1. Skincare 101

In makeup, the skin is our canvas: the more beautiful the skin at the start, the more beautiful the final result will be. No one doubts this, but the problem is getting better skin. We all realize that the multi-billion dollar skincare industry is rife with dishonesty. They seduce us with beautiful models whose flawless skin cons us into paying too much for products that do nothing. You give up, heart-broke, only to try again in a few months or a year when frustration with your skin becomes too much to bear. Talk about a classic loser cycle!

I've been there and escaped the loser cycle. I've discovered skincare products that work and are affordable. One of my transfans is a charming doctor of dermatology. I'll call him Dr. Davey to protect his anonymity. He loves my look but thought I could do better and has gently encouraged me to try. I read more about skincare science and followed a few of his suggestions. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing because I wanted to see if they would notice. And they have! My SheDaddy has been blown away by the improvement in my skin, and she is not the only one. My skin is brighter and tighter, with more smoothness and fewer wrinkles. She was inspired to try the same techniques, and her skin has never been better! And this is only the beginning of the journey. I am confident my skin will continue to improve, and I expect to discover new products and techniques to help even more. Meanwhile, I thought I would share my discoveries with you.

It's essential to have realistic expectations. There are some things that medicine still can't fix. I have severe acne scars on my neck. I hate them, but they will probably be with me for life. They can be improved but not eliminated. On the other hand, I've discovered that many skin issues, such as the effects of aging and weather damage, can be reversed to a surprising degree! One thing is certain: the earlier you begin to take care of your skin, the better off you will be.

While I've received a lot of advice and guidance from my sweetie Dr. Davey, this is a DIY journey, at least so far. It's imperative to remember that skincare is incredibly personal. We are all different. Especially if you have sensitive skin, the DIY route might not be your best option. If you take the information here and combine it with your good sense, monitoring your reactions and progress as you go, I am sure you will have a good result. If you buy everything I mention or blindly copy my skincare routine, you might end up worse off than you are today!

The Skin Threshold

There's a limit to how much of anything a person's skin can take. This limit is different for everyone, but your skin will fight back once you pass it. It's critical to pay attention to your skin. If your skin becomes irritated, back off. It's easy to get excited by the results of a process and want to repeat it more often than you should. Take it slow.

As a general rule, light-colored people with dry skin tend to have the lowest skin thresholds. Oily skin and people with bronze-ebony skin tones tend to have higher skin thresholds. You probably already have some idea of how your skin reacts to products. If you already know you react badly to many different skin products, consider consulting a dermatologist. This series of articles is not for you if you already have a skin condition like dermatitis or eczema.

It's also important to realize that each product you use brings you closer to your skin threshold. That's another reason not to get excited and try everything at once. Finally, fragrances are notorious for increasing the probability of skin irritation. Try to find an alternative if you use a moisturizer or other skin product with a scent.

Step 1: Skin Cleansing

Step one in any skincare routine is keeping your skin clean. You should wash your face with a good skin cleanser in the morning and evening. My Dr. Davey recommends Cetaphil's "Daily Facial Cleanser." You can get an 8 oz bottle for less than $10 and a 16 oz bottle for less than $15.

I'm getting ahead of the story here, but if you have acne issues and enlarged pores, consider using something that contains salicylic acid. I was using a relatively expensive product from Skinceuticals. I have now switched to Dr. Davey's recommendation, Neutrogena's "Oil-Free Acne Fighting Fash Wash." It works just as well at less than $10 as the $40 Skinceuticals product. Use some caution here since salicylic acid can be irritating. (I write more about acids in the articles that follow). Since you apply it and then wash it off, it's less likely to irritate in this application. And it does help with both acne and some types of enlarged pores. Dead skin cells can accumulate on pores and make them appear larger. I have found that my pores have shrunk over the two months I have used this product. But, reality-check: some enlarged pores, particularly the icepick pores, are genetic, and the only real solution to problems like that is to have laser treatments.

