Okay hi I decided to try this newsletter thing since I am so blabby on the topic of skincare and frankly, it'll be easier for everyone to have a centralized place to answer questions rather than responding to and/or trying to follow the many permutations of 20 different Twitter threads. So we're gonna give this a shot, please bear with me since I am just figuring it out as I go. (The newsletter, I mean, not skincare - I have a handle on the skincare. FOR NOW.)
So for this first edition, to kind of orient you and make sure you know who you’re dealing with, I’m going to discuss my general thoughts and guidelines on the care and keeping of your husk. Also massive props to my BFF, Susanna Malcolm, for providing the title of this newsletter. She's a comedic genius.
Where I’m Coming From On This Skin Business
There are about a billion different approaches to and philosophies about skincare, but I'm just gonna tell you how I go about the business of figuring out what to put on my face. First, the important thing to realize is this: There is no One Thing that's going to give you youthful glowing dewy poreless skin. No, not even the blood of your enemies, sadly. It's like thinking that you just need to eat that one thing - or not eat one thing - to lose weight or live forever or have perfect gut health. There is an entire industry set up to tell you what that one miracle food is (and then change it every other month.) In skincare as in nutrition, what works for you will be a combination of things, a voyage of discovery, and highly personal - and it will not be just One Thing.
Basically, I believe there are 4 essential components to a skincare routine, to ensure your skin stays healthy and happy:
And just like Jesus said, the greatest of these is SPF. (Shut up, he totally said that.) (Just kidding! It was St. Paul - to the Corinthians, notorious for slacking on their sun protection.) Honestly, if you're only allowed one skincare product forever, make it SPF. It's truly the only thing your skin absolutely 100% needs, unless you live in a sunless cave. In terms of what's next important... well look, if you're allowed 2 products, make it SPF and cleanser. If you're allowed three: SPF, cleanser, exfoliant. Moisturizer is only last because there are a ton of moisturizing SPFs out there so you can make do if you have to - but I'm going to assume you're not stuck on some desert isle and had to Hunger-Games your toiletries bag.
Please know it made me deeply uncomfortable to prioritize like that, but I only did it to give you a general idea of what matters. I hope to god none of us ever has to choose between washing our face or using sunscreen.
So my idea is, I'll write up each of these categories separately, starting with the next newsletter.
There is A TON to say about each, but I'll just give some basics and some recommendations, and we can get more in depth as needed. Then we’ll move on to building your own routine, and the fun stuff that isn’t in those 4 categories, like serums and whatnot. Sometime soon I will make a paid subscription tier to this newsletter, and subscribers would get more tailored content in addition the general-audience stuff. But more on that later.
In the meantime, let's cover some FAQs - because F I get A'ed a bunch of Q's.
Why isn't serum or toner or essence or facial oil or sheetmasks or kombucha or my great-aunt's delicious potato salad on that list of 4 essentials?
Okay this is more of an anticipatory Q instead of a FA'ed one, but you should know: the vast majority of skincare that you see out in the world is not necessary either for the health of your skin OR for a glowing appearance. You don't “need” a serum. If there are things about your skin you would like to change, then possibly you want to try something extra, sure! But if I'm talking about basic categories, there are 4 necessary ones (listed above) and then a few non-essential categories that are just extra bells and whistles. Please note that I would die a little if deprived of some of those bells and whistles, but anyway.
How do I fix [PERCEIVED IMPERFECTION]?
Let's get this out of the way. I am not here to “fix” anything, because I am not a medical professional. Much more importantly, odds are that nothing about your skin needs to be fixed because listen to me, please - are you listening? it's important! Your face doesn't need to be fixed. Uneven skin tone is not a fault. Wrinkles are not imperfections. Pimples are not flaws. Acne scars are not an unforgivable blight that must be eradicated. Hyperpigmentation, visible pores, crepey skin, eye bags, fine lines, texture, flakey or shiney or blotchy: these are not faults to be corrected. Maybe you don't like how it looks and you'd rather it wasn't there: okay, there are things you can try if you want to change it! But unless you have an actual skin disease/disorder/condition, please, please believe me: your skin does not need to be “fixed.” It's working beautifully, and stop calling it ugly/bad/wrong just because of some arbitrary beauty standard. (PS: Fuck you, patriarchy!)
Do I have to do a 10 step routine?
Dear lord, no. Fun fact: the whole 10 step thing was invented by a marketing asshole (name: Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam) who wanted to make k-beauty big in the west. Spoiler alert, it worked! K-beauty is big and women now have one more way to feel inadequate. Great job, Charlotte. Real talk: Women in Korea (and much of Asia) have an approach to skincare that, among other things, involves multiple light layers of product - sometimes ten, often less/more than that. This approach works very well for some people's skin and lifestyles (hooray!) but it is by no means objectively better. Other fun fact: my own skincare routine for the first 30ish years of my life was two steps (cleanse + moisturizer with SPF) and then for the next 10 years it was 3 steps (I added in an exfoliant.) Also, I only did it in the morning and never washed my face before bed, because I didn't wear makeup and couldn't be arsed. I survived! My skin survived! Everything was great! It doesn't have to be rocket science.
