how my anxiety coping obsession gave me the best skin of my life

This is my face a few months into my new routine, wearing only mascara and tinted moisturizer, in natural light, with no filters.

I once read a meme that said having an anxious brain is like having a pet border collie: you have to give it a job, or you won’t like the one it finds for itself. I share my life with a bonkers border collie mix (love you Olive!) and I have an anxious brain, so it made a lot of sense to me.

In the wake of the election, I found myself suffering from obsessing over the news. I was wearing myself out with outrage, constantly on edge, losing hours and hours to reading news and opinions online. I’m not someone who can just stop reading the news, but I knew I needed a new obsession, one that wouldn’t worry me so much.

At the same time, having recently moved from the humid, mild South to dry, cold Colorado, combating dry skin had become a regular concern. I started researching skin care, and my new obsession was born.

This is my face a few months into my new routine, wearing only mascara and tinted moisturizer, in natural light, with no filters.
This is my face a few months into my new routine, wearing only mascara and tinted moisturizer, in natural light, with no filters.

Before I go further, a disclaimer: I am not a skincare expert or a doctor or an aesthetician. I am only an expert on my own skin and my own experiences. I am 32 years old, have skin that tends toward dry/sensitive, and am most concerned about preventing wrinkles and sun damage as I watch the first lines starting to appear on my face. I know that I will age. I think smile lines are some of the world’s most beautiful and hard-earned features. However, I also want to keep my skin looking the best it can at every age. I also like to use more natural/organic things on and in my body as possible. And: I firmly believe in getting enough sleep (something now possible since my kids are almost 5), drinking lots of water, and eating a plant-heavy diet.

My gateway drug was Pixi Glow Tonic. I’d seen rave reviews, it’s available at Target, and my dull, dry skin was definitely in need of a boost, so I picked up a bottle. Within a couple of weeks, I could tell my skin was looking better– smoother, brighter, and those clogged-looking pores we all seem to have around our noses were much less noticeable. It was enough of a change that my husband started using the Glow Tonic too. I wanted to know why it was working so well, and what else might work too.

It turns out I had discovered the wide world of acid exfoliation. The main active ingredient in the Glow Tonic is a fairly low percentage of glycolic acid. I know, the idea of putting “acid” on your face sounds kind of creepy and harsh, and may even conjure images of red, inflamed skin caused by a chemical peel gone wrong. However, it turns out that “manual exfoliation,” like using abrasive scrubs or electric face brushes are actually a lot harsher on your face than ingredients like glycolic and lactic acid, both of which are Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHAs. Acid exfoliation works by removing dead skin, promoting cell turnover, encouraging collagen production, and dissolving dirt and sebum trapped in your pores. If you have dull, rough-textured, or sun-damaged skin, AHAs will be your friend.

Once I learned about AHAs and acid exfoliation, I wanted to learn about other active ingredients, and how best to use them for maximum results. Pretty much everyone will tell you that “retinoids” are the gold standard for preventing and reversing signs of aging. Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives. They work by encouraging collagen production, preventing collagen breakdown in the first place, and exfoliating. They prevent wrinkles, encourage a smooth texture, and help get rid of dark spots. The downsides of retinoids are that they can make skin more sensitive to the sun, and can be irritating and drying to the skin. For these reasons, it is best to start using them slowly, like once a week, and work up to using it nightly. Also: using it at night helps mitigate the sun sensitivity issue, though applying SPF every day is probably the #1 most important thing you can do to prevent signs of aging, and you should apply a good SPF product every day, even if you are not using retinoids. Using your retinoid at night also makes it most effective, because the Vitamin A itself breaks down in sunlight, and thus loses its potency.

Aside from AHAs and retinoids, the other main ingredient I found effective through my research was Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant that evens skintone, protects skin from environmental pollutants, and even helps protect skin from sun exposure. Vitamin C is a great daytime ingredient because it helps protect your skin from the outside world all day long.

