Beauty products have been on my mind a lot lately. Spending so much time sweaty and dirty can wreak havoc on my skin. I hadn’t revamped by beauty routine in a long time, so I was definitely overdue. With my wedding coming up, I finally got the motivation I needed to improve my regimen and get my skin looking its best.
When it comes to beauty, I take a minimal approach. I don’t like to pile on product after product because each one might have a tiny positive effect on my skin. Instead, I try to find a routine that uses the fewest products but gets the best results. This approach keeps the time and money I spend on beauty to a reasonable level, not to mention saves my bathroom from too much clutter.
To give you some context for my skincare needs, the main issues I try to manage with my skin are breakouts, occasional cystic acne, excess oil/shine, some flakiness, and light redness.
My new routine has been working really well for me and I’m really happy with how good my skin looks right now. Here’s what I’ve been using and loving lately.
My daily regimen
Paula’s Choice skin balancing cleanser. I’ve been using this cleanser both day and night for ages, but anytime I try anything else, I just don’t like it as much. What I like about this cleanser is that it’s very effective at removing makeup. It saves me both the time and money of having to use a separate makeup remover, which is a huge plus for me. It’s like washing your face with silky butter, but without the greasy feeling afterward.
Drunk Elephant C-Firma day serum. It’s well-known in the beauty world that vitamin C serums are amazing for your skin. This serum helps with the overall evenness and “glow” in my skin. Plus, it’s helpful for mitigating sun damage and has anti-aging benefits as well. One note about DE’s formulation is that it’s a little stinky when you dispense it (this is normal), but the smell goes away in a minute so you won’t be smelling funky all day.
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra intensive hydration gel. If you like gel formulations, you will love Drunk Elephant’s take. It soaks in and dries down virtually instantly, which I like for my morning routine. I love the smooth, soft, hydrated feeling it gives me skin, and it makes a great base before I put my makeup on for the day.
Paula’s Choice skin perfecting 2% BHA gel. I don’t use this product every day, but it’s a great supplement for when I’m really breaking out. If you’re looking for an effective anti-acne treatment that isn’t too expensive, this one is great to have on hand. The one downside is that the gel can be a bit sticky, so sometimes I need to leave it for a minute to dry down, especially when it’s humid. There’s also a liquid version that would probably solve that issue. That said, the nice thing about the gel is that you can use it anywhere on your body. I occasionally break out on my upper back where my sports bra straps fall, so I like to keep this gel handy to treat any and all breakouts.
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos glycolic night serum. This stuff is soooo expensive, but the results match the price. It’s incredible for “resurfacing” my skin and cleaning up the bumps and breakouts. It makes a noticeable difference to the look and feel of my skin, including dramatically reducing the small bumps I get across my forehead. Besides glycolic acid, it also contains a dose of salicylic acid, which helps for fighting acne. If I could only splurge on one thing in my skincare routine, it would be this treatment for sure. This serum is my #1 jam.
Acure marula oil. At night, I like to use a more intensive moisturizer since I live in a dry climate. If you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of Drunk Elephant, but their marula oil is really expensive. I found a cheaper alternative from Acure that’s still 100% marula oil, but at a fraction of the price. I actually just ordered DE’s version to try, so we’ll see if the ultra-premium price tag really matters. If not, I’ll happily stick with my budget-friendly version.
Marula oil is lighter and runnier than most oils. Although it still leaves a slightly damp feeling on my face, it doesn’t feel sticky like other oils I’ve tried. It’s also great for your hair.
One note about the Acure version: because it’s packaged a clear bottle, be sure you store it in the dark, because light can break down the compounds in the oil that will help your skin. I just take mine in and out of the box when I need it, but you could also wrap it in foil or just store it in your medicine cabinet.
Bonus beauty hacks
One of my most recent beauty must-haves: a silk pillowcase. If you don’t sleep on a silk pillowcase, you need to. Silk is better for keeping the balance of your skin since it won’t suck the moisture out of your face like cotton can. It also won’t leave creases on your face in the morning.
