on skin & skincare

my skin has never been perfect. i’ve never had acne quite bad enough to go on something like accutane, though i likely would have benefitted from some kind of prescriptive fix, but i’ve had consistent breakouts since middle school. occasionally some stars will align and my skin will be glowy and pimple-free for a few months, but generally speaking, i’ve got chronic acne.

having “bad skin” sucks. there are a ton of donked up stigmas around having acne. it’s seen as a cleanliness issue and health issue, to start. the number of acne “fixes” that have to do with specific ways to wash your skin (generally with specific expensive products) and with “eating clean” or eating along some arbitrary and probably expensive food guidelines. good skin is a classed issue, which makes it a raced issue as well. who has access to “good skin”? who are the people generally heralded as having “good skin” and why?

“good skin” is a class marker. the concept of “good skin” falls into and upholds white supremacist beauty standards and creates a binary of shame around how your skin looks and what that means about you as a person. are you clean? are you valuable? or are you sick and diseased?

i wanted to start off by acknowledging all of this because i’m about to write about my skincare routine. i think we can both acknowledge that the concept of “bad” and “good” skin is problematic as heck, that the skincare industry, largely, represents a capitalist consumption of the shame associated with having “bad skin” (including the sale of skincare products including bleaching agents), and also that people are complicated and sometimes engaging with things that are fun and distracting means engaging with things that are pretty flawed. i think there’s an argument for reclaiming things like skincare and makeup as fun, aesthetic processes that are inherently valuable and joy-giving, though obviously acknowledging and unpacking the harmful dynamics associated with them is critical. i want to acknowledge as well that a well-documented capitalist response to socio-political panic after the U.S. 2016 election was a rise in our collective obsession with self-care activities like intensive skincare regimens. so yeah, that’s here as well. increased consumption doesn’t solve problems, but taking care of my skin feels good and is a fun distraction, and i’m only human.

so, onto the routine. i have hyper-dry as well as acne-prone skin, and sometimes my skin feels so tight and uncomfortable it makes me want to rip it all off. during a particularly bad period for my skin, i stumbled upon articles about K-Beauty skincare. like a lot of people, K-Beauty practices appealed to me because of all the glowing success stories. also, having so many steps in my routine felt like an assurance that at least one or two products would make a measurable difference.  i did a lot of research and tried a few things and have boiled my routine down to the below products. in the past 6 or so months i’ve been doing this, my skin has overall felt so much healthier. i’ve had so many fewer breakouts, my skin is more moisturized, and the scarring and hyper-pigmentation i had is decreasing. so i’m a fan! obviously though, the huge disclaimer with any product recommendations is that everyone’s skin is different and hormones have more to do with acne than just about anything else.

here’s what i’ve got:

