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...


    Hormonal Acne Routine Part 1: Philosophies

    My hormonal acne is a beast and a half. It occupies the lower territory of my face and often encroaches on my cheekbones and cheeks. It needs to be dealt with decisively and efficiently, but my skin responds better to a more multi-faceted and sneaky approach rather than the nuclear option of blasting my face with strong actives constantly. I think of my acne routine as a multi-headed guerrilla force, neutralizing and putting the enemy down before it knows what hit 'em.

    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 Types of Acne

    The first type of acne I commonly get is large inflamed cysts. Cysts are inflammatory acne that are deep inside the skin and do not have a visible head. You cannot squeeze them to empty them and they will often bruise or worsen if you pick at them. I mostly get these cysts on my chin and jawline. I also get them on the inner portion of my cheeks, near my "smile lines."

    Pictured here: cysts

    The second type of acne I suffer is general clogging on my cheeks and jawline. These clogs, or closed comedones, manifest as fleshy-looking small bumps with no redness and no head. They are rarely  as painful or unsightly as their cystic sisters (band name?) but they are persistent and annoying. I have a bad tendency of letting my hands wander to pick and pop these, since their relatively small size makes them seem easier to conquer. In reality, picking a closed comedone can leave behind a bloody scab that is much worse than what you had in the first place.

    Scattered clogs

    While not a "type" of acne, scabs and open acne are a reality of my life. Although I try to reduce the frequency and severity of my picking habit, I have also had to learn to cope with the results of my failure to do so. Scabs can be very difficult to deal with, as open skin carries a risk of infection, and they are impossible to hide with makeup. They are best avoided, but if you cannot, then you can treat them gently while they heal.

    Scab from picked acne

    My Philosophies

    • No "spot treating:" This might sound a bit wacky- it's not that there's no such thing as an effective concentrated treatment to apply to one area...just that the underlying philosophy underpinning a spot treatment is one I can't get to work for my acne. The philosophy here is that acne treatment is reactionary, it comes after acne forms, and it's meant to "solve" a problem that has manifested visibly. For me, those assumptions aren't true and are counterproductive to an effective routine.
    • Multiple ingredients: I don't think there's one magic active ingredient that works for everyone. To continue, I don't think anyone has to feel driven to find their "perfect acne-fighting ingredient." For my skin, there are 4 or 5 ingredients I rely on depending on the timing and the nature of my acne.
    • Better safe than sorry: Many acne treatments can be drying and irritating. They should be kept in balance, and too much of a good thing can be very bad. Overly drying your skin is always going to be worse than keeping it hydrated, even if it means you deal with more acne in the short term. Juggling dehydrated skin with acne is harder than just treating acne.
    • Manage the entire life cycle: Each acne spot goes through a "life cycle," where it's emerging, flourishing (or festering?), and then fading away. I think that a robust acne routine will address acne that's in each stage of its life, because people like me tend to have something of each category on their face at all times. It doesn't do any good for me to have acne treatments for only emerging acne. 
    • Don't expect all your products to treat acne: When I see people with really ineffective routines bemoaning how terrible their skin feels, I usually notice they have a so-called "acne-fighting" cleanser, moisturizer, and treatment. It's too much. Don't judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree. A moisturizer should moisturize, a cleanser should cleanse. Some ingredients and types of products work synergistically, but if you lock into a 100% acne mindset, you're going to fail.

    Continued in Part 2...


    Stretching your Stash: Mixing Skincare

    Sometimes, whether you're bored of what you own, or you have some idea of an ideal product in your head, you just need to mix things up. Literally. I love to mix and match skincare items I own to blend their textures and ingredients and get new and different benefits in my routine. I wanted to write about some of my absolute favorite combos!

    Best. Sleeping Pack. Ever.

    I discovered this superb combination when I was desperate for a heavy sleeping pack. Something more protective and occlusive than my gel-textured Asian packs, but with a less-greasy feel than the classic "layer of Vaseline" technique. The silicones and small amount of water-based goodness within this mostly wax/oil based formula create a slippery, non-sticky heaviness that's delightful. Used alone, the Healing Ointment is incredibly heavy in a good way, but it does have a bit of a greaseball finish. It's not as bad as Vaseline but eh...not too elegant a finish.

