My skin has been both the bane of my existence, and a source of weird pride to me throughout my life. Back in my teens and early twenties, it was nothing but trouble; cystic acne, weird sensitivities, hormonal breakouts, oily as a bus window slicked with Jerry-Curl circa 1986. At one point, in my late teens/early twenties, it got so bad i had to be put on antibiotics for nearly a full year. It was a mess.
Then, when i hit my 30’s and everyone else was complaining about getting their first wrinkles, i was still getting carded for alcohol. I was also still breaking out, but only during my cycle. I began to realize the possible benefits of having an oil-slick for a face. Maybe, there were payoffs after all…
And indeed, there were. In my mid-twenties, i hit a long, Golden Age that lasted until quite recently, when my skin just sort of coasted along, looking beautiful with minimal effort. Sure, i had my monthly zit or two, but never anything even noticeable. My skin was still definitely on the oily side, but things were easily managed with a gel-based moisturizer, an AHA product, gel-cleanser, an astringent toner, and an eye-cream. I’d use Clarins, or NARS, or whatever company i was working for at the time – it was easy to find good skincare that worked, because despite having dealt with bad acne in the past, my skin was not at all sensitive anymore – it could take whatever i threw at it.
And now that i’m in my 40’s, and officially a Sick Chick of a Certain Age, i still am consistently met with surprise when i reveal my age to people. The last two men i dated both wouldn’t believe me when i tried to tell them i was over a decade their senior, and actually carded me. I do seem to have considerably less lines than other women my age, which is closer to 50 than 40 at this point. This warms my black, narcissistic little heart – especially after all the years of suffering and mockery i endured with the cystic acne – not to mention ridiculous amounts of antibiotics. I figure I have the irony of my horrendous skin woes of early life to thank for my current youthfulness, but also the fact that i took meticulous care of my skin through every stage of its journey.
What really threw me for a loop recently, though, is that after decades of blithely thinking of myself as “oily”, apparently now i have a completely different skin type. It’s like i’ve metamorphosed. About a month ago i was in Sephora when i had a consultation with a skincare representative there – i’d been dealing with some weird issues lately, due to my autoimmune illness (hives near my eyes and cheeks), and just basically feeling like my old products weren’t working for me anymore. My skin felt tight and uncomfortable.
“You’re pretty dry,” the woman said, bluntly.
I was stunned. Dry? Moi? I’ve never had dry skin in my life! I told her so. I believe i may have whined a bit. She looked closely at my skin again, and asked how old i was. I told her. She rolled her eyes at me and said, “Well, no wonder! Your skin is changing! It just took a lot longer than most people’s! You need to change your regimen, and i promise you, you’ll start noticing a difference.” She worked with my skin for a bit, and noticed how quickly i turned red and inflamed, and declared me to be fairly sensitive, as well. So now, everything i’ve ever done for the past 25 years or so for my skin, suddenly no longer applies. It explained a lot. I looked in the mirror at my dull, tired-looking skin. There were patches of red around my eyes and cheeks. Dry spots and crap everywhere, with large pores still on my nose. I was a mess. I kinda had to take a moment.
And that, my little Kumquats, is what inspired the skincare & K-Beauty obsessed creature you see before you today.
From that point forward, i’ve been on a Quest to find products that will soothe, hydrate, treat and prevent fine-lines, redness and irritation, and help with anti-aging and sensitivity concerns in general. Never having had to really worry about strong moisturizers before, i am now looking at things like ceramides and hyaluronic acid and snail mucin, oh my! It’s a little bit daunting.
So, now being dry (cough…aging…cough), acne-prone, sensitive to at least a whole bunch of stuff i’m just learning about, and on a plethora of medication that certainly affects my skin in ways i don’t fully understand (Topomax, for one, can cause dry, dehydrated skin), i’m trying out new skincare products geared towards sensitive skin – and finding skincare companies that are geared towards using cutting-edge tech and/or simpler ingredients. And i’ve ALSO learned that just because a product is touted as being “for sensitive skin”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t make me break out like a sixteen year-old on a chocolate and KFC binge. Sometimes those products include ingredients that are super acne-triggering, or just contain ingredients that are triggering for me, specifically for whatever reason. Also, they may include essential oils, which those of us with Special Snowflake skin need to be wary of, as some are quite irritating.