I'm __ years old, what should I be doing to take care of my skin?
Your skin is an organ, which means that this question, to me, is like asking at what age you should start taking care of your lungs or your spinal cord. Like the rest of your body, your skin will age and shit will break down over time. It can be hella depressing. Basically, we're all slowly decaying from, like, 5 minutes after pubescence. What your specific skin needs throughout its lifetime is gonna change, but it's always going to need something - and that something is not tied to a number, ever. Don't fall for that "Skincare for your 30s!" or "Over-40 skincare essentials!" advertising campaign bs, is what I'm saying here. Please remember: Age is not a skin type.
Can you recommend a good [PRODUCT TYPE]?
Probably, but I won't unless you're more specific about exactly what you're looking to achieve - and probably not until you've told me about the rest of your routine and your skin. That's fine, I like having those conversations! But there's no one-size-fits-all in this. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something. Usually that something is in extremely tempting packaging.
What's your skincare routine? Show us!
No. The problem with sharing an exact routine is that people tend to see it as prescriptive. Unlike a lot of skincare addicts, I do actually have a pretty stable routine with tried and true products, but the chances of the same things working for you are low. Sorry! Rest assured that my routine always includes something from each of the four categories listed above, with an extra thing or two thrown in for fun. Once you have the basics sorted, you can assemble your own routine and it'll be way more fun AND effective that way. But I will of course be telling you my favorite products, and I'll give lots of recommendations!
What's the best eye cream?
Being 8 years old, that's the best fucking eye cream, people. I mean sorry, I get asked this constantly and it is exhausting! I'll do a whole newsletter on the topic and it'll probably be a humdinger, as the kids say. (#KidsDontSayThat) When people ask this (incredibly vague) question, what they are usually getting at is they want to know what magic elixir to smear around their eyes to get rid of all the wrinkles and sagging. And darlings, I hate to break it to you, but: if a cream like that existed, we wouldn't have exceedingly rich people with all the resources in the world putting needles full of actual goddamn botulism in their faces.
You wanna know the best eye cream? You put it on every morning, rain or shine, and it has "SPF 50 Broad Spectrum Protection" written on the label. Drill it into your teenager's head now, and maybe they'll grow up to be as ageless as Paul Rudd (who FYI has almost certainly had work done, and has an esthetician with lasers and whatnot, let's get real.) The rest of us will just have to play catch-up as best we can. And yes, there are some ingredients that can help - not eradicate, but help - wrinkles and sagging. Chances are you want to put those on more places than just your undereye.
I just feel it's best you know now, how cranky this question makes me.
Okay, enough FAQ.
Who The Hell Am I Anyway?
One thing I wanna be clear on, from the outset, is that I am not an expert or a professional. I have no qualifications beyond being the proud owner of a skinsuit and an ability to google like a mofo when I'm curious. I just have a few pet subjects, like late 13th century historical bullshit and 21st century skincare, and so I read a lot about them. If you are subscribed to this, you're just gonna get my own sliver of knowledge, curated by me and for me. For sure I am not an “influencer” - no one is paying me to sell you stuff, or even giving me free stuff, and I have zero intention or even desire to turn this into anything like that. I'm just telling you what I know, as someone who likes this stuff and wants to help demystify a really, really confusing topic.
Also be aware that:
My focus is on budget skincare products. I'm not here to recommend La Mer or Tatcha or Augustinus Bader. I'm not saying they're bad (okay, some of it is bad) but I can't afford them and I'm extremely certain that they're not going to do more for your skin than the far more affordable products I know.
I approve of science and think chemicals are great, so please don't come here for “natural” or “clean” or “essential oils” or “parabens are evil” or “EWG says” or any of that. I also believe in the glorious and transformative power of fluoride in the water supply and vaccinations for everyone. If you don't like this approach, buh-bye!
I dislike the term "anti-aging" because (a) the words we use matter, and (b) I am very pro-aging. Think of someone you loved who died young. Imagine what you'd give to be able to see them age. Aging is not the enemy. Aging is a beautiful privilege. To be anti-aging is by definition anti-life, and that's extremely not me.
I’m in the US, so I predominantly know brands available in the US. It’s certainly not ALL I know, because where would we be without Japanese sunscreens and Korean toners and French pharmacy innovations and all, but my product suggestions naturally skew to the US market.
St. Ives Apricot scrub is 100% horrendous and if you have it, I need you to throw it away, I can't work under these conditions, do you hear me? (Okay, you can use it as a foot scrub, but that's IT.)
Let me be honest with you all: I have A Problem With Commitment that would put an old-school Harlequin hero to shame, so I will TRY to put this out weekly but I can't SAY that I will or else the inner contrarian will immediately rebel against society's rules, man, and burn this shit to the ground. So the intention is to send these out every week or so until I run out of things to talk about. I think I probably have about a year's worth in me, but I'll stop at any time if I or you get bored with it. Fair warning.
Um, that's all. Talk to you later! Next week! About SPF!