Step 2: Sunscreen

The best sunscreen is a hat or an umbrella. Dermatologists always refer to sunscreen as the basis of skincare. As we all know, the sun's white light contains multiple frequencies of light, both visible and invisible. The two that interest us are ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVB is more dangerous than UVA. UVB causes sunburn (remember UVB, where B is for BURN) and is primarily responsible for all nasty skin cancers. Sunscreens do an outstanding job of blocking UVB. Bronze-ebony skin contains a lot more melanin, which protects you against skin cancers caused by UVB. However, the protection is not perfect. Most doctors recommend sunscreen even if you are lucky enough to have bronze-ebony skin.

UVA rays tan our skin. They also play a role in skin cancers. UVA penetrates deeply into our skin and is the most significant cause of aging skin (remember, the A in UVA stands for AGING). MELANIN DOES NOT PROTECT AGAINST UVA. UVA is the equal opportunity ager for all skin types. In fact, bronze-ebony skin types have a higher risk of hyperpigmentation from exposure to UVA. The bad news here is that sunscreens do not protect as well against UVA as they do against UVB.

Sunscreens list an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on their labels. That tells you how much time it takes for you to get a sunburn. Remember that only UVB rays cause sunburn, so SPF tells us nothing about UVA protection. Most people think SPF factors tell them how much longer it will take before they get sunburn wearing sunscreen. For example, you know you get sunburn without sunscreen if you are in the sun for one hour. An SPF-15 sunscreen will let you stay in the sun for 15 hours before developing a sunburn.

But this is just silly. There is more sun at higher altitudes than at lower altitudes. There is more sun at noon than there is at 9 in the morning. Some people sweat more than others and will need more frequent reapplications of sunscreen to get that 15-hour protection. And, of course, there is little detail that companies sometimes make mistakes and sometimes cheat. So SPF ratings should be taken, at best, as general guides.

And how much protection can we expect for UVA? How do we rate a sunscreen's UVA protection? The usual advice is to buy a sunscreen that advertises "broad spectrum" protection. The bad news for Americans is that American sunscreens don't block UVA well. The sunscreen ingredients allowed by the FDA all block UVB well, but only zinc oxide and avobenzone protect against UVA rays. And since there is so much emphasis on SPF factors, American companies add UVB filters to drive up the SPF number, but this ends up limiting the product's ability to protect against UVA.

The situation is better in Europe. Europe requires that a sunscreen's UVA protection must be (at minimum) one-third as strong as its UVB protection. They also cap the allowed SPF values on labels at "50+", which prevents the UVB filter pile-on characteristic of American sunscreens. American sunscreens can't be sold in Europe and couldn't use the "broad spectrum" indicator on their labels.

Another gotcha with American sunscreens is that their SPF numbers are determined using unrealistically heavy coatings. Much, much thicker than even the most devoted sunscreen user would use.

There are currently two types of sunscreens: physical and chemical blockers. Physical blockers are ingredients like zinc oxide, which you probably remember as that yucky white cream our moms spread all over us as children. Things are better now as they use micro-particles, but they can still add an unpleasant color to your skin. Physical blockers like zinc oxide coat the skin and work immediately. Chemical blockers require a bit of time to 'soak in' to the skin - at least 20-30 minutes.

A gazillion myths exist about these two types of sunscreens. For example, you may believe that physical sunscreens reflect light while chemical sunscreens convert light to heat and radiate it, but the truth is that they work the same. A physical sunscreen like zinc oxide indeed reflects light, but only about 10% of it. The rest of the screening effect comes from the zinc oxide absorbing the light rays and releasing them as heat. I highlight this because some people avoid chemical sunscreens because they believe heat worsens hyperpigmentation. But since there's a microscopic difference in generated heat, this is no reason to prefer one over the other.

This myth is making things worse for people with darker-toned skin. They are told not to use chemical sunscreens because of the tale about generated heat. That leaves physical sunscreens, which look especially bad on darker-toned skin. So they end up not wearing any sunscreen at all! That's a shame because recent chemical filters for sunscreen are good at blocking UVA and preventing hyperpigmentation!

Sunscreen Summary and Recommendations

That's a lot of information, but it's an important subject. I don't have a sunscreen recommendation for you. My sweetie baby Dr. Davie recommends an SPF of at least 30, but he is not an American. It is hard to find sunscreen with an SPF that low in the USA! I have used products from two highly regarded companies: La Roche-Posay and Neutrogena. La Roche-Posay's SPF-50 "Shaka Fluid" with "Cell-Ox" protection looks interesting.

