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.
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.
- Wash with Botanics Organic Softening Cleanser (this says to wipe it off, but I rinse)
- 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.)
- 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)
- Apply Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20 plus a couple of drops of Botanics Organic Facial Oil
- 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.)
- Second Cleanse: Botanics Organic Softening Cleanser (same as mornings)
- 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)
- 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
- As needed for dryness, I apply more Botanics Organic Facial Oil
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.
Got any questions?
*Note: none of the products here are sponsored and none of the links are affiliate links.