But the absolute best benefit of sleeping on silk is what it does for your hair. I noticed an improvement in my hair after literally one night of using a silk pillowcase. My hair is significantly softer in the mornings and much easier to style. I often sleep on wet hair (shhhh), and my hair would sometimes do crazy things in the morning. Now when I wake up it’s already almost perfect and just needs some touch ups with my flat iron. Silk also reduces breakage and tangles, which is especially good if you have long hair. The silk pillowcase I use was on the expensive side, but I was a little sketched out by the cheap options on Amazon. I decided a reputable brand of silk would be a safer bet and worth the splurge, especially since I’ll rarely need to replace it. So far, so good!
My all-time favorite face mask is actually incredibly simple: a DIY aspirin and honey mask. If you struggle with breakouts, aspirin and honey is a godsend. I see a visible reduction in redness and breakouts from this treatment, and it makes my skin soooo soft.
Why does it work? I’m glad you asked. :)
The primary ingredient in many anti-acne products is salicylic acid. Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. Because of their chemical similarity, they both have anti-inflammatory properties, which is helpful for redness and breakouts on your skin. Besides that, honey has benefits for your skin, too. Putting the two together, you’ve got the recipe for an intensive anti-acne, anti-inflammatory treatment. You could also brew up a mask with yogurt, aloe, apple cider vinegar, or whatever other skin goodness you have on hand.
Here’s how I make the mask: take 4-6 aspirin pills in the palm of your hand, add a few drops of water and gently press them to dissolve. Once you’ve made a thick paste, add about 1/4 tsp of honey. No need to measure, just add enough that the dissolved aspirin is sticky enough to stick on your face. Once you’ve mixed it up and patted it on, give it about 10 minutes to dry down and soak in. Then, just rinse it off and you’re done!
Now, a couple of notes. First of all, you MUST use UNcoated aspirin tabs, otherwise the pills won’t dissolve. Also, be gentle when both applying and rinsing off the mask. The aspirin granules are pretty coarse and can be rough on your skin. You don’t want to irritate your skin by attempting to exfoliate with something so rough. Just let the water rinse it off without any aggressive rubbing. I do the mask once every week or two. And at the risk of stating the obvious, please don’t try this mask if you’re allergic to salicylates or aspirin.
And the best part of this mask is that it’s stupid cheap. You can buy a couple hundred aspirin for really cheap, and you only use a tiny bit of honey at once, too. Even though some of my favorite facial products can get pricey, this is where I save.
On a similar note, I’ve also started experimenting with DIY activated charcoal masks. My sister swears by these. Charcoal is becoming really popular in beauty treatments, but you can get the same concept for really cheap by just buying activated charcoal and mixing up a mask at home. You can find activated charcoal capsules at your local drugstore (it’s sold as an anti-gas supplement), which is what I did, but I’ve since learned that the cheaper and less messy way to go is to buy activated charcoal powder in a jar and not hassle with the capsules. I’ve only done this mask a couple of times, but so far it seems promising.
P.S. In case you missed it: double points at Sephora through Saturday! I got extras on some of my favorites and ordered some new ones to try, too.
yay! what a super fun post! (and it’s toooootally on topic – you gave it a nice fitness spin – since i know you were worried about that) :)
i have become much more educated lately on the “bad stuff” in almost all american beauty products, which has been good because i have really branched out with trying DIY options and more “basic” options. for example – i use the activated charcoal mask like your sis (bought the capsules at whole foods for a few dollars), and i use argan and rosehip oils as my moisturizer at night (also very reasonable at whole foods). oils are great instead of body lotions too – you would think they’d be gross and greasy, but a little bit goes a long way and absorbs much faster than lotion so you don’t feel “wet” after.
bonus side note: i just tried a charcoal powder for teeth whitening. you just brush your teeth with a tiny bit of it and then brush again like normal. holy moly. my husband noticed after ONE use, without me telling him i had done it. it too was cheap – $5 i believe (on amazon) for a whole jar, and safe with no chemicals or crap in it. oh and no awful tooth sensitivity like the whitening strips!
anyways, thanks for this post – i love hearing what other people use!
