What I'm Not Gonna Buy: Sephora Sale 2017

Inspired by the Queen of Anti-Hauls, Kimberly Clark (Clark...Clark), and the awesome and very-conscientious Renee over at Bad Outfit Great Lipstick, I put up an instagram post on the revelations I had about the blush haul I had planned for Sephora's upcoming (semi-annual) sale. Once I did, it got my Makeup Rehab juices flowing, and I felt like writing an extended cut of that post, including all the other shit I was contemplating adding to my collection, but ultimately decided against.

Bite Beauty Whiskey Lipstick

via Sephora.com

Why I Want It:

  • It's very similar to a DIY shade I made on my own that is beautiful but wears horribly and fades immediately.
  • It's part of my favorite lipstick formula line (the Amuse Bouche line.)
  • It looks really nice on the brunette ladies I've seen wearing it.

Why I Don't Need It:

  • I don't wear vampy lips in warmer months- even though my inner goth wants to, I stay in the nude-to-jewel toned shades until October. If I really want this shade, I can just as well buy it in the fall Sephora sale and enjoy using it immediately. 
  • I have several dark lipsticks already, which are going to expire in the next few years, and every new lipstick I bring in is incremental "loss" of days I could be wearing all of those.
  • I already own Bite Portobello, a true brown which looks ghastly on me alone, that I can easily mix with a red lipstick I own to get close to this shade.


Hormonal Acne Routine Part 5: Weekly Schedule

This post is the final installment of my Hormonal Acne Series:

Click to Read > Part 1: Philosophies
Click to Read > Part 2: First Line of Defense
Click to Read > Part 3: The Surge
Click to Read > Part 4: The Cleanup Crew

I have discovered the following about my own skin from years of trial and error and plenty of research. If you do not have the basics of skincare covered yet, then you have no business moving on to targeted acne solutions, especially not exfoliating actives. Please use great caution when introducing a new acne-fighting product. My routine is the result of many years of slow introduction and cautious experimentation. It should not be used as a shopping list for a newbie. Please read Part 1 for a summary of my acne troubles and my philosophies!

My Week in Acne (Calm Week)

Some weeks, my skin is groovin. It looks fabulous, feels fabulous, and the only acne on my face is of the healing variety. That is, no emerging active acne, no aggravated clogs, and no intense redness. For these weeks, I maintain my schedule but I take advantage of the calm and enjoy my moisturizing, luxurious routines. I will usually keep up my actives routine but skip clay masking and spot treating with zinc. Since I'm not soothing active inflammation, I just need to keep my moisture barrier happy and avoid causing new clogs.

My Week in Acne (Crazy Week)

On the other hand, I get these weeks- the ones where my skin is going nuts and exploding in every possible way. I've got weeping open acne, emerging cysts which stubbornly refuse to show a head, and bumpy texture indicating widespread clogging.

The most important thing is to not panic when this happens. I used to panic because I had no backup plan- well now I have multiple strategies to attack all these issues, which means I don't have to pick and scratch and freak out. This contributes overall to the health of my skin, as "disruptive" weeks have minimal long-term impact.

The following routines are "excerpts" and only include the acne-focused parts of my routine. I moisturize heavily each night and also use plenty of hydrating products every morning. All treatments are used at night only, unless specified in parentheses:

Putting It All Together

Pictured here is a sample full morning routine of mine and a sample full evening routine with the acne-targeting products circled in red to show how outnumbered they are by the ones which have nothing to do with acne!

Sample Morning Routine with acne treatments circled

Sample Evening Routine with acne treatments circled

Those of you with sharp eyes who are used to perusing ingredients lists on CosDNA will see my non-acne treatments do contain anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredients like aloe, panthenol, centella, snail, and bee venom. In fact, I do orient my whole routine toward countering irritation and inflammation, however I do not compromise my moisturizing products by expecting them to serve two purposes. No "servant" can serve two masters- in this analogy all your products exist purely to serve your skin's individual needs. You should expect a moisturizer to moisturize and not to do a ton of things. Part of why my routine is so extensive is that I want each of my products to only serve singular purposes. By layering and combining them I can serve all my skin's needs- without demanding too much from any one product.

