It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I learn best by reading. When I was struggling to learn multiplication in second grade, my mom bought me a book that showed me how and finally got math to click. I own almost the entire Gossip Girl book series because my mom would order boxed sets at a time for me to read, because it would calm me down during periods of high stress in high school. And now, I work in publishing, specifically publishing non-fiction books, written specifically for the purpose of informing.
So it’s not surprising that when I’m interested in something new, I read as much as I can about it in hopes of understanding. I have at least three books about running that I bought when I started training for long races, a stack on politics purchased after the 2016 election, and even a book about “how to be a classy lady,” so graciously gifted to me by my very subtle mother. (I will say, that book taught me the single most valuable tip I’ve ever learned about how much wine to purchase for a party: one bottle per three people per hour. You’re welcome).
And so, when I was finally fed up with my mid-twenties skin looking like I was still thirteen, it’s not shocking that I sought out as many articles on skincare as I could.
What initially sparked my interest in beauty and skincare was when I discovered Beauty YouTubers when I was in college. For months on end I binged their backlog of videos, learning about makeup and a little bit about skincare. I perused the “travel” makeup sections at Sephora and Ulta, and tried everything I could. Years later, I’ve settled into a pretty simple, yet solid makeup routine, but still hadn’t addressed the underlying issue of the skin itself.
I started on YouTube, looking for recommendations from the Vloggers who had inspired my deep dive into makeup. Somehow, I was led to the site Into The Gloss, founded by Emily Weiss, now famous for the cult-classic skincare line, Glossier, which was actually born from the ITG comments section. I read every post I could find, and the comments on those posts. Some of the most important advice came from the comments (like in this open thread) rather than the articles. I caved and bought Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser. I bought a few products from The Ordinary, and a retinol cream, and a salicylic acid toner, all of which promised to smooth my skin’s texture and reduce acne. My skin fried.
For a week straight, my face burned, made worse by the freezing January temperatures in New York City. My routine was too much for me all at once, and I had no idea what I was doing. And then I found natural beauty, starting with this post.
On its face, “natural” or “green” beauty seemed simple and gentle and pure, and like it would rescue my dry, burning skin. I religiously researched the ingredients in my existing routine on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, and found that the majority of my products were not only harsh, but likely toxic. (The Environmental Working Group is also commonly known as the “Environmental Worry Group. They got me). I scoured sites like Credo Beauty, Detox Market, and CAP Beauty for “clean” alternatives to my favorite products. It was expensive, and a lot of work, and it wasn’t really even helping my skin.
During my time researching natural beauty, I frequently used the product recommendations on the subreddit r/NaturalBeauty. This was my first foray into Reddit, a land I previously assumed was inhabited by only racists and nerds. But everyone on this subreddit was nice and helpful and informative, and as my faith in natural beauty waned, my browsing led me to r/SkincareAddiction.
SkincareAddiction is one of the most informative and pleasant little spaces on the internet. They have an infinitely helpful sidebar with product recommendations based on worries about skincare afflictions (acne, hyperpigmentation, dehydration) and a basic starting routine. What’s more, they have a “Daily Help Thread” where newbies can ask questions and someone from the community will answer very helpfully, or point you to a resource on the site that can answer the question in-depth.
I learned that the skin I’ve called oily my whole life was just dehydrated, after I had decimated the moisture barrier that protects the various skin layers. Dehydrated skin is thirsty and overproduces oil, resulting in more acne. When you use a stripping cleanser or acid treatment, you exacerbate the problem, feeding the cycle. So the first step was to restore my moisture barrier at all costs. Of course, there were plenty of resources for doing that.
I stripped my routine down to the bare minimum: gentle, hydrating cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen. After a few months, my skin was noticeably bouncier and less angry, and definitely didn’t burn anymore. It was finally time to address the gross hormonal acne on my cheeks and chin that had been flourishing since I had my Mirena implanted in 2015.
