Current Skincare Routine

Left: Spring 2016 // Right: Autumn 2017

My skin has come a long way in the last couple of years. Part of that is my hormones stabilizing (and they could go haywire again) but I owe much of the improvements to my routine. I rarely post my routine on Instagram because it looks basically the same every single night/morning. Here are the hows and whys of my current morning and night routine- and what changes I've noticed in my skin since these routines have been in place!

Morning Skincare Routine

Watery antioxidant/prep steps for the morning

Keywords for my morning routine: Smooth, hydrate, plump, protect. 

I wear a full face of makeup every day, so I need my skincare to work in concert with my makeup. I need to look glowy but not greasy, and I want to stop any emergence of flakes or roughness that will mess up the finish of my base.

Stratia Velvet Cleansing Milk: This is halfway between a gel and a cream cleanser. It leaves no residue, but it is not a foaming, squeakifying cleanser. I don't think cleansing in the morning is a necessary step for everyone. When I was actively recovering from dehydration, I completely abstained from a morning cleanse. While this product is important for me to cleanse off the residue from the night before, I can get away with not cleansing some days.

Mizon Daily Clean AHA/BHA Toner: I use this post-cleanse because I rarely use true acids/actives in the morning. Sometimes I want a little smoothing action, and I find this does a gentle job exfoliating but also assists in plumping/hydrating my skin. I don't use this every morning- maybe twice a week.

NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist: I haven't been shy about my feelings toward the Deciem umbrella of brands, but the SDSM is the one product they make that has become indispensable to me. It functions as an FTE (first treatment essence) in my routine, because it has a watery, fast-absorbing texture. I am allergic to niacinamide, an ingredient found in most FTEs, which promotes water retention in the skin. The SDSM substitutes well, as I noticed less irritation and water loss, as well as quicker healing time since I incorporated it.

Skin Biology 7% GHK-Cu Accelerant: This is a high-priced but not ridiculous (like NIOD) Copper Peptide serum. It is meant to be mixed into any skincare product, and treats my inflammation and irritation. I have noticed an overall calmer, less red appearance when I wake up in the morning since I began using this a few months ago.

Some light, absorbent hydration to start

Whamisa Green Tea Serum Toner: I find that my oily and dehydration-prone skin likes some sparing alcoholic skincare, as it soaks in fast and tends to plump and "rubberize" my skin to give me that chok-chok Korean ideal. This toner subtly brightens, soaks in fast, and hydrates my skin while soothing redness.

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid: Another quick-absorbing, multi-faceted hydrator that works excellently to combat and prevent dehydration and dullness.

Paula's Choice Redness Relief Toner for Normal to Dry Skin: Although I do not have dry skin, this toner ticks a lot of boxes for me as a morning step. It incorporates some fatty acids and oils which lend emollience and bounce to my skin without loading me up in grease. Soaks in more slowly and acts as a final step heavy hydrator on top of my watery steps.

Layers of emollient and occlusive ingredients to trap moisture

Klairs Supple Preparation Toner//CosRx Snail 96 Essence//Stratia Fortify: I do a lot of mixing in my day to day routine, because sometimes nobody makes a single perfect product. For daytime, I think that mixing is necessary to balance the exact level of moisture with the amount of residue you're comfortable with. This combination results in a lightly emollient soothing gel.

Vichy Aqualia Thermal Serum: longtime favorite of mine, this product has become a daytime must-have for me. It traps the slightly oily and slippery early layers of my routine under a blanket of smooth, siliconey goodness. Acts as a hybrid primer and light moisturizer.

Mizon All in One Snail Repair Cream//Simple Hydrating Booster: On very hot, humid days, I'll skip this last step. However, in the cooler months it's more important. I apply this only on my chin/jawline where I'm most prone to dehydration. See this post for why and how I "zone" my face. This mixture of a thick essence with a very rich siliconey gel makes for a makeup-friendly but dehydration-busting layer of occlusivity.

Skin Aqua Sarafit Silky Essence SPF 50: A high SPF is completely non-negotiable for me. If you care at all about photoaging and hyperpigmentation, you cannot live without a daily SPF. I have been lucky enough to find multiple Japanese sunscreens that work excellently for my daily needs. This is a so-called "commuter" sunscreen- great for the type of sun exposure you'd get driving, taking the bus, and walking to lunch- not suited for outdoor sweating, swimming, or all-day high-UV-index exposure. The best sunscreen is one you will use so spend as much money and time as you need to find the perfect one for you.

Evening Skincare Routine

My full nighttime cleansing routine

Keywords for my evening routine: Cleanse, treat, moisturize, strengthen. 

