Free or Cheap Ways to Fix Winter Skin

I love the transition from hot weather to cold, but my skin decidedly does not. Whether I'm living in frigid Scotland or temperate California, my skin protests the changing seasons  by erupting in acne (often caused by dehydration) and exacerbated by indoor heating and dryness.

As long as I can remember, every winter that I've been aware of my own skim, I've gone into a moisturizer-buying frenzy when the temperatures dip. Black Friday and holiday sales/new releases only encourage that bad habit. I'm never more gripped by unsubstantiated and overblown marketing messaging than I am when my face is flaking off.

I've noticed a lot of my followers and mutuals on Instagram falling over themselves to bolster their routines with winter's arrival, and they often do so by splurging on new supposedly heavier-duty creams, high-tech treatments, and plsuh-sounding masks. But I've found, for the most part, that's not the most economical or efficient way to save your face. Here are the things that make the most difference for me, in the shortest amount of time, with the least financial outlay:

Get a humidifier 

Shit, get two humidifiers. Put one on your desk at work, and put one on your nightstand for when you sleep. My face starts cracking around my jawline like clockwork the 3rd week of October (coincides with my birthday, thanks for the gift, Universe, you REALLY shouldn't have) and usually I'm too lazy to set up the humidifier until a few weeks later. But when I do set it up, I'm always astounded at the difference I feel in my skin. It's not instantaneous, but within 3 days, I notice increased comfort throughout the day, better makeup weartime, and less irritation and sensitivity when using acids or masks. I live in California- we do not have harsh weather. But most people crank up the heat in their cars, offices, and homes when the temperature starts to drop below their comfort zone (in California, that's under 68 degrees) and indoor heating wrecks even the most resilient of moisture barriers. Don't cry about humidifiers being expensive when I saw your Instagram stories justifying your desperate Drunk Elephant moisturizer purchases! A $60 humidifier will last multiple winters and pay for itself.

Ointment up, girl 

Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cerave Healing Ointment, Biafine...there are so many options out there, and they all cost peanuts. During summer you might have the luxury of falling asleep with a whisper of gel-cream, or a light layer of hydrating toner on your face, but in the winter you need a heavy duty arsenal. I use my ointments as sleeping mask, spot "treatments" for dry spots even under makeup, and most importantly, I use them to bolster the strength of my existing every day face creams. By mixing a blob of Cerave Cream (nowhere near potent enough to carry my face through a winter's night) with a blob of Aquaphor, I can make my wimpy day moisturizer into a powerhouse night mask, without shelling out for three "sexy" new night creams that end up disappointing me or breaking me out. If you're not hardcore and you don't enjoy having a literal full face of Vaseline when you fall asleep, you're wrong, but you can do my sleeping mask trick as a final step.

Oil is your friend 

Seriously, if you're not already a facial oil convert, you're missing out. It's [current year] and you have no excuse. There's some debate as to whether facial oils work better when applied BEFORE creams or after. Especially during winter, I say porque no los dos, and I oil-sandwich my night cream and let it all soak in while I slumber. The trick with facial oils is to apply them to not-fully-dry skin (usually I'll press on a layer of toner or gel essence, wait for it to soak in 50-75%, then go in with my oil) and also to press into the skin sparingly. You can always go back and add a few drops, but my skin prefers less oil, layered, rather than a whole puddle of oil slapped on at once. Although my skin loves many lightweight oils like jojoba, green tea seed, and hemp oil in the summer, in the winter I focus on heavier oils like mineral, lanolin, and pomegranate oil. Pure oils are remarkably cheap, even "precious" ones like pomegranate oil. Once I've determined what my skin likes by buying small samples from Garden of Wisdom, I search for bulk suppliers to get the best $/oz. I buy $28 for a pound of pomegranate seed oil. Trust me when I say the investment in oils is worth it, and minimal when compared to purchasing ready made products. My favorite trick is to mix a bottle of 50/50 light and heavy oil (my current go-to combo is green tea seed + lanolin oil) and keep a bottle on my bathroom counter to mix into my routine anywhere I want. It's cheaper than store-bought oils, so you can be really generous and frequent with application. The thing I love most about pure oils is how versatile they are in my routine. I've mixed a few drops of facial oil with my toner as a first step when my skin was raw and dehydrated, but I needed my face to be less greasy for makeup prep. You can apply oil at any point in your routine, mixed or unmixed, and it will do something slightly different. Experiment with "timing" and ratios of oil:other skincare and you'll be amazed at how cheaply you can stretch your routine.

Use less, not more, skincare 

With this I'm specifically side-eyeing your (I'm sure) highly reasonable stack of acids, exfoliators, masks, and treatments. During the winter, your skin will tolerate less. That's just the truth. You're sick more often, you're exposed to harsh outdoor weather and indoor climate control, you're probably eating like crap and sleeping odd hours due to your circadian rhythms getting dicked by the lack of sunlight...give yourself a break. Give your skin a break. This doesn't mean you can't treat acne or aging concerns for half the year, but if your skin is rebelling, and you are throwing more products at it to make it behave, take a beat and think about removing  a few steps before you add more. I specifically back way off of BHA usage in the winter- most weeks using it only once instead of 3-4 times like my summer schedule. I also completely swear off all clay masks from October to March, even though I adore them. I tend to avoid all physical exfoliation in the winter. I lean heavily on diluted tea tree oil and azelaic acid as those are the two least-drying but still-effective acne-fighters in my routine. Even glycolic acid, which my normally hardy skin loves, needs to be used with caution because it can cause tightness and itchiness on skin sensitized by winter. The best part about this tip (toots own horn discreetly) is you're encouraged to spend less not more. You do not need to buy One Magical Thing, Darling to fix your face. You need to listen to your own needs and be patient, even if that's less sexy and satisfying than blowing your skincare budget on 5 new cool-sounding moisturizers.

Turn the thermostat down 

Hi Hungry, I'm Dad! Seriously, this may not be an option depending on where you live or who you share a living space with...but if you can at all avoid running the heat, do it. Not only will it save you money, it will also save your poor dehydrated skin. I run hot, I'll admit, but I bundle up in cozy pajamas and wool socks when I'm bumming around the house in wintertime. I never turn the heat on unless I have an overnight guest who runs cold, and because of where I live, that works for me. Of course this is not a cold turkey directive- if you live somewhere with a more punishing climate, you may need to run the heat. But think about reducing your usage whenever possible. Bundle up more, put an extra quilt on the bed, even use a heating pad or blanket in place of running the forced-air heater. Your skin will thank you.