Once I knew which ingredients would have the best impact for protecting my skin and helping it look its best, I started slowly adding them into my routine. I researched products, read forums and blogs, and found new products that I believed would work for me. I focused on serums with my preferred active ingredients rather than toners or face washes, because I want these actives to really sit on and sink into my skin to do their best work.

A word of caution: NEVER GO WHOLE HOG INTO A NEW SKIN ROUTINE ALL AT ONCE. That’s a great way to irritate the crap out of your skin and end up with a bumpy, red, inflamed, itchy, flaky mess. I was already using a retinoid night serum, so that was the first thing I replaced with a more powerful serum. After I knew my skin was tolerating that well, I started alternating every other night with an AHA serum. Since both Vitamin A and Glycolic Acid are exfoliating, I don’t use them both on the same night, because that would be too much for my skin. Once that was well-established, I incorporated a Vitamin C serum for the daytime.

Another thing I did while trying to take better care of my dry skin was I ditched the foaming cleansers. Foaming cleansers can strip your skin of its natural moisture– you never actually want your face to feel “squeaky clean.” Instead, I started using a two-step cleansing process at night, washing first with an oil to remove makeup and dirt, and then with a creamy cleanser to actually clean my skin and maintain its natural moisture barrier. In the mornings, I actually started doing more than just splashing my face with water– if you’re using exfoliants at night, you need to wash that sloughed skin off in the morning, or it remains trapped under last night’s moisturizer. So, in the mornings I use a cream-based cleanser to make sure I’m starting fresh before applying my Vitamin C serum and moisturizer.

Now that you’ve read about all my research and the ingredients I decided to focus on (Vitamin C, Vitamin A/retinoids, and AHAs), here is my daily routine. It sounds like a lot, but I find the ritual soothing for my anxious mind.

Morning Routine

  1. Wash with Botanics Organic Softening Cleanser (this says to wipe it off, but I rinse)
  2. Apply 4 drops Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum (I put this on and then go downstairs to get my kids up, make coffee, make breakfast, and pack lunches. This gives it time to really absorb into my skin.)
  3. Apply Botanics All Bright Hydrating Day Cream SPF 15 (This is not my favorite, and I will be trying other SPF day creams in the future)
  4. Apply Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20 plus a couple of drops of Botanics Organic Facial Oil

morning skincare routine

Evening Routine

  1. First Cleanse: Dermalogica Pre-Cleanse (This is expensive, but my one bottle, a gift for my sister, has lasted months. You get a LOT for the amount you pay, and it’s a really nice oil cleanser. In the future, I promise to test some other, cheaper oil cleansers and let you know what I think.)
  2. Second Cleanse: Botanics Organic Softening Cleanser (same as mornings)
  3. Apply either 4 drops Mad Hippie Vitamin A Serum (my retinoid) or 2 drops Pixi Overnight Glow Serum (an AHA, but I’m not super crazy about this serum and again will be testing other exfoliating serums and letting you know what I think)
  4. After waiting at least 10 minutes for my serums to absorb, I moisturize with either Farmacy Sleep Tight Night Balm (love this, but it’s a bit expensive, so I may try the Botanics Organic Hydrating Super Balm) or Botanics Organic Face Cream
  5. As needed for dryness, I apply more Botanics Organic Facial Oil

evening skincare routine

Note: I am super happy with the Mad Hippie serums. Green company using high-quality, effective, scientifically proven ingredients, and a great value. I’ve been using my bottles since the end of January and have used maybe 1/3. Your Whole Foods or Earth Fare may carry them, but I usually buy online (at the links). Since I’m not loving the Pixi Glow Serum, I may try their exfoliating serum next.

So, there’s my routine. And here’s my makeup-free face, just after washing, in natural light.

erniebufflo with no makeup

Got any questions?