I love a heavy face of moisturizer. As an oily-skinned gal, I think that isn't always the norm. But I find that my dehydration-prone skin and acneic tendencies make me more reliant on heavy occlusive moisturizers. And in the evening, when a greasy appearance is not a bad thing, I go all out. I also need to squeeze in my active ingredients, the ones which treat my acne and keep my skin in balance.

Lancome BiFacil Makeup Remover: Technically skincare, although I limit its use to the eye area- this is my holy grail waterproof makeup remover. I use this on a cotton pad when I'm wearing liner, mascara, or heavy eyeshadow. Otherwise, I skip to the next step.

Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water: I was an oil-cleansing devotee for many years, but in the last 6 months I have found that my skin likes micellar water for a first cleanse. I notice a lot of people leave micellar water on without rinsing, which I find sensitizes and irritates the skin. I use this to remove the bulk of my makeup, then I follow with my second cleanser.

Stratia Velvet Cleansing Milk: My favorite gel/milk cleanser. I need to fully remove all residue of makeup, dirt, and sweat from the day, so I will massage this thoroughly after finishing my first cleanse, and then I rinse with warm water.

Mizon Daily Clean AHA/BHA Toner: Again, I don't use this every single night. But I use it if I'm particularly oily, broken-out, or my skin appears stressed (and not dry at all.) I never believed in acid "toners" that weren't real "actives" before this year, but since I added this I noticed increased clarity, improved skin texture, and better hydration.

[1-3 TIMES PER WEEK] DIY Honey Mask: I like to take advantage of the healing, anti-acne benefits of raw honey using this method. Most commercial "honey" products contain propolis, which I'm allergic to, and I find that using pure honey in a DIY mix is extremely effective for acne care and soothing. The benefits are most apparent if you wear this for at least an hour, so I keep this to a single use per week unless my skin is in extreme distress.

My library of actives

[4-5 TIMES PER WEEK] Acid Treatment: I have oily, congestion-prone skin and overactive hormones, so I do need to do regular acne treatment to keep my skin clear. However, in the grand scheme of things, I'd say I have a fairly light to moderate schedule of actives. I find that exfoliating every single night, no matter how gentle, isn't right for my skin at the moment. I switch between Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA, Alpha Skincare 10% Glycolic Treatment, and Melazepam (20% azelaic acid). I will occasionally double up and use two treatments on one night, but my usual schedule allows for 4-5 total active days, with at least 2 days of "rest" for my skin, when I purely focus on moisturizing.

Whamisa Green Tea Serum Toner

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid

Klairs Supple Preparation Toner//CosRx Snail 96 Essence//Stratia Fortify

My two HG masks

[1-3 TIMES PER WEEK] Whamisa Organic Flowers Hydrogel Mask OR SNP Bird Nest Aqua Ampoule Mask: I went down the usual Asian Beauty rabbit hole of buying dozens of varieties of sheet masks. Some people enjoy the variety of a large library of masks, but I've settled comfortably on just 2 as my regular treatments. The Whamisa variety is incredibly effective for fixing emerging breakouts, flaky irritation, and dullness. The SNP one is very moisturizing, and when worn on top of my usual essence/oil blend, allows for a super hydrating experience.

Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream OR Avene Soothing Moisture Mask: These two qualify as moderately heavy, hydrating night creams. They are slightly too rich to use in the morning, and they do an excellent job of soaking into my skin over the course of a few hours. I will apply this as my "sealing" step around 6 pm, and then I will leave my final step until bedtime.

Paula's Choice Resist Barrier Repair Moisturizer: This moisturizer contains less than 1% retinol, not enough to truly qualify as a "treatment" step, however it clarifies and smoothes my skin in a way that an inert moisturizer does not. I will usually only use this once or twice per week, on days I am not exfoliating. And if I'm particularly congested, taking a week off acids, or my barrier is compromised, I will use it more frequently.

Emu oil: Vegans, look away! Emu oil is made from liquified, purified fat from an emu bird. It's famously soothing, rarely causes reactions, and is intensely heavy and moisturizing. A sticky, inelegant oil, this makes no sense for morning use, but I love to mix a few drops into my nighttime moisturizer when my skin is extra thirsty. I find mixing a heavy oil into my night creams gives me more flexibility than having a ton of different creams for different moods.

Sleeping pack to end all sleeping packs

Cerave Healing Ointment//Cerave Moisturizing Cream: Since I posted about this DIY sleeping pack mix early in 2017, I have received so many messages and comments telling me how well it works for others' dehydrated and dry skin types! I find this to be the most effective anti-dehydration barrier out of all the creams and packs I've tried. A sleeping pack is essential if you feel plump when you fall asleep and wake up parched. When I'm sick or dead tired, I will simply do a cleanse and this last step, and I'll wake up looking like a normal human, not a zombie.

