Skin Care Diaries: The Ups & Downs Of Sticking To A 5-Part Skin Care Routine

Welcome to skin care diaries, a new Betches segment, where we explore the reality (or not) of sticking to an elaborate skin care routine and how well it works.

Two things happened when I turned 25 years old. One, I tumbled into an immediate pit of existential despair because I had been alive for a quarter of a century and had yet to establish myself as a wunderkind in any field. Two, I started giving a sh*t about my skin. There might have been some other stuff in there, but those are the two that stick out.

Up until that point, I’d never been someone who actively pursued skin care. Like, sure, I washed my face in the shower and sometimes before bed if the simple act of removing my makeup hadn’t already exhausted me, but that was about as extensive as it got. I was more disciplined about sunscreen application than my friends, but definitely not as on top of it as I should have been. Because, it bears mentioning, I am pale as hell. We’re not talking “one base burn away from a tan” pale or “it’s the middle of February and everyone kind of looks like that pale.” We’re talking the kind of pale that would have made me outrageously popular in the Victorian era, but made growing up in Southern California a veritable health hazard.

After years spent trying to tan at all costs, suffering more sunburns than I can count, and doing God knows how much damage to my skin, I came to terms with the fact that a golden summer glow just wasn’t going to happen for me. But it still took a few years after that to realize that, if I started playing my cards right, I could maintain my youthful complexion for years to come while my friends all slowly withered away into leather bags. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself as I proceeded to drop hundreds of dollars in the name of establishing a skin care routine.

Me: *Spends countless hours and way too much money on skincare products*
My wallet:

After much trial and error, and a few allergic reactions, I have found a regimen that I’m decently happy with. In fact, I can say with absolute certainty that at the ripe old age of 26 and a half, my skin has never looked better. Not perfect, but better than I ever could have imagined as a shiny, perpetually rosy-faced 16-year-old.

I still come home some nights drunk exhausted and do the bare minimum before falling into bed. My chin still breaks out from time to time. There’s a little more discoloration in places than I’d like, because I will never truly rid myself of the pink undertones bestowed upon me by centuries of ancestors who apparently never saw the sun. But most days I’m comfortable leaving the house without a stich of foundation—something I couldn’t have said two years ago.

What are my secrets? I’ll tell you, under the pretense that I make it very clear that I am not a dermatologist. I am not a skin care professional. I am not a person with any authority on any face but my own. But I’m hoping that by recording one week of my routine, I can at least shed light on the beauty that is skin care. My very own Pay It Forward, but hopefully without me getting stabbed in the end. We’ll see.

My Routine

For starters, let’s outline the routine. It’s fairly basic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk myself out of one or two steps at least once a day. I do the following both in the morning and at night:

Face wash: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin. I’ve tried more expensive stuff that’s been great, but Cetaphil is cheap, reliable, and it doesn’t dry out my skin. Sometimes I’ll experiment with Birchbox samples that I get, but I always end up coming back to Cetaphil.

Toner: Thayer’s Rose Petal Witch Hazel. I pour a liberal amount on a cotton round and cover every inch of my face in it. Not only is this good for your skin, but it feels amazing. I would bathe in it if that was even slightly economically viable.

Serum: The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. The Ordinary is a skincare mecca, and it’s outrageously cheap. The downside is that the names aren’t the least bit intuitive and require a fair amount of research to understand, but it’s worth it. I also use their Serum Foundation, and can’t recommend it enough. Sure, the founder is certifiably insane, but he’s delivering quality products at a price I can afford. Pick your battles, you know? Hyaluronic Acid, despite what the name may imply, is actually a moisturizer. I slather my face and chest in it morning and night, which is the closest I get to hydration on any given day. It’ll feel a little sticky as it dries, but that dissipates fairly quickly. What’s left is baby smooth skin and an unwarranted sense of superiority. Relish in it.

Moisturizer: Boots No.7 Beautiful Skin Day Cream – Normal/Oily. Much like Cetaphil, this is more a purchase of convenience than anything else. It works well, it’s affordable by most moisturizer standards, and it doesn’t leave me feeling oily. I could probably find one I like better, but I’m not desperate to search at the moment.

Sunscreen: Either La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light SPF 60 or Sun Bum Original SPF 50. I wear sunscreen on my face from the second the sun appears in the spring until it goes into hiding in the fall. In Portland this runs from about mid-June through to the end of October, which can get expensive. To try and combat that, I’ll switch between La Roche-Posay, an expensive option that feels less sticky under makeup for work days, and Sun Bum, which is a drugstore-priced option without all the gross chemicals that come with Banana Boat or Coppertone.

Monday

If we’re being honest here, there are a lot of mornings where I’ll skip the Cetaphil and move straight to toning. But in honor of the first day of my skin care diaries, I actually washed my face before work. I do it for you.

Monday was the last day of the life-cycle of a truly heinous PMS-induced breakout on my chin, so I was still feeling a bit self-conscious. My foundation is super light and not made for that kind of coverage, but nothing some green concealer can’t fix.

