June 23, 2017

Skincare Binge

Last updated November 2021

I had a seriously messed up skincare routine for a solid decade, and it was certainly not from a lack of trying. I had minor acne, uneven skin tone, dryness and oiliness, deep pores, and always envied people with smooth clear skin. I went tanning to disguise blemishes and blotchiness (wrong). I scrubbed way too hard to smooth out the dry flakes (wrong). I never wore lotion thinking it would make oily areas worse (wrong again). In the last few years, my approach to skincare completely changed.


After noticing signs of aging in my late 20s, along with hormonal acne taking full effect, the shock that came with realizing my elders weren’t kidding when they said “all that sun will catch up to you” led to a period of binge-researching skincare. I have an annoying tendency to obsess over topics of interest and this was no exception.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I did a lot of studying! Something I still keep up with to date. The information I found wasn’t exactly consistent. In fact, a lot of it was completely conflicting advice, so I honed in on the things that were concrete and persistent as they were likely the most promising. What I liked about this particular “skincare binge” was that I could actually put my learnings to test on my skin. It was a good strategy because it worked.

To start, I stopped everything I was doing and started over. And then started over again. And again. It took a lot of experimenting, time, and patience waiting for results. There were times things seemed to be getting worse, not better, but pushing through those stages was well worth it.

I’ve dedicated my career to software, not skincare, so I would never discourage you from seeking professional advice. It’s also important to note that everyone’s skin is unique and changes over time, so what works for me may not necessarily work for you.

Basic Learnings

  • Never sleep with your makeup on – even if you’re not prone to breakouts. Be gentle on cleaning your eyes and removing mascara as the thinnest skin is around your eyes.
  • Avoid too many harsh, chemical-heavy products unless prescribed by your dermatologist.
  • Wash your pillowcases often – throw them in with your regular laundry if needed.
  • Exfoliate once or twice a week to remove dead skin cells and increase cell turnover. If you’re using a scrub, don’t scrub too hard as you can actually do more harm than good. Soft and gentle is key. There are tons of good exfoliating cleansers, masks, and chemical peels that are better alternatives to scrubs.
  • You don’t necessarily have to buy the expensive products that promise to be magic. Products that promise instant results are a scam. There are simple and cheap drug store products that are just as effective or better. CeraVe and Cetaphil are the freaking greatest OTC brands and are both widely recommended by dermatologists.
  • Stop tanning and wear that SPF every👏single👏day👏.
  • The order in which you apply products matters! Thinner products go first and thicker products last. You want your skin to absorb as much of your products as possible so use warm water to soften your pores before application.
  • What you put inside your body will show on your skin. Eat healthier and drink more water. A good rule of thumb is you should be drinking half your body weight in ounces of water every day.

Sticking to a Routine

Once you find a routine that works for your skin, stick to it! Noticeable changes can and will take months but you have to remain persistent. The steps I take in order are as follows:

  • MORNING: cleanser, Vitamin C serum, hyaluronic acid serum, moisturizer with SPF 30+
  • NIGHT: cleanser, toner, masks and exfoliators (each once a week on different nights), eye serum, Retin-A cream, hyaluronic acid serum, eye cream, moisturizer

Here’s the full regimen I follow:

  1. Wash your face every morning and evening with a gentle cleanser like CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser or First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser. Don’t skip washing your face, even when you’re drunk and just want to pass out.
  2. After cleansing at night, follow up with an alcohol-free toner like Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. My personal favorite is Fenty Beauty’s Fat Water which feels and smells heavenly. Toner helps wash away excess dirt, balance the pH of your skin, and minimizes pores.
  3. If there was one piece of anti-aging advice I found consistently in my research, it was USE RETINOIDS. However, most OTC retinoid creams aren’t strong enough to do any real work and the best ones are expensive. Go see a dermatologist and ask for prescription Retin-A/Tretinoin cream. It’s amazing for skin texture and wrinkle prevention. I pay about $10 after insurance for my prescription and it lasts a good 6 months or more, which is cheaper than most OTC products that do nothing. It will take time for your skin to tolerate this and may cause redness and dryness at first. Start with one or two nights a week over top of moisturizer, then gradually increase nightly usage and eventually you can apply directly to your skin after washing/toning. It can take about 4-6 months to notice a real difference in your skin texture, but stick with it!
  4. After washing in the morning, pat down your face with a good vitamin C serum. It will help slough away dead cells from the skin’s surface leaving it brighter and smoother. It’s got added benefits of protection against sun and air pollutants as well. I use SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic which has gained a serious reputation for being a staple product among skincare lovers. For a more budget-friendly comparable, check out Timeless Skin Care Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum. A few drops is all you need so these bottles last a very long time.
  5. After vitamin C in the morning or after toner in the evening, apply a rich moisturizing serum evenly over your face and neck. At night I use CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum (don’t let the word “acid” scare you). If I’m extra dry in the morning, I swap that out for Murad’s Revitalixir Recovery Serum for a rich and youthful sheen/glow.
  6. Take extra care of your eyes by applying a rich anti-aging serum and/or cream around the eye area at night. I tried at least a dozen and couldn’t find one that didn’t leave my skin flakey until I started using Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum. It’s pricey but the smallest drop goes a long way. It should go underneath any other products. For added moisture in the winter, I like to top it off with Kiehl’s Avocado Eye Treatment. The avocado treatment can be used in the morning too if you want a refresher! It’s one of my favorite products. For a simpler more affordable alternative to both products, you can start by trying CeraVe Eye Repair Cream.
  7. Always top off your products (morning and night) with a good moisturizing face lotion. My dermatologist recommended CeraVe Daily Moisturizer PM because it’s ultra-lightweight, oil and fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic. I LOVE it and haven’t used anything else in years.
  8. Add SPF! If it’s not built into your morning moisturizer already (like it is with CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream with SPF), be sure to apply oil-free face sunscreen after moisturizing in the morning – even in the winter and even if you’re not going outside. UV rays make it inside too through the glass and contribute to aging. My biggest regret from high school and my 20s is not wearing sunscreen. Trust me on this one, the damage will creep up on you. Wear it.
  9. Don’t neglect your neck on any of the previous steps!
  10. If you struggle with hormonal cystic acne specifically, ask a dermatologist about Spironolactone (which is a pill, not a cream). If you give it a chance to kick in (at least 8 weeks), your cystic acne will be a thing of the past, and as a bonus, the rest of your skin may get softer and smoother too! This drug is actually for lowering blood pressure with side effects of clearing up acne. It’s a common and safe medication used to treat hormonal acne, however.