If you are new to skincare, and this looks overwhelming, I'm not surprised! This is not a routine that a newbie should start right off the bat. If it took me years to perfect my current stable routine, that should tell you something. There's no secret sauce- I have no magic knowledge (and if I did, I would tell you.)

The "secret" is taking months and years to listen to your skin and let it guide you. You have to observe how it responds to each ingredient you introduce. I know from experience some things are a waste of my time, so I don't bother incorporating them. I also see how well my acne responds to some treatments that other people hate. Customizing a multi-faceted routine for your specific types and behavior of acne is something that takes a long time, and if you are patient, you will develop a similarly robust routine that works for you!

Hormonal Acne Routine Part 4: The Cleanup Crew

This post is a continuation of my Hormonal Acne Series:

Click to Read > Part 1: Philosophies
Click to Read > Part 2: First Line of Defense
Click to Read > Part 3: The Surge

I have discovered the following about my own skin from years of trial and error and plenty of research. If you do not have the basics of skincare covered yet, then you have no business moving on to targeted acne solutions, especially not exfoliating actives. Please use great caution when introducing a new acne-fighting product. My routine is the result of many years of slow introduction and cautious experimentation. It should not be used as a shopping list for a newbie. Please read Part 1 for a summary of my acne troubles and my philosophies!

The Cleanup Crew

Between my AHA and my azelaic acid, I have a lot of intense, medically-researched power behind my acne-fighting routine. However, for dealing with healing and nearly-resolved acne that refuses to leave my face, I rely on over the counter, less intensive ingredients. Once clogs surface, my skin actually heals quickly if I give it proper nourishment. It's getting the clogs to the surface that's the biggest challenge. The cleanup routine I've developed has made the lifetime of each acne spot so much shorter- the time from when it first emerges to when it's banished for good has decreased dramatically from a few years ago when I first started to experience my adult acne.

Firstly, sheet masks have been a godsend. Any sheet mask will function the same for this purpose- it soaks and saturates your skin's surface in watery serum for a prolonged period of time (I mask for 20 minutes usually.) For acne that is scabbing over, a moist environment is key to allowing the skin to soften and heal. Just like you want to keep healing wounds moist with a bandage and ointment, a sheet mask works well to soak my "open" acne and seems to speed up the actual healing, with less irritability and hard scabbing. No matter the ingredients, just keeping a wet hydrating sheet on my face for 20 minutes does great things for those scabby bits...I have noticed that when I get those areas "waterlogged" they disappear much faster. However, most sheets masks in my stash also contain lots of anti-inflammatory ingredients that work to reduce redness and swelling of recovering acne. Because sheet masks are inherently hydrating/moisturizing, they make a natural complement to a more drying actives schedule. They are doing acne-fighting work but not adding to potential dryness. I reviewed some of them here.

My current favorite acne-soothing masks (Naruko Snail, Innisfree Bija, Secret Nature Aloe, TonyMoly Rice)

The other moisturizing mask solution is the DIY honey mask, which works on two levels. One, honey is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which are key mechanisms to heal active acne. Two, the honey mask, when worn for prolonged periods of time (I try to wear them for 40 min to an hour) will create a similar moist environment as a sheet mask, but without the irritation prolonged sheetmasking yields for me. Besides the base mixture of toner and honey, I will add a bit of oil, serum, or even a bit of tea for extra soothing fun.

Clay mask and honey-matcha tea mask

My last mask is one I use sparingly- the clay mask. I consider this to be almost on the level of a chemical active, not because of how it works, but because of how drying and potentially irritating it is. I never use a clay mask on the same day as an active. I always moisturize heavily after a clay mask. And I never use a clay mask more than once a week. I will often push out my clay mask to once every 10 days to really make sure I don't overload my skin. Clay works by drawing out surface oils, and that's a slightly temporary cosmetic effect, but bentonite clay, the ingredient in most masks I use, also has shown antibacterial activity in certain scientific studies. I do feel that it has the ability to draw deeper bumps to the surface of the skin, dry out whiteheads and small surface pimples, and soothe irritated skin if used sparingly. I will usually follow my clay mask with a honey mask and even a sheet mask after the first two...because I feel the action of the clay is complemented by the two moisturizing measures.

