A few days ago, I made an IG story ~super casually~ asking if anyone wanted to see myskin care routine. Like, 6 people answered Yes (2 of them being my closest friends/biggest hype men, so I would’ve disowned them if they didn’t respond)- but mOST IMPORTANTLY! 0 PEOPLE SAID NO! And I actually only needed one person to say yes for me to go ahead with writing this post (SO HA!), because I am an eager beaver to share my skincare routine!!
It’s taken me a while to write this, considering I literally have nothing else to do with my days, but I’ve been busy writing other stuff and compiling all the necessary information I need to make sure all of this is accurate (also, a lot of mukbangs were watched in between, which takes up a fair amount of one’s time). My biggest fear is recommending a product to someone, and have it make them break out or something, which is why I made sure everything I recommend is fully evidence-based.
So, without further ado! The first of many selfies that will make up this post!
Ahhh! It’s a close-up of my face!! Not gonna lie, I scared myself as well. But it’s me, with no foundation or concealer, and it’s taken me a while to reach that point where I feel comfortable enough walking around without it. I take pride in my skin to the point that I derive 90% of my self-worth from it, which is actually the #goals of every skin care obsessed person (read: narcissist), so don’t be surprised by the sheer amount of selfies in this post.
MY SKIN PROFILE:
Skin types are usually divided into 3 main categories: Oily, Combination, Normal- and then brands try to sell you a whole skincare line based on what your allocated skin type is. I call BS on this, because our skin is constantly changing with our diet, hormone levels, environment, age and stress levels. It’s so much more helpful to analyse your skin profile and make informed decisions based on all your skin issues, instead of snapping up a whole skin care line formulated for Oily/Combination skin (what does that even mean anyway?) I’m also convinced that the “Normal” skin type doesn’t actually exist (or if it does, and you have it, then I hate you?? And bless your genetics??) and they just added that to make the rest of us feel bad.
TL;DR, our skin is always changing, and brands try to swindle you into buying a whole skincare line when you probably need, like, one product from each different line to address each specific skin issue you have. Here’s my skin profile, to help you guys figure out if the products I recommend will help you out or not:
- Oily skin in the summer/Brunei, combination skin in all the other seasons, because the concept of seasons is a lie and there’s actually only one season and That Sunny Day in England.
- Sensitive around the cheek area, which is prone to redness and irritation (so no, I’m not blushing around you, I’m just trying out a new product)
- Blackheads !! Bane of my existence!!
- Face easily breaks out due to contact irritation
- Worst acne was when I was 14-16 y/o, which was several active breakouts at a time all over my face (so unfortunately, I have no concrete advice for cystic acne/scarring! Read on for general skin care tips though!)
When I was 14 y/o and at the peak of pubertal acne, I realised my skin was no longer the smooth dolphin of my youth, but an actual mountainous terrain of acne, and a testament to bad habits and the ruthlessness of puberty. So my sister and I did some research and wrote the following on our wall:
And there was an arrow switching 2&3 around because we got the order wrong. But that’s what all the issues of teen vogue and websites like acne.org were telling us to do, and that’s how we came up with a basic, but fundamental regimen. 5 years down the road, the essentials are still important, because they’re the foundation of every good skin care routine. Now, however, I’d add one more step to that wall (and correct it as well):
- Acne treatment
I used to use foaming cleanser but then I figured out that it made my skin dry (unsurprisingly, a lot of skincare is trial and error). I experimented with different cleansers, but they were all too drying for my skin. Enter Bioderma Micellar Water [£10.80], an actual godsend and the closest thing on this Earth to Angel Tears (read my General Skincare Tips section to find out how to get cheap Bioderma!)
How I use it: 2-3 cotton pads per face morning/night depending on how icky I feel/how much makeup I need to take off.
The sad thing is, I’m using so many cotton pads per bottle that only contribute to landfill and increases my carbon footprint, so I’ve been trying to find an alternative to this that doesn’t irritate my skin. FYI, all the other micellar water hawked by brands like Garnier, Simple, etc. irritate my skin like crazy- stick to the OG French Bioderma!
- It’s good for sensitive and dry skin and helps keep your skin moisturised
- Gets rid of all of my makeup (even the heavy, Raya-style makeup!)