UPDATE: I now have a sunscreen recommendation! I am currently using Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun Rice + Probiotics It's lightweight, which I like, and works well with makeup. No fragrance and no alcohol. It's a Korean product and has SPF 50+. It washes off easily, which is a problem if you are sweating a lot. Otherwise, it's great!

Here is my list of requirements for sunscreen:

  1. SPF of at least 50
  2. Labeled as "Broad Spectrum."
  3. Contains either avobenzone or zinc oxide (or both).
  4. It has no fragrance.
  5. Is pleasant to wear.

Do not disregard that last requirement. No matter how protective the sunscreen is, if it feels awful, I will probably forget to put it on.

Application and a final rant

You need to apply a fair amount of sunscreen. The usual recommendation is 5 grams for the face and neck, which is the amount that would fit into a kitchen teaspoon. You will need more for arms and any other skin showing. Apply at least twice a day. More if you are in the sun and sweat a lot. And wear a hat.

And may I rant a bit? I notice a lot of consumer foundations include sunscreen protection. That's one of the most insidious scams around. Besides the fact that I do not trust any makeup companies "SPF" ratings, if you were to put 5 grams of foundation on your face, you would look like you just escaped from the circus! Meanwhile, if you use less than 5 grams, you are not getting the advertised SPF! I wish makeup companies would stop this nonsense.

Step 3: Moisturizers

Moisturizers are crucially important, yet another area where marketing is out of control. First of all, moisturizers do not add moisture. They prevent it from leaving. How many commercials have you seen telling you how much this-or-that companies product "adds" needed moisture to your face? That's a complete lie. All moisturizers contain stuff like paraffin (candle wax), beeswax, or something equivalent. Why all these waxes? To coat the skin with a moisture barrier to keep the moisture inside!

All moisturizers work the same, but you can divide them into three or four price groups. There are low-priced ones like Vaseline; Cetaphil makes a low-end one or something like Ponds Cold Cream. These are inexpensive and form a great moisture barrier. The moisture barrier is so good that if you have a laser procedure or other facial issue, using one of these can promote healing much better than more expensive moisturizers, and they are all well under $10.

These products have their uses and work the same or better than their more expensive cousins; they lack elegance. I might use one at night before I go to bed, but I don't want to walk around town with a coat of vaseline on my face, and I'm sure you don't either! For just a bit more money ($20-$30) you can have both. In this range, I like the La Roche-Posay moisturizers for daily wear. Some come with broad-spectrum SPF ratings, so you can slather on a nice coating of moisturizer and get your sunscreen in the bargain. There are also some excellent moisturizers+sunscreen from Korea.

I avoid moisturizers with retinol. I use retinol as a separate step; if I add it with moisturizer, I'm concerned I'll go over my skin threshold.

I use a different moisturizer under makeup and for clients. As you know, it's crucial to moisturize before makeup! I love Lait Crème Concentré from Embryolisse. Several of the pro-makeup people I work with love this product, and that's how I discovered it. It's a bit runnier than many moisturizers, which has some advantages for makeup. Since it's thinner, you can apply a much more delicate layer to the face. The product's liquidity also makes it easy to apply with a brush, which is useful if you have a client who doesn't like their face to be touched. It costs $28, which is a very reasonable price. I usually go for the New York Edition. I can never resist buying that one because it is so cute.

But if you want, you can spend more money on moisturizers. For example, for $100 or more, you can get creams with additives, such as hyaluronic acid, that make no sense to put on your face. If you are desperate to dig a hole in your purse, buy La Mer. You can get two oz. for $345, why not go all the way and get 8.4 oz for $1,290? Even for over one thousand USD, the active ingredients are still paraffin and beeswax. Of course, you get to pay more for them this way.

Part 2 introduces the basics of acids, so you can understand how and what to expect and look for! I hope this article helps keep you beautiful and leaves more money in that gorgeous purse. If you have comments or questions, please send the nice ones to me!