  1. oil cleanse: i use a $5 product from Trader Joe’s for this step, though it seems to have been discontinued, so i’m about to splurge on something from sephora. i’ve been enjoying reading product reviews during downtime at work this week, and i will probably go with one from farmacy, $28. the purpose of an oil-cleanse is that it gets any oil based dirt and makeup off your face first, and it’s a gentle, hydrating way to kick off your routine.
  2. water cleanse: i’ve been using the $7 rose water cleansing milk from garnier but my girlfriend scolds me for it because it has alcohol, which is notoriously bad for your skin. in the interest of not constantly blowing a ton of money on skincare, i’ve avoided buying a replacement, but when i do i’m going to go for juice beauty’s cleansing milk, $25, which is unfortunately a markedly more expensive product. it has great reviews though, and i’ve found a cleansing milk is best for my dry dry dry skin. water-based cleansers are supposed to get off the remaining water-based makeup and gunk from your skin, following your oil cleanse.
  3. toner: i use a hyaluronic acid toner from it’s skin, a k-beauty brand i found at the tonymoly in k-town. at $21, this is also not cheap, but it’s a huge bottle that lasts 6-8 months so it’s worth the extra money up front in that sense.
  4. oil-based moisturizer: i use $10 rosehip oil from the ordinary for this step. i’ve found oils are the best moisturizers for my skin, and rosehip has a ton of nice benefits. jojoba oil is also good, and you can get a bottle that’ll last months at whole foods for about $7.
  5. water-based moisturizer: this is a step i just incorporated a few weeks ago because my skin was patchy and painful from the ucky combination of winter air and dry heat from the radiators at work. i’ve been using the cosrx hyaluronic intensive cream, $21. so far, i’m obsessed with this particular moisturizer; it’s definitely thick and intense, which is just what i was looking for, to really lock in moisture and create a physical barrier for your skin. i’ve been laying it on too heavy and it has made my skin break out a bit, but honestly it’s so much more moisturized that i’m having trouble stopping! searching for a balance.
  6. “serum”: because i have acne prone skin and scarring, i use a retinol. retinols are vitamin-a based products that force increased cellular turnover in your skin. they’re commonly used for both anti-aging concerns and acne concerns. i use one from the ordinary that costs $10 but lasts forever (one bottle for several months) and, of everything i use, this is probably what does the most to help my skin. highly recommend for fellow acne sufferers!
  7. chemical exfoliant: i use an AHA/BHA peeling solution from the ordinary, which, like retinol, forces increased cellular turnover n your skin cells. it’s $7, and worth it IMO because it’s dark red and looks like a blood mask when you put it on, which is fun. it definitely helps with scarring and acne, though i use it infrequently; once or twice a week when i remember.
  8. physical exfoliant: i bought one from farmacy when my skin was looking really dull, and this one is fine and gentle and from a “natural” brand, which is nice. for me, it’s not necessary and it was expensive ($30), so i likely won’t buy again. i only use it a few times a week. i also got it off amazon and have always been wary of whether or not it’s the legit product, as the bottle came only half full. if you’re interested in physical exfoliants (ie products that have beads or rough pieces that “scrub” at your skin) i’d caution you to find a very gentle one, and to scrub gently!, so that you don’t damage your fragile skin barrier.
  9. suncreen: for me, this is the hardest product to find. not literally, there are obviously tons of sunscreens, but finding one that i like has been a struggle. i’ve tried the ordinary’s, la roche-posay, neutrogena, and so on, and always find that my skin either feels really goopy, or it gets that sickly white cast (i’m pale so this isn’t as huge an issue as it is for others, but it looks weird, and definitely is an issue if your skin is darker), or it’s overly greasy, or… i was actually doing research for my gf to encourage her to wear sunscreen when i stumbled upon the best one i’ve tried so far. i don’t have my own bottle yet, because it’s another $16 and i have unfinished tubes already, but i’m excited to buy it soon. it’s missha’s all around safe block, and it’s wonderful. it stings horribly if you get it in your eyes, but it goes on clear and is effective and non-sticky, so it’s got my vote!

some notes:

  • this looks intense, but it probably takes me 5-10 minutes max to wash my face. longer than a 1-step system, but yeah, don’t let the number of products scare you! also, you don’t use every product at once. i exfoliate a few times a week, max, and don’t use my retinol daily either.
  • if you were to buy this all at once, it would set you back ~$180, which is an obscene amount of money to pay for skincare products, especially all at once. that’s close to all of my monthly discretionary income. as you can see, i started with cheaper products and am moving up to more expensive stuff, but the actual products don’t matter as much as the category they’re in (a oil cleanser is kind of an oil cleanser, though i always recommend reading reviews to ensure that most people aren’t having strong negative reactions to something before you buy). i also bought a few things at once, and over time accumulated everything above, and that truly helps. please do not go broke for skincare! !
  • i’d caution you against using amazon for any healthcare or skincare products. too many people have gotten false or damaged products, and that’s both unsafe and a waste of your money. try to buy from places like drugstores, target, sephora, ulta, or the company websites to ensure you’re getting the actual product.
  • with regards to sheet masks, i know some people enjoy them and find them useful, but i honestly just hate how they feel on my skin. that’s the reason i don’t use them. if you like them, power to you! there are so many fun ones to try, sorry i can’t be of help with any recommendations.

celebrating imbolc

something i’ve been missing is a connection to nature. i’m from new jersey, and though you might not expect it, i grew up with lots of access to local parks and reservations. because we drive so much, as i got older i was able to spend more and more time seeking out green space. now, not so much. i live in new york, where all nature is enclosed and controlled. there are lots of things that i love about living in new york, but one thing that i absolutely do not love is the separation i feel from the earth.

lately i’ve been reading about pagan traditions, more specifically the wheel of the year. as a way of getting back in touch with spirituality, enchantment, nature, and so on, i’m (humbly, carefully) beginning to work out ways to celebrate the natural rhythms of the earth.