    The Cerave Moisturizing Cream is a light-medium moisturizer. It's lightly hydrating, moderately occlusive, and not too emollient (oily.) This velvety light texture makes it an ideal "carrier" for something a bit greasy like the Ointment.

    The Ointment provides a heavy "grip" and protective surface that the cream alone lacks. The Cream provides a vehicle for the ointment to fully absorb and sink in without disappearing.These two are a match made in heaven.

    This trick can be performed with any moderately heavy moisturizing cream and an ointment such as Vaseline, Aquaphor, pure lanolin, etc. However, the silicone content in the Cerave Ointment makes it uniquely perfect. The results with the other ointments are not as lovely, sad to say.

    Try this if you...have a damaged moisture barrier, prefer heavy sleeping packs, use A/C or heating while you sleep.

    Daytime Priming Moisturizer

    I discovered the La Roche Posay Cicaplast Pro Recovery Accelerator while googling reviews for its more famous sister the Cicaplast Baume B5. While the Baume is a richer nighttime cream with a white cast, the Accelerator is a silicone gel with the same zinc and panthenol but a much lighter, transparent texture. Like the Baume, the zinc in the Accelerator can be ever so slightly drying. It makes it ideal for oily and acneic skin as the zinc does help heal active acne and prevent new breakouts.

    I find that the two mixed together make an amazing addition to any day cream or used alone when prepping the skin for foundation application. They form a moisturizing but non-greasy barrier that simultaneously stops the water from escaping my skin and stops oils from breaking down my face makeup. I have noticed better wear time with less cracking and more comfort on days I wear this combo under makeup. The majority of makeup primers (expressly marketed and priced as such) are silicone-based yet they tend to sit on top of the skin and mess with subsequent layers. I find this particular combo conforms to and sinks into my skin's surface, yielding an unobtrusive layer that doesn't need to be worked around.

    While I commonly use this as a thin final step before sunscreen, I will also sometimes mix this combo in with some Cerave Cream and use it as an all-in-one morning step.

    Try this if you...have dehydrated skin and wear makeup, find your makeup cracking near the end of the day, need something soothing and protective when covering your acne.

    Moisturizing Honey Mask (Yes Another One!)

    If you haven't already read my DIY hydrating honey mask post then go do that now. I was used to the honey/toner mask technique when I decided one day I wanted something a bit heavier and more creamy. My favorite creamy mask is the Avène Soothing Moisture Mask, which somehow calms and smooths the skin while also doing a great job of relieving my irritation. I slather it on the night after I have a bad day of skin-picking and it allows me to wake up looking human.

    When I want something with a bit of gentle acne-fighting power, but I'd like an added nourishing component, I mix the Avène mask with a dollop of honey. The nice thing is the honey does not drip at all. It eventually dries to the point where I feel a slight film on my face, un-sticky but noticeable, that dissolves when rinsed. When I use the Avène mask alone, I allow it to sink in and I do not rinse. But with the honey component it does require washing off before you go to sleep. If you are just laying around, it's a fabulous mask to wear for a few hours to reap the benefits of honey without getting it allover.

    Try this if you...suffer from irritation and acne, need a gentle way to soothe your skin.

    I hope these mixes work as well for you as they did for me. If you don't own the specific products above, you can still easily apply these principles. Some combinations will turn out poorly, but if you don't try, you'll never know!


    Resisting Eyeshadow Palette Hype

    When I was first introduced to makeup around the age of 11 or 12, high end and midrange brands did not offer a ton of palettes, and the ones that were around were not the cornerstones of those brands. I got my first of the 2010s-hyped eyeshadow palettes my second year of college, the original Naked Palette from Urban Decay, and I used that bad boy every day for nearly 4 years. It was like my eyes (ha) had been opened to this whole new world of multiple eye looks and layering different shades in the same color family. The Naked palette was so popular because of its ease of use (all the shades were rather blendable and beginner-friendly) and its ability to flatter a fairly large range of skintones. Of course, there are many people who don't enjoy the Naked palette, but it definitely started what I think of as the modern-day Eyeshadow Palette with a capital E.P.

