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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.