february 1st this year was imbolc, the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. it’s one of the four gaelic seasonal festivals (the others are beltane, lughnasadh, and samhain — halloween!) and it’s meant to mark the beginning of spring (take that, ice/snow storm striking new york today!). imbolc is a feast day, a celebration of “hearth and home,” a day to honor the goddess Brigid. it’s a day to herald birth, new life. imbolc is a budding.

my celebration was simple. it was a friday, and when i got home from work, i settled into cleaning my room (spring cleaning came up as a way of sloughing off the old to prepare for the new). i picked out some clothes for donation, and dusted around the space. i watered my plants and made a makeshift alter of a small potted fern and a series of small candles. i lit them and put on some fairy lights and turned off the remaining lights in my room. in warm candlelight, i journaled and released regrets i had from the past year, and wrote my intentions for the coming year. i also ordered indian food (a fave) to consume spice for warmth and have a feast-for-one. it was a calming lovely time, and i came away feeling nourished for the spring and ready for the possibilities of the year, however corny that sounds.

more experienced practitioners might take issue with how i celebrated, but i enjoyed my imbolc and am excited to incorporate more earthly celebrations in the coming months. if anyone else celebrates, i’d love to hear how! ✨✨

hello again

hello again! it’s been several months since i’ve written. today is a slow day at my new(ish) job and i thought to re-read some of the stuff i put on here when i was more actively writing. i thought i’d find it in worse shape than i did, and be a lot more retro-actively embarrassed than i am ! hooray.

i’m not sure what this space will grow into being. i’m not sure what this space is to begin with. a blog, yes. a place to put my feelings, frustrations, thoughts, art, joys, etc. maybe. i just know i’ve got a good deal of downtime at work as an administrative assistant and wanted a way of spending it that doesn’t involve endless scrolling or online shopping.

i’m not sure where to begin, and i think i’ve been hampering myself by fixating on how my voice will sound to other people, how i will seem, who will hate me and who will love me and who will find me incredibly boring. as if it should matter, as if any of those things can be avoided (or encouraged!).

something i’m working on learning is vulnerability. openness. trust. forgiveness. for me, my inability to be vulnerable, open, trusting, forgiving, comes up constantly in how i find myself able to relate to other people. i’ve gone to a number of events in the city, especially lately, always alone, hoping to meet friends. it’s not getting there that’s necessarily hard for me, it’s taking the next step. it’s being open and outgoing and unashamed of my desire for friendship. it’s being able to sit with feeling needy and lonely and to slingshot that into genuine overtures towards people i think are cool and want to hang out with. i’ve found it hard, always, to take that step. in high school and middle school and college i was lucky enough to find a few friends that led me to more, and that having those friendships steadied and supported me in forming even more. now i feel alone. this city has probably too many opportunities to meet people — there’s no object permanence. there’s nothing corralling you into seeing the same people again and again, which naturally forces a friendship. i’ve yet to have co-workers my own age, let alone with enough shared interests for me to develop friendships with them. and truly, honestly, i’ve let my existing friendships slide. a lot of the people i know who live in the city are part of their own friend groups, and again, the kind of radical vulnerability necessary to developing friendships just isn’t there for me right now. i want to work on it, but it’s scary and hard and often it feels easier to just hunker down into my life as is. you know the feeling?

that’s one of my goals for this year. work on my vulnerability. part and parcel with that is working on my ability to forgive myself and others. i’m not one to rail against so-called “PC” culture, but i do think the level of hyper-vigilance that many people are feeling is not entirely helpful towards greater social justice goals. look, we fuck up. we all fuck up. you know that saying, “all your faves are problematic”? it’s the dang truth. we all have and we do and we will, and the main goal should be recognizing when we do, working for transformative justice for people who we have hurt, or in situations that are hurting, and moving forward more aware and mindful and informed.

i’m not saying this to absolve anyone from having to try. we should all be trying our best. but the reality is, we live in a fucked system, and no one is exempt. there are always identities we do not have, and ignorance that’s baked in to us (intentionally!) that’s gonna make us fuck up. and, at least speaking for myself, the sort of defensive hyper-vigilance that a lot of people are feeling as a result of the current hyper-visibility of a lot of issues and the rise of cancel-culture is not helpful. our first thought shouldn’t be how to defend ourselves from cancellation, it should be how can i learn here, how can i kindly teach here, how can i grow and work to dismantle systems of oppression. fear and anxiety around cancellation (while helpful to the degree that they push people towards seeking out knowledge) often prevent people from doing the work. so i’m working on forgiving myself for being imperfect, for the times i’ve done and will do fucked up shit rooted in my own ignorance, and on using those feelings instead to relax into changing and growing and to figuring out how i can best be of help. i’m saying this because being able to relax into my own humanness and propinquity for error is a huge part of why i have trouble being vulnerable and having the sort of life, community and socially speaking, that i want for myself. i’m taking deep breaths and i’m moving slowly forward.