*Note: none of the products here are sponsored and none of the links are affiliate links.


make, move, read, do: coping with anxiety

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Because I’ve seen articles about pastors and counselors and therapists seeing the same in the people they care for, I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m not the only person feeling anxious as all get-out lately. I had anxiety before it seemed our country went to hell in a handbasket, and it feels like every day there’s a new reason to protest, be outraged, be worried. Advice to unplug from the news may be well-meaning, but it doesn’t really suit my personality. I’d feel even more panicked if I didn’t know what was going on. Still, I probably could do better with my time than spend hours a day reading articles online and freaking out.

So. Since I’m freaking out and you’re probably freaking out, we need some coping strategies.

First of all: I take medicine. I make no secret of the fact that I take anxiety medication, and it helps me function. Before I took medicine, my face and neck and back hurt constantly from being perpetually tense, I had trouble sleeping, I ground my teeth when I did sleep, I was constantly one tiny trigger away from a rage or crying outburst, and I was having panic attacks. Most of that I don’t have to deal with anymore since I take medication.

Now my new thing seems to be avoidance. I do not feel like doing anything. Sleeping. Checking my voicemail. Doing much of anything. I just feel overwhelmed. All the time. And my sleep has been out of whack– I’m in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and afternoon napping.

My new strategy? Make. Move. Read. Do.

Make means exercising my creativity. This means writing, sewing, cooking, hand-lettering, and painting for me. It turns out finding time to be creative every day really does make you happier. And it doesn’t have to be a great work of art. I remember hearing Mary Steenburgen speak in college. She talked about creativity, and how when we’re kids we’re dancers, singers, painters, artists, but at some point, we let those creative outlets go, often because we decide we aren’t “good” enough to keep at it. But the point isn’t the product, it’s the producing. I find especially that something that allows my hands to be busy and my rational brain to take a break can refresh and relax me. Some creative pursuits I’ve been up to lately: sewing rainbow felt banners for the girls’ upcoming birthday, watercolor painting, hand lettering, and making complicated food like homemade pasta while sipping wine and listening to music.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

Move means literally moving my body, preferably outside in the sunshine. I am not naturally a “move” kind of person. I have observed that my new city of Denver is an outdoorsy place. When people ask you what you “do,” they often mean “outside for fun” not “professionally.” All of my favorite things happen inside. I’m outdoorsy in that I like drinking on patios. However, as we all earned from Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” They also tend not to feel like they’re flipping out all the time. Now, I’m not suddenly going all outdoorsy, but I’ve taken THREE WALKS OUTSIDE WITH MY DOG lately, and I admit they make me feel better. Usually I listen to a podcast that calms and interests me (Fresh Air, On Being, and the Robcast are my favorites). Also, I read somewhere that having an anxious mind is like having a border collie puppy: you have to give it something to do, or it will find something, and you probably won’t like what it finds. I’ve got anxiety AND a border collie mix, so the walks are good for both of us.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |
Walks with my dog also give me the opportunity to see cool signs like this.

Read means the news, yes, to stay informed, but it also means reading actual books. Right now I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and making a point to read and post a poem a day by a Black poet for Black History Month (check out my Facebook Page to see today’s poem). Note: I do not watch television news. Television news makes me more anxious and panicky. Even listening to NPR news can make me feel like the world is closing in. I follow a lot of writers I trust on Twitter, so I get a lot of the articles I read there, and I’m a New York Times subscriber. I try to stick to sites like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, etc. and avoid things that overly stress me out. And then I need to also make a point to walk away from news and the internet and just read stuff that feeds my mind and soul.

Do means taking action on behalf of what I believe in. Ideally all that reading will give me one thing per day that is a tangible thing I can do to let my voice be heard and try to resist the Trump administration. This may be calling my Senators and Representative, attending a protest or rally, sending a postcard or email, going to an event where I learn about an issue, or donating money or time to a cause I believe in. I can’t do All The Things, but I can do one thing per day to resist and persist.

Make Move Read Do: coping with anxiety in the Trump era |

That’s my coping strategy. Are you doing anything to cope with Trump administration anxiety? What’s working for you?

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