In terms of spot treatments ("spot treatments) aka targeted non-exfoliating but nonetheless acne-focused treatments, I do not currently use the most popular one, benzoyl peroxide. I have in the past, and I find it extremely effective. However it can be slightly drying, so always use 2.5% which maximizes efficacy while minimizing side effects. A common alternative to BP is tea tree oil, which my skin loves. Tea tree and BP both have anti-bacterial activity which works on certain strains of acne-causing bacteria. If you've noticed either does not work for you, it means your skin may have predominantly a different strain of acne bacteria affecting it. Tea tree oil should not be used above low concentrations (typically 2-5%), so dilute it in carrier oil (NOT in water, that will grow mold) to use it safely without giving yourself nasty burns. Tea tree oil is a maintenance product for me- I use it regularly even when I have no big acne issues as it keeps my skin feeling and looking calm. It is best for emerging acne and acneic skin in general- I avoid using it on broken acne as it can burn and feel irritating.

Pure tea tree oil should be mixed to a level of 2% before use

The slightly unconventional/less-popular ingredient (at least in the USA) I love to use is zinc. I think zinc is a bit more common in French formulations than American ones, but it works on American skin, too, hey! My personal experience with zinc is that it is slightly drying when used alone, therefore even if you use a zinc cream with a moisturizing base, you will need to sandwich it with a moisturizing cream and a sleeping pack. Zinc is anti-inflammatory and highly soothing, so it is especially good for acne that has been picked and popped. I personally use a thicker, opaque zinc cream as a spot treatment (spread over smaller areas of my face) at night and a siliconey, transparent zinc product mixed into my moisturizer in the morning.

Both products from La Roche-Posay's Cicaplast Line

Because the majority of the "cleanup crew" is non-irritating, I can use them all in the same routine with powerful actives without overloading my skin. What I've found over the last few years is that actives alone never get the job fully done. My healing, emerging, and active acne needs different types of impact- moisture, dryness, soothing, etc. By having a multifaceted team, instead of just one "MVP" my skincare game has depth and breadth. The various skin emergencies that used to make me hide and cry are now a minor annoyance which can be tackled by any number of treatments I have in my regular rotation.

Continued in Part 5....


Techniques to Stop Skin Picking

I have a bad nervous habit where I pick my face, whether I have aggravated acne or no blemishes whatsoever at the moment. It's never a good idea. When you have active acne, it makes them more prone to infection and inflammation. When you have no active acne, it disturbs the relative calm of your skin.

There are no upsides to picking, only downsides. So why do I do it? I've always been fidgety and I tend to move around when I'm bored, anxious, or preoccupied with something. Without realizing it, I'll scratch and pick even when I made up my mind to specifically avoid it.

    Reasoning with Yourself

    • You're not going to resolve it with picking. I think a lot of us have this, ahem, romanticized idea that if we squeeze a hard, painful pimple, some little thing will be expelled and the whole problem will go away. In reality, you should already know that the vast majority of swollen acne aren't resolved so neatly. Usually the swelling is not due to a single hard seed, but attributed to a general swelling and filling with fluid. Which means your popping will make your skin bleed and weep, but there won't be a satisfying ending, and the pimple will continue on, angrier than before.
    • Your makeup will look worse when you pick. This is true for all types of acne and all people. Acne may look troublesome under makeup, it adds texture and obviously is not pretty to look at. But if you've ever attempted to cover a weeping red hole in your face, you know how much more difficult it is to do so. If your aim is to look good for others, picking is not the answer.
    • It makes the "system" of your skin worse overall. You may think- hey, what's the biggie, just this one spot gets picked, it doesn't affect the rest of my face. Wrong. Picking your skin disrupts your barrier by introducing more germs and dirt from the outside world onto and into your face. What you do to one side of your face affects the other side, period, and generally speaking, picking causes much more harm by producing redness, inflammation, and irritation that lasts long after a pimple would have gone away on its own.