And so, without further ado, here are the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly so far in my skincare journey! And because i like to end on a positive note, i’m going to start off with The Bad and the Ugly:
- Ren Evercalm TM Skincare Line: I really wanted so much to like this skincare line. On paper, it sounds so great, in fact it sounds tailor-made for me! It’s got chamomile as the first ingredient in its moisturizer, which is one of the gentlest things on the planet, AND my beloved camellia oil! How could this NOT work for for me? And when i first put on the moisturizer, i liked how light it felt – although it did sting a bit; but i often feel that stinging sensation with products, because of a screwed up moisture-barrier and hyper-sensitivity. However, within a week of using these products, i had broken out all over my face – including three cystic acne-bumps, which i haven’t had in YEARS. Now, every skincare product is going to contain irritants – and this line is certainly no exception. Was it the tocopherols? The essential oils? Who knows. All i know is that i am one of the anomolies who did not react well to this product – at least according to the Sephora reviews. The Reddit reviews are a bit more mixed – with some people saying it actually cleared up their acne, and others saying it clogged up their pores – so, you know, YMMV. I particularly didn’t like the cleanser, which left me feeling greasy – which generally is OK since i do a double-cleanse anyway, but i’m thinking this line just doesn’t agree with me in general. I’m still dealing with the breakout, and glad that i just purchased the trial kit.
- Drunk Elephant Shaba Complex Eye Serum: I have to preface these eye-serum/cream fails with a caveat; i have serious problems with eye-products giving me hives and weird breakouts these days. I mean, straight-up hives (there will be pictures forthcoming – patience, my little Kumquats). I don’t know WTBloodyF that is about, and it’s making my life miserable, as burgeoning Crows Feet are a big concern for me right now. So i just muddle along best i can, and use things when possible. As for this product, it seems to be the Marula oil that’s the culprit, as after using the straight Drunk Elephant Marula oil, as well as the DE Lala Retro cream, both of which contain the oil (duh), i had breakout issues. But every time i use this for more than a day, i get bumps under the skin around my eyes. Welts, almost. When i continue use, they turn into something more akin to hives. It’s gross. And i’m probably the only person on the planet this happens to – go figure. Which sucks, because it feels nice and all. Until the welts and bumps happen.
- Algenist Complete Eye Renewal Balm: With this one, it’s the same problem – i can use it for a day or two, but any more than that, then it starts to make my eyes get these weird welts – as well as whiteheads close to my nose. I tested it out again last night, and yep – within an hour i had a welt under my eye. Sigh. I suspect it’s the algae content, and possibly the tocopherol that’s the culprit. But really, i just don’t know at this point, since it seems so random. I need a bloody eye cream SO DESPERATELY! I wish this one worked, as it’s got some great ingredients working for it. Plus, i got two little jars as a gift and hate to not be able to enjoy them. Oh well.
- Mizon Collagen Power Firming Enriched Cream: Like, i seriously don’t know WTF my problem is – if you do a search of this product on CosDNA, there is practically nothing in here that should cause one’s pores to clog. And yet, clog they did. Just on my cheeks next to my nose, and on my chin, but it was bump-city. I loved the texture, and it has NO scent at all, and nothing offensive in it. It was nothing special either, but it was a basic day or night cream that should have caused no offense. But no. Special Snowflake skin strikes again.
- Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream: This was another huge disappointment for me – i wanted so much to love this cream! I loved the smell, which is rich and earthy and watery all at once; the texture is beautiful – a rich gel-cream that is my favourite; and even the colour turned me on. I love blue things. It has all kinds of cool stuff in it, like arbutin to brighten dull skin, and hyaluronic acid, as well as tamarind, which is an antioxidant, and horse chestnut for tone and circulation. It felt good going on, too. But for no reason i can fathom, the damned stuff broke me out. The Skincare Gods above know why. I certainly don’t. It would have been perfect, otherwise. Sigh.
- Mizon Snail Repair Eye Cream: I know, i know – it’s sacrilege to criticize this stuff. And it’s not that it’s horrible or anything, it’s just that – aside from possibly not exacerbating existing welts (i’m not entirely sure, because i didn’t really use it enough, because…), it just didn’t seem to do much at all. It just feels like it’s not hydrating enough for this Babe of a Certain Age. It’s got my beloved snail mucin in it, but since i’m using the CosRX Snail 96 Essence already, this feels redundant, since it doesn’t seem very emollient at all. Which isn’t to say that i won’t use it on my neck and other areas, still. That’s what happens to all creams that don’t cut it on my face. Another one bites the dust…
And now, the GOOD!
