The mirror declares an odd truth, and the news echoes it. In the midst of a pandemic, economic disparity, political polarity, student life, and a looming election, it can be difficult to choose what to prioritize in the present moment. It’s nearly impossible to sit down and focus on something clearly, without getting overwhelmed. I’m going through changes in my personal life, and so is the world at large, and one thing I know I can depend on to tell me how I’m doing is my skin.
I’ve studied my skin since the sixth grade when a family friend gifted me my first face mask for Christmas. When I get stressed out, I break out in a rash that makes my skin look like a stucco-coated balloon. When I have to sleep anywhere new, my skin mirrors my internal feelings of being in a strange place. If I eat something that I thought I could sneak past my stomach (dairy), my skin promptly erupts into a pointillism piece that could rival any George Serut work. While on my high school swim team, my skin became permi-dry. Each transformative experience I’ve undergone, no matter how small, has been met by my skin’s quick response.
I’ve come to rely on my skin as a check-in point to see how I’m handling things. As asinine as it may seem, I double down on my current skincare routine to help ground me in the present moment. Before developing my current skincare routine, however, I took several “skin type” quizzes to understand why my skin felt great some days and itchy on others.
Knowing your skin type is important for understanding your skin’s specific needs as well as giving you the language to navigate a sea of endless products. There are multiple skincare brands with these quizzes, and while all of them will surely try to sell you something, you just need the results. You can proceed with the suggested line for your skin type (mine is dry/sensitive to normal), or do your own investigating. It is your skin, after all. Once you have your skin’s general profile, you can begin building a skincare routine. Here are the basics:
(Note: When you’re testing a brand, I suggest getting a sample or the travel-size version of the product in case you don’t like it. I also suggest Googling the difference between comdeo, bacterial [regular], and fungal acne — or consulting your dermatologist, if you’re struggling with acne)
Cleanser: When addressing changing skin, it’s good to go back to the basics. The first step is to find the right cleanser for your skin type. I don’t wear makeup day-to-day, but for those who do, micellar water is a great way to remove make-up before going in with a cleanser, and it’s also a great stand-alone cleanser for sensitive or combination skin. A cleanser doesn’t need to be expensive or extravagant, it just needs to remove the dirt and impurities of the day (or night) without stripping the face of its natural oils. Look for cleansers that are sulfate-free, hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free, and alcohol-free. A good cleanser shouldn’t leave your skin feeling tight or dry.
For my dry skin, I prefer to use a creamy or moisturizing cleanser. I’m currently testing the Murad Essential-C Cleanser. It doesn’t lather much, but it does have vitamins A, C, and E in it. While using it, I’m looking out for blemishes that appear or texture on my forehead and nose — these may indicate this brand is not for me.
Toner: Once I’ve cleansed my skin, it’s time for a toner. Toners are thin consistency-wise, and they are a good follow up “mini-cleanser.” According to dermstore, they can “soothe, tighten, or balance out skin.” The toner I’m currently using is The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA for uneven skin tone around my mouth (and for some unfortunate scars I had from picking at my skin). It’s a light exfoliant, and it has helped immensely. Toners don’t always have to be exfoliants — though they usually are. There is also a litany of toners with different purposes that target specific skin problems. My suggestion is to do your research and utilize the Sephora review page for the products. (Sephora reviews tell you the skin type of the reviewer so you can see if the product might work for your skin type as well).
Moisturizer: Moisturizing is my favorite part. When picking a moisturizer, it’s important to consider the consistency and texture of the product for your skin type. Oilier skin types are safe with water-based moisturizers, like gels. The drier your skin, the thicker your moisturizer can be.
I use three different moisturizers because I exfoliate with a BHA+AHA treatment for an exfoliating deep cleanse once per week. I use the Ordinary RoseHip Seed Oil, the Drunk Elephant B- Hydra Gel, and REN Evercalm Day Cream. When layering products post-cleanser, a good rule of thumb is to layer from thinnest consistency to thickest. I enjoy messing around with my moisturizers and tend to splurge in this area of my skincare routine because it’s so important for my skin. I also use the Cerave Sunscreen to keep my skin protected year-round. By sealing in all your hard work with a sunscreen of your choosing, you have successfully completed your back to basics skincare routine!
As life continues to change, so will I. By recognizing from an early age that I will always have eye bags, be prone to textured skin, and have to reapply moisturizer during the day in winter, I’ve accepted the things that I cannot change and become okay with them. Having learned that my skin warns me when I’m reaching my limits, or when my body needs certain things (face acne charts), it’s become easier to recognize what is changing and how I can address it.
These are also lessons that can help outside of skincare. You learn to discern what is waste and what is necessary, and how to manage it effectively. You learn how to nourish yourself and how to let that care bleed over into other aspects of life. Skincare may seem trivial as life constricts and expands, but it is part of the larger story. It is the daily check-in you may need, and the detail-oriented process that keeps me grounded during chaotic times.