- Doesn’t break me out
- Leaves your skin feeling supple and refreshed
- I don’t know how to use it without cotton pads so it’s a major contributor to my carbon footprint
- Might not cleanse your face fully if you’re wearing full glam makeup (takes 5 cotton pads which might make you feel fed up by the time you’re reaching for your 5th!)
- For really oily and acne-prone skin, you might have to supplement this with another cleanser as it’s not that cleansing, according to experts
When I was young and fixated on doing textbook skincare, I determinedly slapped toner on my face every night even though I didn’t really know what it did. Then I realised the “astringent” label basically meant way too much alcohol (usually 20-60%) for my young skin, and that’s the reason why my skin felt tighter than Spandex whenever I finished my skincare routine. Yeah, never again.
I kind of forgot about toners for a couple of years because I was a lazy and broke teen, but recently I’ve been drinking The Ordinary kool-aid and tried out their Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. [£6.80]
Brb, while I cry in a corner because I didn’t discover this sooner.
Not only did this toner make me realise that toners can be: (a) moisturising, (b) good for your skin, (c) make you feel good, it also let me in on the fact that most of the beauty industry is brands scamming you (but more on that later).
Read this if you want an in-depth review of this toner and why it’s good for you (I’d go into each ingredient, but that would probably bore you!). I’ll just describe my experience so far with this toner.
- Took off all the remaining makeup residue on my face
- Doesn’t make my face feel tight
- Has a slight moisturising and calming effect
- No alcohol
- Dupe for Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Acid Toner [which is 4 ml smaller (236 ml vs. 240 ml), with less concentrated Glycolic Acid (2% vs. 7%) but somehow £7.20 more expensive?? Beauty industry is a scam?? You decide]
- If I pair it immediately with Niacinamide, my face gets slightly tingly (leave it to dry first)
- Apparently it has a high amount of fragrant rosewater which is bad or something, but it hasn’t irritated my skin so far
HA, okay, I have to confess something. I don’t actually own a moisturiser… And before you rat me out to the skincare police, let me explain! It’s hard to find a moisturiser that doesn’t pill under sunscreen/makeup, is non-comedogenic, non-greasy, and doesn’t irritate my skin or break me out while also remaining fairly inexpensive! Drugstore moisturisers always break me out for some reason, and the calming Cetaphil/Aveeno ones smell weird to me so I’ve been out of a moisturiser for a while. I tried out The Ordinary’s moisturiser but when I ran out I never bought a new one because it just… bored me? Like, nothing about it significantly affected my skin issues and it was nothing spectacular, really.
Right now, I’m getting all the needed moisture from hyaluronic acid in my serums and the moisturising effects of all my other skincare products. But if anyone has any recommendation for moisturiser that checks all my boxes, do let me know!
My favourite part of skin care! A lot of the information I reference in this section can be found in this article which was published in a pharmaceutical journal so you best believe I did my research! There are 4 essential products that you need to rotate around or have in your skincare routine if you’re suffering from the occasional breakout like me:
What it does: Works to control sebum production and unclog pores
What I use: The Ordinary 2% Salicylic Acid [£3.90]
Studies show that the most effective concentration of Salicylic Acid for treating acne is 2%, which is why I like The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid over most drugstore products that tend not to list the concentrations (usually because it’s only 0.5%). For the size, it is pretty steep (£3.90 for only 15ml), and you can definitely find better salicylic acid formulations like Clearasil’s, La Roche-Posay’s or Neutrogena’s at a more forgiving price point (LRP’s clarifying lotion is £10 for 200ml, which works out to £0.75 for 15 ml- way cheaper than The Ordinary’s). But the thing is, drugstore products tend to bulk up with other ingredients that could have acne-fighting properties (like lipo-hydroxy acid) to compensate for the 0.5% salicylic acid, which is great, but not really necessary if you’re using serums in conjuction (more on that later). Also, they tend to have a longer ingredient list that contains perfume and alcohol, which can irritate your skin or dry it out. There’s something kind of comforting about The Ordinary’s almost clinical formulation, where what they say on the label is what you get- that being said, their salicylic acid does contain witch hazel, which is a potential irritant due to its alcohol content. It hasn’t irritated my skin yet, however, so I’ve kept using it.
- Highest available concentration of salicylic acid
- What you see is what you get- it’s basically just pure salicylic acid
- Has a brightening effect on my skin after only 3 days of continued usage
- Pairs well with other acne treatments
- Doesn’t pill under sunscreen and makeup
- No drying or irritating effect as of yet
- Expensive for its size (but a little goes a long way, so I don’t really mind!)