What I Do Not Use

Physical Exfoliants: My face responds well to acids. In my experience, my acne only worsens with scrubbing/manual exfoliation, so I stick to the chemicals.

Foaming Cleansers: While I appreciate the cleansing nature of a true gel-foam cleanser, I think that a gentle double cleanse has done more to repair my barrier and keep it in tip top shape while cleansing thoroughly.

Tretinoin: Currently my skin does not tolerate tretinoin, and I have found full resolution to my severe acne using the above exfoliants. I may begin a tretinoin or retinol treatment in a few years, but for now I am happy with sunscreen and antioxidants as preventative aging care.

"Oil-free" Products: Oil-free was a 90s-era-sham perpetrated on the skincare public! Oils are good- no, oils are great! I never avoid oil in my products, and I will often use a few extra drops of my favorite oil blends when my skin is unhappy.

Eye Cream: I actually have no issue with eye creams generally- I just don't need one right now. I bring my moisturizing products all over my eyelids, and I don't suffer from extreme dark circles, so they are an extra unwanted step for me.

And that sums up my routines! A total of 10 steps in the morning and 10-12 steps in the evening. For a complete skincare newbie, remember this particular routine was built over 2 years. A newcomer's routine will include maybe 2-3 products only. My particularly fussy skin demands a high degree of customization- I hope my routine helps you see the potential for great results at all price points and within your own stash. 


Declutter Tips: How to Destash and Streamline Your Collection

As the new year approaches, there are lots of us reflecting on the beauty items we acquired in 2017, and are feeling a bit sick or overwhelmed with the state of our beauty stashes. If you are looking to declutter and streamline your makeup collection, this post is for you.

I am by no means a minimalist. If you are I suggest you check out the blog and videos of The Anna Edit. She started out on YouTube as a beauty vlogger but has gradually moved to more lifestyle/fashion while transitioning to a very minimalist beauty collection. Her principles and "capsule wardrobe" ethos apply equally well to makeup, skincare, housewares, and fashion.

I am a beauty maximalist. I like to have options and I wear quite a bit of makeup on my face. I don't have a signature face that I wear on the daily, so I can't quite get by with a tiny collection. However, that's no excuse for hoarding or collecting useless products. The goal for me is to have a reasonable stash- and while my "reasonable" might not be the same as yours, there are still some good guidelines that every person can follow or learn from. Here are some tips and tricks that I have based on my experience with decluttering makeup many times over the years...

1. Do not rush to declutter or do it when emotionally compromised.

2. Separate your collection into "keep, maybe, and no" piles.

3. Come up with your own "hard limits" and "soft limits."

4. Place your "maybe" pile in a box and store in a closet for 1 month before trashing.

5. Return all products that you can. Sell any that are worth it. Throw away what's left. 

6. Do not declutter and then haul right after, or do it to "make room" for new things.

Do Not Declutter When Emotionally Compromised

I frequently hear people bemoaning the state of their bloated makeup collections, and in a guilt-wracked haze, they trash a huge number of products all at once. This is not a good idea. By decluttering as a means to punish yourself for your past mistakes, you will not learn your lesson, and you are doomed to repeat the error of overbuying. 

Bingeing on destashing/minimizing is just as harmful as bingeing on a shopping spree. You are taking the shortcut that you think will lead to happiness or satisfaction. But happiness doesn't ever come about as the result of actions taken in a single moment. Happiness is usually built on repetitive good habits. If you are feeling extremely upset, guilty, or overwhelmed, it is not a good time to go shopping or to tackle your makeup clutter. Do something relaxing and not drastic like taking a walk, a bath, or talking to a friend.

Decluttering is a task, not a journey of redemption, and it should be undertaken when clear-headed and rational. If you are having difficulties approaching your makeup destash with a level head, your first step should be to write out your makeup collection goals. Try to understand what you will use, what you will enjoy, and what you should own before literally dismantling your collection. Once you have made that list, sit on it for a week and see how your perspective changes. Then start your destash.

Separate Your Collection

Every person has holy grail, use-it-every-day items that they don't have to even think about keeping. Those should automatically just go back to your shelf/drawer without worrying. The difficulty comes in separating the products you might still want to keep, and the ones that you should absolutely get rid of. For someone who has a large, unthought-out collection, or trouble letting go, this gray area is the challenge.

When I go to a restaurant with a large menu and can't decide on what I want to eat, I first subtract all the low-hanging fruit options that I definitively don't want. You might only have 1 single lipstick you know you hate, or maybe you have 10 bronzers and you realized you never wear bronzer. Just separate those out right away to get some momentum.