    The Allure

    Eyeshadow palettes are appealing for several reasons. First, they offer thrilling variety in a small package- usually the price tag is "reasonable" in midrange makeup terms, between $40 and $100, for multiple shades. People love to break down the price per oz for these palettes to show how much less expensive it is to buy one set of 10 shadows than to buy those same 10 shades individually at market price. A good deal (or the impression of one) is seductive to newbies and experienced makeup lovers alike.

    Second, eyeshadow palettes are generally speaking very visually appealing. They are almost always organized around a central theme, and designed and laid out in a way that sparks ideas for creative combinations and is just overall lovely to look at. If you've ever heard of the somewhat nastily-named Cheerleader Effect, where a group of girls (or guys!) looks more attractive as a whole because they are grouped together, than they look individually, then you can start to understand why eyeshadow palettes seem to be so pretty on first glance. Pretty things look alright by themselves, but they look gorgeous when paired with 9 other pretty things. There's a "greater than the sum of its parts" thing at play here and it yields a love at first sight feeling which can wear off once you buy the palette and take it home.

    Third, eyeshadow palettes do play into the collector's mentality that a lot of makeup users start to take on after a few months or years involved in the hobby. There's this idea that if you own all the hot eyeshadow palettes, you are in good company of makeup lovers who have it all. We can't deny the temptation and tendency for people to desire a sense of belonging to a community, especially when the members of that community promote their image and personal brand as something worth emulating.

    The Nefariousness

    Because makeup companies only really have to hook you on one special awesome shade per palette to potentially get you to purchase the whole thing, they have 10 opportunities to catch 10 unique customers, all who will be paying $50 for 10 eyeshadows, a "good deal" by all accounts. But those customers, if they weren't presented with the 10 shadow palette, would only be "worth" the $10 they would have paid for a single shadow in that one appealing color. That's why you'll often see a brand offer such a good price per oz with their palettes...it costs them basically nothing to produce the colored dust that goes into a palette, and it makes you much more likely to spend more money for the variety and "value" that you perceive as a customer.

    It's tempting to go for "good deals" because everyone likes to feel like they're getting something for nothing. In a palette, you're sold the idea that you're paying for a few key shades and getting the other ones for free! But as economists like to smugly say (myself very smugly included): "There's no such thing as a free lunch." When you get something, you are giving up something in return, whether you're aware of it or not. In the case of buying a shadow palette, you are paying the company money you could have otherwise spent on...food, rent, savings, or another makeup item. You might be fine what you pay for it, but you aren't getting away with murder by paying a price that you perceive as a steal.

    Sometimes the price you pay isn't represented by only the dollar outlay on the item. Sometimes the price is a certain amount of psychological burden. Many people who own too much makeup express feelings of being overwhelmed or wasteful. While everyone's threshold for consumption varies, if you personally are negatively affected by clutter, then all things considered, it's not a good thing to increase your consumption.

    Because of this reasoning, I do not consider "free items" or free shades to be truly free. If someone were to offer me a sample in a mall, and I had no interest in it, what could be gained by taking it? Nothing. In the eternal words of Kanye West:

    via buzzfeed.com

    When to Buy a Palette

    All things considered, why would you buy one? There are actually many instances where I think an eyeshadow palette can be a sensible and useful purchase. I'll show an example and explain my reasoning behind an actual palette purchase I made in real life...and an example where I was able to talk myself out of the palette purchase as it didn't make sense for me.

    Pictured below is Lime Crime's Venus Palette, which I ended up purchasing after going through the thought process I'll outline.

    via limecrime.com

    I got this palette discounted and brand-new, which put the price at $22.50 for the whole thing.

    The first step is to abandon the lies you tell yourself- that you will use that greige in the palette when all you like to wear is warm browns, that you need the champagne highlight shade when you already have 6 or 7 of them. Whatever shades are useless to you- they are automatically eliminated from the "value" of the palette. Don't attribute fake value to things that have none to you.

