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

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.

 

Advertisements

um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.

IMG_0547

I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.

IMG_9946

Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.

IMG_9628

To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.

IMG_9803

We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

on “pregnancy abs”: NOPE

Being pregnant is a very strange experience. I would say “out of body” but it’s really the opposite: it’s deeply embodied. The physical reality of gestating two humans inside of my rapidly changing body radically and forever altered my relationship to myself. When we saw that second blob on an ultrasound screen and learned we were having twins, my husband’s oh-so-charming first words, with tears of joy in his eyes, were “you’re gonna get SO BIG.” He squeezed my hand supportively. I did not murder him because I was in too much shock.

Thus began a 9 month funhouse of physicality. There was never a moment in all that time that my body, my physical self, wasn’t somehow on my mind. I watched my belly and boobs expand, smeared my stretching, itchy skin with lotion, and wondered if I’d get stretch marks. I saw my belly button pop out, never to go back to its innie state. I felt surges of hormones and nausea. In my sleep, I snored like a chainsaw and drooled like a fountain. I discovered that restless leg syndrome wasn’t invented by a drug company but is in fact a very real thing that makes you contemplate DIY-amputation in the middle of the night just to get some relief and rest. I felt my sciatic nerve like never before. I had some of the best hair days of my life. I discovered two babies is enough to make a uterus officially, diagnostically “irritable.” I was constantly aware of the fullness of my bladder and its relationship to my insatiable thirst. I discovered that literally everything caused heartburn.

Strangers noticed my physicality, too, and decided I was an object fit for comment. By mid-pregnancy, everywhere I went, people looked at me like a baby might just FALL OUT at any moment. Sometimes they stopped in their tracks and just said “WHOA” as I waddled by.

But this experience, as mortal as it made me feel, was also deeply liberating. I was both bound by my oh-so-human frame and completely freed from many of my previous hangups. I focused on my diet more than ever before, not in an effort to lose weight, but because I was worried about preterm labor and wanted to grow my twins as big as I could before they would arrive, however soon that might be. I largely relinquished control over my looks and just reveled in my midsection’s seemingly unstoppable growth. I actively tried to gain a pound a week, which felt downright radical in a culture that seems to think women should constantly and forever be working to lose weight.

And then when my babies did come, I was far too busy and too tired to give a flying fig about “losing the baby weight” or “getting my body back.” Thank God.

All of which to say, screw the idea that “pregnancy abs” are something any gestating human should be worrying about. There is now literally no point in a woman’s life where she’s given a break from cultural expectations about her appearance. I went from “too tiny to be having twins” to “so big I must be about to deliver any minute” without a single “acceptable” moment in between. But most of the time, I didn’t even care, because I was enjoying a hiatus from listening to or caring about those voices. I got to experience my body as a body, just doing its bodily thing in a way that was life-changing. I am now more in touch with my physical self, and more admiring of its ability to do what it has to do to keep me and others alive and growing, and I feel downright ragey at the idea that any other woman needs to spend a single precious second of her pregnancy (or any of the rest of her life) worrying about her ABS.

If you’re one of those women who can run races while massively pregnant because that is what you love to do and it makes you feel good in your body? More power to ya. If you’re like me and pregnancy is hugely exhausting and physically draining and just managing to walk feels like winning an Olympic gold medal? More power to you, too. Our bodies are unique, amazing, and OURS. How they should look isn’t anyone else’s business.

an update on my underarms

My headshot from the Listen To Your Mother show, the day I decided my sweating was out of control. Photographer Jacob Slayton made my sweaty self look as good as possible.

My headshot from the Listen To Your Mother show, the day I decided my sweating was out of control. Photographer Jacob Slaton made my sweaty self look as good as possible.

So, remember how I discovered that the medicines I take because of my heart defect also make me really really sweaty? And how I decided, since even the most “prescription strength” antiperspirants weren’t actually stopping me from sweating, and since I’m at least slightly uneasy with using chemicals to try and stop my body from doing something it needs to do to keep me cool and excrete stuff that doesn’t need to be inside me, I decided to try and quit antiperspirants and use more natural, healthy deodorants instead? And remember how I decided to conduct this great, potentially-smelly experiment in one of the hottest months of the year in one of the hottest and most humid parts of the country?

