A while back, I posted on the Allison Barbera Beauty Facebook page asking what kind of posts people would like to read. I got a lot of great suggestions, and I will get to all of the topics.
Since it is the start of a new year, it seems fitting to begin with a post about my skincare routine, requested by AB Beauty makeup artist and hair stylist, Candie. As I’ve said before in this blog, I can give you all the makeup tips in the world, but if you aren’t taking care of your skin, your makeup can only look so good.
Skincare routines should be customized for your skin type and concerns, so what works for me may not make sense for you. Let me first tell you what I have going on, as some of my product choices are based around that. My skin is combination with visible pores on and around my nose. I get oily in the T-zone during the warmer months. I have some fine lines on my forehead and around my eyes. I have hyperpigmentation (some freckles and small sun spots) on my face. I also have melasma above my upper lip. I do not have acne, but I occasionally break out on my jawline and chin. My nose is prone to blackheads. So my skincare routine is based around keeping my skin clear, hydrated, moisturized and slowing down the visible signs of aging. Any of that sound like your skin or skin concersns? Even if not, I’ll provide alternate products suggestions for different skin type and concerns.
Ready? Sure you are.
Cleanser. I cleanse once a day, at night. When I was in school for Esthetics, we were taught that unless you have very oily skin, a nightly cleanse is all that’s needed. They told us that the twice-a-day cleanse idea was created by the beauty industry so that they could sell double the cleanser. And that makes sense to me. Because if you are properly cleansing your face before bed, your pillowcase is clean and you don’t live inside a fume-filled factory, how dirty is your skin getting while you sleep? It’s much more important to cleanse at night to not only remove your makeup and sunscreen if you wear it, but also all of the dirt, oil and bacteria that latched onto your skin during the day. Because if you sleep with all of that on your face, guess what you’re asking for? BREAKOUTS.
To properly remove everything that you applied to your skin, and what showed up there uninvited during the day, you need to bring in a truly thorough product. And that product is–say it with me–oil cleanser. I’ve talked about this many times, because in my humble yet experienced and licensed opinion, oil is the only thing that fully removes makeup. And don’t worry–it won’t make you breakout. It will actually help prevent acne, since it removes the crap that can cause blemishes to appear. My current favorite oil cleanser is the Josie Maran Argan Cleansing Oil. It works for all skin types, and it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and formulated without GMO, formaldehyde, and synthetic fragrance.
If you have a cream, gel or lotion cleanser that you love though, I’ll still let you use it. But I strongly recommend using an oil pre-cleanse first to remove your makeup. Dermalogica Precleanse is the gold standard of pre-cleanses, so if you are not going to go full oil cleanser, cop this. A little goes a long way so you won’t need to re-stock it often.
Have truly oily skin? If you wake up shining bright like a diamond every day, I give you permission to use a gentle cream cleanser (like Clinique Liquid Facial Soap in Mild) to remove the surface oils. (I also sometimes do this myself if I’ve used an overnight mask or something that leaves a little residue on the skin.) The thing with oily skin though is that you don’t want to use anything too strong that strips the skin of its natural oils. You know that squeaky clean, tight feeling? That’s the skin being stripped of those oils. If you regularly do that to oily skin, your skin says “Our oil is being depleted! Ramp up production!” Then it produces more oil, and your plan backfires. So if you have oily skin and you feel the need to cleanse twice, just make sure that morning cleanse isn’t setting you up for failure.
Moisturizer. I don’t care who you are or what your skin type is–you need to moisturize every day. I do not go a day without moisturizing, ever. All skin contains fats and oils that will prevent it from completely drying out and cracking open (if I need to gross you out to get my point across, I will), but it needs help. Moisturizer will deliver that assistance and will make your skin feel softer. It also plumps up the skin so that fine lines and wrinkles are less noticeable, and it has a smoothing effect that allows makeup to go on much better. I use Neutrogena Oil Free Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 35 which is great for normal, combination and oily skin.
For dry skin, I recommend Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre (although it contains almond oil, so not the best choice for those with almond allergies). Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer is another good option for dry skin. And there’s nothing that says you can’t switch moisturizers if you have combination skin that changes with the weather. If you get oily in the warmer months and dry in the colder months, use an oil-free moisturizer when it’s sandals weather and a more hydrating moisturizer when it’s boots weather. But make sure you are moisturizing every day if you want good skin.
Sunscreen. Not only can sun damage cause skin cancer, but it is the number one cause of visible premature aging. It not only causes some types of hyperpigmentation (like age spots), but UVA rays–which Esthetics school taught us to think of as “Ultra Violet Aging rays”–penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and break down collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are what keep the skin firm, so when they are attacked, wrinkles, fine lines and sagging show up. Sunscreen protects the skin from that damage, so it’s a must.
