In re your armpits

A quick but helpful word about deodorant

Hi it’s like 100 degrees (that’s not hyperbole, it’s Chicago in August) and I am coated in an AT LEAST light sweat at all times (yes even with my a/c, which is a merely adequate unit) and it’s has made me hyper-aware of my pit sweat so I thought I’d share this well-known-to-skincare-nerds life hack with you, along with some other general blatherings about armpits. How excited are you for this, huh? (If your answer is “not very” go on and delete this fucker, I’ll see you next time.)

The Secret Deodorant

It’s facial acids like AHA and BHA. I personally splash on some of my Paula’s Choice 2% BHA, but many people opt for an AHA like The Ordinary’s Glycolic Solution. You wouldn’t want anything much stronger than that, I think, and some creams and such might create different types of odors, for all I know, so I think it’s best to stick to very simple, basic products. You just need enough to coat the area, same as you do for your face.

Okay look, it won’t make you sweat less but it will magically make your pit sweat odorless. This is because it creates a hostile workplace for the bacteria that produce stink. Here, let Tracey tell you all about it, she’s the genius who discovered it.

I have generally been somewhat hesitant to do this with any frequency - usually I’ve only resorted to it when travelling because I often forget to pack deodorant, or run out, or just want to save space in the toiletries bag. And boy howdy is it GREAT for that, because I sure as shit never forget my 2% BHA. But my hesitation has been because it’s not been through any kind of clinical trials and, I reasoned, what do I know about the long-term consequences of splashing acid every day onto a spot so close to so many glands? And besides, I’m fine with my Secret solid, so who cares.

But this summer I have been Sweating A Whole Fucking Lot and antiperspirant never seemed to put much of a dent in the moisture on the best of days anyway, so I figured why not. Plus, I honestly doubt that anything I can slop onto my face (also close to many important sub-skin things!!) every day is unsafe, and it really seems like it works better to eliminate smell. At least for me.

And maybe you ain’t gotta do it every day but keep it in mind if you have a special occasion where you REALLY can’t risk being even a little smelly. Or if you or someone you love and have to live with in these close-quarters days of quarantine has a real stink problem - like maybe especially when you work out or whatever - then you can always double it up with the the usual deodorant. Like consider the acid as your base coat and then top off with a traditional stick deodorant. It is seriously the secret sauce.

Pigmented Pits, price, et al.

In terms of choosing between AHA and BHA, there’s one clear reason to go with the AHA option: if you want to solve more than just odor. If the skin in your armpits is darker than the rest of your body skin - and if that bugs you - you are not alone. (Frankly I never noticed anyone’s pit skin in my entire fucking life and I implore you to not feel shamed by darkish patches that seem to be a normal feature of human armpits, for godsakes.) AHA will, over time, lighten skin that has more pigment, so it does well to de-darken armpits.

As noted in the article linked above, AHA is also great for ingrown hairs, if that’s an issue for you. (So is BHA for that matter.) So it really can serve many purposes. But you do have to choose a strong enough solution to do the job. The only time I’ve used AHA on my pits is this low-dose mandelic acid toner I’ve got and it only lasted a few hours so it’s obviously too weak.

Plus also, the glycolic from The Ordinary is cheap as balls, you get like a year’s worth of deodorant for like $8USD. You can also use some cheapass drugstore salicylic thing, like Stridex or the like. (Probably steer clear of benzoyl perozide, though, it might do the job but I also feel like it’d lead to dry itchy skin unless you want to, like, moisturize your armpits.)

And if you’re experimenting around with acid products? Your pits are the perfect place to re-purpose a product that your face disagrees with. Not that pits can’t be sensitive (especially after shaving, beware) but they are less likely to complain about a product, and certainly not in a way that makes you want to put a bag over your head for a week.

On Natural Deodorants

So lately this little helpful tip has been adopted by “natural” deodorant companies, hahahahahahahaa as though there’s anything more “natural” about acids engineered in a lab. And hey, side note: baking soda also does not grow on trees in the forest primeval, for the love of sweet baby jesus. BUT ANYWAY. You can skip the middle man and just splash on the acid instead of picking up a jar of overpriced lavender-scented paste from the friendly hippies at your local farmer’s market. Frankly, I have never used a natural deodorant that didn’t make me smell worse than my own body’s natural funk, which is truly eye-watering all on its own, thanks.