Well, here I am a month later, reporting back.  Continue reading

living up to my name?

For fun, here's a picture of me in freshman year of college, with my friends, posing on my roommate's hot pink faux fur rug.

For fun, here’s a picture of me in freshman year of college, with my friends, posing on my roommate’s hot pink faux fur rug.

True story: my maiden name, now my middle, is Sweatt. People would always try to pronounce it “sweet,” but it’s sweat with an extra “t.” Back in my slightly-high-on-life, slightly-hyperactive teen years, I made quite an impression on my freshman dorm hallmates when I introduced myself to the group, “I’m Sarah Sweatt, and boy is it true today!” And it was, as we were all sweaty after lugging all our worldly possessions up the stairs and into our dorm rooms with our new best friends and frenemies. (My freshman roommate was more of a frenemy, since she was essentially nocturnal, owned faux fur EVERYTHING, and had a weird redneck boyfriend who never left and never wore a shirt. She liked to listen to Jock Jamz. She had an illegal hamster living in one of her dresser drawers. And, since she rarely went to class, didn’t last past the first semester.)

I may not just be Sarah Sweatt anymore, but ever since I went on some serious medicines for my heart defect, I’ve noticed an unpleasant side-effect: lots of sweating. Continue reading

our selfies, ourselves

This might be my first selfie ever, taken with my 1st digital camera when I was 21.

This might be my first selfie ever, taken with my 1st digital camera when I was 21.

I’m not exactly sure when the word “selfie” was coined. It’s been added to the OED and was even their word of the year for 2013, so it’s become widespread enough that the trend is undeniable. But it seems like only the last couple of years that the word has been around, and like the “trend” is mostly thanks to Instagram (my favorite social media app). However, long before Instagram or the word “selfie,” we were all taking “Myspace photos” with our phones in mirrors or by holding our arms out– selfies without a name, essentially. Timehop has helpfully showed me that my own personal “emo selfie habit,” as my sister calls it, goes back at least seven years, definitely predating the term. I would get bored at my office job and take self portraits with my Mac’s Photo Booth or my crappy Blackberry Pearl, usually to show off some fun lipstick or a new hairstyle.

I do know that we’re currently experiencing something of a selfie backlash.   Continue reading

hello, babies

Kid President is pretty amazing. I think most people need to watch that video sometime before or after their high five just for getting out of bed in the morning. Because the world IS amazing, and we all mess up, and we do need to forgive each other’s mess ups. And maybe dance some more and have some more corndogs.

He actually echoes a favorite bit of Kurt Vonnegut that I’ve loved since I found out I was pregnant with twins. It’s from a baptismal speech the protagonist of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater plans for his neighbor’s twins: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

This quote actually led to me experiencing a moment of kindness. I had tweeted about my love for the quote and how I wanted to hang it up in my babies’ room. Then I almost died and came back again, and a friend I had only met via Twitter said she had made me something to celebrate my survival. One night soon after we had both babies home, she came by and gave me this beautiful (and slightly censored because kids) canvas:

IMG_5893

It’s one of my favorite things in my favorite room of our house. I want my kids to know that they have to be kind. But I also want them to know that people are kind. That the world is full of good and beauty, if we look for it. I guess that’s my answer to Kid President’s question about what kids need to know.

It reminds me of a bit in Thomas King’s The Truth About StoriesKing’s refrain throughout the (excellent) book is that the truth about stories is that’s all we are. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about the world literally construct the world we experience. He points out in one passage that we can tell ourselves or our children that “life is hard,” but we can equally teach them that “life is sweet.” Each perspective constructs a way of being in the world. Sometimes life is just hard, it’s true. To quote Vonnegut again, “so it goes.” But I think the balance bends toward the beautiful and the good, because I believe in a God who is at work on a great project of reconciliation, re-creation, and renewal. And I think we get to participate in this project, to be agents of beauty and goodness and change. I’m raising up revolutionaries to participate in this project, too. So I want them to be kind and see kindness, in their hundred years here and beyond.