I am a creature of habit. My penchant for scheduling and list-making is known far and wide; my devotion to routine is borderline disturbing. With the exception of my (increasingly infrequent) sample reviews, I generallly stick to the same skin care routine with very little deviation. Therefore, each product in my arsenal goes through a rigorous vetting process and, once added to the upper echelon of Nikki’s Medicine Cabinet, tends to stay there for quite some time. These are products I use, trust, and return to time and time again.
Let’s talk about the products I’m using on my face right now.
Jojoba Oil: I’m not very brand-loyal when it comes to my jojoba oil. I believe my most recent purchase was Desert Essence Organic Jojoba Oil because I was in a pinch and it was the only available option at my grocery store. I repackage mine in a sanitized glass dropper bottle for convenience and apply it over my moisturizer to decrease TEWL. I also use it for oil cleansing, facial massage,** and removing makeup (note: because I haven’t added an emulsifier, I follow the oil with a regular cleanser to remove any oil residue remaining on my skin; if that strikes you as one too many steps, there’s a great tutorial for creating a cleansing oil here). Note: If you oil cleanse and use an AHA exfoliant, you will need an emulsifier in your oil in order to rinse it away without residue and reap the full benefits of alpha hydroxy acids. AHAs (unlike BHA) are not oil soluble.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser: It cleanses. It’s gentle enough for my hypersensitive skin, despite containing SLS. The formula is a little outdated and it doesn’t contain much in the way of active ingredients for combating skin concerns (e.g. acne control, age control, anti-inflammatory) but it suits my needs just fine at an accessible price point. Plus, it works well with my Clarisonic (which I use with the sensitive skin brush head a couple times a week). It’s a water-soluble cleanser and doesn’t effectively remove makeup on its own, but I find that if I pre-cleanse with jojoba oil and then add a bit of Cetaphil cleanser, the sodium lauryl sulfate sufficiently emulsifies the whole shebang.
Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Essential Hydrating Toner: I was stuck using sample packs of this until my replacement toner arrived because I like living on the edge. Almost out of toner? I can wait a few days before I place a refill order. I like to ride that dangerous wave, nervously speculating will my sweet hydrating nectar arrive before my supply runs out? It’s a real thrill.
But enough about my thrill-seeking lifestyle.
My love for Paula’s Choice knows no bounds; however, this isn’t the toner of my dreams (and yes, I most certainly do dream about toner). It simply functioned as a stopgap measure until the UPS guy bequeathed me with my Skin Recovery Calming Toner. The Moisture Boost toner is perfectly adequate; it’s got linoleic acid (for all that essential fatty acid goodness) and glycerin (because humectant moisture is my steez). I just found the Skin Recovery toner to be slightly less irritating (thanks, allantoin!) and noticeably more moisturizing.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel: Luckily, I like to keep plenty of samples on hand for travel toiletries, because I was (as previously stated) riding the sample packet express until my Paula’s Choice order arrived. The AHA gel is a glycolic acid exfoliant with green tea, aloe, and chamomile. It exfoliates effectively without irritation. It’s a good product. End of story.
Paula’s Choice Resist Retinol Serum: It’s a nice retinol serum with additional antioxidant, emollient, and anti-inflammatory ingredients. I hope it will keep my face from getting all pruny, but I suppose only time will tell. All I know for now is that it feels pretty nice and the packaging is suitable for photosensitive ingredients.
Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Super Booster: Similar to Skinceutical’s C E Ferulic at less than a third of the price, this antioxidant serum has left my skin noticeably brighter while reducing PIH. Though the packaging is good, the product still has a very limited shelf life due to its vitamin C content. I apply much, much more than is suggested in order to use up an entire bottle within the recommended 3-4 month time frame. A++ would recommend, just don’t be stingy or you’ll wind up throwing away a decent amount of product.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream: Fragrance-free? Check. Ceramides? Check. Hyaluronic acid? Check. It’s thick, it’s ultra-moisturizing, and it’s available at literally every drug store I have ever seen. While I’m tempted to upgrade to First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (you can read my earlier review here), I’m grown so comfortable with my trusty CeraVe standby that I’m hesitant to spend $39 on a 12 oz tub of FAB. For comparison, CeraVe is roughly $12.00 for 12 oz at my local Target. The one major drawback is the jar packaging, which isn’t the most sanitary or convenient option, so I repackage mine in a pump dispense bottle.
Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Cream: I can’t speak for the purported anti-wrinkle properties of this product because I don’t frequently use it on my face. It is, however, a godsend for the occasional keratosis pilaris I experience on the backs of my arms and legs. It contains a decent amount of lactic acid within an effective pH range, but contains enough fragrance that I might be cautious about prolonged facial usage. Overall, I’d call it a decent option for dry skin that isn’t overly sensitive. As a special WTF bonus, it contains titanium dioxide for some odd and unexplained reason, yet makes no claims regarding SPF. Again, jar packaging is an issue here, but a cheap bottle with tinted or opaque plastic solves both the hygiene issue and helps protect less shelf-stable photosensitive ingredients from losing efficacy.
Clarins UV Plus HP Broad Spectrum SPF 40: There are less expensive sunscreens on the market. Many of them work just as well as this one. But sun protection is something I know I need to wear every day, and a truly enjoyable product encourages me to stick with that goal. A fluid consistency means this product goes on smooth and layers incredibly well under makeup, though for the same reasons it is virtually bereft of moisturizing benefits. This physical sunscreen (8.1% titanium dioxide) doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin, though the formula does contain known irritants (SLS and lots of fragrance, including limonene and linalool). Despite the price, the lack of moisture, and the potential for irritation, I truly enjoy this product. I love it even more than my Shiseido Urban Environment SPF 42. You can pry my Clarins sunscreen from my cold, dead, lily-white hands.
Aveda Deep Cleansing Herbal Clay Masque: This product is a total misnomer, which is precisely the reason why I like it so much. Kaolin and bentonite clays are the fourth and sixth listed ingredients (respectively); with so little clay in a clay mask, this isn’t going to encourage a whole lot of drying or purging. I think this is a great clay mask for those with dry skin who aren’t able to tolerate more drying/less emollient clay masks, but who occasionally need to absorb a bit of excess surface oil. Glycerin and fatty alcohols provide moisturizing benefits.
Aloe barbadenis: I use 100% aloe vera gel as a non-setting mask in the winter (particularly if I’ve been skiing a lot) to improve moisture and heal my chapped, wind-burned face. It’s cheap and it feels nice. Next question.
Make Up For Ever HD Foundation: This is my foundation. I use the color N110 because I’m pale as fuck with pink undertones. Bryan from Paula’s Choice has a great video review which can be found here, and I agree with all of his claims. It provides medium-buildable coverage with a matte finish that looks very natural and lifelike. It’s available in a variety of shades and undertones, though out of the 25 shades offered only 5 of them are truly dark (cosmetic companies’ general lack of representation and disregard for the product needs of women of color is a serious topic for another day).
Make Up For Ever HD Concealer: Many shade options with full coverage in a waterproof, sweatproof, everything-proof formula. The coverage is dense enough to cover scars and tattoos, but the finish is still incredibly lifelike. This concealer is the cosmetic equivalent of a nuclear fallout shelter.
Fresh Seaberry Moisturizing Face Oil: I’ve already discussed this product at length, but for those interested in an update, yes, I did purchase the full size bottle, and yes, it is everything I had hoped it would be and more.
Lip balm: Applying lip balm is the final step in my AM and PM skin care routines. At night I tend to stick to my old faithful, Smith’s Rosebud Salve, but for day I’ve been using Fresh Sugar Tinted Lip Treatment in Sugar Berry. It’s a wonderfully emollient formula in a gorgeous, sheer color that would flatter anyone with cool undertones.
What’s missing? I don’t use an eye cream. For the most part, I use the same products on my eye area as I do on the rest of my face. Product formulas don’t differ vastly between face creams and eye creams, but the price per ounce is enough to encourage me to use my regular facial moisturizer on my eye area. However, my advice should be taken with a grain of salt, as I don’t have specific concerns regarding my eye area (e.g. puffiness, dark circles) that require targeted ingredients not found in my skincare products.
Bonus Round! The Thing I Put on the Things I Put on My Face: Litmus Strips
Litmus strips are a good item to have handy when trying a new product or whipping up a DIY skin treatment. Always ensure that products are within a safe, effective pH range before putting them on your face. There are plenty of cost-effective options on Amazon, such as this or this or this.
**Is there any interest in a video on facial massage? What about manual lymphatic drainage? I suppose I should take a poll.