Hard Limits and Soft Limits

What makes sense for one person to keep doesn't for another. All that means is you cannot use somebody's exact rules for yourself. If you wear red lipstick every single day, and you like to wear a different one based on the weather and your outfit, then for you 15 red lipsticks could be reasonable. Wearing each of them at least 5x a year could be your metric for keeping. But if you wear red lips only once a month, and you have 3 red colors that you haven't worn in over 2 months...then your rule for red lipsticks needs to be much stricter.

Your exact time limits and usage rates will vary based on the individual product, so it's helpful to write out a list of your personal rules. Example list, based on my collection and my makeup habits:

1. Lipsticks that have not been worn in over 60 days must go

2. Eyeshadows that have not been worn in over 3 months must go

3. Base products that have not been worn in over 30 days must go

4. Highlighters that have not been worn in over 60 days must go

It's better to come up with these rules first, write them down, and keep them in front of you when you're rummaging through your makeup pile. If you don't have some hard limits, you will always find yourself justifying the items you have some affection for.

If you feel that you are responsible and reasonable enough to handle it, you can also make a list of "soft" limits, which are a bit more wishy-washy and up to interpretation. If you are doubtful about your abilities here, nix the soft limits list and stick to hard limits. Example list of soft limits:

1. Keep 2 dark vampy lipsticks in collection, regardless of last time I wore them, as I will probably wear them in the autumn.

2. Destash 2 out of 3 "funky" highlight colors, keep the last 1 in case I have a costume or festive look to use it for.

3. Keep this lipstick I haven't worn in a year, with the understanding I must wear it at least twice in the next 2 weeks.

Fake Destash

A common fear for people approaching a decluttering project is that they'll all of a sudden need or want the product they threw in the trash, and they won't be able to get it back. Even though this situation almost never materializes, it's important to work with your fears rather than making this a painful process.

Something that has helped me and many other Nervous Nellies is to place your "maybe destash" items into a box, put that box in a hidden place (under the bed, in the closet, in your car trunk) and then not touch the box for a month.

If you find yourself wanting to use a product inside that box, you may remove it, but you may not sift through the box to shop around, and you may not impulsively repatriate your products into your everyday collection.

I recommend setting an alarm for 1 month from your declutter date, and keeping the box of maybes completely out of sight. What usually happens is that you completely forget that box, and you never even think of the products inside it. This can be a very comforting exercise, because it reassures you that you really don't need anything you put in the box. And if you truly end up needing it, well you can always grab it.

Some people extend this to 3 months or 6 months, and if you have the room to store something like that for a long period of time, that's fine. Remember that the longer you go with the item hidden and forgotten about, the higher the likelihood that you do not need it and never need it again.

Types of Destashing

In my opinion, the best thing a recovering makeup addict can do for their future (financial, emotional, etc) is to return every single unwanted item that they possibly can. In the USA this is easy as pie- any store with a membership program will allow you to return items without a receipt even, for between 30-60 days, usually for a refund, sometimes for store credit. Even drugstores will allow this, usually with receipt required but not always.

I know a lot of people have reservations about returning items, and I have written an extensive blog post on the subject. The TL;DR is that guilt over returns is entirely unnecessary, from my perspective, and that if you are currently battling an overshopping issue that affects your life and happiness, returns are a great tool to help you out of your problem.

There will be some products you cannot return. For those, you can choose to gift them, sell them, or trash them. In my opinion, the "gifting" option is quite a big waste of mental energy, and often contributes to denial over how much of a clutter problem you have. I have seen dozens of claims that beauty boxes are a "worthwhile investment" because you can give unwanted mini lipsticks/conditioner samples to friends as gifts. All this does is justify more spending in the future because you have the illusion of a safety net- in reality it's rare to give a used beauty item in a way that is satisfying to gifter and giftee. You are not saving money- if you give your friend nice, thoughtful gifts for Christmas anyway, a used deluxe sample of a random liquid lipstick is hardly going to cut down on your gift list that year. At best you are spending extra money on unwanted items that may work for another person. At worst, you are fooling yourself into acquiring more crap and lying to yourself about what your priorities are.

The exception to this rule is for very beautiful, high-end or expensive products that would genuinely stand alone as a thoughtful gift, that simply didn't work for you. Provided there is no big-time wear, those items can usually be sold or gifted. Because of the terrible resale value of most makeup, it doesn't make a lot of sense to post something for sale online unless the original price was more than $50. Nobody wants a $10 blush or $5 lipstick from an Internet stranger when they can buy it from the retailer for a similar price. Sell items if you feel you can recoup some cost, and give items to beauty-loving friends if they are beautiful or the person has expressed interest in them. Otherwise, trashing is the best option for used makeup.