But people get convinced that the aluminum in commercial antiperspirants is deadly, and I just want to assure you that notion is not even close to being back up by actual science. It does not cause cancer, you guys. It just doesn’t. It’s not fucking with your hormones. There has been no proof that it causes dementia and no reason to believe it would. As for “endocrine disruptors” - look, along with “toxins” there is no phrase more guaranteed to show up in a snake-oil pitch, okay? Read all about it here, but the upshot is: it’s all a scam and you ain’t gotta be scared of commercial deodorants. I promise.

I also just want to point out that whatever else goes into the purportedly “natural” deodorants could potentially be really harmful. I mean, saying “aluminum is toxic!” is one thing, but then pushing something that has eleven herbs and spices BUT NO ALUMINUM is not exactly my idea of safe. I mean, have a million clinical studies been done to determine if the topical application of arrowroot in the armpit causes Alzheimers or whatever? I think not.

But maybe you have allergies or sensitivities or otherwise legit reasons to seek out non-aluminum deodorants and if so, I assure you that the acids work and can serve as an alternative.

I bring this message to you because I’ve been using BHA on my pits pretty exclusively since the weather turned sweltering a couple months ago, with great success. Since I sweat all day, I tend to do a rinse-off shower a couple times a day, which half-rinses off my deodorant and then I go reapply and it gets all gloopy and caked and…ugh, it’s just easier to throw on the BHA every morning and not have to think about it again. It’s weird because I’m used to either having stink lines emanating from my pits OR smelling powder fresh, nothing in between. So having damp underarms but no smell of any kind is disconcerting, but in the best way.

Okay that’s it, I feel like Heloise now. OMG I bet lots of you don’t even know Heloise, but her hints were one of my favorite things about reading the newspaper when I was a kid, along with Garfield and my horoscope.

Sweatily Yours,

How's your skin?

Look, I have a severe case of covidbrain, a condition characterized by

  1. an inability to grasp the concept of time,

  2. a generalized fear of the air we breathe, and

  3. a mind completely devoid of interesting or creative thoughts.

As a result, I find myself wanting to talk about skin-stuff but my brain refuses to serve up anything of use as a topic for a newsletter. (It’s very much like when I go to the grocery store and completely forget what I eat. It’s incredibly dumb and frustrating.) But! I still want to hear about skin care stuff!

An interrogation of the blank wall of my mind gives me only this: “Ummm, I want to know how everyone’s skin is doing, that’s all.” So please. Please. Tell me how your skin is? Have you implemented a new process or product? How did it turn out? Are you glowing? Are you…I dunno, not glowing? HELP, I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER HOW ELSE TO DESCRIBE SKIN.

Of course I want to know if I gave advice and it turned out great. Or terrible, even! But it seriously doesn’t need to have anything to do with me, I just want some skintalk in my life, thanks. Bless you all in advance.

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Also more melanin-friendly mineral SPF

First: as I mentioned in a recent newsletter, purely mineral sunscreens that don’t render dark skin corpse-like (and tbh not only dark skin, some even look ghoulish on my pasty self) are few and far between and I will always point to new & exciting info in that realm. So in addition to Funmi’s IG series on sampling them, now you have this video from Gothamista.

OH ALSO just this morning LabMuffin posted about reapplying sunscreen and among all the helpful info there’s some bummer news: you really can’t rely on the SPF powders. (It’s a lot of info, watch the video if you can.) Also a tip: you can reapply with a dry makeup sponge (beauty blender type) as well as the cushion pad she mentions, and I feel like a sponge is easier to clean and more durable. YMMV etc.

On to the bargains!

Okay, if you’re fully on board with this whole YAY SKINCARE life style, then it’s time for you to start factoring in the annual summer Nordstrom sale, where many of us stock up on faves for the year - as well as finally taking the plunge and buying something that we always wanted to try but could never justify the price but now it’s 40% off so carpe diem and shit. This is a summer tradition!

APOLOGIES TO NON-US PEOPLE this is a US thing. Let the sting of your disappointment and sense of being left out of a good thing be soothed by the knowledge that you probably won’t go bankrupt if you break a clavicle. We all have our regionally specific perks.

If you’re a Nordstrom VIP (which I assume means you have their credit card and use it often), then this sale starts August 4. If you have a card but DON’T use it often, then it opens up to you on August 13. If you’re a plebe like me, you finally get a crack at it on August 19 which really makes me wish I had a card, ugh capitalism. I’m sending this early so that all my fellow members of the Broke 4 Life Club can, like me, plan the budget and set a calendar reminder - and if you’re not the kind of person who would set a calendar reminder to save $15 on a toner, then you and I are very much Not The Same.

