A Starter's Guide

Tips and warnings for entering The Skincare Life

Okay many of you have already started picking out new things to try and are purchasing skin stuff which is both very exciting but also potentially problematic! So real quick-like, before you run off and buy All New Skincare, let me share a few tips and tricks. Please read these, and heed the many warnings and sage counsel (yes, I am the Sage in question LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, PEOPLE) before you plunge into the deep end of skincare. Ready? Here we go!

Slow Your Roll

It can be VERY HARD, but don’t succumb to the temptation to slap several new products on your face all in the same day. You need to introduce one at a time, with an adjustment period between each. There are 2 reasons for this:

  1. Your skin is very likely to freak out at so much newness (it’s always best to default to treating your face skin like it’s a petulant dauphin) and you will blame products that may not actually be a problem.

  2. If one of the new products IS a problem, you won’t know which one because you put them all on at the same time.

You should wait 2-3 weeks between introducing new products. But okay, if you’re super impatient and don’t have sensitive skin (and it’s just a cleanser or basic moisturizer), the absolute minimum should be 1 week.

The Purge

Some products cause what is called The Purge. Coincidentally, The Purge is also a dystopian horror movie, which is what my face looked like after going too hard on retinol. Okay, not really the most accurate comparison - I just got very flaky, and purging generally manifests as pimples. It happens when you start a new-to-you product, usually one containing an exfoliant. Basically, it brings all the gross stuff to the surface of your skin all at once - sorta like turning on the lights and seeing a bewildering number of cockroaches: they were always there, they were just hiding.

A purge is usually brief but can last a few weeks (see below, in re: skin renewal cycle.) It’s probably NOT just a purge if:

  1. the pimples are accompanied by pain or itchiness or flakey skin - basically anything more than just a garden variety break-out

  2. the pimples appear in places you rarely if ever get pimples

  3. the breakout is still going just as strong after a month

If any of these 3 things is true, your skin is probably better off without that product, no extensive waiting period is needed to judge.

The Fertility Clause

Are you pregnant (or trying to be) or breastfeeding? Sorry, I always forget that there are certain ingredients you might want to steer clear of! (I say “might” because there’s debate over the safety of several of these.) I will try to remember it when recommending products, but seriously, don’t count on me as I have no use for my uterus and frequently forget it has any function outside of regularly torturing me. So if you’re the joyfully fecund type, keep track on your own and be wary of these: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, oxybenzone. Also, my condolences: these are some of the best ingredients. But hey, the kid is worth the sacrifice. Allegedly.

The Waiting Game

Most of this stuff takes time. The upper layer of your skin renews itself on average every 3-4 weeks - so you need to use a product consistently for at least a month before deciding whether or not it’s useless. The deeper layer of skin, where the collagen is made and the sebum glands live, takes even longer to visibly respond to new things - three months is what I’ve read, but I Am Not A Scientist - so some treatments will take even longer to have an effect. There are very few products that will give you immediate (positive) results, and it’s hard to get results from anything if you only remember to use it half as often as you’re supposed to.

Think of it like exercise: you don’t get bigger muscles from lifting weights but only sometimes when you remember but only for a couple of weeks and omg these weights are defective, CANCELED.

Pics Or It Didn’t Happen

Take a few close-up selfies before you start on a new product, especially when you’re trying to have an effect on a specific thing (like fine lines or hyperpigmentation.) The change can be so gradual - and your perception can be so off - that you’re not really sure if the product is working or not. It’s good to be able to look back and be vindicated in the product’s uselessness, or pleasantly surprised to see progress you missed.

Don’t Be Pointless

All your products are useless and a waste of money if you don’t consistently wear sunscreen. If you’re not willing to commit to the SPF, what are you even doing here? You might as well take that carefully researched and tailor-made-for-your-skin serum that you invested in and pour it down the drain. This is not an exaggeration.

Get A Skincare Buddy

You are inevitably going to try products that just don’t work for your skin - or that stop working for mysterious reasons - and in those moments, you’re gonna want a skincare buddy or two (or more) so you don’t feel horribly wasteful with a nearly-full tube of product you can’t use. It's nice to have someone with a different skin type to yours. For instance, my BFF gets a lot of my cast-offs because she has dryer skin and I have oilier skin. And we frequently exchange samples of various “products I love and want you to try but also I don’t want you to waste money in case you hate it.”