When you throw a makeup item away, you teach yourself a valuable lesson about the consequences of spending money carelessly. If you feel a twinge of guilt or pain over throwing away something beautiful that you once wanted, you can store that emotion and recall it the next time you are about to buy something just for the heck of it. Maybe you bought that eyeshadow palette because it was deeply discounted, even though you knew you wouldn't get use from it. How much value was it, in the end, despite the discount price? Or perhaps you impulse-bought a lipstick from the drugstore because you had a terrible day at work, but you found the color and formula to be utter crap. Next time you're having a bad day, you might choose a healthier option like going for a walk, having a good necessary cry, or going out for coffee with a supportive friend.

Enjoy Your New Collection

At this point, you have the tools to create the best version of your current makeup collection. The easy trap to fall into is to now start fantasizing about an even better version of what you have. Now that you got rid of so many lipsticks, think of all the new ones that could fit into your drawer! Wrong. This is the time to breathe, "lean in" to what you own, and be invigorated by the fact that you know you love what you have. If you start to bring in new elements, you are only clouding your vision. Think of how crappy you felt the first time you realized you owned too much stuff that you didn't use. Now enjoy that that feeling is gone.

You can always buy new products in the future. But you decluttered for a reason- and that reason sure as hell wasn't "to be able to make room for more clutter." If you find yourself itching to replace old products, revisit the lists you wrote out for soft limits/hard limits. I find that once I've done a destash, a great distraction and reminder of just how awesome my collection already is, is to do a full makeup inventory! That means breaking out the ol' spreadsheet program and cataloging exactly what you own. Figure out what your goals are going forward and arrange your inventory in a way that furthers those goals.

If you want to use up products, keep track of how long you've owned your stuff, and how much progress you've made on each product. If you are determined to stick to a budget, write out all the dollar values of each product you own to grasp how much money is already tied up in your collection. There are so many ways to appreciate what you already have- so don't ruin your fresh and clean perspective by immediately buying more crap. 


Low Buy/Mindful Consumption Plan for 2018

Welcome back to my blog! I've taken a hiatus since May, sticking to Instagram and Reddit, but I'm back. I wanted to kick it off with a post about mindfulness in beauty going into the new year. I spent a lot on beauty items in 2017 and I want to have a plan going into 2018, as I played fast and loose with makeup and skincare this year. I kept to a strict low/no-buy for perfume in 2017 and majority of 2016, so that gives me confidence to plan these categories out.

What I struggle with:

  • "Treat yoself" whenever I  have a crappy day or get bored
  • Going down rabbit holes of finding the perfect X and buying something after a week of Charlie/Pepe Silvia research...only to realize I never needed or wanted that X thing in the first place.
  • Buying things from my favorite brands, whenever they come out with something new or have something that remotely catches my eye (Tom Ford, Hourglass, Fyrinnae, Besame, NARS)
  • Shopping as an activity- the worst part of this is once I start/get the ball rolling, I'm way more likely to keep going. I'm the person that has a 2 month gap in her Sephora order history, and then 5 orders in the span of 2 weeks. I want to start breaking myself of that tendency.

What I don't struggle with:

  • Spending beyond my means (I always stay well within my Fun Budget, which doesn't even touch my Important Things Budget)
  • Shopping random brands (I tend to be strict about avoiding brands I have no experience with and can't swatch in-person)

2018 No Buy Schedule

January NO BUY

February OK to shop

March NO BUY

April Ok to shop (coincides with Sephora sale)

May Ok to shop



August NO BUY

September Ok to shop

October Ok to shop

November Ok to shop

December Ok to shop

  • I am least prone to emotional buying in the summer months- I am most happy and sociable during this time, so compulsive shopping is already not a problem. I will take advantage of that headstart by doing a solid no buy during the summer.
  • No buys are easier to stick to once I get going, so I don't want to intersperse too many "Ok to shop" months with no buys as I feel it'll throw me off. I'm going for multiple consecutive no buy months to reinforce the habit.
  • I do well with time-bound challenges, so I think it will be easier to stick to no buys for 30, 60, 90 days rather than a strict dollar limit.

2018 General Guidelines

  • No drugstore makeup, period, except replacements for the 1 or 2 drugstore items I use regularly
  • Repurchases are fine, no stocking up majorly
  • No shopping while in pajamas, in bed, or while watching TV (like snacking, shopping becomes easier the more comfy you feel)
  • Using gift cards does count as breaking a no buy- I will not use gift cards during my no buy months. The act of shopping, period, makes me want to shop more, so even if it's free money, I'm still engaging in the addictive behavior.
  • Stick to Sephora and Beautylish as much as possible- considering I don't shop drugstore beauty, there's no reason to shop at Ulta. Ulta's high shipping minimum tricks me into hauling more. It's also easier to minimize expenditures when they're spread across 6 or 7 retailers compared to only 1 or 2.