But we ALL get a sneak preview right now so we can start planning our purchases! So here are the things that make me perk up and rub my palms together in delicious anticipation.

First off, the #1 purchase in my world is the best deal on the beloved Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid. It’s usually two bottles of the regular size product - but this year, they’ve made a JUMBO bottle:

This jumbo size inconvenient if you tend to split the purchase with a skincare friend - and depending on the dimensions of this bottle, it might be logistically annoying to fit it into your vanity or wherever. But if, say, you have 3 teenage daughters who all use this stuff? Then this is YOUR MOMENT. The regular price is $29.50 for 4 oz. This sale price is $39 for 8 oz. I keep a pretty sharp eye out for sales on this, and I’ve never seen it cheaper than at the Nordstrom event. I stock up every year at this sale because this product is non-negotiable in my routine.

Another good deal, if you’re a fan of the First Aid Beauty products (or looking to try their stuff), is this FAB kit:

They’re all smaller sizes, but it’s a great sampling of all their best products. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a similar kit for a comparable price around the holidays, but let’s just consider this a Christmas-in-August deal. It’s $49, which is pretty good for the chance to check out 5 great (not just non-shitty, but actively good) products that will last you probably a couple of months!

Perhaps you are a Clinique Moisture Surge stan? Well lookie here:

I mean I personally am not such a fan that I’d want the eye cream and lip treatment too, but I know lots of people who will buy about anything that says “Clinique Moisture Surge” on it, so here’s your chance to get a jumbo-size of the moisturizer along with the rest for a mere $95.

These next two are for the bigger spenders among us and no judgment - if these are your chosen exfoliants, then this is a very good deal on something you’re spending a lot of cash on already so here’s your chance to be less thoroughly extorted:

Sunday Riley Good Genes is slightly more beloved than ExfoliKate - but only slightly. Both are lactic acid exfoliators and both are pricey but if you love what you love? Get it while it’s a deal.

Every year, I am tempted by - but have yet to succumb to - the lure of the expensive devices.

I am featuring the two that I have seen and heard positive reviews on - NuFace and the SpectraLite. Like, people actually see a difference in their skin from consistently using these. But there are other gadgets, too, and they might be fantastic for all I know. So if you’ve got some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket and you’re curious, give these (or one of the many other thrilling gadgets on sale) a whirl and report back! Again, you might find similar deals at holiday-time, but…also actually probably not. There’s a reason this sale is so highly anticipated every year, after all.

The only other things that have caught my eye are some haircare products. PLEASE NOTE I DON’T REALLY KNOW HAIR. I just try to keep mine clean and presentable, and I am very seriously considering these two deals:

First off, Aveda always smells like heaven and ALSO that little hand lotion that comes with it is one of my favorite hand creams!!! My hair is not so picky, so this basic shampoo/conditioner duo seems like a good way to prevent my hairdresser from berating me about using drugstore shampoos. (OMG so tiresome.) I mean I’ll never use that hairbrush, but okay fine whatever.

Meanwhile, Olaplex is a bona fide MIRACLE IN A BOTTLE (or I guess series of bottles.) I currently have the #6 treatment, which is a leave-in product. It works so well to keep my hair soft and frizz-free that I might take the plunge and get the rest of the system because my gray hair is getting more abundant (and suffers breakage more than the non-gray.) If you don’t know, Olaplex actually repairs hair. And normally I’d think that’s a buncha overhyped BS but L’Oreal rather famously did some corporate espionage and STOLE Olaplex’s formula through hijinks and skullduggery! They actually lost in court and everything! Which proves to me that the technology Olaplex came up with actually is unique and a legit breakthrough, not just marketing hype or my own hopeful imagination. ANYWAY.

So these are the things that I noted while browsing through the sale, but do take a look and see if some of your faves are in there, because there’s a ton of stuff. They have products from Supergoop to Lancome and lots in between. Check the sizes of the products, because it might (or might not!) seem like a bargain until you see how much you’re actually getting. And check out the non-beauty stuff too, there are probably some excellent deals in there and I might just go browse the duvet covers now.

Meanwhile, FEEL FREE to ask if you are tempted by something and not sure if it’s actually any good or worth the money. You know I live for that shit.

