I’ve posted about skincare and makeup before, but I haven’t spoken about my updated routine in quite a while. I feel like it’s time, especially now that I’m starting to really see a reduction in my hormonal acne.
I quit taking hormonal birth control early in 2016. My skin improved at first, but then started to break out again once summer hit. I was trying to stick to a routine that I thought would work, but it wasn’t really getting any better. By the time October rolled around, I was super stressed (because I’m an American progressive), and I felt like it was time for a change.
My skin type is combination, leaning dry, and prone to hormonal acne as well as post-inflammatory erythema (aka the redness that’s left behind by inflammation caused by cysts and other whiteheads).
To the left, you can see the state of my skin back in January. At the bottom of this post, I’ve attached a picture of my skin this week (May 1-7, 2017).
I cleanse twice a day, morning and night. I think it’ll be easiest to run through my routine in order, and explain why I use what I use for each step. We’ll start with the morning and move onto the evening routine, even though they’re quite similar.
Step One: Cleanse — COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser (pictured). I use a low pH cleanser because I like the way it feels on my skin and because it’s been suggested that a low pH is beneficial for acne-sufferers. This one is relatively cheap (less than $10), available on Amazon, and made by a cruelty-free brand.
Step Two: Chemical exfoliation — COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid (pictured). This is, undoubtedly, the star of my routine. It does the heavy lifting and delivers the real results. Chemical exfoliation relies on acid (in this case, alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs) to remove dead skin cells and accelerate cell turnover. AHAs are great for fading post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, combatting post-inflammatory erythema, and generally keeping your skin looking super-fresh and glowy. The biggest downside to chemical exfoliants is that, for the first couple weeks of use, they will make your skin purge whiteheads if you are prone to them. For me, this meant that I had to contend with worsened acne breakouts on my cheeks and chin for the first two weeks. But after that, things cleared up immensely. I love this product so much that I’ve already purchased a replacement bottle. Finally, it cannot be overstated, please use sunscreen if you add an AHA to your routine!
Step Three: Essence — Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence (pictured). This is the newest product in my routine. I only added it a week ago, so I can’t give a full review just yet. So far, I’m really digging it, though. Its star ingredients are snail secretion filtrate and bee venom, and it’s supposed to calm redness and breakouts as well as hydrate the skin. The texture is very, very similar to Sliquid Organics Gel, but it sinks into the skin faster. Probably because it’s not a lubricant.
Step Four: Oil — Rosehip Seed Oil (pictured). This is my new favorite oil, having dethroned both Argan and Jojoba for that position. Rosehip seed oil is a dry oil, so it’s supposed to be suitable for oily, dry, and combo skin, including those with acne. It’s supposed to help with cell turnover, brightness, and the fading of post-acne marks, but I can’t really vouch for that. What I can say, though, is that this gives me a beautiful glow and makes a fantastic addition to BB creams and foundation. Mixing 1-2 drops into my complexion makeup has made a world of difference in terms of application and dewiness.
Step Five: Moisturize — COSRX All in One Snail 92 Cream (pictured). Again, snail secretion filtrate, which is supposed to calm and nourish the skin like it does the underside of our snaily friends1. I love this cream. So much. It has a really nice, bouncy, light consistency that sinks in quickly and doesn’t ball up under BB cream. It’s not a particularly fancy product — and I do wish it came in a squeezy tube or a pump bottle — but it’s still a holy grail for me.
Step Six: SPF — Missha Perfect Cover BB Cream No. 21 (not pictured). I’ve been waiting for my actual SPF to arrive from Japan and relying on BB cream in the meantime. It’s not ideal, but in super-cloudy Kiel and while working from home, it’ll do. While it’s not a perfect sun protection product, I do love this BB cream for its actual intended purpose as a complexion product. It goes on so, so smoothly, blends like a dream with fingers or a sponge, and dries down to a satin finish. One major con: It does not come in many shades, so folks with deeper skin tones are not going to be able to use this product. The world desperately needs a few great BB creams with solid shade ranges. Systemic racism — it’s not cute.
In the evening, I add at least one if not two extra steps to my routine. Since I’m going to sleep instead of going out to face the world, I use my nighttime routine to add extra actives and/or extra moisture.
Step One: Oil cleanse — Balea Reinigungsöl (DM brand cleansing oil, not pictured). I really, really like this cleansing oil! It’s super cheap at DM (local drugstore), it breaks down all of my makeup, and it rinses away cleanly. It’s so cheap that I don’t feel bad using it to do a first pass on my makeup brushes, which makes brush cleaning day about 10x easier.