- Like every other product that increases cell turnover (think AHA, BHA, salicylic acid), my skin purged the first week of continued usage. I wanted to cry and stop. I knew I had to keep going. I did, and my skin is clearer and brighter than ever now! But I’d probably start using it when you don’t have to meet lots of people/ have a big event coming up if I were you. [More on purging vs. breaking out here, here and here]
- Has a sticky finish, and the dropper leaks, so you have to be quick with using it (or you might end up with salicylic acid on your legs like me)
- You can find better ones out there, according to The Beautypedia but I stick with this one
- You have to keep using it. Once you stop, the acne comes back.
What it does: Kills the bacteria on your face that causes acne (read this for side-effects, etc.)
What I use: Benzac’s 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide that I bought off Ebay so I’m not gonna link it here because I’m scared to endorse something that’s might be less than 100% legit
Benzoyl Peroxide is the most effective treatment for mild-to-moderate acne. Full stop. There are countless studies and journal articles to prove it, and it’s in textbooks for crying out loud (like here, here and here). What freaks people out is the name, I know, and the fact that it sounds so chemical-y and non-organic/natural or whatever. But it’s been tried and tested and it works [it’s been said to be “the single most useful group of topical agents and agents of choice for most patients” in The 1980 New England Journal of Medicine by Melski and Ardnt!] Yes, I just cited a journal article. Leave me alone. Skincare is a really Big Deal for me.
You can get it at Boots as Acnecide, but it is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication here, so you have to ask for it (which is why I haven’t bought it yet because I hate talking to people…) Read this for more tips on how to get it in the UK.
- 2.5%, 5% and 10% concentrations have been shown to have the same efficacy so you can either ease your way up or just stick with 2.5%
- It works. At one point I had the shittiest skincare routine ever consisting of simply Bioderma Micellar Water and Benzoyl Peroxide. I mean, I never had a major breakout but my skin was dry
- Can be used alongside other acne treatments
- The best skincare product you should invest your money in. Seriously. If you decide to get one thing from this post, get this!
- You have to slowly work it into your regime because it’s drying! It’s rare to have an actual allergic reaction to it, but misinformation means people confuse the irritation that goes with first-time usage as allergy and they stop using it just as it’s starting to work
- You have to wear sunscreen everyday if you use this (you should use sunscreen everyday anyway)
- Potentially bleaches fabric that it comes in contact with
- Leaves a white cast on your skin
- Once you stop using it, the acne comes back
What it does: Brightens skin, improves texture, helps treat acne and rosacea (more info here)
What I use: The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% [£5.50 for 30 ml]
I’ve never heard of Azelaic Acid before I started using The Ordinary Products. Most of the acne treatment market focuses on salicylic acid- and for good reason- which is why other acne-fighting ingredients fall to the wayside. I started using it because I was interested in diversifying my skin care routine, and I’ve kept on using it since- even repurchasing it once I ran out. Here’s why:
- Helps improve my skin texture after only one day of use (trust me, once you put it on… you’ll understand)
- Has a blurring/smoothing effect immediately after usage and your skin feels so soft
- A little goes a long way! A small dollop can be used all over my face
- You can definitely see the brightening effects within a week of using it
- If my skin is red or I want to go out bare-faced, I put this on under my sunscreen and my skin looks pore-less
- One of the few products that contain Azelaic Acid, and at such a high concentration to boot!
- Like all/most The Ordinary products, it’s vegan, cruelty-free, perfume-free and alcohol-free
- Has a weird, sort of rough feel to it which is probably due to how it was made (according to The Beautypedia)
- You have to use sunscreen everyday (but again, you should anyway)
Niacinamide + Zinc
What it does: Reduces visible sebum activity and appearance of blemishes
What I use: Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% [£5 for 30ml]
What is Niacinamide?
Niacinamide, or nicotinamide, is basically an active form of Vitamin B3, and helps reduce redness, acne while increasing skin hydration (more effective uses, including anti-cancer properties, but these are the main ones that actually happened when I used it). You can read this for an in-depth and scientific look at Niacinamide, but since there’s not a lot of research out there on its use in treating acne, it’s not as widely available as other acne-fighting ingredients- which is why I only found out about it once I started using The Ordinary products. What research is available has shown that it’s equally as effective as topical antibiotic (1% Clindamycin gel) in fighting acne (Shalita, 1995) so it’s worth giving it a try if you’re curious about it.
