When it comes to things I simultaneously hate and love talking about, nothing is more of a fraught obsession than skincare. I’ve been cursed with problem skin since about 12, and it’s more or less been since that age that I have not felt comfortable leaving the house without some kind of makeup on. I do, of course, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not acutely aware of my flakiness, swaths of rosacea, scarring, and generally blotchy complexion. And because we often tie up makeup with morality in women, the idea that I’m not “comfortable being natural” becomes some kind of indictment of my character, something that makes me unusually vain or preoccupied with the wrong things, when it simply means that I have to go a significant extra step to reach someone with good skin’s default state. Anyone with problem skin knows how differently you are treated at work and in life when you go out naturally — you look sick, you look sallow, you don’t look professional — and correcting for that becomes a lifelong endeavor.
And this pressure is bad enough in America, the land of contouring and bronzer, but it is particularly crippling in a place like France, where I lived for several years and visit frequently to see friends and my partner’s family. France is a culture of skincare-based beauty, where the idea of a natural, effortless glow and minimal makeup is the height of beauty. It’s considered vulgar to be visibly made-up during the day, and it’s better to look sallow and as if you aren’t trying than dewy but as if you really, really are. This unattainable version of chic tormented me during my time there, and leaves my stomach in knots when another trip looms. No matter how fluent my French, no matter how obscure my French pop culture references, no matter how big the Francophone branch of my family tree, no matter the amount of striped shirts and skinny jeans I wear, if I have to pile on foundation before a day’s activities, I will always feel like a tourist. And it’s not just the idea of feeling like an outsider in a very specific beauty culture, it’s the reminder of the fact that, no matter who I am on the inside, I will always feel like the girl with cystic acne who dreaded the fluorescent lights of her high school hallways.
Nothing makes me feel more like an unpopular girl in the cafeteria than my skin, and nowhere makes me feel it more acutely than France.
So this year, with my trip to the Hexagon tomorrow on the calendar for some time, I decided to conduct an experiment on myself to see if I could, given about a month of trying different products and combinations, give myself the dewy skin I desire before I leave. (We’ll be spending a few days with Marc’s family in the South, and let me tell you, that sporty-chic family does not have a zit on the entire family tree — I often look over at Marc in the mornings in bed and feel acutely resentful: that boy does not own a single pore.) I wanted to be able to frolic with them in tennis shoes, jeans, and a makeup-free face, not feeling like I have to get up early to make myself presentable like that one scene in Bridesmaids. We’ll be on a farm, for Chrissakes.
To that end, I gathered a group of products I already owned, one or two new ones, and a couple samples, and decided to do a formal test. I wanted to narrow it down to a streamlined group of products: A “treatment” product, to apply each night to even my skin tone and clear my problem areas, an evening moisturizer to put on top of that, a day cream to make me Glowy as Hell without wearing makeup, and some kind of spray to set it all. (I also have my sunscreen that I’ve been using forever, because it goes on under anything and I need a LOT of sun protection, but the SPF in a day cream alone may be enough for you.)
Before we start breaking down the products, I should illustrate my specific skin needs, so you know whether or not we would align in this area: Generally, my skin is:
- Dry (like, super-fucking-novelty dry)
- Prone to redness/rosacea (will literally turn red if I do pretty much anything, including talking or moving)
- Mildly scarred, especially on the cheeks
- Very visibly-pored
- Prone to light breakouts
This means that I need to simultaneously treat acne and not become a desiccated husk, which is harder to achieve than one might imagine. So I started with the products that I have always really loved and knew I would want to use consistently through this process, in tandem with the things I was experimenting with.
Let’s start with the “control” products, which I used consistently through the whole thing, and didn’t change/haven’t changed. They are:
My evening lotion, applied over my treatment, which is a La Roche-Posay Rosaliac one ($40). I find it’s one of the few lotions that’s truly kept me moisturized at night without feeling gooey, and allows me to wake up considerably less red than I usually do (which is to say, still pretty red, but less so). My sunscreen, which I apply any time I’m going outside under my makeup or day cream, is a Vichy one ($20), which holds the distinction of going on super-light and not making me break out. My setting spray is the Tatcha Dewy Skin Mist ($48), which, when sprayed over makeup or day cream, makes even the driest person (moi) look hydrated, healthy, and decidedly un-flaky. It also sets your makeup nicely. This one might not be essential for everyone, but it’s incredibly helpful for me. Lastly, my face wash is this Avalon Organics stuff ($9). It gets your makeup off and cleans you without drying you out in the least or irritating your skin, which is of the utmost importance for me. I’ve tried a lot of cleansers, and for my needs, this one is the best.
