Since I am now finding myself answering reader questions, I thought I might take the time to present my general philosophy of skincare and question some of the assumptions and over-generalizations that can sometimes plague the beauty blogosphere. Now, despite this post’s controversial-sounding title and accompanying picture, I’m not actually planning on writing anything too inflammatory. Frankly, I just wanted to take a picture with my pretty purple boxing gloves. Aren’t they the cutest? Moving on. Of course, this being the Internet, it’s entirely possible that someone will find cause to take offense at, well, anything, but I am simply trying to provide a tiny bit of clarity in the murky seas of information.
As it happens, I have been planning this post for a while, but it recently moved up to the top of my posting queue, thanks to this thoughtful comment from Maria:
“I am not sure on my skin type and have been experimenting with natural products from May Lindstrom, Yuli, LBF, de Mamiel…. My skin seems prone to breakouts…not a huge deal, just minor ones as well as some redness… I actually came off of a cosmeceutical line that used glycolics, lactics, salicylics as well as…..alcohol…..which can be irritating, all kinds of information on the internet can make a person second guess what they are using… Some estheticians actually shun face oils which they say lead to clogged pores and irritation, and always push the Aha and Bha route. I have been fed so much information. Some say exfoliate with scrubs, others say don’t exfoliate with scrubs..use retinols and so on…. What is a girl to do?? What do we believe? You seem rather knowledgable as I have been reading all your posts which are very informative. I would just like to hear your take…and what you suggest for someone trying to get there skin balanced and in check… Do we start with a foaming natural cleanser such as Yuli? Do we go for an oil cleanser or a balm cleanser? I am a person once I start and I get a pimple….oh it must be that product, when it could very well be internally more than topically. Love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.”
I took my time to respond to Maria’s comment because the answer to it is the very post I have been planning on writing. The fact that she asked it is indicative of just how much conflicting information bombards the beauty consumer on a daily basis. Now, I certainly do not have all of the answers (probably not even a few of them), but I will try to help disperse the fog just the tiniest bit.
So, first things first. This is the one thing that should be both glaringly obvious and is likely to be the most controversial: no one has a one-size-fits-all answer to obtaining and maintaining perfect (or even good) skin. Most definitely no one on the Internet. Our skins are unique and affected by everything from genetics and environment to lifestyle and career choices. No really: as any junior associate in a law firm can attest, it’s hard to stay dewey, whilst spending your days in stale office air, eating nothing, but takeout and getting by on 8 hours of sleep. A week.
These differences mean that one woman’s skin panacea, is another’s express train to breakout-town. I’ll give one example. As many of you know, I worship at the altar of Saint Caroline Hirons. The woman is brilliant, no-nonsense, helpful and, most importantly, absolutely bloody hilarious. She is the source of my own Cleansing Gospel (which I will share with you presently), she confirmed that using a Clarisonic is not the best idea (or a terrible one, in my particular case) and I can now refer to her when I say that “skin purging” is not a thing and shouldn’t happen if you’re using correct skincare. Seriously. Your skin is not bulimic. Still, with all of my appreciation for Lady Hirons’ advice, it so happens that one of her most vehement recommendations also happens to be virtually disastrous for my skin. I am talking about acid toners.
Now, to back up (and to address Maria’s question), there exist two schools of thought when it comes to exfoliation. Pretty much everyone, from dermatologists to bloggers, agrees that regular exfoliation is practically a prerequisite for having good skin. Exfoliation helps remove dulling and pore-clogging dead skin cells and encourages cell turnover and the production of new cells, thus helping the skin stay younger longer. Some of the most powerful weapons in a dermatologist’s arsenal, from microdermabrasion and microplaning/dermaplaning, to chemical peels, laser treatments and, on the less extreme side of things, retinol, are all various methods for exfoliating the skin.
Where opinions differ is whether the best methods for exfoliating the skin are physical or chemical. Physical exfoliation, achieved by using scrubs, microdermabrasion or dermaplaning, effectively scrubs/scrapes off the top layer of skin. It’s quick, cheap if you use at-home methods, more natural and provides satisfyingly instant results: a skin is left smoother, softer and glowier. On the other hand, adherents of chemical exfoliation claim (not incorrectly) that rough, scrubby particles can cause microscopic tears in the skin, which increase inflammation and can actually accelerate aging, instead of combatting it. Chemical exfoliants, which include various acids, such as glycolic, BHA, AHA, etc., as well as retinol, are supposed to be gentler (this only applies to the non-prescription, at-home products) and provide more gradual results.
