December 11, 2015

Skincare Woes and My Introduction to Asian Beauty

To put it quite simply, my skin and I have been duking it out for some time now (the same goes for my hair, but that’s a story for another day). As a teenager, my skin was super oily with the occasional blemish, and, like most teenagers, I used products I probably shouldn’t have to try to combat this (I’m looking at you St. Ives Apricot Scrub!). Around the time I started college, my skin was getting worse and I was rarely without at least one active blemish. I also suffered from the occasional cystic acne spot, probably from sleeping with my makeup on every once in a while. It was like this for a few years, and while it’s never been something that’s bothered me to the point of tears as I know is the case for many acne sufferers, it was frustrating because I felt like my makeup never looked as good as it would have if my skin was smooth and blemish free, and I felt like I always had to wear foundation.

Around two years ago, I discovered BzzAgent and was lucky enough to receive a few Paula’s Choice trial kits* from their Clear acne-fighting line in both the regular and extra strength versions.  I’d already heard good things about their products, so I was excited to try them. This was also my first experience with a leave-on salicylic acid treatment, and using this line of products helped me to discover that my skin really needs a bit of extra help to properly shed dead skin cells. While these products definitely helped my skin, they didn’t really solve all of my problems, and the only one I felt compelled to keep using was the 2% salicylic acid treatment. What made the biggest difference was finally having an explanation of what certain ingredients did for the skin and why many of the most popular products on the market can actually be damaging your skin more than helping it. Now, before any of you start worrying that this is going to spiral into me claiming that Paula is my skincare goddess and has all the answers, rest assured, I don’t pray at the PC altar. In my opinion, some people are a bit too excitable about the Paula’s Choice brand and the information provided by the Beautypedia*. I’m not saying they don’t make good products, they do, and if this is the first you’ve heard of the brand, I’d still recommend checking the website out because there may be something there that will help you with your own skincare needs. I’m just saying that PC is not the be-all, end-all of skincare and that you should consider multiple sources. Another point of contention with the Beautypedia is that even though they claim to be unbiased reviews, they tend to be a bit snarky with some products, and there’s no denying that they, as a business selling skincare products, have something to gain from telling you that other products are shit. There’s still a lot of good information there and their products work wonderfully for a lot of people, just take everything with a grain of salt and do some of your own research if you’re looking to get serious about skincare.

For the most part, my skin has remained about the same for the past couple of years, so here’s a quick little profile of my skin: acne-prone, oily-dehydrated with a sharp decline in hydration in the colder months and a bit more surface oil during the warmer months. In addition to acne, I struggle with texture a lot. My skin doesn’t really like retinol, physical exfoliants, and isn’t very responsive to benzoyl peroxide. My skin loves acids, and I wouldn’t consider it to be particularly sensitive, but it is somewhat reactive within 2-3 days if it doesn’t like a product. My forehead and nose are oily, and my cheeks and chin are dry, with my chin being the worst of it. I also have a particularly stubborn dry patch on the inner corner of my lift eyelid that likes to make an appearance every winter. I consider my skin to be oily-dehydrated rather than combination because even in my oily areas, makeup tends to sit a bit funny and emphasize the lack of hydration in the skin underneath. My breakouts aren’t restricted to any particular area of my face, but they’re most common on my cheeks. My pores tend to be average to slightly larger than average, so they’re not one of my main concerns, but I do have a few fine lines beginning to form that I’d like to prevent from getting any worse.

I haven’t really had a set range of products in my skincare routine because I’m still looking for the perfect products in most categories, but I always double cleanse if I wear makeup (more on why and how I double cleanse another day, I’m trying not to chat your ear, um, eyes? off), and I always wear sunscreen if I’m leaving the house. Other than that, my skincare has included the use of a BHA for 2+ years, and an AHA for ~1 year, both of which I feel make a significant difference in the appearance and texture of my skin. I switch cleansers a lot as I get samples of new things because I have yet to find one that really wows me, and after my most recent adventure in the rabbit hole, I’ve begun to search for a cleanser with the proper pH, which is, again, something that will be discussed further in another post.