- Literally once I started using it people complimented my skin and my friend said I looked less dead. Thanks. But it does make your skin more plump and hydrated, and reduces oiliness and acne and the size of my pores, so I’d highly recommend this.
- Has 1% Zinc which could potentially have anti-inflammatory properties
- I have my sisters hooked on this product (which is also regrettable because they finished my serum… you win some, you dim sum) and they swear by it too. When people ask me what product I use, I automatically attribute it to the Niacinamide, because I genuinely do feel that most of my skin glowiness comes from it
- While it didn’t break me out, it did break out some of my friends who tried it. I looked it up and other people have experienced it as well. It’s not a product that would cause purging, so if you are breaking out, it could possibly just be your skin not liking a product- or it could be the zinc. I’d recommend patch-testing as always, so if you do break out, you know why and it’s only a small area to treat. It’s worth buying it anyway to test it out since it’s so inexpensive
- Like most The Ordinary serums, it has a sticky finish, which I like since it makes me look hydrated. But some people might not like it.
- You can’t use it with Vitamin C
Niacinamide is a good product to exhibit how the Beauty Industry is a scam. Why? Because literally, it’s such a good product, but brands tend to hide it under other filler products or expensive packaging so they can amp up the prices. Case in point, Glossier’s Super Pure serum.
I call this Beauty Court in session- Glossier vs. The Ordinary.
See the difference in packaging and marketing already?
Glossier’s ingredient list (10): Water/Aqua/Eau, Niacinamide, Glycereth-26, Propanediol, Zinc PCA, Citric Acid, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Extract, Peg-12 Dimethicone, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose
The Ordinary’s ingredient list (10): Aqua (Water), Niacinamide, Pentylene Glycol, Zinc PCA, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum, Xanthan Gum, Isoceteth-20, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin
The two active ingredients are essentially the same: Niacinamide and Zinc. Except Glossier hides it under the fancy name of Super Pure and beautiful packaging (you don’t even know the concentration of niacinamide and zinc in there!). The Ordinary is what its name suggests: just an ordinary serum with 10% Niacinamide and 1% Zinc, which has critics calling it a “one-note product” and how your skin deserves more than that. I agree- which is why it’s so fun to mix and match different products from The Ordinary because you know what ingredients you’re playing around with.
People give rave reviews to both because they’re essentially the same. But with Glossier, you’re not just buying the product, you’re buying the ethos, the lifestyle it’s suggesting (who else is sick of this effortless, Cool Girl/French Girl beauty?), how it makes you feel- you’re essentially buying the branding. No wonder it comes up to £21.66 for 15 ml.
No, you didn’t read that wrong. £21 for 15 ml vs. £5 for 30 ml. YA BEING SCAMMED GIRL. Don’t get me wrong, I love Glossier, and I’ll probably still buy their Cloud Paint once they ship to the UK. But am I gonna spend £16 extra for half the product and pretty packaging? That’s 32BND aka 32 Nasi Katok packets!
There are other Niacinamide-containing products out there that are less scammy. La Roche Posay’s Effaclar Duo contains both Niacinamide and Zinc [£12 for 40ml] but it also has an ingredient list a mile long (35 ingredients, I counted), one of which is Parfum/Fragrance and salicylic acid as well. So you could try that out if The Ordinary’s formulation breaks you out. Check this list out for other alternatives, but I guarantee you won’t find a formulation at such a high concentration of niacinamide and at such a low price point.
So now that you have a general overview of the 4 acne treatments I recommend, I’m just going to go into how I use them.
Daily/Skin is behaving: Niacinamide, Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide.
This might seem like overkill, but each product targets different issues and works great together.
If my skin is acting up, I’ll add Azelaic Acid to help improve texture and help my acne heal faster once the benzoyl peroxide’s dried it up.
I was going to write more but I’m at 3500 words already… So I’ll stop here. I might make other posts on the other products I rotate around my routine, how to wear makeup while your face is breaking out, general skincare tips, how to try out new products, and my special ritual I use before every big event/when my skin is going through a crisis. Leave a comment down below or DM me if you’d like to read that!
Thanks for making it this far!