New Item Wishlist

Example of my "wishlist" for 2018

Instead of keeping a disorganized running list of things I want, I will have a more structured wishlist for 2018. There will be a mandatory cooling-off period for any new item of 4 weeks per piece. I am going to, to the best of my ability, avoid hauls and make single-item purchases. Because I nearly always shop on Sephora's site anyway, free shipping isn't an issue.

The above list shows product slots/categories that, in a vacuum, I can see myself wanting and acquiring in 2018. I wanted to do this before I got wind of what will actually be released in 2018, because that will only confuse me with shiny new pretties. This list represents only the number of "new to me" items I will allow myself to purchase. So I can continue to buy  7 or 8 units of my favorite Holy Grail cleanser in 2018- but what the list does is allow for me to try 2 new cleansers if I decide I want to.

I believe this itemized wishlist will suit my needs because I can sometimes go on category binges where I acquire 3 or 4 new things in one specific category slot all at once, and it always causes issues. Usually I end up not using each of the items enough, and it either sits around until it's too late to return, or it just feels shitty to have to return a bunch of these ill-planned purchases.

For my favorite color cosmetic categories, I'm being fairly generous. I'm hoping by having, for instance, 8 slots available for 2018 purchases of "single glitter shadows" that I think very hard about any glitter shadow I decide to buy, and I'll be a bit more discerning. I want to avoid category hauls at all costs, so if I have 8 "slots" available across 12 months, I'll mentally be prepared to allocate more gradually.

For my "basics" categories that have been settled for more than a year, I'm allowing 1 extra purchase- for instance I only own one brow product that I use every single day. I love it, it's Holy Grail- but if I decide I want to try something else, I can do that once in 2018. Same goes for highlighter and concealer.

Concluding Thoughts and More Resources

If this post resonates with you or makes you consider a no buy/low buy, then I suggest drawing up your own customized plan, as everyone's habits and weaknesses look different. An excellent resource is Reddit's Makeup Rehab subreddit, where users discuss their successes and failures and offer support.

If you struggle with social media encouraging your mindless consumption, it can be good practice to take a break entirely. If you think you can handle without going cold turkey, curate the people you follow. Unfollow all brands as well as large "influencers" who receive free products for reviewing purposes. Those will dull your ability to understand consumption in real dollar terms. Follow YouTubers and Instagrammers who focus on finishing their products, anti-hauls, and shopping their stashes. Some of my favorites:

Bad Outfit, Great Lipstick who can be found on Instagram @reneesanatomy

Kimberly Clark's Anti-Haul series on Youtube, which spawned a whole video format

Some social media hashtags to check out: #panningcommunity #projectpan #shopyourstash #projectuseitup #makeupempties #skincareempties #antihaul #panporn


Social Media Update and Apologies for Absence

I haven't posted in about a month, and I've been missing interacting with all of you on the blog. I apologize for my absence- I had a family emergency and it kept me from my beauty hobbies and writing. I'm currently catching up on work and play, so I won't have a full-fledged blog post up for the next few days, but until then, I wanted to let you know that I am very active on Instagram- you can follow me at @faceonomics

My Instagram is dedicated toward the material that's too abbreviated for a full blog post- product reviews, quick thoughts, standalone FOTDs, and swatches.

Please follow me and say hello if you're on Instagram! I've missed blogging and chatting with each and every one of you. Thank you for your patience- as always I'd love to hear your post requests if you have them- skincare, makeup, theory, anything. See you soon with a new post!


Why I Love and Hate The Ordinary

via theordinary.com

The Ordinary, which is the low-cost and simple line from parent company Deciem, has been growing in popularity over the last year and I think in the past 3 months the hype has reached a fever pitch. I find that anything that gets too popular too quickly attracts a lot of attention, positive and negative. I've found myself reflecting on deeply negative and positive feelings toward the brand. This is a meandering discussion of those feelings and where I think they come from.

This is not a product review, although I have tried many of their products and even more from their sister brands. I am more interested in exploring the feelings and thoughts I have seen pop up in the skincare communities online and in my own head while observing the growth of this innovative and unique skincare brand.

The Active Ingredients

It's hard to fault The Ordinary for their brand's understanding of active ingredients. They use scientifically-researched old standards and promising new ingredients and deliver them in a refreshingly transparent manner. As a consumer bathed in green-washed lies of Ancient Coconut Oil Magic and force-fed products whose active ingredients aren't even functional at the pH the product is developed...it's nice to see a company use the ingredient at the right pH and concentration that it claims to. I have noticed a great deal of people who find their formulary honest and straightforward.