Regular readers of Caroline Hirons’ blog know that she is very firmly in the chemical exfoliation camp. I happen to like scrubs (the way my skin looks after using May Lindstrom’s Clean Dirt is almost remarkably luminous and glowing), but CH’s insistence on the superiority of using chemical exfoliators (she recommends using an acidic toner after cleansing) led me to try them, including her beloved (and not at all clean) Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 (I did choose the version without the very suspect and especially potent phenol). The results were disastrous.
Ultimately, I have learned that even the most natural, gorgeous and gentle chemical exfoliators do not suit my skin. Because it is naturally thin, dry and delicate, my skin does not cope well with the thinning effects of chemical exfoliators: it may look glowing and softer after the first couple of days of application, but with continued use it begins to look thin, dry, fragile and, worst of all, old. I still use some very gentle chemical exfoliants (Kypris Beauty’s gorgeous and gentle Moonlight Catalyst and True Nature Botanicals Night Serum with Retinol are particular favorites), but I use them sporadically and when my skin feels in particular need of decongesting and/or brightening. I also like to couple these exfoliators with collagen-boosting vitamin C products, such as TNB’s Topical Vitamin C Treatment, which I mix into the Night Serum, or LBF’s Modern Radiance Concentrate to counter the thinning effects of the exfoliators. Ultimately, I discovered that the best approach for my skin is to use physical exfoliants with a gentle touch all over my face, giving a bit more attention to congestion-prone areas like my nose and chin.
Ultimately, there are some universal rules, but the most important thing is to know your own skin and to pay close attention to how it reacts to both product categories and specific products (i.e. just because one Vitamin C product worked for you, doesn’t mean another won’t break you out in hives). Based on what I know about the state of Maria’s skin, I would think that the combination of congestion and sensitivity (redness prone) would indicate that she should steer clear of strong acids, alcohol (which is best avoided anyway) and harsh/intense scrubs. I think a mild chemical exfoliant like the Moonlight Catalyst might be worth a shot, perhaps coupled with Kypris’ Clearing Serum, which is targeted for breakout prone skin. And now, here are my hard and fast skincare rules, which I, of course, encourage you to adapt to your skin’s unique needs.
Wash Yo Face! Seriously, this is probably the most important rule of all. If you wear a lot of makeup/heavy sunscreen and suffer from breakouts, it’s entirely possible that you are not washing your face sufficiently well. If you use a cleansing balm or oil, do make sure you remove it properly. A wet washcloth is a must, but I strongly suggest a second cleanse with a lighter cream cleanser, a non-stripping, gentle foaming cleanser or an enzymatic gel cleanser like the ones from La Bella Figura, Yuli or Josh Rosebrook.
Oil Is Your Friend. As much as I dislike bashing skincare professionals, if an aesthetician tells you to avoid face oils, I would seriously questions her qualifications and agenda. Oils are fantastic for the skin. The key, of course, is finding the right one. Mineral oil is a no-no: it’s cheap, pore-clogging and provides no benefit to the skin, aside from acting as an occlusive. If your skin is prone to congestion, you may want to steer clear of coconut oil and heavier oils like avocado. Now, while a carrier oil is not generally going to be an irritant (unless you are, say, allergic to nuts and use almond oil, etc.), essential oils are a different story. Essential oils are highly active and do, unfortunately, carry a risk of irritation. Here it takes trial and error, but if your skin is particularly reactive, I would recommend sticking with facial oil formulas that are not too essential oil heavy.
If your skin is oily, a proper oil will both balance sebum production and keep your skin hydrated. I am not really the target audience for face oils created for oily skin, but I have used and loved Yuli’s ME Skin Fuel and TNB’s new Balancing Face Oil.
Listen to Your Skin. Regardless of what I or anyone else tells you, no one knows your skin as well as you. Take the advice you need and apply it to your unique circumstances. So if you live in a humid, hot climate, you might need to use lighter products and if you (like me) have been suffering through an interminable New York winter, you might need to treat your skin with extra care and provide it with ample hydration.
Same rule of thumb applies to food. What you eat doesn’t always show on your face and not all pimples are caused by french fries, but if you are struggling with persistent skin issues, it’s definitely worth taking a look at your diet. Dairy and sugar are frequent culprits for breakouts and inflammation, respectively. I am reluctant to even begin to recommend lifestyle changes (I’m not a doctor and don’t even play one on TV), but cutting down on sugar, eating more good fats (sardines and avocados are your friends), greens and antioxidant berries (yum!) and drinking plenty of water is always good for your body. Clear, glowing skin is just a bonus.
This is it for now. I will now return to regularly scheduled programming of product reviews (boy, have I got a gorgeous backlog!), cleanser roundups (I still owe you posts on oil, scrub and “in-betweeny” cleansers) and lots more. Stay tuned! xx