Wash your hands way more

And keep an extra tube of your favorite cheap face cream as a hand cream. I will admit I tend to wash my hands less in the winter even though I touch my face more. Either from feeling cold, or being annoyed at extra breakouts or dryness, my hands definitely wander to my chin and cheeks more than they should. And clean hands will mitigate the damage to some degree. In addition, washing hands a crapton is the best way to avoid catching cold. Personally, I get sick every single time there's "something going around," but the winter that my mom did chemo, I was so terrified of infecting her with a bug that I washed my hands upwards of 10 times a day. And I didn't get sick that whole year.
I avoid washing my hands in winter for a few reasons- one is that the sensation of cold water is obviously bothersome. Solution: run the hot water if you can. Just do it. The other reason I avoid it is because my already-dry hands feel drier the more I wash. I solve this by keeping a tube of cheapo face cream by my keyboard. This way if I touch my face I don't leave greasy, breakout-inducing hand cream swatches everywhere. Face cream is sufficient for daytime hand dryness and won't provoke more breakouts if I do touch my face.

Wash your clothing and bedding more frequently 

In the summer, I tend to wear low necklines and use next to no bedding. In the winter, I'm bundled up in scarves, turtlenecks, and you better believe I have my duvet pulled up around my face when I fall asleep. All of these cozy, cuddly items gather dirt and grossness and should be treated as breakout hazards. So be sure to switch out your sweaters, coats, and bedding whenever possible, and spot clean if you can't run them through the machine.

Break up with "always never" rules 

Maybe you think your skin tolerates alcohol all the time- I've been known to insist that. Maybe you know for a fact that you can't use heavy sleeping packs. Changes beget more change. Changes in temperature and habits during winter might affect your skin in unknown ways. Don't be scared to experiment and push the limits a little with how heavy your routine is at night, how much and what products you use, etc. Your skin in summer is not the same as your skin in winter and I know it's scary to play by different rules, but it's better to face facts than to insist your alternate reality is the truth.

Be kind to yourself

I'm a filthy capitalist shill, not a corporate shill. Companies love to lump your bothersome winter problems into a cutesy self-care package that conveniently stuffs into a stocking for the holidays. The truth is, you have more important things to spend your cash on than 5 new moisturizers. Some common sense and holistic self-care (holistic here meaning with regard to your whole person and routine, not just skincare) will do more for your wellness this winter than an advent calendar of travel-sized hydrating lies.


How to Apply Eyeshadow to the Lower Lashline

Defining my lower lashline is a technique I struggled with for a long time. From what I've been hearing- many of you share in that struggle. Because it was such a hard concept for me to understand, I think I developed a pretty good set of guidelines/common mistakes in my own journey. People do not enough, not too much

Build a Strong Foundation

The first step is one that so many people skip- and in my opinion it really shows. You must prime and set your primer well. And I do mean well- most people neglect primer or perfunctorily pat on a tiny amount. Generously prime and set thoroughly with a full layer of translucent powder or skintone shadow. If you don't apply primer, the soft and crepey/lined skin under your lashline will have a snowball's chance in hell of "grabbing" onto shadow and holding it in place. When people tell me they look sick or dead with lower lashline shadow, they usually are not taking the time to complete this step.

I use maybe 25% less primer than I use on the top lid, to cover the lower lashline, but it's by no means a tiny amount. I like to dot it all along the lower lashline with a Q tip and use my pinky finger to blend out. Primer should cover the area where eyeshadow will go and then some so don't be afraid to bring it down further than you think. If you powder your undereyes/foundation/concealer, prime before your powder step. I find applying eye primer on top of powder can lead to clumping.

Setting your eye primer is also a non negotiable step- eye primer itself can range from ultra creamy to a stiff waxy consistency, but if you go directly on "damp" primer with colored powder, you're going to have a streaky bad time. Setting with either translucent face powder or with a skintone-color shadow will not hinder the grippiness of your base, but it will allow for a smooth blending surface for any colors you apply on top.

Use transition shades

Imagine this, but shaped like the bottom of an eye not a perfect semicircle

Are transition shades "high maintenance?" Sure, but a lot of makeup techniques are high maintenance. The trick to good makeup is to make the end result appear effortless, but this requires far more work than meets the eye.

Transition shades are essential if, like me, you do not have a very 3D eye shape. Whether your eyes are very round, hooded, or flat, you might find yourself craving extra dimension and dynamism. Transition shades can help you with that by carving out more bone structure to make your eye makeup look defined, intentional, and interesting. Tangentially, when you are reading the makeup routines of models and celebrities remember that they have been selected as the top 1% of genetically gifted naturally beautiful and interesting looking people. What they can do with one color on their exceptionally sculpted and defined eyes...might take a bit more time and product for a normie.

This goes for the bottom lashline too. I always use at least 3 separate tones for my lower lashline eyeshadow. This enables me to create a softly blended, smoky appearance with very little work or actual blending. This is a simple technique but hard to put into words. Hopefully the following graphic expresses what I'm getting at:

Apply lighter colors first, and add darker colors
overlapping but not covering all of the last shade

Whatever you do, do not "stack" colors on top of each other- this will turn into one smudged line of a single color, awkward- use colors so that separate "bands of color" appear consecutively- you can layer, but make sure each layer doesn't obscure the last one completely. Always go from light to dark- if you try to apply the darkest shadow first and then blend out with a softer color, you are going to experience more muddiness and smudging. Pros can do the "blend out a dark line" well because- they're pros. Amateurs should use techniques and methods that create less work, not more. And smudging out a dark line that you've placed on bare skin is hard mode, make no mistake.

Remember that there is no single "holy grail" transition shade- it's dependent both on your skin tone and on the specific eye look you are doing. When I do a smoky green look, I use a pale nude, a bright yellow, a mustard yellow, and an acid green as my transition shades before I start going in with darker green. When I do a blue look, I'll use white, a pale gray, a darker gray, a bright blue...and then go in with navy. If in doubt, go monochrome. Do not slap on a brown crease before you do a colorful lid...just because. Think in terms of a color wheel and work within color families to begin. Once your understanding of color and shade has deepened, you can start playing with contrasts.

Apply More Than You Think

Most beauty mistakes/ruts are a result of making erroneous assumptions. People tell me every day "I can't wear lower lashline shadow, it doesn't work on me," or "I can't wear red lipstick ever," and I can tell not only from their pictures that it's untrue, but also because the more definitive/certain a statement is, the likelier it's unfounded. A huge mistake I was making for years is that I didn't apply enough eyeshadow to create definition. *Dwight Schrute voice* What? More shadow to appear less raccoony? Yes, it's true. If you wimp out and apply a thin line of eyeshadow, you might as well not even put anything there. Halfhearted attempts, borne out of a fear of adding too much depth or shadow, will always look wishy washy, unflattering, and unintentional.

