You might have guessed looking at these photos that I’ll be sharing something a bit different from my usual outfit posts today. Aside from my style discovery journey which began budding in my junior year of high school, I had began a different journey a few years earlier during those awkward, acne-dotted puberty years at age thirteen. What seems like ages ago, my first true obsession came to life – skincare. During two transformative years, my skin changed from being normal to becoming drastically oilier, congested and inflamed practically overnight. I was desperate for a solution. Years of testing hundreds of products have since passed, and my skin has changed slightly over the years due to aging, but I am still trying to find the perfect balancing routine for my skin type – dehydrated, moisture barrier compromised, sensitive, oily skin. With this cocktail of skin concerns, I’d say I wasn’t dealt with the best cards in this department, but when there’s a will, there’s a way!
In conjunction to trying to find a balancing routine, I also have concerns I want to address with my regimen: early signs of aging and hyperpigmentation. I’d tried many wrong products before I managed to find ones that were right for my skin and figured I would share what I have learned throughout the years. Over time, I’ve adapted my skincare philosophy towards a no-frills, practical and less is more approach, which I feel aligns with my attitude towards style as well. It’s time to say good-bye to the inessentials and keep only what is essential.
I have been faithfully sticking to this routine for months and I finally feel like I’ve achieved significant results with controlling the breakouts I get from time to time, as well as delivering intense hydration and nourishment all the while targeting my skin concerns. I typically try to steer away from any products which contain sensitizing ingredients such as fragrance like essential oils and alcohol, though some of the products I mention here do have a small amount of fragrance. I also want to point out that while I’ve found success with these products, everyone’s skin is different, and it’s all about finding what works for you!
Below, I’ve listed the products in the order I use them in my routines.
I like to skip the morning cleanse to maintain a healthy moisture barrier and dive straight into eye cream, moisturizer and sunscreen.
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
To be frank, when I first began using this product, I wasn’t very impressed with it and didn’t notice it was doing anything for my skin. However, when I ran out of the product, I noticed my skin was much drier and was noticeably more prone to breakouts. Still, I didn’t feel it warranted its hefty price tag as there are other hydrating substitutes on the market. This serum contains vitamin B5 which helps to promote healthy skin and barrier functioning, pineapple ceramide to improve skin tone and texture, and sodium hyualuronate, the concentrated salt form of hyaluronic acid, which has a lower molecular weight than hyaluronic acid, and hence can penetrate even deeper into your skin all the while attracting and holding onto water to provide deep hydration. This ingredient will plump your skin and reduce the look of fine lines and aging. I liked to use this as a moisturizer and mix it with an occlusive like The Ordinary’s 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($9.90 CAD) to lock in moisture. Rose hip seed oil is great for those with acne-prone skin as it has a high proportion of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, which can help to make the consistency of your skin’s natural oils less viscose, and can even help to reduce acne.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Fluid Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF50 For Sensitive Skin
To wrap up my morning routine, I always finish off with a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB sun damage (even when I’m indoors!). This mineral sunscreen uses titanium dioxide as the main UV filter and the consistency of this sunscreen is non-greasy, blending quickly into the skin. I like this sunscreen for the simple reason that it uses titanium dioxide as a filter as opposed to other filters such as oxybenzone, which studies have been shown to be highly toxic to marine life and contributes to bleaching of coral reefs. You can find this product here or at your local drug store.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel cleanser, pH 5.5 – 6.0
I first encountered this product at my dermatologist’s office when I visited in high-school and was recommended this cleanser. This is a no frills, non-drying cleanser for combo-oily skin and has a pH of 5.5 – 6.0. The key component about this product is that it is pH balanced and is within the skin’s natural and optimal pH range of 4.75 – 5.75. Maintaining a slightly acidic pH helps to maintain your skin’s acid mantle, the outermost barrier between your skin and the environment. The acid mantle is made up of a mixture of sweat, sebum and other healthy, good-for-your-skin ingredients which not only helps to lock in moisture and keep your skin soft and supple, but also acts as a shield against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. If you ever notice your skin feeling dry and tight after a cleanse, it’s likely because the product has disrupted your skin’s pH equilibrium. It’s safe to say keeping your skin within its natural equilibrium is key to having healthy skin. This product can be found here or at your local drug store, and other pH balanced cleanser options include COSRX’s Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($15 CAD).
Foreo Luna 2 Cleansing Tool for Sensitive Skin
This product is a cleansing tool that has been much raved about, and for good reason. It delivers 8000 transdermal sonic pulses per minute to powerfully cleanse your skin. Foreo claims this tool removes 99.5% of dirt and oil while gently exfoliating. This sounds great and all but the beauty of it is that it actually works! I see results when I use this tool and it leaves my skin feeling supple, fresh and visibly cleaner. Not to mention the pulsations help to increase blood circulation, helping your circulatory system to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your skin.
Biossance Squalane + Pepetide Eye Gel
After cleansing I like to follow up with an eye cream to immediately add hydration as the skin under your eyes is the thinnest and most sensitive, and prone to moisture loss. I like to use this eye gel both in the morning and in the evening. This eye gel consists of niacinamide and peptides (protein polymers – Acetyl Tetrapeptide-5 and Acetyl Hexapeptide-8) which help to reduce the appearance of dark under-eye circles and inflammation. I must say that I adore this product – it’s fragrance-free and is the only product I have ever tried which actually works on my stubborn dark circles. After months of using this, I could see a drastic difference and my dark circles were almost completely gone! Biossance uses sugar-cane derived squalane, which mimics a molecule naturally produced in our skin (squalene) to help retain moisture. It also contains hyaluronic acid, a potent hydrating molecule which helps to retain over 1000x its weight in water, and caffeine, which reduces the look of fine lines. I recently ran out of my tester size (which lasted months) and just ordered a full size. You can find this product here.