Step Two: Gel cleanse — COSRX (pictured above)
Step Three: Active — COSRX AHA 7 (pictured above), Stridex Maximum Strength pads (not pictured), or The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension (not pictured). Once a week, I use a Stridex Maximum Strength pad as a BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) exfoliant, which is a little harsher than my daily AHA but it keeps blackheads at bay. On another night, but still only once a week, I use The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension and mix it with my Benton Snail Bee Essence to apply it with less irritation. The other five nights of the week, I use my usual COSRX AHA 7 liquid.
Step Four: Essence — Benton Snail Bee (pictured above)
Step Five: Oil — Rosehip Seed Oil (pictured above)
Step Six: Sheet mask — varies (not pictured). I try to use a sheet mask at least once a week, because I love how moisturized and calm my skin feels afterwards. They’re not necessities for me, but they are affordable indulgences, and I’ll take that where I can get it. Some of my favorites are My Beauty Diary Red Vine masks and Benton Snail Bee High Content masks.
Step Seven: Moisturize — COSRX Snail 92 (pictured above)
For me, this is relaxing and enjoyable. It also doesn’t take that long, with the exception of keeping a sheet mask on for a minimum of 20 minutes, and that’s at least a passive effort. Maybe this is a concept you’re sick of, but for me, it really does act as self-care. It’s something that I can enjoy even if it feels like the world is burning down around me.
More than that, I’ve actually seen results from all this. To the right, I’ve added a set of photos taken in natural light with no complexion makeup & no editing. I’ve gone from breaking out with hormonal acne cysts constantly to having just a few, manageable zits at only two points in my hormonal cycle2. I felt so fed up with high coverage foundation that never quite matched my skin tone or bothered to really cover up the redness left behind by all those breakouts. Now, I can use a sheer coverage BB cream and a dot or two of concealer and be ready to go. The confidence boost has been amazing.
My Favorite Resources
Of course, I didn’t figure all of this out on my own. There are some phenomenal skincare and beauty bloggers out there, and as a blogger myself, I really appreciate their efforts.
I’ve become super partial to the Snail Unit over the last year: Fiddy, Chel, Tracy, and Cat. Tracy and I have the most similar skin issues, but I’ve gotten great info and/or recommendations from all of their blogs (and hey, they have a podcast too!). They predominantly focus on Asian skincare brands.
My friend Rae at The Notice covers not only skincare but also makeup, femme-ininity, and even sex toys. She also has some seriously gorgeous skin, let’s be real — and her routine is silicone-free, if that’s something you’re into. (This isn’t a concern for everyone, but some people seem to benefit from kicking the ‘cones.)
While no longer very active, I found Skin & Tonics to be a phenomenal resource for product reviews, skin science, and informative but entertaining articles that beauty nerds will devour. Kerri’s blog is where I learned about the pH of my cleansers and actives, which was a huge turning point in my skincare game.
Much like Skin & Tonics, The Beauty Wolf is not very active this year (except on Instagram!), but is still a fantastic resource. Coco is a woman of color who has tackled such topics as skincare during pregnancy and TSA-friendly Kbeauty travel products. She also co-wrote the book Korean Beauty Secrets with Kerri, of Skin & Tonics.
1. I’m not a professional, so I can’t recommend things for you. What I can tell you is what’s worked for me and why I believe it works, leaving you to make your own call on adding it to your routine. Essentially, it’s the same as how I feel about toys. It’s going to be a personal call that you’re gonna have to make yourself, but I’ll give you as much info as I can to help you choose.
2. If you want to overhaul your routine, do not do it all at once. It’s important to introduce new things slowly so that if you have a reaction to something, you’ll know what it is and you can remove it from your routine. Cat has a fantastic post about this.
3. In Korean products, it’s common to see the term “whitening”. Usually, this actually means “brightening”, or fading hyper-pigmentation. At the same time, this is obviously a super-problematic turn of phrase, especially when you combine that with the narrow ranges that most Korean BB creams come in.
4. I also made two lifestyle changes that may have contributed to this progress: I quit drinking milk (and cut back on other dairy) and started drinking spearmint tea daily. Milk and other dairy can be linked to hormonal breakouts, and spearmint can act as an androgen blocker. As always, talk to your doctor if you can do so before making a lifestyle change if you’re unsure of the ramifications it could have for you.
Have you dabbled in skincare-nerd-ery? Is there something you think I absolutely need to try, immediately, if not sooner? Comment below!