I often get rather amazing, thoughtful and fairly deep-diving comments on my posts, both here and on Instagram. I figure that my other readers might be interested in reading my answers (and I need to be my ridiculously verbose self), so this feature is where I answer them. Ask your brilliant questions in comments and will do a regular digest with my answers. Of course, please keep in mind that I am not a dermatologist or an aesthetician, so my advice comes strictly from personal experience and obsessive research.

One of my awesome Instagram friends, Waldgalopp, asked for recommendations for a clean chemical exfoliant. Although in my Fighting Words post I talk about my preference for physical exfoliants, I wanted to highlight a few fabulous clean and green chemical exfoliants (yep, such a thing is possible) and one recent discovery that has become my latest product obsession.

My skin’s quirks notwithstanding, chemical exfoliation is possibly the most gentle way to exfoliate the skin, increase cell turnover, stave off fine lines and increase luminosity. Unlike conventional products that often use harsh acids, as well as a host of other less-than-savory nasties, their green counterparts use gentle fruit and lactic acids and include nourishing oils, antioxidants and actives that improve the looks and condition of the skin. Do note that the products I am featuring here are daily exfoliants, rather than exfoliating masks like the True Nature Botanicals Pacific Exfoliating Moisture Mask and the Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, both of which are an excellent way to get quick results and instant glow.

Kypris Beauty Moonlight Catalyst uses fermented pumpkin enzymes to gently exfoliate the skin. This light serum’s beautiful bottle houses equality beautiful and sophisticated ingredients. Though gentle, this is definitely an active product and its light texture means that it can be used both by the mature and the oily/acneic skin types. Moonlight Catalyst is a nighttime serum and I use it in conjunction with my oils and night creams, but if your skin is particularly oily/acneic or just young and not needing too much extra hydration, you could use it on its own or with Kypris’ hydrating Antioxidant Dew or acne-fighting Clearing Serum.

I am planning on doing a comprehensive review of the wonderful (and affordable) line Ursa Major of Vermont in an upcoming post, but its 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic (also available as a convenient portable wipe) is another top notch chemical exfoliant. Using the more traditional alpha and beta hydroxy acids (naturally derived, of course), this is a traditional “acid toner” as championed by Caroline Hirons. I would suggest using it the same way as does Ms. Hirons: first cleanse, then acid tone, then a hydrating/soothing toner or toner spray and followed by your serums/oils/creams/what have you. It’s worth mentioning that although gentle and very well-frmulated, this is a strong product, so if your skin is especially sensitive, you might want to try a sample first.

Beautycounter’s Enlightening Treatment Pads are the green beauty answer to all those exfoliating pads I used to get pushed at me during my Bliss facials (side note: did anyone else find those facials stressful? So much upselling, it was kind of insane!). A combination of fruit acids, antioxidants and lentil seed extract promise to ward off wrinkles, tighten pores and protect the skin. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I only bought these pads yesterday. I saw them at my amazing nail salon Ten Over Ten (go there if you were freaked out by the NYT article about employee abuses at nail salons) and figured they would be perfect for this post. Because I love you. So anyway, these haven’t gone through my customary extensive testing, but I used them last night and this morning and have experienced zero irritation or redness. The ingredient list on these is superb and the pads themselves have an intensely scrubby texture, so I think they would be a perfect replacement for all those conventional exfoliating pads.

And now we come to my personal exfoliation holy grail. In one of my very first posts, I have written about my love for the Pacific Night Serum with Retinol. Retinol is considered by many to be the ultimate skin-clearing and anti-aging ingredient and the Pacific serum combines it with a host of other powerful anti-agers in a light, beautifully-scented formula. Still, this serum is powerful stuff and sometimes, especially if I used it in winter, I would find it just a bit much for my skin. It’s not that I would experience any irritation, but I did seem to notice that treacherous thinning with prolonged use. So despite loving its effect on my skin, I would sometimes find a bottle of the Retinol Serum unfinished because I felt like I needed to give my skin a break.

Imagine my delight then when I learned that True Nature Botanicals was coming out with a sensitive skin version of the serum. Though I was thrilled to try it, I did wonder whether this less potent version will end up being less effective. I shouldn’t have worried: in texture, look, smell and feel this serum is in no way different from its predecessor. Most importantly, it is also no different in its positive effect on my skin. I have faithfully used it every night and I have been getting compliments on my skin practically on a daily basis. At the same time, I have noticed no thinning whatsoever! It also seems to get rid of blemishes and irritations overnight. For fear of sounding like Goldilocks, TNB seems to have struck the perfect balance with this product: not too strong, not too weak, but just right. I am already freaking out about running out: my bottle is nearly gone. Now, I always say that everyone’s skin is different and no product is perfect for everyone, but as far as my skin is concerned, this baby is a clear winner.