Applying your colors lightest to darkest not only gives a beautiful smoky gradient, it also will unlock more confidence. It's really intimidating to go in on a bare eye with a big ol ring of black shadow. It's not that intimidating to apply a large halo of flesh tone, then go in with a slightly smaller ring of medium brown, etc etc. This is not only a good technique to create a speific effect, it will actually give you better muscle memory and understanding of just how low you can go (hint: it's always lower than you think.) Sometimes people will send me their makeup photos on IG or reddit and request constructive criticism- I have never seen someone who brings their shadow too low or has too much drama on a lower lashline. I always see a tentative little crisp line directly under the lashes, and it's an easy fix...just use way more shadow than you feel confident using. 

Here are some examples of old looks (left) where I hadn't quite mastered the lower lashline...side by side with looks that show a deeper understanding of shadow technique (right.) Please note the old looks appear less dramatic and that is due to the quantity of shadow on lower lashline. They were not intentionally soft/low contrast, the intention was to create a smoky effect, and I failed. The current examples represent what I intended to do all along. There is still a way to do soft makeup, intentionally, and some examples can be found later in the post.


As Above, So Below

The trend of a colorful lower lashline (POP of color) is one of those microtrends that I see as being less successful and/or interesting. It works when a great MUA does it, and sometimes it works on a normie like us. Maybe it's just my age showing, but it makes me think of my early high school years. My rule is to echo whatever pattern/placement from your upper lid on the lower lashline. If you're doing a halo eye (dark outer corner, bright middle portion) then the same pattern should be mirrored on your lower lashline. If you're doing a gradient smoky eye (light on the inside, gradually darkening as you go out) then same thing applies.

Here are some examples illustrating the principle- if your overall look is soft, you do not always need a smoky lower lashline! Keep things similar in hue and in density/drama. I also broke the rule I explained above in my first "sunset" look with a slightly different color on the lower lashline but I still used familiar transition shades, and kept the finish and saturation level similar. Play around to see what works with your own features. The point is not that you must have a rigidly perfection reflection of your upper lid, but that you should tie in "themes" like colors, finish, placement, to maintain continuity.

Use Multiple Tools

Use multiple tools, and smaller brushes in general- if you try to use one single brush to apply all your lower lashline tones, you'll end up with a muddy ring, regardless of how many colors you use. I absolutely suggest some of the brushes I discuss here, especially the final three. Large blending brushes have no place on the undereye- they can drag color too low, or else blend too thoroughly and destroy your careful placements.


If you've followed this process and still feel like it looks a bit wishy washy or not defined enough- you may choose to stamp a very thin line of waterproof pencil or gel liner along the lower lashline. Because you should already have a near-black/smoky shade in that placement as well, the liner will add weight without looking unblended (do not start blending this- you'll muddy everything up.) Waterproof is pretty essential for the lower lashline I've found- on the upper lid, you can get away with a normal product, but the lower lid is prone to smudging, bleeding, and fading. If you're going to use liner at all, make sure it can go the distance.

As for the waterline, you can leave it bare, apply a nude shade, or with a smoky look, apply a black liner. It's up to you. I've included examples above of all 3. You'll need to experiment with various looks to see what each requires. A filled-in waterline can add a touch of crisp refinement and weight, or it can throw off a delicate look.

The final step is to absolutely load up with lower lashline mascara- although this can look spidery or clunky with no eyeshadow, it adds a beautiful drama and final smoky touch to a lower lashline. I'm always wearing an unholy amount of mascara when I'm complimented on my lower lashes- they're nothing special to begin with, but in this situation you can be liberal with application without an unseemly effect.

Closing Thoughts

Most of my readers enjoy ridiculously long-winded advice (YA CAME TO THE RIGHT PLACE) but if you don't, here's a TL;DR:

  1. Use a lot of primer
  2. Use at least 3 colors in distinct bands
  3. You're not applying enough eyeshadow
  4. Mirror top lid with bottom lid
  5. Use small brushes
  6. Don't forget lashes and possibly liner if the look is heavy enough
Do all eyeshadow looks require lower lashline work? No. But many do. It's up to you to find the right balance with a particular look- and even if you think you don't need lower lashline shadow, you can always add some at the end of the day to see how your face would have looked had you chosen to add it. You should grow your inner catalog of reliable looks, so you gain an instinct for which placements are appropriate in what scenarios! 

A look that's deliberately missing lower lashline shadow

Happy eyeshadowing- if you're not already following me on Instagram, you can find me @faceonomics! Let me know if there are any other technique/general principle posts you'd like to see.


How to Learn Makeup from YouTube Gurus

I started watching YouTube makeup videos when the community was still a fragile baby bird. It was mostly awkward teenagers using their webcams to record ultra-grainy, unedited videos, sharing their genuine excitement in a brand-new medium. That time is past now, and I do sometimes miss the homegrown authenticity, but of course there are many more recent videos I enjoy for their crisp images and fantastic editing.

I learned a great deal of what I know about makeup from simply watching YouTube tutorials. But today's saturated YouTube beauty field is very confusing for new makeup lovers who don't know where to start.

How to Watch YouTube Videos as a Beginner

Just watching some videos is not going to magically make you better at makeup. Just like sitting through a semester of archaeology lectures won't make you Indiana Jones. You gotta get your hands dirty, practice, and actually walk the walk. Most people watch beauty YouTube videos for entertainment. But if your goal right now is to get better at makeup, here's how.

  • Watch beauty experts not just any pretty person with an eye-catching thumbnails. Your goal is to consume excellent material, because as a beginner, it can be hard to unlearn bad habits acquired from not so talented "gurus." There are various experts at different levels of professional development- but make sure not to stray too far into amateur pretty-19-year-old-lifestyle-vlogger territory. Beauty enthusiasts sharing their thoughts as a consumer are a valuable resource when you're more experienced in makeup- but for now they will be a distraction.
  • Stay away from review videos, haul videos, and favorites videos (for now!) These are fun to watch, but they are counterproductive to your learning journey. You don't yet know your own product tastes or even what all these products are meant for, so don't make the mistake of being seduced into hauling a bunch of stuff you'll never use. Trust me- in a few months, you will look  back at your early wishlist and wonder what the heck you were thinking.
  • Follow along with tutorials. When I started doing this, I saw my skills skyrocket much faster than I would have expected. Simply watching someone practice a motion while you follow along with your own tools and products is so helpful, it completely outranks practicing from your fuzzy memory of a tutorial you watched last night. I think most people don't do this- and its importance cannot be overstated. You can pause and rewind, so don't feel limited by the guru's speed or editing.
  • Watch with an eye for categories not products. If you end up watching 5 tutorials and thinking each time wow I really need a matte brown pencil for the looks I want to accomplish, then now is the time to shop for a matte brown pencil. Do not decide you need Tarte Shape Tape just because one pretty lady used it, and it looked really nice on her. Most YT gurus make money from promoting product- period- so you cannot rely on what they use as gospel for what you should buy. As a beginner, you will acquire a not-so-perfect makeup stash and that is how you learn what you love. Buy as little as you possibly can, and be open to the idea that you will outgrow products as your tastes and skillset grow.
  • Repetition is key. Practice from the same video or few videos for weeks at a time. Do not try a smoky eye on Monday, abandon it for the rest of the week, then try again next Monday and cry that your skills haven't evolved. You will build muscle memory and your own understanding of your face by doing the same techniques many days in a row. For now, you don't get to be Crazy Makeup Lady who wears a different look every day. You get to practice the same basic look for as many days in a row, from the same tutorials, as it takes to nail it down. Then you can use that acquired knowledge for the next look you tackle.