- Dr Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment: So there i was, wandering forlornly in my apartment, one side of my face awash with angry, red, and inflamed welts from my recent mishap with the Ren “Evercalm” products. When i remembered the lovely and kind Beauty Expert who had approached me the week before at Sephora to ask if i needed help finding anything. I told her of my dryness and breakout woes – not quite in tears, but fairly close; my skin hadn’t been this angry in ages. And while my trusty snail mucin and ginseng serum (be patient, those are coming) were working hard at bringing down the random eye cream-induced welts, i still had a fairly gross healing breakout to contend with, as well as a lot of redness. She immediately recommended the Dr Jart products, and had given me a sample of this stuff. It is a weird, minty green colour, and a whipped-paste like consistency. Apparently, it not only conceals redness from breakouts and skin irritations, but actually treats it with tiger grass, raspberry leaf, as well as a mineral and herbs complex. In the picture below, my skin was so incredibly stressed out and red that morning, i was afraid to put anything cosmetic on it at all – so i just slathered on the snail mucin, ginseng serum, then the Dr Jart products; lastly i patted in the Cicapair to take down the redness, layering it in spots to hide the worst of it. My skin actually looks like i might be wearing a little cushion:
Definitely a win with this product! I wear some every single day – i find it helps keep breakouts at bay, and heals what’s going on on my face a lot quicker. It turns a sort of beigey colour on the skin once patted in, and feels soothing. I’m a convert.
- Dr Jart Ceramidin Gel-Cream: (*ETA – i just learned via the Reddit Asian Beauty community that the entire line is being reformulated, and this cream will not be part of it – that figures. Guess i’ll have to see how my skin deals with the reformulated cream version…) Dear gods in heaven, FINALLY – a moisturizer that doesn’t break me out! Yet, somehow, is strong enough for my dry, Babe-Of-A-Certain-Age skin, here in the desolate, frozen tundra of a Midwestern Chicago Winter. And i’ll bet, due to its funky tapioca jelly-like texture, it will work in Summer as well. Who cares if it sort of looks like baby puke? It smells amazing – it’s all natural, like bergamot and lemon grass and happiness; it moisturizes perfectly, it isn’t greasy, it doesn’t sting, or cause nary a rash to appear on my Special Snowflake skin. It’s chock full of ceramides (if your skin is dry, dehydrated, or aging, it needs those – they’re an essential part of the lipid structure of the skin); it’s got aloe vera juice, which is one of the best things on the planet for soothing irritated flesh; it’s got licorice root extract, which also calms skin; and finally, phytoncide water – another balm for skin in need of special care. And a tiny bit goes a long way – just a little dab will suffice for the entire face and neck. I am officially In Love.
- Dr Jart Ceramidin Liquid: “Supercharged” with those awesome ceramides, this serum pairs perfectly with the gel-cream. It contains no artificial fragrance or colour, or denatured alcohol. This stuff immediately soothes my skin the second i smooth it in – it has aloe vera juice and licorice root extract, like the gel-cream, and also adds panthenol – a form of vitamin B – to help the skin hold onto moisture and soothe irritation, as well as Portulaca Oleracea, which is a natural antioxidant. I find this stuff to be fairly moisturizing on its own, if you perhaps had less dry skin than me. I’m curious to see if i might get away with it on the more humid Summer days here – although i’m probably whistling into the wind at this point…anyway, i love this stuff. It hasn’t caused any irritation whatsoever, is obviously doing good things for my skin, and i can put it on over irritated skin without it making things worse, due to the aloe vera and other goodies – it actually makes things feel and look better! It’s a light, gel-like consistency, slightly more viscous than water, and sinks into the skin with a very slightly tacky-moist texture, much like aloe vera juice on its own. I use it as my final serum, on top of my C-serum and ginseng, just before moisturizing.
- Caudalie VineActiv Energizing and Smoothing Eye Cream: Ok, so this eye cream has got so much going on that technically, it should have my eyes looking like they got caught in a chemical fire; however, such is not the case. Go figure. What it does do is offer light hydration during the day, with stabilized vitamin C & E, as well as grape polyphenols for antioxidant purposes, and spruce extract for “micro-circulation”. I like its light texture, and that so far, it’s not irritated me at all. I do wish it were a bit more hydrating, as i need to reapply at least once during these super-dry, cold, Winter months. I’m not seeing much in the way of correction, which is what i’m really looking for, with my burgeoning Crows Feet – but at the very least, i can keep my eye area hydrated without breaking out into hives!