    The reasoning above is the reality of things- but it's not always possible to access that reality and logic. For me, skin picking is an activity I do to relieve anxiety, boredom, and frustration. It comes with an immediate high that accompanies most harmful behavior. I try to coach myself to remember the reasonable reality of skin picking in times of stress, but just knowing the truth doesn't mean I'll act reasonably. I used to beat myself up for "forgetting" the truth in the heat of the moment, but that's not really what was happening. It's just that I had conditioned myself to respond positively to bad behaviors, which means I need to recondition myself not punish myself for forgetfulness.

    Mindfulness Check-in

    • Identify the emotions commonly associated with the picking habit. Write them down on a post-it or notecard that you keep at your desk or in your purse. Use the card as a checklist if you start to feel the urge to pick- try to see if your desire to pick comes from one of the listed emotions (anger, sadness, fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, boredom...) 
    • Write up a second notecard or post-it note with a list of strategies for "treating" each emotion in the short-term. If you're fatigued, maybe your technique will be to make yourself a cup of hot tea or coffee. If you're lonely maybe your technique is to text a friend. If you feel anxious, go for a run or a walk.


    Makeup Marketing and Beauty Guru Culture

    I have been watching "Beauty Gurus" on some form of social media for more than a decade now. Online beauty reviews and blogs have existed for a while, as well as makeup discussion forums like Specktra and later Reddit, but I think YouTube was the ideal platform to launch the current iteration of what we now know as a Beauty Guru (hereafter abbreviated as BG.)

    Because makeup is a tactile and visual medium, words only go so far. If you can't be there in person with a makeup artist or fellow makeup lover, video is probably the next best thing. With the explosion in variety of social media platforms over the last several years, BGs have found wider audiences and even greater Internet (and sometimes IRL) fame.

    In the past, BGs were either professional makeup artists with some spare time and a flair for video editing, or they were ordinary women/men who dedicated a lot of time to a hobby but maintained a separation between work/real life and their online presence. Before the space exploded, being an Internet BG was a fairly thankless labor of love. The people who had YouTube followings enjoyed a pretty devoted audience and possibly some ad revenue, but the BG machine didn't fully kick off until beauty companies got hip to how powerful a marketing tool these BGs could really be. Sponsored content in the form of free samples of lipstick turned into sponsored vacations, paid-for teeth whitening, and just gradually exbanded to become entrenched in BGs' lifestyles, rather than being confined to the neat little box of a beauty hobby. BGs drink startup artisanal coffee provided gratis from free coffee mugs with sponsor logos, wearing a robe that they reviewed and received affiliate kickback for. All while checking their social media with thousands of adoring followers, who feel a genuine affection for them and contribute to their overall sense of self.

    The current climate/status of BGs as "influencers" (to use the sterile and slightly horrifying term) is a case of everyone wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Marketing is rooted in the practice of manipulating the human psyche to bring about desired behavior (in this case, the desired behavior is to buy.) I see a few common ideas about marketing at play in the current BG culture.

    The "Trusted Consumer" Opinion

    In this example, housewives in the 1950s all across America were sold on New Cleaning Product X because a woman whose life was just like their own told them Product X worked well. Well, our housewife thought, that woman looks just like my sister/mom/friend from down the street. I trust her because she seems like she understands my needs, because they're her needs too. And a million Average Jane commercials and advertisements were born. Companies constantly develop ways to strike that nerve and get their potential customers to feel that someone you trust vouches for it. This impulse ties in to people's group mentality, where acting clannish and having a trustworthy network makes them feel safe and like they belong to a supportive community.

    The "Aspirational Figure" Endorsement

    In this other method, there was the gorgeous actress, who the same housewife had only ever seen in soft-focus motion pictures and retouched magazine spreads. She was impossibly beautiful, cosmopolitan, and has everything our housewife dreams of, though she lives in Ohio, has an insurance salesman husband, and struggles with uneven skintone. But wait, the actress has now endorsed and credited Face Cream Y for her flawless complexion. Even if our housewife can't have the actress' entire life, she can obtain a small slice of it. And that  makes the purchase of Face Cream Y a transformative, hopeful act. It's rooted in the desire to be like someone else because you think their life is superior to yours in some way(s.) Humans react in patterns of behavior that allow us to be manipulated by certain tricks. This is not reserved for people of the past, or women, it's all of us.