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to end, however awkwardly, i’d like to speak into being my goal for this space, that i want it to be one of growth and art and learning. a space to survive late capitalism and the end of the world. a scrapbook of my time here. subject to change, i suppose, but that’s my goal. cheers.

on aimlessness & anxiety

it’s been awhile since i’ve written anything. it’s been awhile since i’ve drawn anything. it’s been awhile since i’ve felt settled in myself at all. these past few weeks i’ve felt this hyper-anxious, single-minded focus ― i’m a girl on the prowl (for employment). if i’m not scrolling through Indeed or updating my Get A Job tracking spreadsheet, i’m anxious. and i’m feeling the thing even when i’m not doing the thing ― it’s been hard for me to focus on conversations with friends/my girlfriend, on reading or watching things, on doing anything at all besides securing that $dough$. it’s about the money, of course (getting a job i mean), but it’s also about the stability. it’s about knowing i can continue to pay my bills and save and do some fun things. it’s about the boredom that’s come after weeks of looking for a job and not actually having much to do during the day. and not feeling able to enjoy the gift of free time (as i could consider this if i were more Evolved) i have right now, because i’m so focused on needing to fill it again with another 9-5 job.

i’m scattered; this is scattered. like i said, it’s been hard for me to focus my thoughts.

i think we probably do talk about aimlessness after college and i’m just late to the game on this, but truly it is soul crushing how little i know what i want to do with myself. and honestly, not to be a giant pessimistic fatalist (because i know that’s not how you Get Things Done) but looking at climate reports, for example, does not inspire confidence in our collective future, so the question of “what’s the point?” seems to take on a deeper level of meaning than maybe it did for our parents or even for the earlier millennials.

i’ve really been grappling with a lot of identity and existential questions too. and then like, the big C questions ― i.e. on capitalism. trying to find a job and a purpose when all work you do for money is fundamentally involuntary and tied to the continuation of a capitalist system. because we need a certain amount of money to meet our basic needs and to achieve any sort of freedom from capitalism (link to Umair Haque’s piece on the matter; his work is spectacular) that allows us to begin to pursue our actuals “passions” and “interests” i.e. anything that may give us a sense of joy and contentment in our lives. i hate being alive in the time of capitalism. we are, at this moment in history, able to effectively end it. but america is, and has always been, a self-immolating garbage heap of a nation, and thus will never prioritize the safety, health, and happiness of its people.

so then, a big question ― what brings me joy? spending time in nature, wind in tree leaves, reading outside under blankets, drawing pictures while watching cartoons. #bubbline. sometimes baking. taking walks. fall. windy days, rainy days. cuddling. watching movies with popcorn. writing, even if it’s silly and inarticulate, even if i’m not great at self-editing yet because i’m too impatient (working on it) (#Sagittarius).

so then, another big question― how do i want to spend my working days, and is it possible to align my work with what brings me joy? or should i focus on having day-work that i can compartmentalize entirely such that i have enough left of myself to focus on joyous work after job work? struggling with this. i have a few job prospects open now (i’m hearing back about next steps or no next steps today) and they range between 1) something distant from my own self, 2) something with socio-political meaning, and 3) something artistic that i think would really stretch me and help me grow. naturally the last option is the one whose phone interview i think i flubbed.

and a third question ― how do i do good in the world and not check out to just focus on my own self and my own happiness? how do i help to un-do this shitty system and the violence it necessarily imparts to us all? focusing on joining the DSA (despite it’s many and varied flaws), focusing on participating and giving where i can.

i dream more and more of leaving the city and living in a little house in the woods somewhere. not sure how i’d swing that, except that it turns out you can buy nice houses for cheap in most non-new jersey places. kind of thinking that that would be an entirely selfish decision ― running away from the big bad city with all its violence and complications and beauty and humanity to self-isolate as the world falls apart around me.

and on that note! wish me well these next few days as i hear from some jobs and see if this little bit of time is over or stretching along. regardless i don’t know that i have answers to the above, so am working on stepping into the grey aimlessness and holding still there. resisting the urge to move, and move, and move, and learning to stay still in discomfort.