    Right off the bat, I eliminated the "value" for Aura, Shell, and Muse. Aura looks exactly like every other pale champagney gold shadow out there- I own several. I wouldn't be getting any incremental extra eye possibilities/looks out of this shade. Muse is a near-perfect dupe for MUFE Morello Cherry which I already own and love. Since it overlaps almost entirely with the red matte I own, I can't use it for any new looks either. As for Shell, it's the pale pinky gold shade that I know from experience looks very bad on my skin tone and eye shape. While I technically liked and could use the first two shades, in the context of my existing collection, they aren't extremely useful or necessary for me. I would never purchase those colors if I found them in single form, since I already own them. For the last shade, I wouldn't buy it or use it period, even once I got the palette. It's not a repeat of something I own, because I hate the color.

    8 shadows total - 3 useless shadows = 5 valuable shadows

    Next, let's look at the shades which some might consider "bonus" value that aren't really what attracted me to the palette- here that would be the shade Venus, a satiny raspberry pink that's not really my style, but isn't abhorrent to me. It's not similar to anything I own. I'm going to count it as a half a shadow in terms of its value. That puts us at 4.5 potentially valuable shadows.

    At this point let's take the base price and see if the price tag is worth the 4.5 shadows I'm getting (remember the 3 shadows I won't use do not count toward the perceived or actual value of the palette, I will not be calculating $/g)

    $22.50 ÷ 4.5 shadows = $5.00 per useful shadow

    At this point I have to decide if each of the shadows in the palette are worth a $5.00 price tag. For me, these shadows definitely qualified as "worth it." However, if I had had to pay the full price of $34.00 here's that calculation:

    $34.00 ÷ 4.5 shadows = $7.50 per useful shadow

    And yep that's still worth it to me. I was in the market for a rusty orangered shade, a very dark burnt brown, a violet-gray matte, and a medium bright coral matte. It just so happens that this palette is almost exactly what I wanted, and the price for these unique shades, which can be found as singles but at much higher price tags, is definitely worth it in this case.

    What this calculation allowed me to do is see what I want and what I don't want from within a purchase, in order to rationalize and justify the true value and not be disappointed once I brought the product home. In addition, I depot all my eyeshadows and use them in travel palettes, which means I don't acquire baggage from unused/useless shadows. I throw them away or put them in storage. That option isn't available to everyone and should be factored into your calculations as those shades will take up space in your collection and lead to clutter and negative emotions in some cases.

    When Not to Buy a Palette

    This exercise isn't just a way for you to excuse buying eyeshadow- it's a tool to decide what's right for your collection and what's wrong. Here it is repeated for a palette which I ended up passing on.

    Here is a picture of the Viseart Dark Matte Palette, which costs a whopping $80.00 and comes with a fabulous reputation for blendability and pigmentation.

    via beautylish.com

    For a while, I was totally convinced I would get this palette. All of my muted, matte, blendable dreams come true- right? I read nothing but rave reviews about the versatility and the quality of all the colors, which should mean that it offered 12 valuable, useful shadows! Well, you know enough about me to know that I'm just leading you on. I didn't buy this palette.

    If I could use every single shadow in this palette, the breakdown would be:

    $80.00 ÷ 12 shadows = $6.66 per useful shadow

    I always hear people gushing over the price per shadow in the Viseart palettes- what a steal for such a high-end product. However, I wouldn't use all 12 of these shadows. First off, I do not wear blue eyeshadow- ever. I don't own a single other blue or blue-adjacent eyeshadow and it's not something I currently need in my collection. That eliminates the 2 blue matte shades in the lower left corner. 

    12 shadows total - 2 useless shadows = 10 valuable shadows

    Then we have the 3 brown/true-neutral shades in this palette. They are all slightly different in undertone but would all qualify as neutral medium brown mattes. I own 4-5 of those types of shades in my collection already. There's a chance that all of these browns would be great on my skintone, but why bother finding out? I already have so many for the purpose that I'd use these for. I can eliminate all of these- and most eyeshadow lovers with any semblance of a collection could do so as well. Good neutral shades are a dime a dozen, and it's odd to me that the 3 in this palette are so similar to each other. 