On the flipside, I have witnessed pushback and myself felt a twinge of annoyance at the other side of the coin. The Ordinary (and its sister brands Hylamide and NIOD) are so focused on the scientific portion of the skincare experience that it has alienated customers. It can come across as hardlined and elitist.

I personally think that there is room in the skincare market for this type of bald focus on active ingredients, even at the expense of alienating folks who want a more holistic, gentle experience of being marketed to. I have personally seen many routines belonging to skincare enthusiasts who happily use perfumey and luxurious expensive creams alongside a bland and basic Ordinary product. The Ordinary seems to be positioning itself to be the discreet but powerful companion to the artsy, indulgent items that we all enjoy. 

The Formulary

Continuing on a similar theme, this is an area where I personally feel a big cloud of emotions and opinions forming. Because The Ordinary's focus is actives, it leaves out the other piece of the pie. If a skincare product isn't "cosmetically elegant" i.e. fun or enjoyable to apply, then it drastically reduces a person's desire to use it. Skincare is part health, part hobby for many of us. If it were like taking a vitamin pill, nobody would post Instagram photos of their 10-step skincare routine or spend hours discussing their favorite products with strangers online.

So many of The Ordinary products are formulated for maximum potency of actives. Rather than optimizing, which is the practice of maximizing one variable in relation to the other, The Ordinary seems to max out and go balls-to-the-wall with whatever ingredient they are featuring. This means they sacrifice the feel and comfort in much of their line, all in the name of chemical efficiency. I think this is good in a way- it turns some consumers away but it also gets the message across that The Ordinary takes skin health Very Seriously. There is nothing more important to The Ordinary than getting the active ingredients we pay for onto the customers' skin and working.

Many people, including myself, complain about the stickiness, greasiness, graininess, and generally baffling textures of multiple items produced by the brand. What this means is The Ordinary is certainly losing potentially good customers, customers interested in their value proposition, by formulating their products with such a singleminded direction. But nobody can be popular with everyone, and no one brand can satisfy the whole market. What The Ordinary is doing is giving customers highly simplified options that are undeniably effective, even if they are not comfortable.

I worry that people using The Ordinary won't enjoy the products enough to use them long enough to see results. While several of their products have results that can be measured and observed within days or weeks, others claim to have a lasting effect that will manifest over the course of months or years. Peptide serums like the Matrixyl 10% use ingredients whose effects are subtle and far from immediate. If the serum doesn't feel or smell nice, and it doesn't show results quickly, why would a customer stick with it? When the price is the only persuasive factor, the argument for repurchasing dramatically weakens.

You want to give the customers multiple avenues to excuse and justify their expenditure on your product. When they have no silky skinfeel or beautiful fragrance to enjoy, their justifications shrink, and they might end up not repurchasing.

The Repeat Customer

The Ordinary has expanded past their initial launch and each time they announce a new product, there's plenty of excitement. However I still do see the medium and long-term customers' interests waning with time. The excitement over spending $5 on a serum overcomes the initial distaste for smell or texture...but the longer a person uses that item, the price paid becomes a distant memory and therefore less "valuable" as a component of the experience.

The Ordinary does an amazing job of capturing new customers and creating excitement. What I wonder is how many customers they will be able to retain long-term. I know that the products I recommend to others are the ones that bring me a little shiver of joy when I use them. Many of The Ordinary's products are, well, ordinary. They are ordinary by design, but that means they can come across as joyless.

When someone is looking to insert a potent active into their routine, it's possible that's exactly what they want and need. Maybe The Ordinary will build a long-term and loyal fanbase because of their cheap, purpose-driven range. Then again, maybe people will become disenchanted with the negative or plain aspects of the brand and begin to dislike the brand in general.

I think of the skincare brands that have attained household name status in the last decade- and there are quite a few, contrast with my teenage years when it felt like Estée Lauder and Clinique were IT. These newer household name brands blow you down with brand image, fantasy, and combine it with cosmetic elegance. A brand like Tatcha has good products, but by no means ones that are so effective they warrant the price tag for every item. The brand image is essentially snake oil dipped in rice wine and powdered with geisha makeup. But it doesn't matter! That purple and gold packaging, those scents, that skinfeel...it seduces customers. It keeps them wanting more and imagining what they could be if they own the latest Tatcha release.

Of course this kind of aspirational luxury pricing and brand image can really hurt customers. They end up paying high prices for items that either do nothing, or do a mediocre job. I think that for people disenchanted with high prices and underperformance, The Ordinary is a breath of fresh air. But I do question The Ordinary's ability to really delight consumers and fully convince them of value after the initial low-cost shock-and-awe strategy.