Happy bargain hunting!

Skincare simplified by a simpleton (me)

Here, have some slides

Hey so I did this presentation at a writing conference (lol for real) and since it’s a nice summary of How I Approach Skincare, separating out the necessary from the extra while also pointing at some of my fave products, I thought I’d share with the class.

There’s nothing much new here if you’ve been reading this newsletter from the beginning, but I thought a nice sum-up in one place might be more helpful than thousands of words over several newsletters. Consider it a brief refresher course, here we go.

I began, naturally, by explaining my qualifications.

I remind you that I am just another asshole on the internet with opinions and you should treat me as such, as in: you ain’t gotta listen to me.

But if you do listen to me, then my opinion is that there are some basic things that all skin needs to stay healthy (and as a result of the health, often more lovely) and then a lot of Other Stuff that is not necessary - but can maybe (1) change things about your skin you want to change, and/or (2) be super fun.

The key is learning to distinguish between the two.

Here is the related post

It’s really HARD to distinguish between the necessary and the extra, to say nothing of what does and does not actually work, because skincare is confusing as fuck. Never, ever feel bad for being hopelessly confused because (a) skin is an organ and it’s complicated, but also (b) there is a whole industry that spends milllllllions to purposely confuse you into spending money. You’re supposed to be confused! They work their hardest to confuse you! That’s where I come in, to help you navigate this capitalist nightmare hellscape when all you wanted was a decent moisturizer.

A good skin care routine should include cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing, and SPF. Everything else is bells & whistles. So while you might ENJOY a $500 eye cream or a 12-step process every evening or the monthly sacrifice of a young goat under a full moon, those are generally not required for healthy skin.

To cover the basics, I went in order of importance, so here is the SPF slide:

Here is the related long-ass newsletter installment

I mean you all have heard me bang on about SPF forever, so let’s not belabor the point. Just wear it every day no matter what, make it a habit. Use enough. Find a good one that you enjoy using, because they exist and they don’t have to cost a fortune. Read the original newsletter on the topic for more detail and recommendations.

Next up is cleansing, which (I know I’m repeating myself here) is the most damaging thing that you have to do to your skin every day.

Here is the cleanser post

Basically, don’t use a harsh scrub and prepare to be bored. (I mean, cleanser is boring but the act of cleansing can be very very satisfying!) Keep in mind that the face wash and everything in it literally gets washed off your face and goes down the drain, so don’t fall for some hyped up anti-aging ingredients on the label of your cleanser. This is a piece of your routine where you can save money and still get great results. Don’t use make-up wipes if you can help it because they are an eco-disaster and a scam, and consider double-cleansing if you wear a heavy sunscreen or make-up, or if you have sensitive/dry skin - but remember the extra product/effort of double cleansing is not a requirement.

Then we have to discuss moisturizing, which the marketing world has largely decided must be represented in packaging of blue and white

All about moisturizing

I’m not gonna repeat myself because writing out the original newsletter on moisturizer was painful enough, frankly. Just remember there’s a ton of variety out there to suit what your skin needs/like and you need go no further than the drugstore to find a great one, so you do not have to hand over your next paycheck to La Mer in order to have soft supple hydrated skin, trust.

And then of course, we have my favorite step, the blessed realm of chemical exfoliation:

Here’s all about exfoliation and its important addendum

Exfoliation is where the magic happens. Do not be afraid of the blessed acids! If your skin won’t tolerate AHA and/or BHA, try azelaic. If you are using an AHA then WEAR SUNSCREEN OR I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL CHANT BLOODY MARY UNTIL SHE COMES THROUGH YOUR BATHROOM VANITY MIRROR TO KNOCK THE BOTTLE OF ACID OUT OF YOUR HANDS. Always remember to phase in an exfoliant, starting at using it a couple of times a week and then increasing in frequency until you hit what your skin can handle without getting sensitized or drying out.

And that’s it for the necessary! You never have to go past those steps (many of which can be combined, like using a moisturizer with SPF) if you don’t want to. With only the above you’ll be taking care of your skin just brilliantly, kudos and accolades all around, gold star performance!

But you might have other things you want to change about your skin’s health or appearance, and that’s where targeted treatments come in. That often (though not always) means things like serums and special creams and extra steps - basically, it means you gotta figure some shit out.