A few of the products currently in rotation. 

A recent addition to my skincare arsenal has been sheet masks, which yet again, was introduced to me by BzzAgent (you can learn more about BzzAgent here*, if you’re so inclined, and no, this isn’t at all sponsored or associated with BzzAgent in any way, they just happen to have introduced me to a few skincare products over the years). I’d been somewhat familiar with the Asian beauty trend that majorly took off a few years ago, and had even been following the subreddit* for a few months when BzzAgent sent me a few SK-II products to try, one of which was the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask*.  I’d held off on jumping on the Asian beauty bandwagon for a few reasons, but after using and enjoying this mask, I was intrigued enough to start searching for more sheet masks to try. As for why it took me so long to get on board with AB, first, it’s kind of a lot to take in. Way more steps than a typical western skincare routine, ingredients and products that we don’t really see in the states (first essence? snail? syn-ake?), and so much to learn that it can be overwhelming. For beginners, it’s tough to even find a place to begin.

Also creating apprehension for me was the knowledge that hype trains tend to go flying off the tracks at some point, and I didn’t wanna be in the middle of that hot mess if this happened to be a short-lived, over-hyped trend that came back to bite us all in the ass. A few years later, and Asian beauty is still continuing a meteoric rise, with some sources even claiming that the technology of Asian skincare products is ten or more years in advance of western skincare technology. Whether or not this is actually true, I do know that western BB creams turn me into an Oompa Loompa and that my skin strongly prefers sheet masks to clay-based ones**. Seriously, that Queen Helene Mint Julep mask that everyone seems to love? Get that shit away from me, it makes my face itchy. And the Glam Glow mud masks? Uh-uh, nope. Not a fan of scratching my skin off with tea leaves, thanks. If it works for you, awesome, but my skin and I will be over here bathing in the blood of virgins  fermented broccoli and snail soup, or whatever other goodies I can find in sheet mask form.

Additionally, one of the things that often attracts people to AB had me giving it the side-eye. Yep, I’m talking about the packaging. To my American eyeballs, the cutesy, colorful, exciting packaging translated to “this product is crap, so we had to do something gimmicky to get you to buy it”. Have no doubt, some of it is gimmicky and/or overhyped, but AB offers me a more customizable, ingredient-focused, results-driven approach to skincare that I’m really beginning to love. The final thing that kept me away from AB for so long was that there’s kind of a barrier to entry, though far less so than there used to be. When I first started hearing rumblings about AB, there were very few ways to get your grubby little mitts on these products stateside, and even now, you often have to pay a pretty penny for shipping or spend $50+ to hit the free shipping threshold, which is sometimes more than I’m willing to spend in one go. I may use a few very expensive products (oh, Sunday Riley, how I love you so), but I’m a discount diva at heart and will often build a cart only to get cold feet when I see the shipping costs. I’ll do a round up of different places you can purchase AB once I have more experience with different sellers, but for now, I can happily recommend both Beauteque* and Beautius* as sellers with fair prices for products, low shipping costs, and a positive buying experience.

My skincare routine will probably never be entirely AB, but I am very interested in the Korean layering techniques and will be incorporating a lot of this into my skincare routine in the months to come. I’m by no means an expert in AB or skincare in general, so we’ll be learning together as I share the results of my research and my experiences with you all here on the blog. What have your experiences been with AB so far? Are you someone who has yet to take the plunge, an excited beginner like me, or do you have an entire drawer dedicated to sheet masks, essences, and ampoules? Leave a comment and let me know! I love to talk, obviously. Also, cheers to you if you made it to the end of this post, it was a long one. You’re my favorite.

*That’s a non-affiliate link, btw. Disclosure is cool, yo.
**I do occasionally use a few clay-based masks, such as the Origins Clear Improvements Charcoal mask*, but most of the time I only use them as spot treatments. Thankfully, the Origins mask doesn’t make me itchy like the Queen Helene one does.

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