The Price

That brings us to price- which is a huge factor in determining the success of this brand. Without the positioning as an ultra-low cost skincare brand, I doubt The Ordinary would have captured the loyalty of so many people who are admittedly offended by its inelegant textures. To put up with greasiness from a $5 bottle is reasonable...to do so with a $150 bottle...not so much.

I remember when The Ordinary first launched and I saw the hype building at a feverish pace. The first thing people remarked on was how damn cheap it was. Could it be? A company producing serums and acids for less than $10 each? Nobody had seen anything close to this before, and I think The Ordinary did an amazing job of entering the market with a bang. If you're going to be inexpensive, then by all means, be so dirt cheap that people have to give you a shot.

I think that because of the development costs associated with creating a perfect product- one that feels good and works- that's why you see such simple, targeted, but unpleasant formulas. At such a low price. Each skincare user has to decide for him or herself if they can put up with certain inadequacies if the payoff is worth it in another way.

Something I rarely think of, but which comes to mind with The Ordinary, is that being cheap is not always a good thing when you're selling to consumers. Brands like Drunk Elephant and Sunday Riley, for instance, keep customers coming back partially because they are so damn expensive. When someone is looking for a gift, or a treat for themselves, or they are pining for good skin and want to be seduced and encouraged, they look for fantasy and beauty. A brand which cultivates an image that's greater than the sum of its parts, through sometimes eyeroll-inducing marketing or exaggerated claims, can still capture much of the market. If you make ostentatious claims, you attract users, and if you aren't completely lying, well, you can retain them despite your initial promises being overblown. And when you do deliver big-time, as with the Sunday Riley Good Genes product, a chemical exfoliant that I wouldn't dream of paying more than $15 for that goes for $150, you get fans who are willing to fight and die defending your high price as "very much worth it." There is a cachet that accompanies high prices, and so it's a valid strategy to chase that type of reputation. It can pay off in the long run.

I think it is fantastic that we now have options for chemical actives and ingredients that were only available at absurdly high prices in the past. More competitive formulas on the market will force innovation and perhaps bring prices down a bit. Although The Ordinary is so low-cost I doubt it's cannibalizing any profits from the really high-priced stuff. I think it's more of a stepping stone to skincare for people intimidated by prices but eager to learn about the science. Indeed, The Ordinary's parent company Deciem has several other higher-cost brands under their umbrella, and I'm sure The Ordinary serves as a gateway drug to attract new customers who can burn cash on their nicer lines.

The Distribution and Service

When I first began thinking about this post, The Ordinary did not have any distributors in the USA. In the UK they had Victoria Health, but in other countries, they sold their products exclusively through their own website. I ordered three times from their website and each time was what I would consider to be an unpleasant customer service experience. First, they took about 5 days to ship. Second, they did not have all their products stocked while simultaneously announcing new releases. Third, their followup customer service was like wrestling a slippery eel. I did not feel a great deal of warmth or goodwill toward the company after my experiences. I began to resent that a company was so focused on new releases and they weren't putting in what was, in my opinion, a very fundamental piece of work to retaining their existing customers.

However, recently The Ordinary partnered with Beautylish and the San Francisco-based beauty e-tailer now carries their full line. I couldn't be happier about this partnership because Beautylish has consistently amazing customer care. Their service is proactive, unobtrusive, and quick, which is exactly what you want as a customer. 

I think that The Ordinary's stocking and service issues were getting so huge that they could not have survived 2017 without 3rd party distribution. When the manufacturer faces the customer directly, and the customer finds the transaction unsatisfying, that poisons the goodwill and the reputation of the brand directly. That kind of stain is very hard to remove, and once somebody thinks of your company as having shoddy service, you've usually lost them forever. I had already decided to never purchase a Deciem product again when my best friend Beautylish decided to carry The Ordinary, at which point I decided I might be willing to give their products another shot.

Finding a reputable distributor who can go above and beyond with taking care of your customers was a smart move for The Ordinary. I had heard people excusing their poor service and shipping times saying that "you get what you pay for" and that people ordering low-cost items shouldn't expect good customer care. This is entirely the wrong way to look at it- because the majority of the market will not think of companies in this manner. The Ordinary was right to course-correct and find someone with the infrastructure in place to stock and ship items in a more streamlined fashion.

Concluding Thoughts

I don't consider myself a fangirl or a hater of The Ordinary. I'm very intrigued by the strong market position they've taken- I truly do believe they're doing something unique. Whether their strategy pays off remains to be seen, but they are surely creating an enormous buzz and capturing an untapped market of potential skincare-users.

Everyone's bundle of considerations (price, delight, aesthetic, personal skin chemistry) will be slightly different. So of course you will find people who despise the brand and who love it, based on their differing perspectives. This is true for any brand, and I'm curious to watch this type of market discussion/impression play out with the bold stance The Ordinary has taken.


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...