Figuring out your skincare routine is a bit like choosing a romantic partner. The wrong one can make you look tired, dull, and irritated. But the right one can brighten you up, give you confidence, and make you look like the best version of yourself. And so many things can interfere with your journey to good skin, from unsolicited advice from other people to hormones to the weather. That said, the old chestnut is true: when you finally find The One, you just know.
It took me literally decades to find what worked for my skin. When it comes right down to it, I'm a pretty laid back, low maintenance gal. After years of trying complicated multi-step routines that did nothing for my complexion, it turned out that the simplest solution was best for me. The Boy Next Door of skincare routines, if you will. The following is a list of products that, if they anthropomorphized and asked me to marry them, I'd say yes. Here are my can't-live-without-them, ride-or-die, ''til death do us part" skincare favorites.
I know it's frowned upon to buy your skincare at the grocery store, but I swear I've tried every kind of cleanser on the market. This is the one that works best for me. It's essentially a liquid castile soap, made from coconut oil and glycerine, featuring naturally-derived botanicals like tea tree oil, awapuhi, goldenseal, bitter orange peel oil, chamomile, and calendula.
When I use it on its own, this cleanser leaves my skin squeaky clean but not overly dry. Paired with a cleansing oil (see below) when my skin is feeling a little parched, it works into the most luxurious, creamy lather.
Erno Laszlo's Phelityl Cleansing Oil is the only product I use that I would consider "fancy". It's meant to be part of one of those elaborate rituals I mentioned before, but I normally use it to take my makeup off before cleansing with the Trader Joe's face wash. Or I do something really kooky and sort of mix them together with some water to create a foam cleanser. This cleansing oil's formula contains a blend of ten seed oils to protect the skin's natural lipid and moisture barrier, plus soothing vitamin E. It's rich, nourishing, and feels oh-so luxurious.
After cleansing, I remove any additional traces of dirt, makeup, and residue with Thayers alcohol-free toner. 98% of the ingredients in this toner are of natural origin, like the organic witch hazel, which is grown exclusively for Thayers on a family-owned farm in Connecticut. The rose water and aloe vera hydrate and soothe skin, improving the texture and brightening the tone. Plus this bottle is big (a whopping twelve ounces), so it lasts a long time.
I'm in my 30s, so for my nighttime routine, I follow the cleanse and tone steps with retinol. For those who are unaware, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that promotes skin cell turnover, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and improves overall skin texture and tone. Experts generally recommend that you begin using it in your mid- to late-20s, but I didn't discover it until my early COVID "mascne" era.
I recently bought a bottle of this 1% Retinol in Squalene from The Ordinary after a few years on the Differin Gel bandwagon (keep reading) and was pleasantly surprised with how well it works. The squalene and jojoba seed carrier oil negate any dryness or irritation commonly associated with retinols, so although it goes on a little slick, it absorbs quickly, and I wake up with dewey baby-soft skin.
I wasn't turned on to the transformative powers of retinoids until a face mask-induced mega breakout in 2021. I ran to Walgreens, bought some Differin gel, and prayed it would make a difference. It made me a believer.
Once only available by prescription, Differin contains a synthetic retinoid called adapalene which chemically exfoliates the skin, unclogging pores and promoting cellular turnover. It's powerful stuff! The water-based formula is a little less "forgiving" than The Ordinary's (i.e. it caused some redness and I went through a "purge" phase where the breakout got worse before it got better), but once my skin cleared, it looked better than ever.
After using a chemical exfoliant, it's really important to slather on a moisturizing cream to rehydrate. This one from CeraVe is my go-to. It's a hyaluronic acid moisturizer guaranteed to keep your skin quenched for 24 hours. A dermatologist favorite, this cream can be used on the face, body, and hands. And like all CeraVe products, it features three essential ceramides to maintain the skin's natural barrier, meaning it's suitable for all skin types, including dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin.
An added bonus? Not only was it developed with derms, but it also holds the National Eczema Association (NEA) Seal of Acceptance!
Nivea Creme's iconic blue tin canister is so ubiquitous and unassuming that it's kind of easy to overlook. I'm telling you: this stuff should not be slept on. First of all, Marilyn Monroe used it, and if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me. But it's also gained attention in recent years as a way more affordable alternative to La Mer Crème de la Mer moisturizer, which runs a whopping $380 per two ounce jar.
Nivea is nearly nine ounces for less than $10! It makes an amazing eye cream and overnight lip mask. I use the German version because I find the texture to be more velvety and fast-absorbing than the American version. Luckily, you can find both on Amazon.
My daytime counterpart to retinol is this Vitamin C+ serum from Eva Naturals. Inside this little bottle is a veritable buffet of skin-beautifying ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and salicylic acid. This potent potion's got nearly 36k five-star reviews on Amazon, with people calling it "liquid gold" and "perfection in a bottle." It's an acne treatment, it corrects dark spots, it erases fine lines, and it improves tone!
Applying SPF is a non-negotiable, especially after using a Vitamin C serum. I love the Bondi Sands SPF 50 Daily Sunscreen Face Lotion because it absorbs into my skin beautifully without leaving behind any white residue. It also doesn't pill when layered on top of a non-sunscreen moisturizer and is actually kind of a great primer for makeup. Plus, the paraben free, sulfate free formula is vegan, reef-friendly, and waterproof for up to 80 minutes!
Finally, the Ultimate Can't-Live-Without-It fave: plain old Vaseline. I primarily use it as a lip balm, and my pucker hasn't been chapped in years. The small 50 milliliter sized containers are perfect to throw in your purse, keep in your car, or stash in a desk drawer at work. Some things are classics for a reason.