List of YouTubers to Trust

Okay, you're just taking one woman's opinion on this. But you gotta start somewhere! The whole point is to start with a basic, limited list, and as your tastes and skills develop, you don't have to take anybody's advice anymore- you can find what you love all on your own! This is a mix of professionals and amateurs- both have something to offer, but for the most part, seasoned professionals who have experience doing makeup on people other than themselves are your best bet.

Charlotte Tilbury (this is a brand channel, so ignore the products as best you can, just follow along with techniques, as hers are sound)

Karima McKimmie (an amateur who is extremely good at communicating techniques and concepts)

Jaclyn Hill

Samantha Ravndahl (although she's a generic vlogger now and skews more beauty guru than expert, she is another semi-amateur/semi-professional who is excellent at communicating technique)

My Favorite "Beginner Friendly" Videos

How to Apply Lipstick by Rebecca Shores

This is a pretty high-effort tutorial, considering lipstick can just be swiped on in 20 sec. But if you are new to lipcolor, struggling with application fundamentals, or trying to fix asymmetry, this will give you a flawless finish. And you can always tweak the techniques to suit your needs.

Natural Shimmery Summer Glow by Lisa Eldridge

Healthy, glowy, sunkissed- practically everyone wants to master this look.

In Depth Bridal Tutorial

You don't need to be planning a wedding to want a special-occasion, flawless, "glamorous natural" look in your pocket. Jaclyn Hill has a big personality, but it's her fundamental, careful technique and solid laymen's explanations that make her an excellent source.

Brows by Lisa Eldridge

There is no such thing as timeless- well- really natural makeup is probably timeless. But Lisa always balances trend and technique- she favors a brow look fixed more in personal flattery- not fixed to a specific dated trend (skinny 90s brows, bushy 80s brows, crisp 2010s brows etc.) For most people, brows are not an accent to be played with- they are more of a foundation piece. You want them to look basically the same most days, and you want them to be the best shape and color for your face. You might play with 10 different shadow placements and color schemes in a week, but it's likely your brow experimentation won't be a focus.

Mary Greenwell's Natural Makeup Masterclass

Again with natural makeup- don't roll your eyes at me! Great natural makeup skills underpin every single successful experimental/funky makeup style. If you don't know the rules of making makeup "pretty" you can never figure out the best ways to break those rules and create interesting makeup. Mary Greenwell has a no-nonsense style which relies a lot on hands, multi use products, and natural earth tones. Like all of the gurus I discussed, her videos are a wealth of information and you can't go wrong following along to any of her tutorials.

Sam Ravndahl's Halo Eye

A technique that is both intriguing and challenging to beginners, the halo eye is a high-impact eye looks that actually takes relatively little skill. However, it's a confusing placement and concept when you haven't tried it before- Sam's videos are excellent for shadow placement as she's very specific in her descriptions, and she zooms all the way in to show where and how she applies each color shadow.

Concluding Thoughts

Most people don't take advantage of the wondrous resource that is Beauty YouTube. They approach it as entertainment, and that's perfectly ok unless you're trying to improve your skills. If you are unhappy with your makeup skills, approach the project like a challenging class or subject in school. Use a variety of trusted resources, study and practice every day, and trust the process. You will not become an expert in a few weeks, but within a few months you can grow your knowledge a great deal. 


Favorite Eye Brushes

Today I'll discuss my absolute favorite eyeshadow brushes- the versatile and fabulous tools that enable me to create a wide range of shadow looks and effects. In my opinion, great tools make a huge difference for a beginner, not a complete newbie. If you have never applied eyeshadow- you do not need great brushes. If you have been working with eyeshadow for a few months, you grasp the basics, but your results aren't really satisfying, you will likely see a huge improvement to your technique when you upgrade to good brushes.

If I gave myself a letter grade, I went from a C- to a B- within just two or three eyeshadow applications when I upgraded from basic brushes to really good ones. And that quick boost in technique, from tools alone, bolstered my confidence and allowed me to jump up to a solid B+ to A- fairly quickly, a jump that I think would have taken much longer if I'd stuck with my drugstore brushes.

Why Are Your Faves Mostly Animal Hair?

For the looks I like to create, synthetic brushes typically do not provide the right amount of bend and sway. Synthetic bristles, as a matter of course, are stiffer and more bouncy in movement. Less floppy and yielding. This is fine for precision, but not so good for buffing soft clouds of color and applying with a whisper soft touch. Vegans or people who otherwise object to animal hair use in cosmetics will likely not find this guide useful. I do use synthetic small brushes- for specific and crisp placement, but not in general for blending.

Although squirrel hair is my favorite for face products, I find goat hair has the exact right balance for gripping and depositing powder eyeshadows. It doesn't take away from a powder's pigmentation, but it also doesn't throw a bunch of color down and lead to chunky opaque edges.

Another reason I favor the handmade Japanese animal hair brushes (aka fude brushes) is that those lines offer a wider range of sizes for brush heads. Most American and European brushes are, in my opinion, way too big to be useful to someone with my eye shape. Japanese lines like Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo offer fluffy but small brushes (a category that's sadly underdeveloped in the West) which enable soft and precise blending- the best of both worlds! There are many brands I won't be covering today- the two Japanese brands mentioned are among the most affordable fude brands available on the market, but you could easily spend $200 on a single shadow brush from a more expensive line. Check out the Reddit Fude sub for more discussion and information.

Precision vs. Flexibility

Having said my piece with regards to animal hair brushes, I do find synthetics useful for specific purposes. I mainly use synthetic brushes when it comes to flat, pointed, or compact/stiff brush shapes. Whenever I want to press or pat a patch of color without worrying about the edges or blending, I reach for synthetic bristles. The texture and stiffness allow for better color placement, all at once.

When you are choosing to create softer veils of color- say in the crease or when smoking out your lashline, you want the opposite of precision. I reach for longer bristles, natural fiber, and larger shapes whenever I want to blend anything.

These descriptions are not really weighted by value- simply they are what I've come to expect from a certain size/shape/texture! As a general rule, the shorter the bristles, the more "blocky" and precise an effect it gives. On the flipside, longer bristles usually provide more sway and splay action, which lends well to a blown-out effect.