Adding in some kind of treatment(s) will often take your skin from “looks great” to “holy shit you have been kissed by angels.” What product to add into the mix really depends what you’re targeting, obviously - dark spots? chronic severe acne? fine lines? dehydration? redness? texture? The list goes on, and it’s entirely possibly you have more than one thing you’d like to work on. But there are two things that I recommend everyone work into their routine, if they want to go the extra mile and if their skin will tolerate it:

  1. Vitamin C (see here) which makes your skin more resilient, enhances sun protection, and boosts your glow like whoa

  2. Retinoids (here) which are the only thing clinically proven (in peer-reviewed studies for more decades than I’ve been alive) to reverse aging - as well as prevent it

Lots of the ingredients that are good for certain skin concerns (mostly an array of antioxidants) can be found in a dedicated product by itself, but can also increasingly be found in other products, like a serum cocktail or as an added bonus in a moisturizer. So adding extra good stuff to your routine doesn’t necessarily have to mean adding extra steps. (Note that Vitamin C is an exception to this, it works better as its own thing.)

So that’s it, all of the above, from washing your face to anointing it with magical-like potion. All the rest is just gravy - or, as I like to think of it, treats.

This is where you get into the realm of pampering yourself. It can be as cheap as your own homemade yogurt-honey face mask or as expensive as an at-home light therapy system, or a whole buncha fun stuff in between. One day, maybe it’ll be safe to pay some nice person to brush some mud on our faces and we can look as blissfully relaxed as that lovely lady in the picture there, but in the meantime we can all enjoy some soothing hydrogel eye patches, or put a couple of silk pillowcases on our holiday shopping list, ya know?

These things are fun and great and can even make a big difference sometimes, but they are not essential parts of a good skin care routine. They’re just the fun stuff.

As ever, I am here to answer whatever questions since you have to know by now that I Love This Shit and can talk about it forever. All the products pictured on the slides are ones I recommend. I mean, there are plenty MORE I recommend too, but I threw this presentation together like 2 days before presenting and just blurted out whatever came to mind, so it’s not what I’d call exhaustive by any means.

Also please know I put on makeup for this as it was on video (twas a virtual conference, fuck you covid) and realized how much concealer I needed because my skin is NOT DOING GREAT in this hot weather, what with the perpetual coating of sweat and sebum and despair. So please know that if your epidermis is registering its disapproval in unsightly ways, you are not alone. Let it be further incentive, if you needed any, to strap a mask over 2/3rd of your face.

Love and zitses,

Acne Addendum

other things I thought of

Immediately after hitting SEND, naturally multiple other things came into my head so:

  1. If you primarily get zits around your jawline, like just all along the bottom edge? It could be the result of a bad cleansing habit, as in: you splash. So like you soap up and then splash your face with water to rinse, and (due to gravity) the soapy run-off just hangs there at the bottom of your face and you fail to really rinse it clean. Voilà clogged pores. So either use a washcloth to get it good or splash your chin and neck too.

  2. “Fungal acne” is a thing that suddenly everyone started talking about recently and giving advice on how to treat, as though it’s some skincare secret we all learned instead of a skin condition which is not actually acne (it’s a type of folliculitis, called malassezia.) You probably don’t have it, ignore all that shit. Sure it exists but let a dermatologist diagnose (and treat) you on that one. Lord the amount of bullshit in this skincare world, I swear.

  3. As soon as you figure your skin out, it will change. I constantly hear from people who are in their 40s and amazed that they have zits for the first time in their life, or people who suddenly go from oily skin to dry, or whose trusty holy grail zit cure stops working one day. Whatever et cetera. The thing is, when it comes to skin, it’s all hormonal. Especially the stuff that causes zits. And hormones change constantly throughout life. It’s just something we all have to deal with, forever. Or at least for as long as we have human bodies. Sorry.

  4. I’m doing a skincare thingie at the Chicago Spring Fling conference in a few weeks - which is virtual now, so instead of being a fun first-day socializing-type session it’ll just be me on Zoom, trying to figure out how to use Zoom and talking with whoever shows up about whatever they want to talk about. If you’re coming to the conference, say hi if you gots the time.

  5. I spelled sulphur wrong in the last email. Twice. My keyboard keeps missing the L. And half the letters on the keyboard are worn off. And this laptop is like 8 years and 6+ novels old now. Hoo boy. Gonna make for a fun Zoom.

Okay now click on this button, bye.

Assata's Daughters

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