My moisturizer contains sunscreen, but I also use a separate sunscreen if I’m going to be outside for long. I used to use the Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Face Moisturizing Sunscreen but was given Glossier Invisible Shield for Christmas, so I’ll patch test that and as long as my skin approves and it doesn’t leave a white cast on my face (which I HATE), I’ll be making the switch. If you’re thinking “But Allison, I like the way I look tan!,” I get it. I like the way I look with a tan too. But I haven’t gotten a real tan for years, and that is part of why my skin is in good shape. The skin is the body’s largest organ, so I’d rather take care of that and fake it ’til I make it with Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops.
Hyaluronic Acid. H.A., as I call it, is one of my favorite skincare product discoveries of the last five years. And it’s one that’s suitable for all skin types. Everyone I have ever recommended it to has told me they saw results soon after using it. So what is H.A., you ask? It’s a substance that our body naturally produces that helps hold in collagen and lubricates joints and tissues. It gets depleted as we age, but luckily we can add it back to the skin topically. I’ve already written a whole other post about it, so you can get more details there, and I strongly encourage you to read that. H.A. is an essential part of my skincare routine, and is one of the few skincare products you will notice a difference from early on.
It’s the best hydrator out there, and we could all use some hydration. Even oily skin can be dehydrated, so don’t go scrolling to the next section yet if you’re thinking “I don’t need that!”. When the skin is dehydrated, that means it lacks water. When the skin is dry, that means it lacks oil. If you are unsure what dehydrated skin looks like, look in the mirror when you are hungover, battling the stomach bug or have just gotten off a flight. Those are all common causes of loss or lack of fluids, which your skin is happy to announce you have via dullness, flaking or more pronounced fine lines. I’m no doctor so I’m not going to advise you about systemic dehydration, but if you can see the signs of skin dehydration on your face, get yourself some H.A.
Retinoids. Retinoic acid, a derivative of Vitamin A, is one of the the only scientifically proven anti-aging ingredients. Prescription retinoids contain retinoic acid, while non-prescription retinoids (aka retinol, the general term which I am guilty of using for my prescription retinoid cream) products have to be converted into retinoic acid at the cellular level. Basically, a retinol will take longer to show results because of the retinoic acid conversion time. So why not go in the with the big guns right off the bat and use a prescription retinoid?
I started using a prescription retinoid (Trentinoin Cream 0.05%) when I was 33 and three years later, my skin looks pretty much the same. People are frequently surprised by my age, and I think my boo Trentinoin plays a big part in that. For more on retinoids, check out this post.
Exfoliation. I personally don’t exfoliate since I am on Trentinoin and exfoliation is contraindicated with retinoids, but I am including it because it’s something I did before I was on Trentinoin. I still think a prescription retinoid cream is the way to go if you are over 30, but if you’re under 30 or can’t/won’t use a retinoid, I recommend regular exfoliation.
Exfoliation removes the dead skin cells from the top layer of skin, making it feel softer and allowing makeup to go on more smoothly. If you leave those dead skin cells to chill on your epidermis, your skin will look dull and your makeup might get patchy as it grabs onto those cells who have crossed over. I’ve been out of the exfoliation game for a minute, but I can tell you that when I was in it, I preferred chemical (aka enzyme) exfoliation over physical (aka manual or scrub) exfoliation, as chemical exfoliation is more gentle. When exfoliation was part of my normal routine, I liked Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment (they also make a gentle version for sensitive skin). Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant is another good one.
Blackhead Extraction. When I notice blackheads on my nose, I do extractions on the area. I’m a licensed esthetician so I can confidently do extractions in a way that I know won’t cause scarring. If you are not an esthetician, I recommend periodically going to one for a facial, which should include extractions. You can also use the Biore Pore Strips, which can remove some blackheads. If those don’t work for you, schedule a facial and make sure that you are thoroughly cleansing each night, as going to bed with a dirty face is a great way to get blackheads.
Face Oil. Don’t be scared of face oil. Oil does not always = breakouts. Think of it as a souped up moisturizer, okay? I have been using the Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil for several years, and my skin is better person for it. Face oil is one of the skincare products I noticed almost immediately results from. I use it a couple nights in a week in the winter, when my skin is on the dry side. I apply it at night and let it absorb while I sleep. I use it year-round when I do facial massages, which really help when my skin is looking dull. (Lisa Eldridge explains that well here.) I reach for it as a sort of spot treatment if I get dry patches, which crop up if I’ve used too much Trentinoin, after I’ve been sick and my skin is dehydrated or when frigid weather causes dry patches and flaking. In those cases, I apply a small amount to the dry patches and it always heals them within a couple of days. Lastly, I use face oil 20 minutes after my Trentinoin if I have noticed any recent peeling or redness from it.
For more info on the Josie Maran Argan Oil, I’ve got another post for you! Unless you have truly acneic skin–in which case I recommend limiting your products until your acne has cleared, as adding anything new can irritate your already irritated skin–face oil should be part of your routine.
Spot Treatments. As I mentioned, I get the occasional blemish. When I do, I use a spot treatment to attack it overnight. If it’s a small whitehead or a pustule, I first try to get it with salicylic acid. I like the Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel. If that doesn’t do it, or if I’m dealing with a papule, I go after it with Persa-Gel 10, a kickass benzoyl peroxide treatment.