The r/acne subreddit had a simple, informative guide to acne treatment, which wound up just being the simple addition of benzoyl peroxide to my routine at night. After a single week of slathering my face in the product, my skin cleared. My pores were less noticeable, and I was even glowing a little bit. I found this infinitely ironic, because at age 13, I asked my pediatrician for a solution for my acne and he, too, advised me to use BP every night. I did not. And twelve years later, the solution was in front of my face.
Another wonderful resource to me has been the YouTuber, Dr. Dray. She is a no-nonsense dermatologist who shares as much knowledge of skincare as she can, and explains why less is more when caring for your skin. Although I have concerns about the state of her general health and well-being, her advice is sound and well-informed. I watch her videos every day (much to Andrew’s annoyance) but her tips are right in line with what I’ve read on r/SkincareAddiction, further proving that good skin health doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or complicated.
Now, I am gentle with my skin and taking care of it is my favorite part of the day, especially at night when I feel like all the city grime has been removed and I have a fresh, moist face. I’m now incredibly particular about my skincare products, only using the ones I have come to trust and obsessively reading reviews of unfamiliar ingredients or products, but for the first time in over 10 years, I feel confident in my skin, all thanks to the world wide web.
And now, my routine:
Keep in mind, skincare is incredibly personal, and what works for one person might be a nightmare for you. My skin is prone to dryness, especially in the winter, so I’m extra focused now on hydrating in layers. I am also very anal about sunscreen during the day.
In the mornings I alternate cleansing with Neutrogena Gentle Hydrating Cleanser Creamy Formula OR Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash, and follow-up with CeraVe PM Moisturizer. Once it’s sunk in, I do a layer of CeraVe Cream, and finally CeraVe AM Moisturizer (for the SPF 30). I am very passionate about sun care, because it not only prevents wrinkles, but also prevents signs of aging. I’m trying very hard to force everyone in my life to use some daily.
Right when I come home from work I take off any makeup/grime with Bioderma Sensibio H2O micellar water. Then I rinse my face with water and go to the gym.
After the gym I use a mix of jojoba and castor oils to remove makeup, sweat, general grime, and sunscreen. I wipe it off with a clean washcloth. I have around 24 that I wash every few weeks. I make sure all the rest of the gunk and oil is off my skin and cleanse with the Neutrogena Gentle Hydrating Cleanser. Then I moisturize with CeraVe PM and CreaVe Cream. Once those have dried completely, I use Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Treatment (2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide) all over my face, especially focused on my chin, cheeks and nose. Then I get in bed.
When I was young and used the BP sporadically, I used the full-strength 10% concentration, that increased my irritation. It turns out, lower concentrations of the active ingredient are just as effective and don’t irritate the skin as much. Using the lowest amount, I’ve seen amazing results, and there’s no reason to go back to using something stronger that makes my skin dry.
The last thing that has actually changed my skin is not picking at any acne that does sprout up. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to but it’s SO HARD. But I’ve finally learned (because I read it) that it doesn’t help. Acne actually heals faster when I don’t touch it, and it keeps the bacteria from spreading to other areas of my face (gross), and makes it less likely to scar. It’s really difficult sometimes to keep my fingers off my face, which is why I’m putting it here on the internet, so everyone can hold me accountable.
Anyway, I’m very particular about my skin now, and although it seems obsessive and unnecessary to invest so much time and energy into a routine, it feels like a soothing investment in self-care, not to mention that it helps me decompress after a long day, and calms me before bed.
It’s not selfish, or frivolous, or feminine to take care of your skin – it’s the largest organ in the body, and taking care of the skin is taking care of the self. Acne wreaks havoc on mental health and self-esteem, and indulging in a simple routine that actually helps shouldn’t be looked down on.
Even this piece in the New Yorker advocates for skincare as self-care, and a coping mechanism for this trash can world we live in. If the New Yorker says it, it must be very very cool, and definitely okay.