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The year was 2011. People were just starting to sign up for Instagram, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was inescapable, and Isabel Marant created the year’s It shoe: the wedge-sneaker hybrid worn by everyone from Beyoncé to Kate Bosworth. I was in my early 30s and woke up one morning to an aggressive crop of adult acne populating what felt like my entire face.
After a rough battle with acne in my adolescence—I started seeing a dermatologist at 12, went through Accutane at 16—my skin and I had settled into an uneasy truce, but clearly the terms of our cease-fire had been breached. I felt betrayed, confused, and deeply frustrated by the sudden attack. So I did what any Virgo who works in fashion and beauty would do: I bought a bunch of anti-acne products and started to use them with intense focus. If one product promised to help, I would use three! I would force those pimples to leave my face. I was an acne warrior, determined to take back my skin.
But things got worse and worse, and my self-esteem was really taking a hit. Finally, I had the good sense to make an appointment with a woman who was rumored to have the magic touch: celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. (Yes, I talk about her a lot because she's a genius; just saying.)
Shani took one look at my face and said, “We can fix that.” And within six weeks, I was back to my former self. The secret? I was doing too much, and these ultra-aggressive tactics were irritating my skin, making it inflamed and pissed at me. Shani put me on a simple routine that I still use today, and it changed my life forever. If this sounds like your experience as well, I hope this can help. (It's important to remember that everyone's skin is different, and it's always best to consult a dermatologist or skin care professional before making changes to your routine.)
Note: These are not the only products I use—more on that later—but this is the foundation of my skin care routine.
Instead of a harsh, anti-acne cleanser, Shani started me on a simple face wash that cleans skin without stripping it. I love this one because it also takes off my eye makeup with ease. (Also available at Violet Grey + Amazon.)
After washing my face at night, I use this serum, which helps with acne, dullness, and fine lines. I swear it helps my melasma too, but that’s just me. I started using this once a week and then built up to using it every few nights. (Also available at Dermstore + Amazon.)
To this day, the Hydrating Lotion is my go-to moisturizer. As an editor, I have been lucky enough to try everything on the market—no joke—and while I love rotating other moisturizers into the mix, this is my essential one. Shani also introduced me to the brand’s oil-free sunscreen/daytime moisturizer with SPF, which rubs in really nicely. (Also available at Shani Darden + Amazon.)
I will be honest: Shani tried to get me to use a retinol before she created her own, but I’d had iffy results in the past and was a little scared. However, when she came out with her own, I was willing to take the plunge, and honestly, it’s my favorite product ever now. It’s super gentle and has never irritated my skin, but again, I also followed her directions and used it once a week to start (and never on the days I did Active Serum) and now probably use it three times a week.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the foundation of my skincare routine, but I'm always trying new products and am slowly adding in some newcomers, specifically: a Vitamin C serum, amazing eye cream, soothing serum, skin-plumping serum, resurfacing compound, smart moisturizer, and a tinted moisturizer. More on that in an upcoming newsletter.
Also: I know these picks are not inexpensive, but they last a long time. I have tried so many products over the years—from thrifty thrills to wildly expensive options—and these are the ones that really work for me.
Additionally, this probably goes without saying, but there are a million factors that impact your skin, from genetics to environment to hormones and more, so again: if you're having issues, talk to your dermatologist or a trusted skincare expert.