My Favorites

Now for the meat of this post- my favorite brushes and their specific usages! I will start at the widest "base" and move into smaller and more precise shapes and movements. I've provided photos of the brushes next to a standard MAC lipstick, the most ubiquitous beauty object I could think for size comparison. I've also attempted to show the main placements these brushes work for. My apologies as I tried to make gifs to show movement/placement but I could not find a combination of filming and editing and compression that yielded anything but tragic gifs, so until I troubleshoot that, pics will have to do.

Hakuhodo J5522

The first brush we have to discuss is this huge, fluffy goat hair pointed dome brush. It is relatively stiff, but it's pointed shape and large size make it an ideal choice for swishing a VERY sheer and diffused veil of color in your crease area. If you have large, dynamic eyes and tend to not emphasize your crease a lot, you might not enjoy the effect of this brush. For me, it's indispensable when faking the high but multidimensional crease I love to do on myself.

I use windshield wiper motions with the J5522- it's too big to benefit from "swirling" as it will take over the eye area. It does best for laying down sheer tones in large swaths. I don't recommend using it with a shadow that's more than 2-3 shades deeper than your skintone.

Hakuhodo J5523

The second brush is a classic- or rather it's a near clone of a Western classic we all know and love- the MAC 217. This brush post would be half Hakuhodo, half MAC, were it not for MAC's recent overhaul of its entire brush line. I personally use and love decade-old goat hair MAC brushes made in France, but I can't get behind their new synthetics line. Since any MAC recommendations would be for discontinued brushes, I won't include them!

The Hakuhodo J5523 is slightly smaller and slightly more compact compared to the classic 217. It's a full oval shape, not flat but with a slightly pinched ferrule that gives you a lot of versatility. You can use this brush in several ways- it lays down a patch of lid color quickly, with an automatically diffused edge. You can accomplish this with short combination pat-swipe motions Or you can use it to apply a crease shade, working in small circular buffing motions and building color as desired.

If you could only afford one brush, make it this one. You can literally do a whole soft eye look using only the J5523- no you can't line your eyes with it. But you can do a lot.

Hakuhodo J5529

This brush completely changed my shadow game- it's the shape and size you can't find in any Western drugstore line, and not in most Western luxury brands either. This is like your classic domed blender brush, shrunk to 1/4 of the size. While you might use a large domed brush for your crease (if you haven't tried the awesomeness of a tapered dome like the one discussed above...) you would use the J5529 for more "precise blending." 

This is for depositing accent colors in your outer V and for blending those same colors. The small size is ideal for more detailed, gradient shadow looks as a larger brush would swallow the eye area and turn all the shadows into one color. I also use this on a daily basis to buff and blend smoky lower lashlines- a technique I've heard is challenging for many of you. Trust me when I say the effect eluded me too- until I got the J5529.

This brush is so compact that you can use it fairly lavishly in wide swiping motions- its small head size means it won't disrupt or muddy even if you use it in larger areas. I drag this brush over linear placements like my lower lashline, in a back and forth motion. I also use it in dotting motions to deposit small concentrated patches, and in tight circular motions to blend smaller precise areas like the outer V.

Zoeva Luxe Smoky Shader 234

A natural/synthetic blend brush that I love for packing on lid shades. This is an exact dupe for the MAC 239 (old) and for the Hakuhodo J004G, but I find the 3 truly identical, so I'm going with the cheapest! I hate all the blending brushes I own from Zoeva (and I own them all) because the synthetic blend causes them to be too stiff. They don't have enough yield to really create a halo of softness- but with a shorter brush like this, this is when you stop having to worry so much about bristle quality, and you can find much cheaper items as long as the shape works.

If you are a relative newbie to eyeshadows and you find yourself constantly foiling shadows or using Fix+ to "intensify" your shadows, you may be overlooking a really simple fact: your flat shadow brush sucks at gripping and depositing color! A lot of flat shadow brushes found in American lines are too flat and they don't have enough er, girth, to properly dig into a shadow and pick up color. Slightly fuller and fluffier bristles on a short, flat brush head will also do a better job of laying down color vs a tight flat shape.

I use this brush especially for pressing color into the center of a halo eye or for the lid of a smokey eye...or just for allover shimmer! A very versatile brush that's necessary in any beginner's bag. If you really could only afford two brushes, it would be the Zoeva 234 and the Hakuhodo J5523 I'd recommend first.

Beauty Junkees Pro Pencil Brush

I guess I shouldn't have spent so much time disclaiming my snobbishness, because this is another cheap brush that really performs at the level of a more expensive one. I believe this is pony hair or goat hair- it's found on Amazon Prime and isn't a prestige brand, so I'm not 100% sure of the composition.

A good pencil brush has spring, softness, and precision all in harmony. This one from Beauty Junkees does the trick and doesn't scratch, but it still holds up without splaying its bristles. When you start narrowing the size of brushes, it means you are looking to create more dramatic dimension- deeper, smaller shadows and brighter, tighter highlights. At this point, we stop loving the softly bendy bristles of our earlier crease brushes, and want to focus on getting a stiffer brush head that still doesn't feel rough.

I use this brush every single day- in fact I own two- one for light shadows, one for darker ones. I use the former to apply and blend my inner corner/browbone highlight, to dot concentrated bright spots into a halo eye, and for blending out harsh edges on very graphic looks. The latter is used for adding definition to the corners of a halo eye and for smoking out both upper and lower lashlines.

Due to the pencil brush's stiffness, it works best for dotting motions and very short strokes. It will not hold up to movements that cover a large surface area. You can certainly apply a color in a line across your crease or lashline, but don't expect to get a refined blend- this blends better than applying color with a Q tip, but it is a placement brush not a finisher. For that you'd want to reach for the J5529 to smooth out and buff the edges.

One note is that I own 4 of these and 3 are almost identical, but the 4th is very flexible and flippy. There's variability/inconsistency but to be fair that exists on the handmade/fude side as well sometimes. 

EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo #2 Brush, Angled Side

Confusingly, this is just 1/4 of a single product- the EcoTools Eye Enhancing Duo is my favorite drugstore brush "set" in existence. But I want to specifically discuss the angled liner brush head found on one of the dual ended brushes. It is the closest thing to EcoTool's long-discontinued angle liner brush- a brush that perfectly married precision and fullness. Most angled liner brushes are only good for two things- brows and gel liner. They are too stiff and too narrow/tight to ever properly deposit a smoky, smudgy, sexy line of shadow. The EcoTools version is just thick enough to soften while it lays down an opaque line. It's absolutely fine for use with a gel liner or brow product too- but I would highly suggest it if you struggle with your "defined lines" looking skippy or too crisp.

Because of the less skinny edge, this can be worked back and forth in a blending motion, but it will only go so far. I mainly use it in a "stamping" motion to press color in a precise line/at an angle when I need to create a very tightly lined eye or a graphic shape. I usually already laid out a base of softer smudginess, and adding a stamped line on top gives a gradually intensifying effect without having to move your brush around that much!