    10 shadows - 3 more useless shadows = 7 valuable shadows

    Now we're down to the meat of the palette- 7 shadows that I might use, that are either going to be unique or distinctly superior when compare to what I already own. What I am really eyeing here is the 2 darker orange shades and the lighter purple shade. I have dupes that I love using for the lighter orange and for the darker purple and red. Finally, there's the one sage green matte shade unaccounted for. I love the way it looks- it seems gorgeously pigmented and blendable. I definitely want something like it, but I hadn't even thought to look for it before I saw this palette, which means it's not a huge priority clearly. We'll count it as a half-useful shadow. I'd use it if I had it but I don't think I'd go out and search for a single right this minute. I also have a lighter khaki green matte that stands in for it when I do require a green matte.

    7 shadows - 3.5 dupeable shadows = 3.5 valuable shadows

    Our ultimate calculation, once I take out all the fluff and the lying to myself about what I'll use becomes this:

    $80.00 ÷ 3.5 valuable shadows = $22.86 per shadow

    If these shades were so incredibly unique that I couldn't find them anywhere else, I would consider still buying this palette for just these 3 shades. However, at nearly $23 a pop, I can find similar shades within even the most expensive single shadow lines (NARS, MUFE, etc) and so there's no reason for me to pay and acquire all the extra baggage of those useless-to-me shadows anyway. Add that to the fact that the Viseart palettes seem difficult to depot (they are made of plastic not cardboard) and I'm unlikely to want to keep this palette in my collection because the useful shades will be "crowded out" by all the useless ones.

    Packaging and its Impact

    There is an issue I did not factor into my calculations above because it's insignificant to me- packaging. I know that there are people out there who love pretty packaging, and I don't hold that against them. If you fall in that category, I would say you should come up with a dollar amount for how much good/attractive packaging is worth to you. Are you willing to pay an extra $5.00 per palette just for a beautiful layout and exterior? An extra $30.00? Where is the cutoff for you? Everyone likes pretty things, but you should figure out, within your budget and lifestyle, how much packaging is worth to you in terms of cold hard cash.

    Formula Preferences

    Because there are so many textures and variations within the category of eyeshadows (further segmented into finish- matte, shimmery, satin) there is a large spread of what people consider good formula and bad formula eyeshadow. My preferences aren't the same as everyone's, and the point here is to figure out what textures work best for your skin type and eye shape, and forget the rest.

    A good way to stop yourself from making a rushed palette purchase is to first go test the formula out in-person. No matter how appealing the colors may be on a computer screen, if the shadows themselves are too densely pigmented/not pigmented enough/chalky/streaky/too glittery, the colors won't do you any good. 

    When you buy a shadow palette, you are buying 10-15 shadows produced and approved by the same chemistry and marketing teams. That means that if the people on those teams have a different taste than you, or they consider a certain type of formula good that you hate, you will not only hate a few of the shadows in a palette, you may possibly detest every single one of them. 

    I really love Urban Decay's shimmer formula. I find it dense, rich, and superbly long-wearing on my eyes. However, I hate their microglitter formula. It's the shimmer formula with chunky, horrible flakes of glitter thrown in for no good reason. I like their satin formula fairly well, but I don't really enjoy their mattes. In any given Urban Decay palette, I will likely find some of each of those 4 finishes. If I only really like 2 of the finishes that Urban Decay makes, I'm already compromising on my preferences just by allowing the company to bundle up multiple shadows for me. By buying single eyeshadows, I'm able to be more picky about what I allow into my collection.


    We all have different tastes and lifestyles, which means the way I weigh value and perceive it will be different from yours. But everybody has a limit on what is reasonable consumption and ownership. You need to figure out what your ideal eyeshadow collection looks like, what gaps you want to fill, what gaps exist that you have no need to fill (not everyone needs every color in the rainbow) and how to best build toward that goal with the least clutter, the least unnecessary expenditure, and the most ease.

