This post contains affiliate links, because I like money, but I s2g I wrote this post before adding the affiliate links and the monetization does not affect my opinions.
Sometime in the past couple of weeks, I stopped wearing base makeup to work. Pics, ’cause it did happen:
Yeah, the lighting in my bathroom is crappy, and okay, sure, the upper right hand picture is from the inside of a car when I was on my way to visit my uncle in the ER, not on the way to work, but the fact still stands: my skin’s been looking good enough that I’ve been skipping my base makeup.
Okay, that’s a lie. I wore BB cream for a work event last week, but that was because I knew there would be high-res photos taken and I wanted to look fly for posterity. 💅 The point is, over the past couple of weeks, skipping base makeup has become an option for me.
I mean, sure, skipping makeup is always an option, but there are only so many options that are wise when you work in an office and you are, despite the law and despite company policy and despite good intentions, judged (and to an extent compensated) by how others perceive you, even at a subconscious level.
My skin hasn’t been great over the past few years, so skipping base makeup for work was something I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do, because having visible blemishes or skin imperfections would indicate that I was unprofessional and unworthy of my job.*
*To be fair, at my first job out of college, my boss probably did think I was unprofessional and unworthy of my job because of how I looked, but she also 1) threw temper tantrums whenever she went on a juice cleanse, 2) periodically threatened to fire us, 3) paid us less than minimum wage, 4) fired my coworkers and then rehired them several hours later, claiming that she was joking earlier, 5) made low-key racist comments to both me and my mixed-race coworker, and so much more! So, joke’s on her! She was just a terrible boss and a terrible human being and I give thanks for every day of my life that she is not in it. 🔪
But lo and behold! My skin has been cooperative as heck lately, and while it’s not perfect, so far nobody’s made any “you look tired” comments. (This might be because I always look tired and I take pride in my dark undereye circles when I have them because, like, life is tiring, but I like to think it’s thanks to my skincare routine.)
But first, a skincare throwback.
Things That Were
In terms of acne, I had an easy puberty, with only one or two pimples erupting on my face at a time, usually on my nose, forehead, or chin, and I would just pop them once they came to a head. My skincare routine at the time was the 3-step Clinique one which I’m sure many other people my age are familiar with – pastel yellow bar soap that would leave my face squeaky, purple toner that burned my skin, and Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion. (I don’t condone this as a skincare regimen, but you bet your ass those are affiliate links. 💸)
It wasn’t until the end of college that my skin became a major source of frustration. Seemingly without warning, my face became an illogically drawn map of dry patches, oil fields, and a combination of prominent whiteheads and painful pimples that wouldn’t come to a head for weeks.
(In retrospect, perhaps having my period regularly for the first time was an indicator that my skin changes were hormonal in nature.)
I was still using the Clinique 3-step routine at this point, but my skin was getting progressively worse with each passing week, so it was clear that I needed to try something new.
I experimented first with Emma Stone’s 1-step grapeseed oil routine, which just left me greasy and covered in tiny whiteheads.
Despite the poor results of my experiment, I was convinced that simplifying my skincare was the answer, and that my foray into grapeseed oil had failed mainly because Emma Stone is white, and I am not.
I started researching Asian skincare routines and products, which led me on a hunt for my first oil cleanser, which is how I ended up at a Barney’s (for the first and, to date, only time in my life) purchasing $300 worth of Tatcha skincare.
I bought the whole shebang as the sales assistant suggested – One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil, Classic Rice Enzyme Powder, and Moisture Rich Silk Cream. The cream made my skin crazy oily and clogged my pores and the rice enzyme powder did fuck all except make me feel like I was rinsing money down the sink, but my instincts were correct: the cleansing oil made a huge difference in my skin.
Eventually, I ran out, and while that Tatcha cleansing oil is still the most luxurious and best-smelling and most soothing cleansing oil I have ever used, it is really fucking expensive. I eventually switched to the Boscia MakeUp-BreakUp Cool Cleansing Oil, because it was easy to buy at Sephora and it was way cheaper. I used the Boscia cleanser with my old Clinique lotion for almost two years, resigned to wearing base makeup every single day because my skin wouldn’t clear up.