    The Modern Beauty Guru

    So that brings us to today. We know for a fact that companies use BGs to market to us. We understand that they are often the personable mouthpiece for multiple faceless corporations. But are they The Trusted Consumer? Why yes, girl, they have man troubles, they eat pizza in their sweatpants, they struggle existentially. How terrifically relatable- they are just like you! But wait...aren't they also kind of celebrities? They get flown around on glamorous vacations, they have no ordinary 9-to-5 job, and they have impeccably-curated and polished appearances (excepting those #important notable exceptions when there's a #nomakeup hashtag floating around and participating to show vulnerability has a greater positive impact on their brand image than a few un-aspirational sunspots would.)

    Beauty Guru Culture has transformed into this monolithic marketing machine that is basically the apex of manipulation. It inspires a Golden Ticket feel in ordeinary girls and women. Nowadays you might not imagine you'll ever be a movie star or like one- that hardly seems achievable...but you can easily imagine becoming like any of the thousands of "Internet-famous" gurus who have devoted fan followings, free shopping trips, handsome boyfriends, and overall "polished" and enviable lives. BGs and their sponsorships/brand partners are trying to have their cake and eat it too, by presenting figures who speak simultaneously to that "trusted compatriot" urge and to the aspirational "I want her life" vibe. We all want to feel connected to others. Sometimes we want the equivalent of a friend who will commiserate with our troubles. Sometimes we want someone to emulate, who will inspire us to become greater. Both of these aspects are manipulated expertly by companies who make good use of BG sponsorships and partnerships. BGs hit that sweet, enticing spot between "just like you" and "better than you."

    Hormonal Acne Routine Part 3: The Surge

    This post is a continuation of my Hormonal Acne Series:

    Click to Read > Part 1: Philosophies
    Click to Read > Part 2: First Line of Defense

    I have discovered the following about my own skin from years of trial and error and plenty of research. If you do not have the basics of skincare covered yet, then you have no business moving on to targeted acne solutions, especially not exfoliating actives. Please use great caution when introducing a new acne-fighting product. My routine is the result of many years of slow introduction and cautious experimentation. It should not be used as a shopping list for a newbie. Please read Part 1 for a summary of my acne troubles and my philosophies!

    The Surge

    Even though my cysts are reduced in number and aggravation by my azelaic acid treatment, the clogs that result from my skin's inability to shed quickly remain, dotting my cheeks like little molehills. For these types of "surface" clogs I like to use a gentle, low-level acid formula. For me, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or mandelic acid are all good choices. I've used all of them in the past (not at the same time) and they have been great for different reasons and for different phases of my skin.

    Currently I'm in a phase of using 2% salicylic acid three times a week. I find that this is a good sweet spot for my oily/combo skin, but if I overdo it, my skin takes on a beef jerky texture and becomes prone to flakes and irritation.

    In the past, I have successfully used 10% glycolic acid or 10% mandelic acid as my other regular treatment. If you have dry skin, you can explore the gentler acids with larger molecular size (for lower penetration and hence irritation) like lactic acid but if you have hardier and resilient skin you can slowly work up to the stronger acids as I have done.

    As I mentioned in Part 2, I have a rule of thumb to not exceed two exfoliating actives in my routine at any one time. I experience diminishing marginal utility for each additional acid added. By the time I've incorporated my azelaic acid with my salicylic acid, I've addressed both my deep clogs and my surface ones. Adding a third acid will create 1 of 2 situations:

    • I have to use acids every single day: My skin looks much better with 4 or 5 days of exfoliation per week, less if the weather is particularly harsh.
    • I have to forgo using one acid for the new one: This is the "crowding-out" effect that usually happens, whereby I have to sacrifice the number of days using one of my established acids to introduce my new one to avoid overexfoliation. Sometimes it can work, but for me, using fewer acids more times a week trumps using more acids fewer times a week. 

