Is it just me or did this year fly by? I can’t believe it’s already time for me to share my fall skincare routine—and all the adjustments I’ve made since the summer. (And yes, I switched up my hair, too. No more blonde!)
The biggest change with my skin is that I started getting these mysterious breakouts on my forehead a couple months ago. At first, I thought they might be sweat- or sunscreen-related. Then, I wondered if it could be stress. And then, I noticed the area was looking and feeling dry... and I realized I’d actually caused the problem myself! 🤪
Here’s the lowdown on what happened (and why), and everything I’m doing to get my skin strong and even-toned again.
My Fall 2021 Skincare Routine
This is what (I think) caused the forehead breakouts, and what I’ve switched up as a result:
- Vitamin C: Remember how I was using SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF in the summer? It’s a new vitamin C serum that also contains 0.5% salicylic acid. I think it was just too much acid for my skin in combination with the COSRX BHA I was already using. My skin didn’t get irritated (BHAs are anti-inflammatory), but my forehead did become unusually dry. My theory is that I weakened my skin barrier, and that’s what led to the breakouts.
- BHA: To solve the problem, I changed my twice-daily BHA habit to only once a day, away from the Silymarin CF. For years, I’ve been using the COSRX BHA the same way as Lotion P50 (because my theory is that it gets results not just due to its ingredients, but because you’re meant to apply it morning and night). Fortunately, my skin didn’t rebel when I cut back—and in fact, the breakouts and dryness subsided. So it looks like once a day is sufficient from now on!
- Niacinamide: To help get my skin back on track, I upped the amount of niacinamide in my routine. Before, I was using 5% (Allies of Skin Molecular Saviour Probiotics Treatment Mist), but now I’m using a 10% formula from the same brand. Not only does niacinamide reduce excess oil, redness and dark spots, it also strengthens the skin barrier.
- Vitamin C Derivative: One more active that I added is sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a non-irritating vitamin C derivative that helps with brightening as well as breakouts. Mind you, I don’t really need it in addition to the L-ascorbic acid... I just wanted to try this product because there’s nothing else like it.
Alright, now allow me to take you through each step in more detail.
My Morning Skincare Routine
REN Clean Skincare recently sent me some products, including the Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk. I’m not usually a cleansing milk person, but after the acids made my forehead so dry, I figured now would be a good time to try it.
I’d describe it as a cleansing cream, not a milk (it feels more like a moisturizer than a cleanser), but to my surprise, I actually like it. I’m not sure how it would fare when you need to get off stubborn sunscreen and makeup, but it’s really nice in the morning and doesn’t make your skin feel stripped.
2. Vitamin C
For the longest time, I always applied an acid exfoliant after washing my face in the morning. But like I said, when I introduced SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF—which is both an L-ascorbic acid and a salicylic acid treatment in one—my skin gradually got too dry and broke out as a result. It makes sense that it only happened on my forehead because the skin is thinner there than the lower face. (It just took me a while to figure out!)
Fortunately, when I quit the acid and just used Silymarin CF on its own, my skin went back to normal. So I’m still a fan of this serum. It could easily replace the need for two separate products.
In fact, I liked it so much that I just finished the bottle. So now I’m using the OG formula, C E Ferulic (which the brand kindly sent as well). While Silymarin CF is specifically for oily skin, C E Ferulic is for all other skin types. I truly think these are the best L-ascorbic acid treatments, so I’m planning to review them both!
3. Eye Cream
Since L-ascorbic acid works best at a low pH, I try to wait up to 30 minutes before I apply any higher-pH products on top of it—otherwise, I could make it less effective. So while I’m waiting, I dab on some eye cream.
SkinCeuticals A.G.E. Eye Complex gets such good reviews, and now I know why. The texture is on the thicker side, and it’s very moisturizing but absorbent and non-greasy. I’m not sure if it actually does anything for dark circles, but it’s a lovely eye cream. Sometimes I add a bit more when I’m applying my MERIT The Minimalist as concealer.