One day I went to Sephora and received the Boscia Luminizing Black Mask as a sample. I went home that Friday, exhausted from my Soul-Crushing Job and Soul-Eating Boss and Some Dumb Boy Who Wouldn’t Text Me Back, slathered the pitch-black mask on my face, felt slightly racist and yet also like a terrifying warrior, peeled it off (taking off a bit of eyebrow in the process), and was AMAZED at how good my skin looked for the next several days.
Slightly creepy GIF proof that I still love this mask to this day.
(I’m well aware that peel-off masks like this are just as potentially damaging to your skin as pore strips, but I use mine sparingly and have only had positive experiences. Your mileage may vary. I’m cringing at the upper right GIF where you can see my skin being tugged as I peel off the mask, though – normally I use one hand to hold my skin and the other to peel the mask, but I only had one hand free because I was holding my phone.)
My clearer skin, of course, did not last, but the very short cause-and-effect chain of deep-cleaning my face and having clearer skin was not lost on me, and so I came to the conclusions that 1) wearing makeup to cover up my acne and hyperpigmentation was clogging my pores, leading to more acne and hyperpigmentation, leading me to wear more makeup, leading to more clogged pores, ad infinitum, 2) face masks were the bomb, and 3) I should start doing this “double cleansing” thing I’d heard about.
I had a couple mishaps with cleansing foams with too-high pH levels, but eventually I got my act together and, well, once I had my two-step cleanse in place, the rest was… history. A process of trial and error and close observation led to the current state of my skin (which is nowhere near as flawless as Cate Blanchett’s, but here she is to introduce the next section of this post).
Things That Are
It probably took me 3 months to settle into a satisfactory Korean skincare routine* that took care of my most egregious skin woes, but it’s taken a good 3 years to tweak and refine my routine so that it’s flexible enough to handle my skin at its best and at its worst.
*When I say “Korean skincare routine,” I don’t mean a routine that has at least 10 steps or a routine that has only Korean products. After all, any good skincare routine breaks down to just 3 steps: cleanse, moisturize, and protect (from sun damage). I just mean a skincare routine that prioritizes prevention rather than treatment of signs of aging, and emphasizes proper cleansing and moisturizing.
“Proper” cleansing and moisturizing might mean double cleansing with an oil cleanser followed by a foaming cleanser, and then layering 10 different essences and serums and ampoules and creams on, if that’s what your skin likes, or it can mean swiping micellar water on your face and putting one kind of drugstore lotion on.
These days, I spend less time looking for new products to try and more time paying attention to my skin’s day-to-day needs. Some days I’ll leave out a moisturizer or add an exfoliating acid, but nearly all of the time, my routine looks like this:
Daytime/AM skincare routine (in order of application):
Missha M Perfect BB Deep Cleansing Oil – Not my favorite cleansing oil, but it’s cheap and it works, and I like that it’s less viscous than some other cleansing oils I’ve tried.
Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence – Or as I like to call it, yeast water. I tried going without this for a couple of days and my skin became noticeably duller and drier, so even though it feels like I’m just patting water on my face, the Missha FTE is a non-negotiable part of my routine.
CosRx Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol – This is my Holy Grail spot treatment. I don’t get a lot of blackheads, but this helps immensely with whiteheads and pre-whitehead inflammation. My only two complaints are that it smells terrible (kind of like stinky tofu crossed with the taste of moldy bread) and the pump is poorly designed for the viscosity of the product – when you push the pump down, the liquid just shoots straight forward, so you have to pump downward into your palm unless you want acids flying around everywhere.
Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum – Another product that is so lightweight that I had doubts it was doing anything for my skin, only to discover, upon removing it from my routine, that I was super dry without it.
Nature Republic Argan 20º Steam Emulsion – It smells good and keeps my face moisturized without turning it into an oil slick. What more could I ask for?
Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun SPF45/PA+++ – This tends to make my face pretty greasy if I use it all over, but it’s super fluffy and applies easily, so I use this around my eye area.
Innisfree Eco Safety Perfect Sunblock – I used to hate this sunscreen because it took so long to apply, but after discovering that I could do two thin layers instead of one really thick one (to ensure adequate coverage!), this is probably my favorite sunscreen. It’s a bit thicker than other Korean sunscreens I’ve tried, so it does drag a bit on application, but I have to admit… I love the white cast. It makes me look like a fuckin’ ghost, but in a natural way?! Like, I’m naturally pretty pale, but wearing this sunscreen brings me into glow-in-the-dark range, which is basically my ideal. (It makes it easier to wear literally any color lipstick because it wipes out my yellow and olive undertones.)
(P.S. I think this exact formulation has actually been discontinued, but luckily for me I hoarded several tubes of this when I needed to use up my FSA. One other sunscreen I like is the Jack Black Oil-Free Sun Guard Sunscreen Water Resistant SPF 45 (which works surprisingly well even on dark stubble, as my boyfriend can attest). I haven’t tried Innisfree’s newest sunscreen formulations, but I would be willing to bet money that the Innisfree Perfect UV Protection Cream Triple Care SPF50+ PA+++ is going to be my preferred replacement when I run out of the Eco Safety Perfect Sunblock.)
Nighttime/PM skincare routine (in order of application):
Missha M Perfect BB Deep Cleansing Oil – Same as AM.
CosRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser – This stuff smells awful (it’s got tea tree in it) but it is super gentle and super affordable, and lately I’ve also been using it on my scalp in lieu of shampoo.
Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence – Same as AM.
CosRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol – Same as AM, although at night I use it as a spot treatment on both my face and my body.
Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum – Same as AM.
Tosowoong Propolis Sparkle Ampoule – A recent addition to my skincare routine. My skin has responded positively to products containing propolis before, so I added this to my routine in the hopes that I’ll eventually be able to remove the Missha Long Name Ampoule (see next item) with something cheaper. So far it’s helped with moisturizing and brightening, but I’m not sure I’m going to get any anti-aging effects from it. (I may be only 26, but fine lines wait for no one.🕰🕰🕰 )
Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Borabit Ampoule – The lone anti-aging product in my current routine. I’ve been repurchasing this for a long time now, but it’s more expensive than I’d like and I’m not sure if this does much more than moisturize my skin since the retinol concentration is so low. (I’m also not sure I want retinol in my routine at this point, even if it’s really weak.)
Extra steps (not pictured):
Here are a bunch of products that aren’t critical parts of my regular routine, but which I use fairly often, depending on if my skin seems dry or dull or red or about to break out, or if I have an event coming up or a lot of makeup to take off.
Skinfood Brown Rice Oil Cleansing Tissue – Honestly? I’ll use pretty much any makeup removing wipe that’s not too drying, but this one’s my favorite so far because it’s oily enough to gently but thoroughly remove makeup and leave my skin hydrated, but not so oily that it irritates my eyes or leaves me greasy-looking. Also it smells nice. If I do nothing else for my skin at night, at the very very least, I always use an oil-forward cleansing wipe to remove my makeup and sunscreen.
Skin Ceramic Donkey Milk Yogurt Sleeping Pack – This stuff has the consistency of, like, thawing ice cream crossed with mozzarella cheese. It is a truly bizarre texture, but when I wake up, my skin is always calm and hydrated, so hey, I’ll put some donkey milk yogurt on my face.
Innisfree Jeju Sparkling Mineral Night Spa Mask – This has a weirdly slippery texture that makes it a little difficult to apply, but it smells amazing and leaves my skin super hydrated and a bit brighter in the morning. (P.S. I think this has been discontinued. Womp womp.)
Boscia Luminizing Black Mask – My favorite peel-off mask when my face seems a little… congested. It always ends up taking a bunch of fine hairs off my face, which I’m totally okay with, but just keep in mind that you should avoid your eyebrows and hairline. (Like all other peel-off masks or pore strips, this has the potential to do more harm than good, but my skin isn’t particularly sensitive, and I use this mask sparingly.)
Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Clay Mask – My favorite wash-off clarifying mask. Unlike the Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask or Glamglow SuperMud Clearing Treatment, this cleans out my pores without stripping my skin. With the other two products, I noticed my skin overproduced oil after using them, but the Innisfree one is much gentler (and much cheaper).
Wei Golden Root Purifying Mud Mask – Not even a little bit cheap, but I love how this mud mask comes in little pods, and it’s somehow soothing and clarifying at the same time. I only buy this if I need to fill my cart at Sephora or it’s on sale, though; the Innisfree clay mask is functionally just as good even if it doesn’t feel as luxurious as the Wei mud mask.
Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask – Okay, so this mask is expensive as hell, but it’s also so dang good?! I only use it before events where I need to look like a million dollars, because that’s how much it feels like I’m spending every time I use this mask. (Not really. It’s expensive, but because it’s a once-in-a-while thing, I spend far less on this than I do on, say, the Missha FTE, which is also expensive, but which I use every damn day.) It makes my skin look tighter and brighter, like I’ve Benjamin Buttoned a year or two.
Skinfood Hydro Fitting Snail Mask Sheet – Snail sheet masks do more for me than any other mask ingredients, and this is my favorite one. It actually doesn’t fit my face too well, but the snail serum is in this one is good, and my skin is always suuuper soothed after a snail session. 🐌 (I’m also a fan of Innisfree It’s Real Squeeze masks in Pomegranate, Strawberry, Blackberry, Rose, Cucumber, and Rice.)
Missha Speedy Solution Anti Trouble Patch Set and CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch – The former has helped a lot in warding off acne that’s threatening to come to the surface, and the latter is amazing at promoting healing in already-surfaced (or ruptured) pimples.
SU:M37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick – I use this instead of the CosRx cleansing foam when I’m at my partner’s place or when I’m traveling – it saves a lot of room in my liquids bag and I haven’t found it irritating or stripping at all. (It did make my partner break out though – probably from the coconut oil, which is an irritant for a lot of people.)
Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion – My preferred body lotion because I get mild eczema flare-ups on my torso and the backs of my arms, and after months of trying all sorts of oils and ointments (and staining all my sleep shirts in the process), this oatmeal-based lotion was what ended up working the best.
Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream – Holy Grail of hand creams. Fragrance-free, non-greasy, super effective, and cheap. I’ll take this over L’Occitane or Kiehl’s any day.
You may notice that I don’t have any eye creams in my routine, even though I’m concerned with visible signs of aging. That’s because I used to use eye cream, but it caused so many problems that I gave up. Because my eyelashes are long, they tend to pick up whatever’s on my skin, so in addition to developing milia around my eyes, I would also wake up with crusty eyes and clogged oil ducts when I would wear eye cream. (I actually went to an optometrist and he told me one of my oil ducts may have permanently collapsed. 🙅🏻 NOT FUCKING WORTH IT!!!) These days, I just continue with my normal routine near my eyes but avoid bringing it too close to my lashline.
(I realize that skincare is, like, inherently ageist because the implication is that having visible signs of aging must be avoided at all costs, but I approach it from the mindset that visible signs of aging indicate that there’s skin damage, which is, I think, a universally bad thing. I love seeing older people with laugh lines and crow’s feet because they’re physical markers of a life well-lived, but I don’t think that means I should avoid taking care of my skin altogether. Signs of aging may be inevitable, but I want to grow into them with grace.)
And Some Things That Have Not Yet Come To Pass
What kind of blog post would this be if I didn’t do some window shopping? Here are some products I want to try (and one thing I already bought but haven’t tried yet).
Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum – I ordered this recently and it has yet to arrive. My first Vitamin C serum was the OST Vitamin C20 [EDIT (8/9/18): (now rebranded)], which did AMAZING things for my skin – cleared up my acne, smoothed out the texture of my skin, reduced fine lines, and made my skin look brighter. I’ve tried to go without Vitamin C several times in the past because it’s inconvenient to use (you have to store it in the fridge to prevent oxidization, and you have to wait ~20 minutes after application before you do your next step), but every single time, I come back to it because I just can’t find anything that makes my skin look as good. This is my first time trying a brand other than OST, but the Timeless Skin Care serum comes with a recommendation from /r/AsianBeauty, so I am confident it’ll be legit.
Scinic Snail All In One Ampoule – This one gets mentioned in /r/AsianBeauty quite often, my skin seems to love snail products, and this would be economical. Definitely on my to-try list, especially since I’m trying to replace my Missha Long Name Ampoule, but it depends on if my skin reacts well enough to snail that it reduces my fine lines.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment – On this list mostly because of this reluctant rave review by Tracy of fanserviced-b. She lists a ton of other cheaper options in her post, so maybe I’ll start in the shallow end with one of her more affordable suggestions if my new Vitamin C doesn’t work for me.
Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil – I mostly want to try this because I like the packaging and it has great reviews on Sephora, but it’s expensive as heck. It does seem to fit my needs (it’s supposed to moisturize and reduce fine lines), according to both the reviews and the ingredient list, but I’ll probably wait until I have a million dollars in the bank and a sugar daddy to buy this.
Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence – The #2 most loved serum on /r/AsianBeauty and it’s got snail in it, to boot. Actually, I don’t know why I haven’t tried this yet. (…I think it’s the bee venom part that scares me.)
COSRX Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence – The #1 most loved serum on /r/AsianBeauty and it’s all snail. The only reason I haven’t purchased this yet is that the moisturizing steps of my skincare routine have been very stable for the past two years or so, but this might be able to take the place of my Missha Long Name Ampoule if snail does have an effect on my fine lines. I’ve never used snail products other than sheet masks, so I’ll have to find out!
(Looking at this list, it’s clear that there will have to be a Battle of the Snails to determine which product I try next. 🐌🐌🐌)
I put a lot of stuff on my face, because I love myself, and taking care of my skin happens to be a form of self-care that is both relaxing (most of the time; try convincing me it’s relaxing when I crawl home at 2AM and I’m already preemptively hungover) and good for me.
I’d like to close by disclosing my shopping habits, because this post is full of affiliate links, but here’s what I really do (which requires more patience and calculation than buying everything from Amazon and Sephora):
- cross-check prices at Jolse vs. Amazon (and, if somehow neither place carries what I’m looking for, I’ll also check BeautyTap and Wishtrend, but shipping time for both is on the long side (a few weeks).)
- buy directly from Missha when they have sales, OR buy my Missha products through SokoGlam when they have sales (that one’s an affiliate link)
- buy directly from Innisfree when they have sales (otherwise I go through Amazon)
- buy from Memebox (RIP! They’ve changed their business model since I first purchased through them, but I’ve had great experiences with their shipping and their in-house and collaboration beauty lines in the past, so I hope the new version of Memebox will be as great as the first.)
- buy from Sephora (a last resort, and I usually wait for VIB sales)
I can’t figure out how to phrase this without sounding reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter, but skincare is one of my hobbies. I get a lot of satisfaction out of researching products and ingredients and finding the best prices and trying to figure out what would be best for my skin. I recognize that by nature, having skincare as a hobby requires buying things, but I think it’s money well spent, and anyway, spending more time and money on skincare means I can spend less time and money on makeup that I don’t even want to be wearing.
There are definitely more budget-friendly ways to build your skincare arsenal than what I’ve shown here, so if your current routine doesn’t seem to be doing it for you, I suggest popping over to /r/AsianBeauty or /r/abdiscussion to level up your skincare knowledge.
And, of course, if you take nothing else away from this post, please… for the love of yourself… WEAR SUNSCREEN. (If you hate the feeling of sunscreen because you’ve only ever used ones that make you feel like you’re wearing paint on your face, I highly recommend the Missha SPF45 ($12.96) and the Jack Black SPF45 ($21) I mentioned above.)