- Cle de Peau Concentrated Brightening Eye Serum: *heaviest sigh of ever* WHY do so many things that actually seem to work for me have to be prohibitively expensive, and make no logical sense at all? So again, this has a laundry list of crazy things that could possibly make my eyeballs explode in wrathful fury – however, not only does it NOT do that, but it brightens under my eyes, smooths out my fine lines to the point where i’m actually noticing a difference every time i wear it (but ONLY when i’m wearing it), makes my eye area look dewy, and feels like liquid silk. It has camellia oil, which is fine, and makes sense, but – get this – ALCOHOL as the second ingredient. Now, since it’s a serum, it’s not really meant to be the best at hydration – it’s not exactly super-emollient. But alcohol as ingredient number two?? You just KNOW that’s drying the living hell out of my precious eye-flesh. I just can’t even. I looked further, and there’s a lot of dimethicone in there, so i’m assuming that’s why things look so nice cosmetically when i put it on. Whilst it slowly dries my skin to paper. So we are just going to chalk this up to a WTF product, and leave it alone.
Holy Grail Skin Saviors:
- COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence: First runner-up for the product that has saved my skin during this transition is Snail Mucin. Beautiful, beautiful snail mucin. No matter how stressed out my skin is, this gastropod goo is there to soothe, protect, heal and hydrate my Special Snowflake flesh. Over-chemical exfoliation? Snail-snot will save the day. Cystic acne that hurts when you look at it? Smooth some of this slime over it, and it will start to throb just a bit less by the next morning. In a couple days, along with my ginseng serum, things will be well on their way to healed (see pics below)- even my gross and upsetting bouts with under-eye hives (which sometimes travel down my cheeks). The little fellows working for COSRX will each be getting a specially knitted shell-cozy from me this coming Christmas. Snail 96 is just what it sounds like – 96% pure snail mucin – and it feels like it, too. Slightly sticky, clear and gellid. It feels a little strange at first, but trust me, after the results, it is quickly addicting. It just calms everything down, hydrates without being remotely greasy or oily, and provides a healthy moisture barrier – which is desperately needed for those of us who have damaged ours with chemical exfoliation, or sun damage, or what-have-you. Snail mucin was originally used for burns and wound treatment, so it makes sense that it has found a niche in skincare. I cannot say enough about this stuff. I use it morning and night, without fail, before serums and after my toner/essence. So, just go buy it. You won’t regret it.
- I’m From Ginseng Serum: I’ve been singing this serum’s praises for a bit, now – and with good reason. Just take a look at the pictures below, and you’ll see why. I was having a reaction to god knows what – most likely an eye cream – and after reading about the benefits of ginseng for healing and skin circulation, i decided to take a chance and put some of the serum on the outbreak. This is what happened:
Before i treated them 20 min after applying Ginseng Serum 24 hrs after applying snail mucin and ginseng
As you can see, both products helped the inflammation pretty dramatically. Since then, i’ve used them both time and again with the same results – so i know it wasn’t just a fluke. Whenever i get any kind of skin irritation, or breakout, or my skin is feeling raw and sensitive, i reach first for my Ginseng Serum to spot-treat. I carry it in my bag so i can always have it within reach. I’m From Ginseng Serum contains 7.98% ginseng extract, which is a very high amount – so it really acts quickly, and is quite a strong product. Ginseng is known to help heal eczema and improve skin’s elasticity, is an anti-inflammatory, and increases the production of collagen. Like, really. It’s SCIENCE. No matter what my skin is doing, i use this twice daily, religiously. My skin is slowly but surely improving daily as a result. Desert island skincare product. I’ve probably said this before, but you will pry this from my cold, dead hands.
And that’s it for today, Darlings – my failures and glories in the eternal Quest for Things That Won’t Burn My Face Off. There will be more parts to this series as i test out more products – i’m still looking for the perfect cleansers, that HG eye cream and serum, etc…etc…but i think we did pretty well today. All that’s left is what’s on my big ol’ FACE up there, and so;
- Dr Jart Cicapair Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30
- It’s Skin Babyface Eyebrow Pencil in #03 Pink – i definitely think this is a bit too red *sadface*
- Le Metier de Beaute Liquid Eyeliner in Black (i have 2 HG liquid eyeliners – this is one, mainly for daytime)
- Tom Ford Private Eyeshadow in Moonlighting
- NARS Audacious Lipstick in Catherine
- Algenist Sublime Defense Ultra Lightweight UV Defense Fluid SPF 50
I couldn’t wear anything else on my face but sunscreen and the Cicapair, but as you can see, my skin looked pretty good, despite the stress and general grossness it has been going through. I masked today with my Merbliss Nurse Healing Sheet Mask, and things are looking/feeling even better! I’m slowly but surely on my way to healing. I’m definitely done playing with moisturizers for awhile. We’ll be reviewing makeup, cleansers, masks, and other calming treatments for a bit.
I hope this post was helpful and informative, Darlins! Have a great evening/day – whatever it is where you are.
XO – Monday