Shop Savvy

A few things to look for when exploring a new product or brand:

  1. Buy from a place with a good return policy. In the US, at least, most major drugstores and Target and suchlike have 30-90 day return policies. Keep your receipt!

  2. If it’s an online merchant, check the return policy before buying, and keep the shipping packaging.

  3. See if they offer sample packets or travel sizes. Some brands have samples for sale on their site, bless them, and you can go to Sephora or a department store and get them for some of the non-drugstore brands.

Sometimes there is no choice but to buy the full size of a non-returnable item. But avoid it if you can, when you’re experimenting.

Beware Amazon & Ulta

You can buy a huuuuuuuuge variety of skincare products from Amazon, but they have a serious problem with vendors selling counterfeit skincare & beauty items. I avoid Amazon whenever possible, even though I’ve never gotten a fake the few times I’ve bought from there. I figure it’s just a matter of time until I get scammed.

As for Ulta, they are notorious for reselling used product. There’s even a lawsuit. I just don’t trust them.

Money-Saving Practices

Here are the ones I can think of:

  • When you get to the end of a product, cut open the bottle (or use a Spatty Daddy.) You will be amazed at how much more product is in there, especially if it’s a pump bottle. I typically get AT LEAST a whole week out of an “empty” bottle, often more than that.

  • Re-purpose dud items. A lotion that’s too heavy for your face may be a godsend to your hands or feet, and an acne treatment that dries out your cheeks may be perfect on your back acne (a.k.a. bacne.) And so on and so forth. Before you throw something out (or hesitate to buy, for that matter) ask yourself if there’s another way/place to try to use it.

  • If you have a product that’s a staple - or you have your eye on something you want to try but it’s a bit pricey and you’d like a good sale - always check the company’s website. Sign up for their newsletter. Most brands do regular sales, and you’ll pay less than you would at Sephora or Dermstore or wherever.

  • Also follow your preferred company on Instagram, if you’re there, they do lots of social-media-only promos. (Skincare IG is a weird and crazy-making place, try not to get sucked in. Just look for sales!)

  • There are a lot of good holiday sales, hold out for your splurge then, if you can. (I will point out good ones in this newsletter when/if I hear about them.)

  • I recommend CeraVe products a lot, and you can always get a $2 coupon at their site.

  • My YesStyle code is BWAUAF and if you use it at check-out (you have to have an account) then you get 5% off your first order, 2% off after your first order. Which is not much, but it’s something, and it gives me an equivalent site credit so let’s all save some pennies together.

You’ll Thank Me Later

Whatever you put on your face, put it on your neck, too, and then rub the excess into the backs of your hands. Make it a habit. (Note: your neck is more sensitive than your face, so do this to the extent it’s possible without irritation.) Go on and bring it down your chest if you care about your decolletage, too.

I know that “don’t forget the neck” is a commonly repeated thing and you’ve probably heard it plenty BUT maybe you are like I was, and you’re semi-ignoring this advice because you are a damn fool. For many years I was young and dumb and the age of 50+ was some mythical land where nothing mattered. (Young people! They don’t deserve their collagen!) My thought process was like “Eh, by the time my neck gets wrinkly, I’ll be very visibly old in so many other ways and beyond help, so why bother quibbling over details.”

Yes, I really thought that. Then about a year ago I looked in the mirror and saw I had a neck vulva developing. (Don’t even pretend you don’t know what I mean.) It was very distressing and while it’s not entirely reversible - my neck will always be at a disadvantage because of my years of neglect - the sagging and crepe have responded well to retinol. THANK GOD. Although get me drunk sometime and if I’m dehydrated enough, I can pinch up a ghost of its former vulva-esque glory to scare you straight.

Your Attention, Please

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Okay, that’s all I got. I am working on exfoliants for the next newsletter (they are THE BEST, I can’t wait to convert some of you to the joys of alpha hydroxy acids.) In the meantime, go forth and do good skincare.