If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about with my acne terminology, I can help with that. Clickety click click here.
Face Masks. I’m not a mask addict, mostly because I already have enough steps in my routine and they work well. But I do like to use the Clarins Beauty Flash Balm every week or two, especially if my skin is looking dull or tired. I think this is a great mask that should work on all skin types, but if you have a specific skin concern you want to address, there’s probably a mask for it. Charcoal and mud masks are great for oily skin, while Vitamin E, avocado, and shea butter masks will make dry skin happy. If you have sensitive skin, look for masks that contain oatmeal, honey or aloe.
Hydroquinone. Let’s start with the definition of melasma. It’s a hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) that appears in gray-brown patches, usually on the face but sometimes on other areas of the body. Melasma is caused by birth control pills, pregnancy, hormone therapy and sun exposure. I think my upper lip melasma came from sun exposure. I regrettably had some serious sunbathing days in my 20s, and I started to pay for it a few years later via creases on my chest, moles that had to be scraped off or gouged out of my body, and melasma. Even though I did always wear sunscreen on my face, during pool days in the hot Florida sun, I could feel my face sweating, particularly at my hairline (where I also have faint melasma) and my above my upper lip. My theory is that the sweat on those areas broke down the sunscreen and allowed the sun damage to kick my melanocytes (pigment-producing skin cells) into overdrive.
My melasma got worse as I got older. Even though I was keeping my face protected from the sun, cumulative sun damage can take a while to appear. My dermatologist prescribed Hydroquinone 4% Cream to diminish the darkness above my lip. Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching cream and although some people says it’s harmful, I ran it by my MD/ND (medical doctor and naturopath) and he gave me the okay. You are supposed to only use it for three months at a time, which I do mostly during the warmer months, as that is when I notice the melasma most. It’s definitely faded to the point where I forget I even have it, but sometimes it crops back up, at which point I start my three months again.
If you don’t have melasma, this of course doesn’t need to be a part of your routine. And even if you do have it, Hydroquinone might not be the best choice for you. Get thee to a derm and go from there. But since I am telling you all of the products I use, I had to mention this one.
Sleep. This sometimes elusive skincare “product” is just as important as the rest. Even if I am doing everything else right, if I’m not sleeping enough, my skin does not look its best. I realize we can’t all regularly get as much sleep as we need, but lack of sleep does affect how your skin looks. I have to mention it because if you’re only clocking a few hours of sleep most nights, I don’t want you to say “I’m using all of the products Allison said and my skin doesn’t look good!” and think it’s my fault.
I obviously have a post about sleep too. I have an opinion on everything.
Supplements & A Clean Diet. I’m not a medical professional (although I have referred to myself as an “amateur doctor” before), but I do think what you put inside your body has as much of an impact as what you put on your skin. For example, I don’t mess with too much sugar because it makes me feel like shit. When I do, I not only feel gross but the fine lines around my eyes are more pronounced the next day. I don’ think I’m imagining that, and studies do show that sugar can break down collagen, aka accelerate the formation of lines and wrinkles. You mean the very things I am trying so hard to avoid?!?!
In general, I’ve found that when I take the supplements I personally need (fish oil, iron, probiotics, multivitamins and some stuff that helps with hormonal issues I was born with), I feel better. When I physically don’t feel well, it shows up on my face. Think about it. What does someone’s complexion look like when they are ill? Bright and glowy, or pale and dull-looking?
I was a vegetarian for six years (ages 12 – 18) and my skin did not look great. I wasn’t breaking out, but my skin was sallow and my undereye circles were even darker than they normally are. Turns out my body thrives on protein and iron, and I wasn’t able to get the amount I needed from a plant-based diet. Although I would prefer to not eat meat, I didn’t feel great–and my skin showed that–when I was, so I had to make the change.
My point is, finding the right combination of foods and supplements (if that’s your jam) helps you have a healthier system, and your skin is included in that.
Wow, you made it through this whole post? Congratulations! I hope you have found it helpful. I know it may sound like a lot, but it’s not that bad. The total time needed for my evening routine (not including the wait time in the Trentinoin process, which I detail in the post linked in the Retinoids section) is maybe 15 minutes. In the morning–normally just hylaluronic acid, moisturizer and sometimes sunscreen–it’s around five minutes. It probably took you longer to read this post that it takes for me to do my morning routine. I barely even count my bi-weekly mask time, as it takes about 30 seconds to apply it and maybe three minutes to thoroughly wash it off. When I do a facial massage with the Josie Maran Argan Oil, that can take 15 minutes, but I do that while watching something, so it’s multi-tasking. Extractions are on an as-needed basis, and that’s an under-ten-minutes process as well.
The hardest parts of getting into a skincare routine are finding the products that work for you and then getting into the habit of using them. And sorry, but there is no shortcut there. Hopefully my recommendations have helped, but actually doing the routine is on you.
If you have any questions, comment away. I’m here for you and your skin.
Have a beautiful day 🙂