Brush Care

I'm often asked about my brush care routine. And here is my philosophy: I do not baby my fude brushes, as I consider them tools. For me, they are a means to an end, not collectibles or useful just by virtue of existing. To that end, I wash them as often as I need to to prevent muddied colors, and I recognize as a result they will have shorter lifetimes. Some fude collectors will be able to enjoy the same brush shape and fiber texture from their brushes in 30 years. I fully expect mine to be dead within 10 years, and I will repurchase at that time. You will hear from many Japanese brush lovers that a squirrel brush should only be washed once every few months- to me that would interfere with my ability to use the tool as I want to. I wash it as often as needed to clear old color and prevent breakouts.

If you want to wear a pair of shoes for 20 years, rotate it out, give it breaks, don't wear the pair in harsh weather. If you simply want to wear a pair of shoes everyday, well, ignore that, and buy a new pair when you wear yours out. I want to be able to use my brushes daily, which is why I approach brush care the way I do. Different philosophies for different lifestyles and preferences.

None of the brushes I use are so expensive that the though of repurchasing in a few years bothers me. I want to be able to switch frequently between colors (bronzey looks one day, blue the next, soft yellow the next) without buying endless duplicate brushes or risking a muddy unintentional color mix. All the brushes I discussed in today's post are less than $30 each, and getting 5-10 years' use from a $30 item is reasonable to me. I am being conservative- I have 12 year old goat hair brushes that still perform the same as they did when I got them. But just to satisfy my control freak- I accept that my everyday use brushes may shed or go frizzy within the decade.

I treat my brush hairs like I do the hair on my head. I shampoo with a mild, low-lather shampoo, I squeeze to release excess water, press with a towel, then air dry as long as it takes. I wash my face brushes once a week, and my eye brushes once every two weeks (all of them) and clean individual ones as necessary. Brush cleansers are plentiful and varied nowadays, but I prefer the price and convenience of a gentle shampoo for humans (my favorite is the Tea Tree Tingle from Trader Joe's.) You can also use a gentle low lather face wash, but shampoo is more economical.


2017 Favorites: Makeup

If 2016 was my year of perfecting makeup techniques, 2017 was the year I really indulged in the products that elevated those techniques. I don't have a tiny collection, and I don't have a huge one. I am pleased to say I took great joy in the products I own this year, without having excess items that didn't get much love.

Some of the products I'll be talking about were purchased prior to 2017- they're not all new or new-to-me but they represent what I enjoyed most this year!

Stellar Limitless Foundation

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I can't believe I've only been using this product since June of 2017. It kind of feels like it's always been there for me. In any case, since I purchased this product, I have not found its equal within or without my existing collection. I usually wear a full face of makeup with powder, highlighter, and blush, but in the photo above I was only using the Stellar foundation for my base. This is a light-medium buildable to medium-full coverage foundation with a skinlike but not overly dewy finish. It's extremely longwearing on my oily skin when set with a powder, but I have spoken to many drier-skinned women who find it hydrating/wearable for them as well. 

To me this is a masterfully made formula, because of its versatility on different skin types, and the fact that it is such a "beautifying" foundation. Some foundation is just like paint- it covers your face in a uniform color, but it needs to be prodded, tweaked, spritzed, and buffed to actually improve your overall face. The Stellar Limitless Foundation is something that can be swiped on in a hurry, and it immediately makes you look like a better version of yourself. I can compare it in that way to the MAC Face & Body, although it is much less dewy, and has considerably more coverage. I never hear "Your foundation looks great" when I wear this, I hear "Wow your skin looks amazing!"

In addition to that rare beautifying quality that makes it so unique, the color range of Stellar's foundations is phenomenal for someone like me (neutral-warm olive) who doesn't like to use traditional yellow-toned foundation straight up. Their latest shade offering is S01, which is what I wear, and it's between an NC20 and NC25 in MAC terms, but it has a swampy yellow-green undertone, unlike the schoolbus yellow of some other companies' warm tones. This line in general caters toward the medium toned part of the spectrum, paying careful attention to the way real skintones work in real life, not just using a sliding scale and distributing 12 shades across a Pantone color gradient.

The last thing that I have to rave about is that the Stellar foundation is seamlessly skin-like. I usually dot my foundation on using fingers and then go back in to blend with a sponge, but if I get distracted in between those steps, I've actually forgotten to blend the Stellar because it meshes with my skin so beautifully. This is not just a colormatch issue, this happens because the texture is so fine and flattering on the surface of the skin. I find that it looks beautiful up-close in person but even nicer in photos, if possible. All around a truly stellar (heh heh) addition to the foundation market in 2017.

Tom Ford Eye Duo in Naked Bronze

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File this product under "worth the hype, and then some." Tom Ford makes several shades of this cream/powder duo, but this is the standout in my opinion. I purchased this because smoky bronze is my favorite flattering eyeshadow color. I am pretty faithful to Urban Decay Smog for a powder shadow look, but I wanted one cream to use as a single wash in case I was in a hurry or traveling.

I have tried and hated a lot of cream shadows. MAC Paint Pots, Maybelline Color Tattoos, Kiko Shadow Sticks- to me they all had one defect in common- they do not blend out seamlessly at the edges. For some people with very sculptural, dynamic eye shapes, this is not a problem. I personally have a plain-Jane eye area. It needs carving and smoking and swooping and sculpting to look really good and most cream shadows don't allow for that.

Tom Ford Naked Bronze however- it contains multitudes. It is a sheer neutral-warm satin brown when applied lightly, and it builds to a lustrous medium dirty bronze, and then finally to a metallic chocolate bronze with an even heavier hand. Because it can be blended out to create a soft, seamless crease, it doesn't require fussing or partner products. It just looks good. And I haven't even mentioned the pressed glitter half yet- it can be left off for a smokier look or popped on top for a burst of glittery sheen. This truly is the one eye look that I can't mess up, and the fact that it can be adjusted and worn at about 6 different levels of drama/formality makes it unique among other "single wash" products.

If you are cooler than me, try the single Cream Color shade Platinum. If you are significantly paler, try the Golden Peach duo.

Addiction Blushes

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Although my love affair with Surratt blushes continues, my wandering eyes landed on blushes made by the Japanese brand Addiction this year. My friend with impeccable blush taste compared the texture of these blushes to Surratt, so when I visited Japan in October I took the opportunity to pick some up. Since I got home, I've regretted only buying 2 shades.

These are powder blushes that have a feel in between a traditional soft powder and a powder-gelée formula (like the Clinique Cheek Pops.) The color range is quite extensive with more than 20 available shades, but I think where they shine is their selection of nude blushes and more saturated scary-in-the-pan shades.