    Neither of these situations is ideal for my skintype, problems, or lifestyle. I fear overexfoliation because it always results in worse acne and increased discomfort. For me the signs of overexfoliation begin with a preternatural smoothness- my skin becomes glowy to the point where it looks like glass. Makeup stops adhering to my skin and it looks almost nice, but...too nice. Typically if I keep exfoliating past that point (by using more acids that week or more treatments closer together) my skin will tip over into rough, papery, scaly, and I will actually suffer increased acne breakouts. Fine spiderweb lines will appear and if I try to make a grinning face, I can feel the skin on my cheeks and forehead tighten.

    I do have to juggle my azelaic acid with my salicylic acid, and sometimes that means skipping one or the other. There is no rule that says you must use actives daily- in fact my personal philosophy is that skin is not meant to be chemically exfoliated every day. I think that 5 days of chemical exfoliation per week counts as robust and even for my severe acne it has been plenty. Depending on the week, the weather, and how I feel, I will also back off to use my acids less if I feel like it. Sometimes I will double up on using both the same day and then skip a few days. Sometimes I just skip a few days and leave my skin alone. I have learned to listen to my skin and be flexible with its demands. Too much of a good thing, in the case of acids, is very much a bad thing. Dehydrated skin can take a long time to recover, and it's best to avoid causing dehydration in the first place.

    Continued in Part 4...


    Hormonal Acne Routine Part 2: First Line of Defense

    This post is a continuation of my Hormonal Acne Series:

    Click to Read > Part 1: Philosophies

    I have discovered the following about my own skin from years of trial and error and plenty of research. If you do not have the basics of skincare covered yet, then I'll respectfully say you have no business moving on to targeted acne solutions, especially not exfoliating actives. This is not to say that good skincare is esoteric and off-limits to beginners- rather that you need to be patient and careful to create a good routine, and those qualities do not just magically appear if you rush into things. Please use caution when introducing a new acne-fighting product. My routine is the result of years of experimentation, and I tweak based on my skin and other factors depending on the moment. The general philosophies and principles remain the same!

    My inflamed cysts, a result of overactive oil glands, less-responsive skin-shedding, and other vagaries of my hormonally imbalanced body, need a hardcore intervention. For me, 15% prescription azelaic acid has been the most effective topical treatment. Better than tretinoin, better than BHA, better than benzoyl peroxide. It works to reduce the inflammation and incidence without excessively drying my skin. Unfortunately in the USA, it's only available from a doctor at the level I use it. Therefore I will recommend you ask your dermatologist if you can use the product. I don't think it's for everyone, but this excellent blog post by Snow White and the Asian Pear should explain why many people enjoy using it on their own skin.

    The azelaic acid does for me what I've seen tretinoin do for many others. It shows cascading benefits the longer you use it. Like most acne treatments, this is not meant to be used on "spots." You apply it allover with the understanding that the skin is a system. Because the majority of acne-fighting ingredients are preventive as much as they are reparative, this usually works out best in the medium to long-term. I use my azelaic acid between 3 and 4 times a week, for consistent dosage without overdoing it.

    There are plenty of hardcore acne actives- the aforementioned tretinoin and BHA may work better for your skin. The only way to understand what your skin likes best is to experiment carefully and observe the results with each chemical active.

    Because of my dry climate and my own sensitivities, I have found that I need to keep strong actives to a maximum of two in my entire regular routine. That means I do not like to stack tons of potent acne-fighting actives. I find there gets to be a "crowding-out" effect whereby I try to fit in the actives to my weekly routine, which means I use them too frequently overall, and my skin grows aggravated and more inflamed and prone to acne, even though the purpose of the routine is to treat acne in the first place. Azelaic acid is the first of my current two. In the past I've mixed and matched other actives, but while the number two may seem arbitrary, for me I find no matter the ingredient, when I push it to three total, things get hinky. I'll talk about my second active in my next post!

    In the photos above, I show what I consider to be a realistic expectation for what one chemical active should do for my hormonal acne. The left photo shows before starting azelaic acid, the right photo shows a month's progress. I do not expect this one product to control all aspects of my skin and perfect it. What I do expect is a reduction in the spread and aggravation of inflamed acne, leaving minor clogs and the occasional larger pimple as an acceptable compromise.

     There are blind spots that occur and issues that arise with this philosophy, which is why I compensate in other, gentler ways.

    Continued in Part 3...