Agent Athletica says
Ohhhhh good idea about the charcoal! I’ve heard about that before but totally forgot about it. I’ve had sensitive teeth ever since I had braces a few years ago, so I’ve always been too scared to try the whitening treatments. I’m totally trying charcoal before my wedding. ;) Maybe I’ll try your method of not telling my honey I did it and see if he notices. That’s the true test, haha. Thanks for sharing your ideas!
I bought this one:
and I lied – it was $20 (oops!)
But it will literally last about 5 years.
I’ve heard Smart Ash is good too, but it’s the same thing and $10 more.
And yes – my husband and I both did the $100 teeth whitening strips for two weeks before our wedding and we were both walking around the house moaning all the time from the pain (not to mention that you can’t eat for two hours… I like to eat constantly!) This is sooooo much better :)
Agent Athletica says
Yeah, my fiance has been trying to do some of the cheaper Crest whitestrips but I haven’t noticed a difference. He doesn’t seem to be in too much pain. :P I might try just breaking open the charcoal capsules I have and see if that does anything (and see if I think it’s horrifically gross) before I buy another jar. Thanks for the tip! It’s great that those are really affordable, so they’ll be easy to try.
Suzanne, thank you for the post! Many great tips! I just ordered the teeth whitening charcoal to try (thanks, Carrie!) and will get the silk pillowcase too.
The only tip that I have is to incorporate eye cream into your skincare routine. I have been using it since college. I am in my 40s and have very few lines around my eyes. I have tried many different brands and always go back to Lancome.
Agent Athletica says
Yeah, I’ve been chastised a couple of times (lol) for not using eye cream, but it’s been tough to talk myself into the high price tag. Which Lancome do you use and what do you like about it?
I have used Lancome high resolution and renergie eye creams. They go on easily, are not sticky but keep my eye area hydrated. Next time you go to Sephora, ask for small vials of samples to try. By the way, I ordered a starter DE kit from Sephora to try. Hopefully they will help to clear up some pigmentation and pore issues that I have.
I really love the Honest Beauty eye cream. It’s around $30, so not bad. It’s very hydrating and feels like it’s “doing something” :-D
I like the younger eye one more that the depuff one.
They have a money back guarantee – if you don’t like it after a couple weeks, you can return it.
I’ll add another eye-cream recommendation: Sunday Riley. It’s one of these nature-meets-science brands. Lots of fatty acids to repair the skin. It’s expensive, but one bottle of their eye cream lasts literally forever (at least that’s how it seems, since I have yet to replace mine and I’ve had it for a long time).
Eye creams can be difficult to navigate. Many eye creams feel good, but their attempts to “tighten” skin actually accelerate skin aging as they put pressure on that delicate area. Many others are just regular creams, with a mark-up. Others are packaged poorly, so the ingredients that are affected by light and air are not protected from light and air, meaning they lose their effectiveness.
Sunday Riley’s Start Over eye cream doesn’t have any of these problems, which is why I use/recommend it, though I’m sure there are others that also fit the bill. It’s good to keep an eye out for these factors when testing options.
How can we tell (and avoid) these things?:
“Many eye creams feel good, but their attempts to “tighten” skin actually accelerate skin aging as they put pressure on that delicate area. Many others are just regular creams, with a mark-up.”
i don’t get the option to reply to your post directly, carrie. i hope you get this notification.
anyway, unfortunately you have to learn and read the ingredients (which is a total pain). i still forget which is which all the time, so when i’m trying to a new product, i usually have to check some things. but i can share a few notes…
some examples of ingredients to watch out for:
alcohol (appears shockingly often and accelerates aging by drying out skin)
lavender oil, jasmine oil, geranium oil, really any fragrance (irritants)
there’s also a whole controversy about DMAE, which seems to be good in the short term, and then start destroying your skin’s ability to make collagen. i’m not a scientist, but i personally avoid it.
