To be human is to want quick, easy fixes to what we perceive as our physical flaws. But great skin, like a toned physique or healthy hair, doesn't happen by using one magical product for a couple days — it takes time, effort and patience. As a natural-beauty product tester and writer, I've tried hundreds of products and am happy to share what works for me. It's a combination of products I buy and products I make —and some lifestyle must-haves.
First, simplicity is key.
Over the years, I've realized that multi-product, multi-step skin care routines are not only expensive and time-consuming, they're incredibly difficult to keep up. So, think about what you will really do in your life. If that's just washing your face and getting out the door, that's OK. If you can do a little more than that, your skin will probably thank you for it.
Keep in mind that ultimately, our skin evolved over time to take good care of itself. For most of human history, quick, cold baths or swims, or simple washing routines using locally available plants to scrub dead skin off or wash was the norm. So for any skin type and in any season, I always advocate for less — less washing, less intensive scrubbing and fewer products. (Some even say their skin improved when they stopped facial cleansing altogether.) There are a lot of people who are doing too much to their skin, leading to irritation, red spots and dry patches. It's tempting to pile on the products, but try to resist.
On the outside
It's winter and I have drier skin (and most people's skin gets drier with age), so I opt for a moisturizing routine, which includes an oil-based wash.
1. Wash: I like (and my skin can tolerate) organic coconut oil. But if that's too much for yours, I also really like LUSH's facial cleansing bars, either deeply moisturizing Sleepy Face (fair trade cocoa and shea butter) or lighter Jade Roller (organic murumuru butter and maralu oil). Both come as a package-free small bar that you simply rub across your face. The bar melts when it touches your skin. Like coconut oil, you simply rub these rich bars into your skin, and wipe clean with a warm (not hot) damp cloth. Yes, these will pull makeup off your skin if you wear it.
If you wash your face in the shower, as I do, remember, don't stick your face right in the spray unless you lower the water temperature first. The hot water might feel good against your back, but it's too hot for your more delicate facial skin. Catching it in your hands and splashing it up will cool it a bit — and makes you feel like you're in a skin care commercial!
2. Tone: After cleansing, I spritz my face with either a self-created mix of filtered water and essential oil mix (I love rose geranium) or Simplers Botanical Neroli calming and soothing hydrosol. Hydrosols are the liquid left over when fresh plants are steam distilled to extract the essential oils. They're very gentle and moisturizing. Then I dab on a bit of eye cream. I like Acure Organics tightening eye contour gel.
In the morning, that's it.
3. Serum: At night, I use a serum after I cleanse; Weleda and Ren Skincare both make excellent choices and both companies use top-notch natural and organic ingredients. A serum is meant to work while your skin repairs as you sleep. I like ones that add moisture and don't contain retinol. (You should never use a retinol product as part of your morning routine as it sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet rays.)
A note on retinol: I don't use retinol-containing products at all because while the vitamin A derivative is highly effective at minimizing wrinkles, there are a few issues with it. One is that while it used to be available only with a doctor's prescription, it's now in many beauty products in various doses and you might be getting more than you need. Also, dermatologists have noticed that because the new skin cells that retinol produces get turned over so quickly, those cells aren't as strong as typical skin cells. The result is skin that is less healthy over time.
"The main function of the top layer of the skin is to protect us, to keep away environmental factors. The more retinol you put on, the poorer the barrier function becomes," Dr. Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor, told Business Insider. "This is why a lot of people feel that their skin is very sensitive and experience peeling, flaking, and irritation." Lastly, your cells can only divide about 50 times in your life. If you use retinol-containing products a lot when you are younger, you will be depleting your skin when you get older.
4: Moisturize: Lastly, follow up with a good moisturizer. In the depths of the dark, dry-air season, I go for an ultra-rich one at night, since it doesn't matter if my face is shiny while I sleep and it can absorb over hours, not minutes. It's really easy to spend north of $60 on a moisturizer, but I wanted something less-expensive so I did a bunch of testing. I wanted something with very natural, whole ingredients, so I'm a fan of Wild Carrot Herbals Saffron Seed Nutrient Cream. Weleda's Skin Food is a lighter but also very effective option, and has been called a much less-expensive duplicate (and natural version) of pricy La Mer.
On the inside
Drink water, drink water, drink water. Drink seltzer. If you need a warm up during the colder season, drink herbal tea (sure, go for the ones that contain botanicals that help skin — they can't hurt). But however you do it, keeping your whole body hydrated will absolutely make your skin less dry, as moisture will be available to skin cells when they need it. Your moisturizer on top of your skin just keeps it in there.
A healthy diet (the more veggies you eat, the better for your skin‚ especially those with beta-carotene), regular heart-pumping exercise and good sleep are good-skin tricks that you've heard before. But they work.
Lastly, I've found a significant difference in the quality of my skin when I regularly take vitamin C. This vitamin is naturally found in high concentrations in both the dermis and the epidermis, and it decreases as you age, so it makes sense that ensuring you're topped up might improve skin health. But the scientific verdict is still out. As the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University communicates, "The effects of vitamin C in the skin are not well understood due to limited research." So, we just don't know, but that being said, vitamin C that's not used by the body just gets eliminated when you pee, so you don't have to worry about taking it and doing damage.
Wear less (or no!) makeup
I've found that quitting makeup has had a huge positive impact on my skin. It's less irritated, less spotty and less prone to whiteheads and blackheads. I was using all the best natural, organic makeup and there's still nothing better than no makeup, at least for me. (Not to mention the vicious cycle of wearing makeup to cover spots, which were likely caused by makeup.)
It's really, really hard to keep all your makeup as fresh as it should be, to keep all the bacteria off all your tools, etc. Old makeup and dirty tools irritate skin. I gave up makeup in my mid-30s and at 42 my skin is better than it was then. I blame the makeup. Save the full face for the holiday party and join me and Alicia Keys in putting our fresh faces forward. Keys says of her decision to quit makeup for good in 2016:
“In one song I wrote, called "When a Girl Can't Be Herself," it says, In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don't want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I'm made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem. No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is … I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.”