So those are the products that remained consistent. And for the experiment phase, I first tested out the “treatment” products, each applied before bed. They are:
The two I already had, Effaclar Duo ($27) and Sunday Riley Good Genes ($108) had been recommended to me at various times and used to not-disappointing effect. The Good Genes had much more noticeable results in terms of evening out than the Effaclar, clearing up, and smoothing, but it’s over a hundred fucking dollars for an ounce. For that price, I had better wake up as Jennifer Lawrence, honestly. I liked the results, but I wanted to ensure that there was nothing better. So I went to Sephora, explained what I wanted the product to do, and asked for something that was similar to Good Genes but not so gut-punchingly expensive. The awesome guy who helped me recommended the Ole Henrickson Invigorating Night Treatment ($48), which is less than half the price of GG for nearly twice as much product.
And I have to say, without a doubt, the Ole Henrickson product has been THE revelation of this experiment. I did a rigorous few days with each, testing them with my variable creams and using them with my control products, and holy shit. The Good Genes is good, don’t get me wrong, and the Effaclar will work on a budget, but the Ole blows these both out of the water, and for a third the price-per-volume of the GG. Sunday Riley products are good, but very hype-heavy and packaged for maximum aesthetics, which always translates to a jacked-up price. (Plus, her line of stuff really does smell like a dentist’s office, and you have to wear that shit on your face.) The Ole Henrickson, which I now use every night, tingles gently, and leaves me every morning smooth, clear, and even-toned. I could not recommend it more. It definitely won this group.
Onto the day creams, which were specifically chosen for their evening and smoothing effects, so that they could make your skin as nice as possible without wearing any makeup or tint. Here, I had one product I already owned (but had fallen off the wagon with), and two I got in sample form. They are:
Caudalie’s Vinexpert Bonne Mine cream ($50), which I got years ago back in Gay Paree, and have used very rarely since, because it didn’t give me ~~immediate results~~, and I am extremely impatient with that sort of thing. “Bonne mine” essentially means “a healthy glow,” so as with the Good Genes cream, I expected an insta-transformation, and abandoned it a while ago after it didn’t really provide that. The two that I sampled — both recommended by the same awesome Sephora guy who turned me onto Ole Henrickson — were The Estée Edit Beam Team ($50) day cream, and Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Cream ($48). Now, the Estée one is modeled/endorsed by Kendall Jenner, so… strike one. But I was determined to give it the ol’ college try, and I rotated all three with my winning treatment and the rest of my routine, and a winner quickly emerged.
The Caudalie cream… meh. I can see why I never stuck with it. Aside from the fact that the cream itself easily separates and gets kind of oily, it just doesn’t really do much for my overall complexion. It’s not a bad moisturizer, but it just feels like a regular lotion, and not a sealing-and-healing day cream that allows me to not have to wear makeup without feeling totally self-conscious all day. It also absorbs really quickly and doesn’t provide that glow/reflectiveness, which is crucial to obscuring your flaws as you go about your day.
Between the Beam Team and the Ceramidin, each had their strengths, and for someone with a more golden/darker complexion (and almost literally no one could be paler than me), the Beam Team might actually be the better choice. Both hold in moisture, both leave you dewy/glowy, and both even out skin tone really well. But the Beam Team has a bronzer-ish pearlescence which, on me, definitely looks like I’m wearing something. It’s not heavy or obvious in the way foundation would be, but it’s certainly something that is not coming from within. The Ceramidin Cream, for me, provided all the things I was looking for in that cream without the pearlescence that made it just a little too much on my skin. (Again, if you are naturally more tan, BT will undoubtedly look more natural on you than me, and enhance the reflective effect that’s great for smoothing complexion. It just wasn’t for me.)
So, in going out and getting the full tube of Ceramidin for my trip, I finally have the winning crew!
This is now my go-to skin routine and, though my skin is still far from perfect — and I’m still early in making this my everyday routine, which will obviously build its effects over time — I now feel very confident and happy going out makeup-free, and will save foundation/bronzer/etc for when I am going out at night, to a work thing, or to a special occasion. It’s a different kind of confidence from when my makeup is on-point, to have skin that feels glowy and healthy and not-totally-embarrassing. And while I will probably never get to the level where I actually feel more beautiful when bare-faced, or feel truly effortless chic, I am already looking forward to this trip way more than I usually do. I don’t have to worry about makeup on the plane or train, or feel uncomfortable at breakfast when my skin is 50 Shades of Blotchy Red. I don’t have to worry about random dry patches and breakouts nearly the way I used to.
So, without further ado, some shots of my ~*finished product*~, filter-and-makeup free! (Er, well, with only mascara and lip balm — I’m not insane.)