medication creates a bit of a barrier on my skin, I need to make sure it is fully dried before applying thicker products on top. This is the forever struggle behind layering skincare!
Lauren here… (You know, the other one.) This is just Part 1! We’ll give you some time to digest all of this info before we move into Part 2 next week which will cover Loren’s Night Routine! And there may or may not be a Part 3.
(Post contains affiliate links but all opinions are Loren’s!)