The two shades I first purchased are Revenge and Amazing. The former looks like a bright red in the pan, similar to NARS Exhibit A, and the second is a fuchsia-bubblegum on first glance. However, both apply so seamlessly and sheerly I have to wonder what kind of deal with the devil the formulators at Addiction have done to get this so right. When applying bright/intense blush I typically layer the most intense shade over a nude, soft one to diffuse the edges and aid blending. However, the Addiction blushes are so fine and sheer that they can be whacked on carelessly without looking streaky or patchy.

Stila Magnificent Metals Glitter & Glow Eyeshadows

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The Stila liquid glitter shadows were my gateway drug to all things glitter. In 2017, I went from owning almost nothing that could qualify even as high-shimmer to a collection that's heavily weighted in the fabulous direction. Partly through coaching by my glitter-obsessed friends, and partly just from my own experimentation, I learned how to wear glitter in a "casual" way. Although glitter is a shorthand for New Years Eve and nights out, I mostly wear glitter in the daytime to my office.

The Stila shadows made the transition from a satin/pearl dimension to the glitter life totally seamless. My favorite shades from the line are the ones with no base tone, as they make versatile toppers for any eye look. The Gold Goddess shade is a neutral, not-too-yellow gold, and Diamond Dust is an ultra-reflective silver with some holographic sparkle. I don't find too much extra utility in the shades with tinted bases, because I prefer to do 90% of my eye look with powders, and add sparkle as a final step. However I have seen many people wear the colored-base Stila shadows beautifully. My personal favorite ways to wear them are as a smattering on the inner eye corner, all along my lower lashline, and as the center "pop" in a halo eye.

These shadows make glitter application foolproof, as they require no special primer, they do not create excessive fallout, and the formula distributes glitter very evenly with no effort. I particularly enjoy that the pieces of glitter are quite flat, large, and irregular, which gives a broken-glass type effect. I find it to be more editorial and interesting compared to what I call "pinprick" glitter which often looks more like remnants of a kindergarten craft project.

MAC Next to Nothing Pressed Powder

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One of my greatest makeup challenges is achieving a dewy, glowy base while keeping my makeup in place for 10+ hours. It often feels like you have to pick one or the other as an oily-skinned person, but this year I tried the brand-new MAC Next to Nothing powder and all my satin-dew dreams came true. I was a devotee of the famous Laura Mercier translucent loose powder, but I always had a few complaints. It was just a hair too matte and quite inconvenient for travel. The MAC powder improves upon both of those issues- it has a beautiful "strong" setting power but it only barely mattifies the skin/foundation. It's travel-friendly and comes pressed in the standard MAC compact.

I use this powder in the shade Light Plus. It does not offer any coverage, but it is not a true translucent powder. It took me 6 months to fully use up a single compact, and I gladly repurchased it when I realized that all the other powders in my stash were seriously lacking. I prefer it to the sexier-looking Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Powder, which is ever so slightly too-mattifying, and on the flipside actually has worse oil control compared to the MAC.

Clinique Chubby Stick in Whole Lotta Honey

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When I first started wearing lipstick, it was always fully opaque, satin or matte formulas. I scoffed at the idea of sheer lipsticks, partly because I recalled trying crappy tinted balms in the past, and also because I doubted the impact and definition a sheer formula could offer. I actually received Whole Lotta Honey as a gift from a friend in 2016, but I really started rocking it often in this past calendar year. It's a semi-glossy sheer formula housed in a twist-up crayon format, and its magic lies in the exact balance of depth and pigmentation. Most sheer lipsticks are too weak to make a difference, or too pigmented to be considered low-key. I have crooked lip lines, which means most lipsticks require application with a lip brush to look decent. I can literally scribble Whole Lotta Honey on without a mirror and it looks good, no, great.

This swatches a muted orangey-brown but once applied to my lips, it manifests as a peachy nude. My natural lip tone is a pale, dead-looking cool pink, which doesn't harmonize well with the warmth in the rest of my features. Whole Lotta Honey goes with any subtle look, and most warm-toned dramatic looks. It even works well with some cooler eye looks, depending on what blush I pair with the look. It also works well to modify many of my other lipsticks. Layered over a too-stark or too-dry color, it can add plumpness and warmth where it's missing. Most of my lip products stay in my bookshelf where I can pick through them based on what my mood is that day, but Whole Lotta Honey literally lives on my vanity. I use it so often, alone or layered with other colors, that it doesn't make sense to ever put it away!

NARS Audrey

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On the heels of a rave for a super-subtle lipstick, let me rave a bit about one of my favorite dramatic lipsticks of the year. NARS Audrey is a satin-finish berry that has some magical undertone I cannot find a perfect dupe for. I actually avoided buying this lipstick for over a year because it seemed crazy to pay NARS Audacious prices for a berry shade, a lipstick category that is saturated at drugstore and high-end price points. But in this case, I ended up wasting more money on failed dupes than I would have if I'd just shelled out for Audrey from the beginning!

Audrey is uniquely flattering for my muted, yellowy skin. It's neither too bright nor too muted. Berry shades with too much brown tend to make my face look dull or dragged-down. Berry shades that lean pink turn neon on me, and that's just not the look I'm aiming for every day. Audrey is strangely muted without being brown or blackened. It is clearly cool (berry) and not a plain red lipstick. It brightens my face without screaming for attention. It just works. The lesson I learned from Audrey is that everyone can wear some version of a color category. You just have to be adventurous and willing to kiss a lot of lipstick frogs.


2017 was a great year for makeup, personally, and for the market as a whole. I learned a lot about my own face and preferences, and the fast-paced release schedule in 2017 meant that companies were constantly one-upping each other and improving their offerings. It can be dizzying to face the enormous variety on the cosmetic market today, but remember that you as the consumer can only benefit from increased competition. A competitive market economy propels technology and innovation forward, while putting a downward pressure on retail prices. The increased availability of different products should excite you, as it will allow for a collection more finely tuned to your exact preferences.

Don't ever feel that you as an individual must own all the exciting new things. Each of us can only take so much, financially and mentally. Stay focused on finding things that suit your face and your budget, and that bring you joy. I love to stay on top of new releases, but I also don't regard each new makeup collection as an opportunity to buy. If you ever feel stressed over the number of new releases, just return to what you enjoy about makeup- and focus on your own goals. Part of the reason I wrote this post is it makes me happy to use a single product to death. The more products I own, the less I can use my favorites. That's something I try to keep in mind, and it might help you if you are having doubts about your makeup collection. 


What to Do with a Niacinamide Allergy

If you've spent any time perusing ingredients lists or learning about skincare science, you've come across niacinamide. Niacinamide is an antioxidant/vitamin (Vitamin B3) and it is a gold star ingredient for so many skin types and problems. From the title of this post you've probably guessed- but I have an unfortunate allergy to the ingredient. And I've met many others who share this problem. Usually an ingredient sensitivity is no big whoop- most ingredients have easy "dupes" which replicate the same effect. Not quite so with niacinamide- and that's because niacinamide does so many damn things, and it does them so well...