I’ll typically add an active ingredient like a serum before I finish off my evening routine and apply my evening moisturizer. Currently, I’m using La Roche-Posay’s Toleraine Ultra Overnight ($36 CAD), which contains zinc and niacinamide, which are great for controlling the skin’s sebum production and helping with skin discolouration and hyperpigmentation. It also contains squalane for added moisture and allantoin, a soothing and calming ingredient.
Active Ingredients for Specific Concerns
Each night, I pick my active product accordingly depending on what I feel my skin is needing most, whether it be an exfoliation, brightening, deeper hydration or a deep detox.
Dull Skin in Need of Exfoliation: Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
When I feel my skin is in need of some resurfacing, I reach for this chemical toning solution which consists of 7% glycolic acid, a small AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) which lends itself to easily penetrate the skin and mildly exfoliate the top layer, loosening the dead skin cells which glue together like brick and mortar, and can end up clogging pores and inducing acne. Glycolic acid also helps with hyper-pigmentation, smoothing out fine lines and creating a primed canvas for increased absorption of your other skincare products. This product works for my sensitive skin and has a lower content of glycolic acid than most other products on the market, and you can’t beat The Ordinary’s extraordinary price tag. You can find this product here. Other AHA toner options include Kale-lalu-yAHA 5.25% Glycolic Acid Treatment ($25 USD), which I’m going to try right after I finish my The Ordinary supply.
More Hydration or Calming Inflammation : La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Serum / Laneige Water Sleeping Mask
La Roche-Posay’s Hyalu B5 serum has an incredibly airy, bouncy texture which quickly sinks into the skin. My skin feels so happy, plumped and calm after using this product. It contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 which helps to promote the skin’s natural repairing process, as well as an ingredient called madecassoside, a soothing plant extract. Madecassoside helps to fill in wrinkles, promotes collagen synthesis, and boosts the effect of vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid. I will say however, that although hyaluronic acid is great, there is one caveat: since this molecule is a humectant and draws in water, if your immediate surroundings tend to be drier with less moisture content in the air, this molecule can end up drawing moisture from the deeper layers of your skin to the surface, which is then prone to trans-epidermal water loss. If you’re using hyaluronic acid, make sure to seal it in with an occlusive oil! You can find this product here.
I use the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask, an overnight gel type mask, whenever my skin feels extra parched. My friends and I have been using this product since our high school years and it remains a staple product in my cabinet. It has such a great texture, is fast absorbing, hydrating and leaves my complexion looking clear and radiant the next morning as though I had a full 12 hours of sleep. The active ingredients which makes this product so great are sodium hyaluronate, beta-glucan, a soothing skin ingredient, and other beneficial hydrating molecules such as evening-primrose oil. Unfortunately, this product is formulated with some fragrance but my skin seems to tolerate it well.
Hyperpigmentation and Anti-aging : SK-II Facial Treatment Essence (Pitera Essence) / Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum
SK-II Treatment Essence has been dubbed Asia’s miracle water and for good reason. I typically don’t buy into luxury skin care hype (one bottle sells for a whopping $235 for 230 mL), but this one is an exception. The product is formulated as a light weight liquid that is fast absorbing – and let me tell you, my skin drinks this stuff up. The formulation has been unchanged for 40 years, and each bottle contains 90% Pitera, which is a byproduct of SK-II’s specially cultivated fermented yeast strain. This Pitera is a blend of vitamins, minerals, and organic and amino acids. The story goes that a group of scientists were visiting a sake brewery in Japan and noticed the workers had wrinkled faces but incredibly supple and youthful hands. This fermented yeast product is claimed to help deliver moisture, even the appearance of dark spots, help with dullness, soften and smoothen the face. Although I couldn’t find any academic research on the benefits of this yeast fermentation extract, I can attest that I’ve seen all of these benefits in a few uses which is pretty mind-blowing to me; this product leaves my parched, oily skin feeling balanced and hydrated the next morning. And funnily enough, their website even features James Corden testifying his success with the product. The only downside is that it does smells a little funny and a bit unpleasant.
Another Biossance product I love is their Squalane + Phyto Retinol Serum which contains bakuchiol as a retinol-like substitute. Bakuchiol is derived from a herb called Psoralea corylifolia and is a powerful antioxidant which can help with improving the look of fine lines, reduces skin discolourations and provide a soothing effect. This serum also includes hyaluronic acid and squalane oil for extra hydration. I personally love this product as it doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin. It absorbs quickly and it produces results quickly which I can visibly see.
Skin Detox : Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack
When my skin is feeling congested, I’ll reach for this Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack, a kaolin mask which contains a huge assortment of different leafy green extracts, such as spinach, parsley, and cress sprout, as well as a huge array of antioxidants and fatty acids to keep the skin feeling hydrated. This is the only kaolin clay mask I’ve encountered that doesn’t leave my skin feeling tight and dry and actually feels comfortable, calming and hydrating.
Other honourable mentions include:
Bioderma Hydrabio H2O Micellar Water – great for gentle and effective make-up removal
- The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
- Glamglow Starpotion Liquid Charcoal Clarifying Oil – a great acne spot treatment which contains both AHAs and BHAs to penetrate deep into the pores
This turned out to be quite a long post, but if it wasn’t already apparent, I’m just a tad bit passionate about finding the best, safest and most effective options for my skin. I hope this review was helpful, and I’d love to hear any opinions for substitutes if you’ve tried any of these products! Plus, if you have the privilege of working from home, now is a great time to experiment with different skincare products.
As always, I hope everyone is staying safe during these crazy strange times!
Photos by Me