antioxidants (can be found in, for example, jojoba oil, squalane, and grape oil, but also many other forms)
sodium hyaluronate (i forget this one, but looked it up so can confirm it’s right – provides hydration)
this is really basic. i went through a phase where i did a lot of research, and tried to find neutral info (not super pro-organic sites, for example, the demonize anything “unpronouncable”, despite my love for organic products). so it is accurate, i assure you. but there is SO MUCH that’s not here, and i’m just learning. in any case, i think it’s worth taking some time to choose something with the right ingredient list, especially for eye cream
I got it! Thanks so much this is so helpful :)
Agent Athletica says
Thanks for the rec! I really like brands that have a good balance of understanding the power of cosmetic science in skincare while also acknowleding that there are pitfalls. As a scientist, I just can’t get down with scare tactics and appeals to nature. There was one brand that people were fawning over on Instagram, and their marketing is basically “omg all organic all natural soooo healthy!!!” One problem: the FIRST ingredient of their acne treatment (and several of their products) was alcohol, and the rest was basically a laundry list of “natural” skin irritants. Seriously? Poison ivy is natural too and you don’t see me slathering that on my skin. :P
Anyway, small rant aside, I have the same thoughts about eye creams, which is why I’ve been so hesitant to fork over money to try them. I’ve spent too much on new products lately but I’m adding that to my list for when my budget is in a good spot again. :)
Thanks for the fun post. I too ordered the charcoal powder. I have sensitive teeth too and wanted to whiten without causing more sensitivity. I am really excited to try it! I do not use any soaps or makeup but I do use oils for cleanings and moisturizing and occasional organic masks. My favorite company for masks and this AMAZING blue cocoon is May lindstrom. You will drop a few $$ but the stuff is so wonderful and a little goes a long way. She makes her products at her home, they are mostly organic and completely natural and pronounceable. The packaging is gorgeous jars with enough to last forever too… I use In Fiore cleansing lustra oil cleanser once a day. For moisture I use organic cold pressed oils like rosehip oil, prickly pear seed oil and passion fruit seed oil. Some of these come in pretty packages from a new company named Raw is Everything- started by 3 ladies in the northestern part of the US. I really Try to add minimal ingredients to my skin. All of the gets absorbed into the body. I love that you are using marula oil. That is wonderful. I bet the price tag is because the cheaper oil is refined and the more expensive is unrefined and organic?? The unrefined gives you better nutrients but has a shorter shelf life.
This company has really great quality oils or maybe a little less, they do not have pretty packages.
Sorry, I ment maybe they sell the marula for less at the vitae organics site.
Agent Athletica says
Thanks for the oil tips! It’s great to know I can get it from there, too. The Acure marula oil is actually listed as “unrefined” and doesn’t have any additives either. DE’s is listed as unrefined as well as “virgin”, though I’m not knowledgeable enough about oils to know if that means anything different. The proof will be in the pudding, though. I’ll use Acure’s marula on half my face and DE’s on the other half and see what happens, heh.
I second the May Lindstrom rec. I’m a little obsessed with beauty products, and recently moved over to more natural options. May Lindstrom’s the Honey Mud cleanser is exceptional. I personally have a lot of issues with oils. I’ve tried about 35 kinds and brands. The only oil-based product that works for me is the Vitamin E oil by Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics. It’s incredible at removing makeup and leaves no residue.
Agent Athletica says
May Lindstrom is going on my list now for sure! Gonna need a spreadsheet, heh. Love comparing notes with you all!
Hi AA Thanks for the beauty tips. I would like to know where you buy all these products mentioned. I am from Canada and would like to know if I can buy Paula’s Choice and Drunk Elephant products here. I am definitely going to recommend the honey/asprin mask to my daughter who suffers from breakouts. I am going to try the powdered charcoal and hope I can find it at my drugstore. What do you mix with it to make a mask?