I came home that night and followed my routine through without incident. I dabbed on an eye cream sample for good measure, because I figured overcompensating on the first day would make up for whatever mishaps I incurred throughout the week.

My skin to me:

That's not how this works

Tuesday

Much like the rest of the world, Portland is in the middle of a heat wave. This is miserable for all the reasons you would imagine, with the added benefit that my 100-year-old apartment has no air conditioning. It gets so hot and humid in here that my roommate and I have started referring to it as the Everglades. Over the course of Tuesday, I break out the Witch Hazel no less than five times, because those split seconds of cool relief were the most comforting part of my entire day.

I kept to the routine on Tuesday except for one small divergence. That night I slept at a friend’s house, because she had the foresight to live somewhere with AC. Not only did she graciously usher me into her chilly oasis, but she let me use her Glamglow Face Wash, and in a moment of weakness I truly considered driving to Sephora and buying my own. Sure, it’s $32 a bottle and smells vaguely of licorice, but I don’t think there was an impurity left in my body after using it. If I washed my liver in Glamglow it would probably revert back to the state it was in before I discovered wine. It’s a miracle and truly worth a splurge on your next treat yo’self occasion.

Wednesday & Thursday

Both Wednesday and Thursday went by without incident. My chin was newly blemish-free, my skin was thriving in the sudden overcast weather, and I was feeling overtly confident having stuck fastidiously to my regimen over the past couple days. Which naturally meant disaster had to strike.

Friday

I made the mistake Friday of signing up for a 6am workout class. Nothing good ever comes from this, but every few weeks I convince myself it’s what healthy people do. Healthy people also probably responsibly pack a bag the night before rather than blindly racing around their room at 5:30 in the morning, haphazardly throwing things in a duffle bag before sprinting out the door.

I made it through the class and directly to the shower, only to find that I had forgotten both my Cetaphil and my toner. Panic set in. I couldn’t use my serum without washing my face. What was I, an animal?

Not content with just water but afraid to use shampoo, I made do with the only thing I had at my disposal: an Old Spice body wash that someone had left behind in the studio shower. It didn’t feel great, probably wrecked my clog-prone pores, and left my face smelling like my ex-boyfriend. In short, not an ideal start to the day.

I got home that night hellbent on righting the mistakes of the morning and (after thoroughly washing my face) broke out my favorite face mask: the Lush Cup O’ Coffee mask. I fully recognize that 90% of face mask culture is a total farce, something shiny and fun to spend your money on in the vain attempt at making you feel like you’re investing in yourself. I get that most are just oily messes that sit on top of your skin and do nothing but make you smell like an assortment of plants. But none of that is not true of this mask.

Not only does Cup O’ Coffee leave you smelling like, you guessed it, a cup of coffee, but it’s one of the single best exfoliators I’ve ever encountered. Apply liberally, let it sit for 15 minutes, and then scrub away for skin so fresh it’s like you just emerged from the womb. The gritty, lightly brown stained mess it leaves all over your sink is well worth the baby-soft face that you’ll spend the rest of the night caressing. I typically reserve this ritual for Sunday nights, as a way to set myself up for the week, but Friday called for it. I was back on track.

Saturday

I spent Saturday in a cabin up at Mt. Hood with a group of friends and partook in a bunch of activities that are great for your body, but arguably not for your skin. I spent a substantial amount of time in the sun, likely without adequate coverage. I sweat more than I’d like to admit on a hike that could best be described as a well-meaning walk, then neglected to wash my face. I drank a lot—good for neither skin nor body but great for the soul. I ate kettle corn by the gallon full. And then, after a long night, I crawled into bed, made a half-hearted attempt at toning some of the grime off my face with only the moonlight and my phone to guide me, and then fell asleep. Best laid plans and all that.

Sunday

On Sunday I woke up, face sticky from a mixture of what I imagine was margarita, kettle corn, and haphazard toning, feeling slightly guilty and a little hungover.

I washed my face and set out to right the wrongs of the night before with extra serum and moisturizer, which definitely isn’t how that works but I let myself believe it anyway.

I washed my face again upon returning home and then covered every possible inch of it with the Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask. I don’t know why I approach skin retribution the way overcompensating, sh*tty boyfriends try to win back their girlfriends after a fight, but it’s probably just as effective. That is to say, it is not at all effective. I went to bed still feeling the effects of a day full of sugar and without any semblance of skin care, dreaming of kettle corn. So, a fairly average end to a weekend.

As you can see, I’m nowhere near perfect in this department. But what I’ve found is that doing something, no matter how minimal, is better than nothing at all. Sure, it can be tedious and expensive. Yeah, packing for overnight trips is kind of a pain. And yes, I’ve hyperventilated in the Sephora moisturizer section on more than one occasion. But barring some kind of Kardashian level of cosmetic assistance, you’re stuck with your skin for the rest of your life. Much like the 401k emails from HR you keep ignoring, it’s probably time to invest in it*.

*Disclaimer: I am even more unqualified to offer advice on 401k’s. Do not take my word for anything.

I am open to suggestions for a new moisturizer, so hit that comments section if you have any.

Images: Giphy (4)

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