I’ve always had problematic skin. As a teenager, and well into adulthood, I struggled with acne, and sensitive skin that’s dry and oily all at once (side note: if you think you have combination skin, look up dehydrated skin and see if that sounds more like you. Life. Changing. Information.)
When I was pregnant with Rowan, all of that seemed to dissolve into glowing, happy skin. That is, until she started nursing less and eating more solids, triggering what could be described as a second puberty. I had deep, painful cystic acne that left my face throbbing. I hated leaving the house. I’d spend an extra hour getting ready in the morning, with feeble attempts to cover up all the new volcanoes that had erupted overnight. It lasted for months and months and months. I cried a lot of tears. It was really damaging to my self esteem. After I decided to have a major intervention for my face, things got better. A lot better. Like, I-don’t-have-any-zits-right-now better.
Since then, I’ve tried a lot (and I mean a lot) of products to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t (as it turns out, there’s a lot more in the second category than the first). So here’s what I’m doing right now (and some things I’m not but recommend anyway, but I’ll get to that).
Birth Control and Hydration For me, hormonal birth control plays a huge role in having good skin. For some people (me), hormonal imbalances cause a ton of acne, and getting your hormones even keel can make a world of difference. It’s not for everyone, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here, because I feel like it’s made such a huge, positive impact.
Second, drink water. Go do it right now, I’ll wait. Water keeps skin healthy. It’s good for you. Just do it, okay? I’ve historically been the worst at this, but in recent years I’ve really tried to be better because hydration is so important and I’m an adult so I have to be better at this stuff.
Cleansing In the morning, I cleanse only with water because my skin gets dry and I don’t like to bother it too much. At night I use Glossier Milky Jelly. It’s super gentle, so I like to use it twice- once to remove sunscreen and makeup, and again to cleanse.
Serums I’ve tried a lot of serums and for the price and quality, The Ordinary can’t be beat. I use their Hyaluronic Acid and spritz with some rosewater to let it soak up the moisture (either Mario Badescu or Glossier, but I like the former more because it doesn’t burn my eyes and it’s super affordable).
I also really love and highly recommend the Dr. Jart Ceramidin liquid. It’s kind of like a pre-moisturizer serum, and it makes my skin so soft and I feel like it helps the moisturizer soak in too, and is really gentle.
Moisturizer and SPF For daytime, I’ve used Glossier’s priming moisturizer for a long time and like it. I sometimes feel like I could use something a bit more hydrating but I’m still on the hunt for the perfect rich moisturizer. I’ve tried a bunch I like (Glossier, L’Occitane, Khiels, Cetaphil) but it hasn’t been love yet. I’m looking at trying out the Avene line next because it doesn’t have fragrance and has been recommended for sensitive skin.
I always wear sunscreen. For SPF I use Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence. It’s Japanese and I buy it on amazon. It goes on so perfectly dry, and it’s super affordable, there’s really no excuse not to wear it. I also use Dr. Jart Cirapair Tiger Grass Cream that has SPF, but I don’t really believe in using makeup or bb creams with SPF as your primary sunscreen, as they don’t offer the same protection as a dedicated sunscreen. The tiger grass calms redness and really makes skin super uniform, and I’m really happy with it.
Exfoliation This year, I started using Retin-A (tretinoin) for anti-aging and to work on my skin texture. It’s better to start using it before you need it (it’s easier to prevent wrinkles and sun damage than it is to repair them), so I wanted to be proactive and start before I turn thirty in a few years. It can take a while for skin to adjust and while I’ve made it out of the purge, my skin is still sensitive and prone to dryness. While my skin is acclimating to the Retin-A, I’m not using any of the chemical exfoliants I normally would.
Some of my favorites though are Paula’s Choice BHA for clearing clogs and sebaceous filaments, and their AHA Gel for anti-aging and smoothing skin. They come in sample and large sizes, but you get a lot more for a lot less per ounce if you buy the larger one. I normally order the larger size and then split them into these dropper bottles I bought on amazon and share with a friend or my mom, so I can use it all up before it expires (and it’s a great way to make products more affordable, especially if if you’re trying something new).
If you want to try out a chemical exfoliant, I’d recommend introducing them gradually and using every three days or so to prevent irritation, and increasing to every other day or daily as tolerated. You can alway increase usage, but it’s harder to repair over-exfoliated skin if you overdo it!