Agent Athletica says
It looks like there are Sephora stores in Canada, or they will ship to you. I’m unsure if they have a warehouse in Canada that they would ship from, or if they should ship across the border. I’m not sure if DE is stocked anywhere other than Sephora and DE’s own site, though. As for the charcoal mask, I mix that with honey to make a paste, but you could also try aloe vera gel or plain yogurt. The charcoal I found at my drugstore was in capsule form, but with a little coaxing, you can break them open. Just be warned, it can get a little messy… :)
Thanks for the info, I will definitely check out Sephora here in Edmonton, Canada. I am excited to try out the masks. I forgot to ask you where you bought your silk pillowcase. I know I should be using one. TIA
silk pillow is from nordstrom! (recently opened in Canada!)
i used suzanne’s link above to get one.
every night i carefully apply all my face potions and then every morning they have all transferred to my belgian linen pillow case. very excited to try the silk one!
hi Cin! i’m in Canada as well as i was looking into Paula’s Choice a little while back to solve what i think is milia in my under eye area and some blackheads that started forming on my nose (i went with the popular SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant — results aren’t great so i might try something stronger from the Resist line). i looked pretty much everywhere online, even went to my local Nordstrom, but it turns out i had no choice but to purchase Paula’s Choice directly from their website (in USD). i waited for a sale (they often have 10% to 20%) and free shipping with a minimal purchase. and i opted to pay a 5$USD brokerage fee to NOT have to pay duty (duty can be so so so expensive and i didn’t want to chance it). if someone figures out a store/website that carries Paula’s Choice in Canada and in CAD, please let us know!!
Agent Athletica says
Yeah, I forgot to add this in my other comment, but Paula’s Choice seems pretty hard to find in Canada (and really anywhere besides their US website). But, since order values are pretty low that hopefully helps with border crossing costs.
Thanks so much for the info. With free shipping and waiting for a sale would definitely help offset the exchange rate. Paying the brokerage fee makes sense too.
no problem! btw i just received an email from them with a $10 discount to give out to friends (or virtual friends :) !). i’ll leave the link below if you are interested! (note that i would be getting a $10 credit for a future purchase once your order ships.)
I am a bit of a skin junkie and I have been using the brand-new brand The Ordinary. The prices are SHOCKINGLY low. I think I paid $15 for my Niacinamide/Zinc and 2% retinoid from them (that’s not each, that was the whole order). Their vit c/HA serum is like $15.
I prefer rosehip oil to marula oil because rosehip oil contains vitamin C, or at least I think it does.
Anyway, the same company makes some other amazing brands so I’ve bought some other stuff from them that I’m excited about. And they ship from Canada for free, and it usually arrives to me the next day.
Agent Athletica says
Wow, that sounds fantastic! I’ll have to add them to my list. For such a low price, there’s not much to lose by trying. :)
I’ve read that marula oil is fairly rich in vitamin C also. I haven’t tried rosehip oil, but it seems to be a popular choice so I’ll definitely have to give it a shot!
I have been using Paula’s Choice BHA and AHA products since my early 20’s, and I just turned 41. Cannot say enough good things about her products! Happy to see a shout out here.
Agent Athletica says
Wow, I have been using her products for about 10 years and I thought *I* was old school, but you definitely win! :) I agree, I think they’re pretty underrated and an awesome value for the price.
Hi AA – I got into DE products after this post and LOVE them!! I’m curious about the marula oil – is DE’s version worth the price?
Agent Athletica says
Yay!! :) I’m glad you love them too! I did end up returning the DE marula oil. It’s nice, sure, but I personally didn’t see a significant difference using it vs the cheaper Acure stuff. Put another way, it didn’t give 4x the results even though it’s 4x the price. (Edit to add: I did like the packaging a lot better, but packaging alone is not worth the extra.)
Hot tip, The Ordinary has an unrefined Marula oil that is comparable to the DE version. I bought a sample of the marula oil (with my lover, the TLC serum) and now I am using the Ordinary version and can’t tell a difference. It’s often out of stock so get on the mailing list!
Suzanne | Agent Athletica says
Oooooo thanks!! Another reader rec’d The Ordinary as well so it sounds like it must be good. I’m *still* working through the same bottle of marula oil I bought a few months ago (I alternate with some other night moisturizers) but if I want another bottle for winter, that’s definitely where I’ll look. :)