One of the best ways to learn about skincare is to understand someone else’s routine. I love reading a “Best Of” list as much as the next person, but you don’t get a good sense of how the products interact with each other. Routines, on the other hand, tell you not only what someone uses but how they use it — allowing you to figure out your own needs in the process.
My routine changes with the seasons (and, if I’m being honest, my whims). What works in cold, dry weather (pure squalane, Avene Skin Recovery Creme) tends not to do the same when it’s hotter and more humid. This is logical! And, on top of that, sometimes Lisa comes to town and we have a marathon day at Sephora. I can’t be held accountable to a routine when that happens.
With all that in mind, here’s how I get ready for my day (presented in order of application):
I recently had my skin analyzed using one of those fancy hydration-detection machines at Kiehl’s and it came back smack dab in the middle of the “Normal” spectrum, which is a FIRST for me. This is due to lots of time, effort, and money spent on balancing my oil and water levels, and if I slump on any of that it veers hard into oily and dehydrated. This means I’m not really one of those people who can wake up, splash water on my face, and go on with my day. I have to cleanse.
We should all be as lucky as Megan Calvet. Skin-wise, at least.
I like a gentle cleanser; I’m not asking it to do more than get my skin ready for the big guns (my actives). I’m a big fan of Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser but the pump mechanism is such that when it gets to about 1/8 left in the bottle it’s very difficult to get product out (and the consistency means it can’t just be poured). Fresh’s Soy Facial Cleanser is also good, but very pricey (I tend to hoard sample-size tubes, which are perfect for travel). The best value out there has got to be CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser.
It’s not universally agreed-upon whether toning is necessary or even helpful, but I do feel like toning preps my skin to receive all my glorious active ingredients in a really delightful way. Lots of folks love Thayer’s Witch Hazel for this purpose but it didn’t really present any value-add for me, so your mileage may vary. Sometimes I’ll spritz with Herbivore’s Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner (the scent is glorious) but when I really want to do some good for my skin I reach for Lotion P50 from Biologique Recherche.
Y’all. P50. It’s one of those true cult products (it’s barely sold in the United States and you can’t even see the price without starting your own Rescue Spa account) and it’s expensive (spoiler: $67 for about five ounces) and it smells disgusting (like a mix of onions and vinegar, because that’s part of the ingredients) but it works SO. WELL. When I use it, my skin is clearer, my pores look smaller, and I’ve got a glow that isn’t there otherwise. There are a million different varieties (I recommend Into the Gloss for a breakdown of them all) but I prefer the regular old P50 (non-1970 version).
Now’s when you go in on your active ingredients. My morning actives are concentrated around antioxidants and pore-refining since the former helps with sun protection and the latter helps with my makeup sitting well.
Antioxidants do exactly what they say: fight the things that cause oxidation (which in turn causes deterioration) in your protective layers. This includes both your skin and your skincare, so they’ll interact very, very well with your SPF products.
advice is a form of nostalgia
dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off
painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth
but trust me on the sunscreen
-Baz Luhrmann – “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”
The most agreed-upon antioxidant is Vitamin C, which I briefly touched on discussing under-eye darkness. After years of trying a variety of Vitamin C serums, I finally bit the bullet and went in on a bottle of Skinceuticals C E Ferulic and at least in my experience even though it’s expensive it lasts a very long time and works very, very well. I’ve also heard very amazing things about Drunk Elephant’s C Firma Day Serum which is still quite expensive but half the cost of the Skinceuticals (it contains marula oil, which I try to avoid during the day, so it’s not quite for me). If you’re looking for something less expensive and/or something other than Vitamin C, Paula’s Choice’s RESIST Ultra Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum is both a mouthful and a very good product.
I’ve got less intel in this area because I’d long thought if I could just keep my pores consistently CLEAN and OILLESS then they’d look fine, but here I am getting my skin called “Normal” and I still feel like the surface of my cheeks look like the surface of the moon. A facialist convinced me to try out PerriconeMD’s PRE:EMPT Skin Perfecting Serum and it’s okay, but not blowing me away. Unless there’s a dramatic change yet to come I’ll probably not re-purchase this. I’ve been using the Algenist Pore Corrector Anti-Aging Primer under my makeup, and I feel like that by itself would be just as good.
I think if I’m going to go all-in on a pore-correcting active, I really need to step a bit more into niacinamide. I’ve heard really great things about The Ordinary’s product, but I’m still trying to sort through the problems Deciem (the parent company) is having and whether that’s one I want to support. It looks like Glossier’s Super Pure is basically the same in terms of ingredients, though, and Paula’s Choice has a comparable product as well, so I’ll probably try one of those next.
Eye creams are another somewhat-controversial product. It’s true that you don’t really need a separate eye cream from your face cream so long as the face cream doesn’t have strong fragrance. I certainly use my actives around my eyes, and that’s the step of my skincare routine where I concentrate my most powerful ingredients.
Still, I use an eye product for a very basic reason: my skin is not evenly oily. I get very, very oily on my forehead, cheeks, and nose, and very, very dry around my eyes, lips, and chin. Because of that, I’m not going to want to use the same moisturizing product on my entire face. I’ve tried more than my share of products, but I keep coming back to Clinique’s Even Better Eyes. It has good ingredients, gives me enough moisture, and does a really good job priming the skin for concealer. If I’m feeling especially dry, I’ll do two layers: first, EltaMD’s Renew Eye Gel followed by the Clinique. Pro tip: after you’ve applied to your heart’s content around your eyes, pat what remains around your lips!
Moisturizer with SPF
Last (well, before makeup, but that’s another post) comes a SPF moisturizer. I’ve fallen head over heels for Tatcha’s Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen – it has exactly the weight and finish that I want/need under my cosmetics. Tatcha ain’t cheap, but if you’re a Costco member like I am, you can get a bottle for about 60% of the full cost. If my skin’s feeling extra-oily, I’ll use Paula’s Choice RESIST Super-Light Wrinkle Defense, and if it’s feeling extra-dry I’ll use La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Double-Repair Moisturizer. CeraVe also has a spectacular range of SPF moisturizers at much more affordable prices, so when I just can’t with my skincare budget (or, really, with my ignoring my skincare budget) I’ll get in the habit of using their Ultra-Light Face Moisturizing Lotion.
A quick note
Conventional wisdom is to pair like with like in terms of skincare. If you’re using oil-based serums, use oil-based moisturizers. If you’re using oil-free, go with oil-free. Same for silicones. Do what works for you, of course, but generally speaking that mantra has worked for me. My morning routine has a fair amount of dimethicone present because my pores are of concern to me, and that helps create more of a velvet finish that blurs the appearance of pores.