  • Repairs damaged moisture barrier
  • Soothes and relieves irritation and redness
  • Works well to diminish acne
  • Assists in fading hyperpigmentation

This wonder-ingredient does it all, and for the people who can happily use it, go away nobody likes you, but if you are allergic like me, here are some of the ingredients I've substituted in my routine in place of common niacinamide products. I will also list some great products I have successfully used that achieved for me what niacinamide does for others, but keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list. Since niacinamide is such a superstar, I am taking a multi-pronged approach to "duping" its presence in a routine- I will talk about both ingredients and delivery systems that can help with the same problems niacinamide addresses...

Barrier Repair

Those of you with dehydrated skin will be familiar with the concept of the skin's natural moisture barrier. The moisture barrier is the mechanism by which our skin protects itself and holds moisture. It is of utmost importance to skin health, function, and appearance. Dehydrated skin can be dull, flaky, painful, and prone to inflamed acne. Where niacinamide usually swoops in to help fix up a damaged moisture barrier, I substitute a few key elements...

  • Ceramides: Ceramides and niacinamide are best buddies, found in many formulations side-by-side. But you don't need niacinamide to have a party. Ceramides, paired with fatty acids and cholesterol are still great for topical use to bolster a damaged or weakened moisture barrier. They're common in creams, but you can also find some toners and serums that contain these powerhouses.
  • Facial oils: I neglected facial oils for a long time, thinking my oily skin didn't need them or wouldn't like them. I was incredibly wrong. I now think that basically everyone can benefit from some type of facial oil blend in their daily routine. Indeed, if you are suffering some type of dehydration in particular, you will probably find that the right mix of oils will help your skin recover some of its bounce and resilience.
  • Heavy petrolatum-based balms: Niacinamide helps fix your moisture barrier, actively. Occlusive agents, petrolatum being the best of the best, won't immediately "go to work" on your skin, but they protect it and bolster its ability to repair itself naturally. It's not like a surgery to reset a bone, but like a cast to protect it while it heals. Sensitivites to petrolatum occur, but they are incredibly rare. It's something any skincare beginner can adapt to their routine, as it's unlikely to cause breakouts, but will absolutely get your moisturizing routine off to a good start.

Cerave Moisturizing Cream
Meishoku Ceracolla Gel
Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid

Facial oils:
Stratia Fortify Oil
The Ordinary Squalane Oil
The Ordinary Marula Oil

Petrolatum-based occlusives:
Cerave Healing Ointment


  • Copper Tripeptide: This is a bit of a hand-wavey next-gen antioxidant, but after using some copper products for a few months, I can see the redness reduction and pro-skin repair effects on my own face. I think that in the next 5 years, we will see more research and products with this ingredients, which encourages collagen production and reduces inflammation. Great for acneic and aging skin concerns.
  • Snail Mucin: There's a reason things like starfish and bee venom have somewhat faded in popularity, but snail remains a staple in so many Asian skincare lovers' routines. Products containing snail tend to be exceptionally good at relieving irritation, redness, and inflammation. Great for use if your skin is irritated by climate, excessive picking (hey you! Stop that!), or a breakout.
  • Madecassoside/Centella/Madecassic Acid: This ingredient can be found in a pure botanical extract form and some derivatives.
via LaRochePosay.us


NIOD Copper Amino Isolate
Skin Biology Super CP Serum

Mizon All in One Snail Repair Cream
CosRX Snail 96 Essence

Klairs Supple Preparation Toner
La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5


Of course there are many treatments out there for acne, but what makes niacinamide so useful for an acneic person is its gentle nature. Many acne-focused ingredients are harsh, sensitizing, and can cause problems for beginners. I will not be talking about those obvious acne treatments, but the ones that fall in the same category as niacinamide- gentle, fairly foolproof, and supplemental to harsher steps you might already have.

  • Azelaic acid: I have personally found that AzA resolves my inflamed acne with fewer side effects and greater speed compared to BHA and retinoids. Read this excellent Snow White and the Asian Pear post for more AzA details. A great benefit of AzA is it works to relieve inflammation, redness, and rosacea as well as acne, so it's the antithesis of your average drying acne treatment. 
  • Honey: Raw honey will always have a special place in my heart. Its ability to repair and soothe skin while giving the effect of a more-drying clay mask makes it a no-brainer weekly treatment for acne-prone folks. Here is my method for creating mess-free DIY honey masks which you can use regularly- daily if you like. Honey is nourishing, gentle, and purifying for acne-riddled skin. It's something you can use alongside any acne regimen.
  • Tea Tree: I know, I know- so many people would call this "harsh" and unforgiving as far as acne treatments go. The problem most people have is they either use alcohol-laden formulas with a tiny hint of tea tree or they commit the mortal sin of applying tea tree oil straight up to their faces. This will give you horrible chemical burns eventually, and is not advisable under any conditions. However, I find TTO mixed at a 2% concentration into a gentle carrier oil (jojoba, argan, camellia, mineral, rosehip, squalane) makes for a lovely gentle allover treatment. I use a few drops mixed into my moisturizer nearly every day to incorporate this anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredient without compromising my skin's moisture levels.
via Glowrecipe.com


Azelaic Acid:
The Ordinary 10% Azelaic Acid Suspension
Melazepam 20% Cream

Raw honey

Tea tree:
DIY 2% tea tree oil blend
LJH Tea Tree Essence

Fading Hyperpigmentation

  • Arbutin: Alpha-arbutin promotes skin brightening and fading of visible UV damage in the form of dark spots/post acne spots. It's rarer than niacinamide, but I've found it to be excellent for brightening, caring for PIH, and overall skin tone. 
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is definitely a little stronger/more intense than niacinamide, but it's not quite as tricky to introduce as an exfoliating acid. L-Ascorbic Acid is the form of Vitamin C that has the most proven efficacy for affecting skin tone and texture, and can be found in many serums. This is a great active to use, even if you are already using acids or retinoids.
  • Licorice root extract: Found in many Asian skincare products, licorice is an all-round great- not quite as multifunctional as niacinamide, but it comes close. Its main benefits are brightening and soothing for redness/irritation. 
via Amazon.com


DHC Arbutin Masks
Hada Labo Shirojyun Line
Kikumasamune High Moist Lotion

Vitamin C:
Timeless Vitamin C Serum
Stratia Vitamin C (coming soon-
check the Stratia Instagram Page!)

Licorice Root:
Paula's Choice Redness Relief Toner
TonyMoly I'm Real Mask (Rice)
Naturie Hatomugi Skin Conditioner