I do each of these steps in order and they really only add about a minute to my morning routine and a few minutes to my bedtime routine. Nearly all the products listed above are affordable and ones that are pricey last a very long time. I spend a fraction of the time and money I used to spend for significantly better results.

Weekly Care

  1. Exfoliate gently one night a week. My favorite exfoliation method is a resurfacing peel. I tried a lot of these and finally splurged on the best of the best according to the entire internet, and now I’m a huge fan as well: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.
  2. If you’re prone to blackheads, use a clay mask once every week or two to deep clean pores. This is very drying though, so unless your skin is oily, you can just spot-treat areas (like the T-zone). Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask is the bomb. It’s important not to sit with a mask on for hours – follow the directions for optimal results. Masks should be done after cleansing and toning before any products are applied.
  3. You can add in other masks based on your skincare needs. I love any of the masks by Kiehl’s that target different problems, but a fan favorite (and mine too) is the Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask when my face feels dry and irritated. Clay masks and exfoliating will dry out your skin, as will harsh winter months if you live in a dryer climate. In the summer, the sun can leave skin red and irritated. This mask is great year-round for addressing both and keeping your skin revilatized and refreshed.
  4. Facials help clean out and open pores so other topical products can penetrate deeper into the skin and do their job. I love to sit on my couch once a week with the Vanity Planet Facial Steamer before using a pore extractor to clean out blemishes and blackheads. I always pull out my KEDSUM LED Magnifying Mirror and do this right from my couch before I put on a mask. This a great travel mirror as well.

Going the Distance

There is one thing you need to realize when it comes to aging… it happens to everyone. You can use every single anti-aging cream on the planet and have impeccable DNA, and you will still show signs of aging. Without BOTOX, dermal fillers, lasers, and other treatments, even JLo would not look like JLo. Also, a reminder that photos and videos are extremely deceiving, so don’t obsess over the one billion Instagram models who appear to have flawless faces because you’re not seeing reality. If you truly want anti-aging miracles like JLo and can afford them, you’ll have to step into that world, eventually.

I know this topic is still a bit taboo, but there are two ways you can look at it:

  • I could write forever about this topic separately, but in summary: It flat out sucks we live in a society that makes us feel like we have to “fix” ourselves. The need to feel young, beautiful, and desirable can be exhausting and the overall attitude towards aging needs to be inverted. We are so much more than our appearance. Contributing to an industry that promotes this idea of physical perfection only fuels the fire. Outer beauty is overvalued.
  • On the other hand… as with all animals, competition is in our DNA accompanied by an internal tendency to favor the fittest. We are far from the only species that measures and rewards physical attractiveness. For as long as we have records of human civilization we have proof of people inventing new ways to stand out and impress – jewelry, tattoos, tribal rings, corsets, makeup, hair dye, etc. Technology has just changed the way in which these things have manifested. Braces were invented and then came teeth whitening gels and people sacrificed a lot of pain and money for both – just to have nice-looking teeth. Makeup tattooing, microblading, and eyelash extensions all grew very popular too. Newer medical advancements like BOTOX and lasers are no different. The purpose of ALL these things is to improve or at least keep up our appearance. Some people reach an age where they don’t care to “keep up with the Kardashians” anymore, but until then, these options are part of the beauty industry like everything else. Beauty is personal, so it’s okay to care and it’s okay not to.

Regardless of how far you’re willing to go when it comes to skincare, the most important factor for getting good results is establishing a routine that works and being loyal to it. If you’re experimenting with options, give it a few weeks before changing it up. You can obviously alter your routine depending on what works for your skin type, but give your skin adequate time to adjust first. Hope you find this helpful!