The 2020 skincare revamp

Do you remember in my last post where I briefly mentioned my skin looked dull and tired earlier this year, which bugged me because I had just turned 28 and felt too young for how I was looking?

If there was one good thing to come out of this year, it was working from home and then not working at all gave me time to re-develop skincare routines that were demoted to back burner. Pre-Covid, when I was dealing with my own job stresses and trying to keep my life in order – work managed, house cleaned, trying to make nutritious food choices when all I wanted to do was comfort eat – I was making some pretty counterproductive skincare choices.

On the smart side I was drinking a ton of water (granted, this is less a skincare tip and more of a general “health that benefits skin” tip), wearing SPF and occasionally going to an esthetician to make sure I didn’t have any major skin issues. But then there was my dumb side, which included overwashing my face in the shower to mimic the post-facial feeling; using physical exfoliants too frequently because reportedly that’s what works for Christie Brinkley; and once weekly tanning salon visits.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear I’m not condemning anyone who uses tanning beds or acting like just because I’ve stopped doing the counterproductive things I mentioned that I’m somehow more enlightened, smarter or better than anyone who does/has. The moralizing about tanning beds and self-tanners especially drives me crazy, since I came of age in the mid-2000s and bronze glow! bronze glow! bronze glow! was pushed on young women then. How else did beauty editors think pasty white chicks in the Midwest were going to look like they lived in Cancun year ’round?

I frequented tanning beds until late last year for two reasons. One was that I hated my natural, fair skin tone. Frankly, I felt washed out and ugly. The other is that I’d been dealing with acne since I was ten years old, which was a huge source of anxiety and insecurity well into my 20s. I tried everything stupid for teenage acne, and just when I thought adulthood would be on my side – wham! Hormonal acne and my dermatologist acknowledging that heredity was not going to work out in my favor. Since I had oily skin as a teenager and throughout my early 20s, I thought the heat of the tanning bed would help dry the acne out.

Back then it did work for that purpose. But what I failed to notice was that my skin type switched from oily to dry, so toasting myself had no bearing on the hormonal acne. I was also noticing that instead of the slight tan, I was only turning red, like I had a fever at all times. I tried the Jergens self-tanner and realized quickly that I can’t stand whatever smell is in there, not to mention the number of clothes and sheets that were stained from that gunk coming off on them.

I have no idea how the folks who use self-tanner regularly do it.

The first thing I stopped doing in 2020 was going to tanning beds or messing with self-tanners. My coloring wasn’t looking better and it seemed like a waste of time and money. Additionally, I started using serums that were photosensitizing in late 2019 and didn’t want to counteract the results I was seeing with them. So all tanning stopped and I decided I was going to make peace with being pasty.

Interestingly enough, when I stopped tanning and my skin paled out, the frequency and severity of my outbreaks diminished, and my skin didn’t look so ruddy.

My second step was watching skincare enthusiasts on YouTube and actually figuring out what my skin type is. For the longest time I thought I had oily/combination skin because it’s what runs in my family, and because the handful of times I went to a dermatologist, they prescribed me salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide washes. Those are solid ingredients for helping patients deal with acne, but I could never commit to using them because I hated how tight and sore my skin felt afterward.

Eventually I figured out I have normal/dry skin and started looking for products that had extra moisturizers, as well as buying creams and lotions that have hyaluronic acid in them. Twice-daily hydrating cleansers and moisturizer made all the difference. Overall my face just looked and felt better.

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser and the brand’s moisturizing cream are straightforward, effective products that I used this year and will continue using into 2021. You can buy them at any supermarket or here.

The third thing I did was introduce Vitamin C serum into my skincare. I read a lot of positive comments about Vitamin C serum for daytime usage, and eventually figured out a good morning routine after trying out different brands and products. The Derma E Vitamin C serum with hyaluronic acid has become my morning holy grail and definitely helped fade some sun spots and acne scars, in addition to making my face look brighter. I’ve always gotten mine from Ulta or their website here.

Going along with Number Three is my night time serums, the fourth thing I started doing that improved my skin. I took some time to read reviews and try the serums on myself before settling on three main serums I alternate for night time: alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, and lactic acids.

The AHA serum I use is an overnight exfoliator. I did read that it’s normal with the particular serum I use to have a little bit of redness and feel a slight sting after putting it on, and those first few nights were a mild adjustment to get used to. But then the next morning I would wake up and my face was literally glowing. I couldn’t believe it – I felt like I was in some Disney movie where the princess wakes up and she’s absolutely, unrecognizably gorgeous. I’m hooked on the AHA serum from Derma E, which you can see here.

Originally I bought the Derma E Anti-Aging Regenerative Serum with glycolic acid to help fade my acne scars, and to that end it’s worked wonders. I eventually learned that Vitamin A, which is in my serum, helps promote cell turnover that not only helps the acne scars, but also reduce age-related skin issues such as fine lines and dullness. My go-to can be found here.

Later on this year I decided to buy The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA serum at the recommendation of my esthetician Athena for the same reason, and I’m pleased with the results. I ordered my bottle from Ulta.

Number Five probably should be the first thing based on importance and how helpful it’s been overall: using retinoids.

Around June I decided I wanted to incorporate more anti-aging products into my routine and focus less on the acne. I read up on retinol and retinoids, and decided to try adapalene, an over-the-counter retinoid designed for acne. However, because retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives and those stimulate collagen production, adapalene is one of the gold standard products for anti-aging as well. I basically got a two-in-one deal.

The only downside to retinoids is that there’s a purging period in the beginning, where the old acne and clogged pores are brought up to the surface to “purge.” In addition to the acne is the dry skin flaking up and peeling off, which came as an unwelcome surprise on my chin and jawline. Frankly it was a drag to see all the inflammation when all I wanted to see was a beautiful face.

Eventually I discovered Dr. Dray. She’s a board-certified dermatologist who uses her YouTube channel to talk about skincare, what’s effective from a medical, scientific standpoint and what’s useless. She had a video on retinoid purging and suggested putting on moisturizer first and then the retinoid gel second, so the retinoid will still work without drying out the skin any further. At this point I had been following the directions on the back of the box, which said retinoid first, moisturizer second. I switched the order, my skin stopped flaking and the crazy purging period ended quickly after that.

I’ve alternated between the generic adapalene Meijer sells and Differin gel, which can be found in most major stores in the United States or here. I do want to note that in other countries, adapalene requires a prescription, so you would need to talk to a doctor before starting any treatments.

The final skin verdict:

The skincare refining process technically started this time last year and early in 2020. As of December 22nd, I can say my skin has improved dramatically. I rarely break out, and when I do (right now I have an acne cyst growing on my cheek – right before Christmas. I’m not surprised but I’m also not impressed either) the adapalene helps the inflammation go down and to outbreak to heal faster. Picking hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides help combat the oil overproduction my dryness causes, and the serums – Vitamin C in the morning; alpha hydroxy, glycolic and lactic acids in the evening – have evened up my skin tone, helped diminish the discoloration from acne scarring, and generally helped me “glow.”

So even though the rest of 2020 was a disappointment, my skin isn’t!

I hope you all enjoyed this and learned something helpful. Go show today who’s boss.

Yours in writing,


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