    I do my eye makeup probably 3-4x per week, and I consider myself more on the maximalist end of the eyeshadow spectrum. I like to use 6-7 shadows per look, which means I do have a flexible, large collection. Even so, I think you'll see my shadow collection, which was built up very slowly and carefully, has less bloat than someone's who owns a wide variety of pre-made palettes. I don't say that to be snotty, but it is a point of pride for me. I enjoy indulging in fantastical colorful makeup looks without feeling that I had to sacrifice and enormous amount of money or space to allow me that flexibility.

    Even though I enjoy a variety of eyeshadow colors, I do not have one of every type of shade, in every finish. I believe that I am only capable of wearing certain types of shadow (finish and shade) because of my skintone, my lifestyle, and my taste. My collection is not everyone's ideal collection- but it is mine, which is what matters. You do not need to collect them all- no one person (non-professional MUA or professional pretty person) is going to need every type of color. You do not become magically better at makeup when you acquire more colors. There's a finite limit to how many shadows you can reasonably enjoy and get use from- although that limit does vary from person to person!

    Every shade of eyeshadow I own

    To give an idea of the flexibility of my collection, here's the configuration of shadows I bring with me when I go away for a weekend:

    Because I love me a boring neutral color scheme

    When I plan a more colorful look the night before, I like to set out a small palette with just the shadows I need to avoid confusion or overwhelming colors in the morning:

    Weirdly, what I need for a green smoky eye

    And on any given day, when I just want to have an organized way to remember where everything is, I have my collection divided roughly by color category and purpose. I know from lots of experience that my most-worn eye looks are purple-themed. Purples make my eyes pop and my skintone sing. I have a whole large palette dedicated to purples. Besides that, I have a general neutrals palette where I keep the majority of my browns and tan shades.

    Most are warm because I am warm-toned. I also have a more burnt, obviously-warm palette with yellows and oranges, as that's another colorful category I enjoy. And last I have a mixed palette of "other colors," which means the adventurous shades that I wear on occasion but not on a daily or even weekly basis (many of my neutral/cool shades are found here as they aren't my preferred color scheme.)

    My eyeshadow collection and its "organization" most days

    Because every single shadow I own has been removed from its original packaging (or I purchased it as a solitary pan) I can mix and match endlessly with no constraints. I find that to be so helpful for my consumption goals and my own sense of organization. I like not having to choose between a compact solution (for a short trip) and the color variety I want.

    My favorite part of having such a mix and matchable group of eyeshadows is that I can recreate or imitate basically any newly-released palette I'm interested in.

    Here's my "recreation" of the Anastasia Modern Renaissance Palette...

    Too Faced Sweet Peach Palette...

    Smashbox Cover Shot Smoky Palette...

    Are these recreations perfect? Nope. Do I care? Hell no. The point is not to ape and duplicate every minute detail of every trend that comes along- it's to take inspiration from rightfully-popular and beautiful things in a way that's not unhealthy or overwhelming.

    If you love this type of topic then please do visit Reddit's /r/MakeupRehab. The community there is extremely supportive and intelligent when discussing matters of consumption and overconsumption. Shopping habits can become unhealthy, and when your love for makeup starts to infringe on your happiness of your finances, you are going to have to set it straight.


    How Do I Pair Blush with Lipstick?

    I frequently get asked how to figure out what colors to pair together- most often people are puzzled at how to make a blush/lipstick combo look "right." It comes down to a few factors, and for beginners, I think it's best to start with learning the rules before you start to break them. That does not mean there aren't many exceptions to every "rule." But there are basic guidelines that help to understand and support wild experimentation, even if you like a very dramatic look and mismatched undertones.

    This post is intended to help you if you apply your makeup and find yourself wiping off your lipstick or your blush because you had no idea what the colors would look like before you applied them, and you ended up hating the combination. If you catch a look at yourself in the mirror and think Is that my face? Makeup is not just face paint- not unless it's stage or special FX makeup. You want makeup to make sense in the context of your features and coloring.

    All  of the following lip/cheek pairings are "off" in one way or another. Sure, they aren't wretched, but they are all combinations which can be improved by tweaking one or two elements.