Jasmine asked me an interesting question about sunblock in the comments and although I already answered, I think it’s a very important subject, especially as we are heading into summer and I wanted to discuss it here. “Thanks to you I got my eyes on the Josh Rosebrook Daily Lotion with SPF 30. I love it! My skin really is amazed by it.. the only thing is that for summer I would like to use an natural sunscrren higher than 30, the best would be one with 50. Because I really have big struggle with hyperpigmentation it is something I have to do on a daily basis; protect my skin from the sun as best as it gets. I have fairly blemish prone skin, slightly oily and would love an not so whiteish mattifing solution. Any solution for an SPF 50 daily lotion?..”

Initially, Jasmine’s question stumped me: I simply couldn’t think of a natural sunscreen that offered an SPF protection factor over 30. And then it hit me: we don’t need SPF higher than 30. Dermatologists have been warning about the risks of too-high SPF. For starters, an SPF of 50 only offers 1% more protection than an SPF 30 (98% vs. 97%). In addition, SPF doesn’t block all of the harmful rays, but a high SPF can give a false sense of security, which can, in turn, lead to more skin damage and even skin cancer. Still, there are ways to protect your skin beyond the protection offered by sunblock. The same antioxidants that prevent aging also protect your skin against environmental aggressors, including the harming sun ray.

Some of my favorite oils are formulated with a stellar collection of antioxidant ingredients that can really amp the protection provided by your sunscreen. Yuli’s Liquid Courage, La Bella Figura’s Daily Elements Defense, Laurel Skin’s Antioxidant and Sun Repair Serums all combine sophisticated plant ingredients that help shield the skin from harmful sun exposure. Meanwhile, In Fiore’s Soleil Fleur Before Sun Treatment is a lightweight serum created specifically to prevent sun damage. Layer it under your antioxidant oil and sunscreen and your skin’s defenses will be practically impenetrable (though you should probably still  wear a hat on the beach).

To be honest, I happen to have a vitamin D deficiency and I don’t think that keeping out every single ray of sunshine is the best possible approach. Learn what works for your skin (if you are lily-fair, your risk of exposure is higher than those with darker complexions) and use the best sun protection for the given circumstances. If you are laying out on the beach, bring out the sunscreen big guns, but for an overcast day spent at the office you might be able to get away with something a bit lighter.

This last question also comes from Instagram. The lovely Msalexcooley asks: “What skin regimen do you follow when you wake up and you’re going to the gym? Any skincare habits before the gym?”

If I am perfectly honest, my morning routine is largely dependent on whether I have time to shower in the morning. When I do, I use a gentle cleanser and follow my full daytime routine: hydrating spray toner, eye cream, serum, oil and moisturizer/sun protection (all of these get varied depending on what I happen to be using at the moment. Unfortunately, an hour-long commute to my son’s school often means that I sometimes have to make a choice between my morning cup of coffee loaded with Sun Potion boosters and a shower. As you can imagine, the shower usually loses. On those days I make do with splashing some water of my face, a toner spray (can’t live without those) and a bit of face oil.

As for the pre-gym routine, I try to avoid anything too heavy. I won’t use heavy sunscreen or a particularly rich moisturizer: my SoulCycle sessions leave me drenched and dripping with sweat and I don’t want to strangle my skin with heavy products. And speaking of strangling, if there is one bit of advice I can give for your pre-gym routine it’s this: please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t wear makeup to the gym! Look, I am not judging. I happen to prefer going makeup-free, but have plenty of friends who feel naked without it. Still, you are there to sweat (I presume. If you are there to meet a potential partner I totally get it and respect your struggle. Carry on) and you really don’t need a layer of coverage keeping your pores from working at optimal capacity. If you are doing gentle, low impact exercise like barre, Pilates, yoga (not Bikram, obvs) and the like, I suppose there is no harm in a touch of mascara and lipgloss if you need it to feel more alive/pretty, but it’s probably still best to leave the full-on contouring for other occasions.

I honestly don’t mean to sound judgey and ultimately you should do whatever makes you feel most confident and beautiful. After all, sometimes getting to the gym can be a struggle, so if that blush and mascara help motivate you, then you go with your bad self and wear all the makeup you need. Just be aware that it can cause breakouts once mixed with exercise, so if your workout is making you breakout, you might want to think about dialing back on the makeup.

Disclaimer: The TNB Pacific Serum with Retinol for Sensitive Skin was generously sent for my review after I have purchased the original version at least half a dozen time. I will never be without the sensitive version again. The Ursa Major exfoliating wipes were also sent for my review. I will be buying more for my husband. The rest of the products I purchased myself.

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