(The only catch is that it’s high in silicones, but I’m not too concerned about them for the eye area, and it hasn’t caused any milia.)
4. Lip Balm
At the same time as I apply my eye cream, I do a layer of lip balm on my lips. That way, it has a good amount of time to repair any dryness before I apply lip colour.
Lanolin is always my go-to, and as I’ve said many times before, Lansinoh Lanolin is the best-kept secret. It’s sold as a nipple cream, but it actually makes the best lip balm—and it’s dirt cheap!
5. Vitamin C Derivative
After I’ve given my L-ascorbic acid enough time to penetrate, I apply another type of vitamin C. To be clear, doubling up on vitamin C treatments isn’t necessary at all—I’m just doing it because I really wanted to test out Agent Nateur Holi (C)!
This is a powder comprised of two ingredients: sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP) and calcium ketogluconate. SAP is a non-irritating, non-acidic vitamin C derivative that helps with brightening as well as acne. The calcium is said to work on skin elasticity and firming. Because it’s a powder, you don’t have to worry about it oxidizing like L-ascorbic acid.
To apply this, I mix it with the brand’s Holi (Water), below. (You can also use water, serum or moisturizer.) Now that I’m not using an exfoliant in the mornings, I feel like Holi (C) is a great alternative because of its anti-acne benefits.
After I pour a dime-sized amount of Holi (C) powder into the palm of my hand, I spray it with Agent Nateur Holi (Water)—about six or seven pumps—and mix them together. Then I press the liquid all over my face, neck and décolletage.
Holi (Water) is an essence, so it’s like a serum but with a thinner, liquid texture. You can also use it as a face mist or a hydrating toner. I love that it contains high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid (low-molecular weight is associated with inflammation), as well as pearl powder, lavender water and cucumber water.
Together with Holi (C), it’s just *chef’s kiss*. They make my skin hydrated, glowy and even kind of tightened!
Once my Agent Nateur concoction has sunk in, I do a layer of niacinamide serum. I always like to have this ingredient in my routine since it is so multi-purpose. Whenever I don’t use it, I feel like my skin somehow looks oilier but feels drier—that’s because niacinamide regulates oil while improving the function of the skin barrier.
Of course, it’s also excellent for brightening and can help fade post-acne marks, which is another reason it’s a key part of my routine right now. I’m trying to erase the reddish marks I got after breaking out across my forehead!
So, what I’m using is Allies of Skin Prebiotics & Niacinamide Pore Refining Booster, which I bought after enjoying their Molecular Saviour Probiotics Treatment Mist so much in the summer. While the mist has 5% of the active, the serum has 10%, and the texture is a little lighter and more gel-like. I have to say, this is one of the best niacinamide serums I’ve ever tried.
Whenever you’re trying to fade post-acne marks or pigmentation on your face, an ultra-protective sunscreen is key. Otherwise, the sun will darken that area and it will be even harder to get rid of!
That’s why I’ve been relying on CyberDerm Simply Zinc Ultra Transparent Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, which I believe is the strongest, most effective sunscreen on the market. Sometimes I use the Tinted, and sometimes I use the Untinted.
This is by no means a heavy sunscreen, nor does it leave you looking or feeling greasy. But I find it’s just moisturizing enough that I can wear it over the essence and the niacinamide, and I don’t need any other hydrators.
(But remember, it took me a while to quit moisturizer and for my skin to adjust. Read this tutorial for the pros and cons of moisturizer... I’ve found my skin does better without it, although I may add some back for the winter if need be.)
9. Powder Sunscreen
I don’t always do this, since it isn’t necessary with the CyberDerm SPF 50, but sometimes I finish with a layer of Suntegrity Pressed Mineral Powder Compact SPF 50. I came across this product recently (I think it launched about a year ago), and I couldn’t resist buying it.
While I have a few different powder sunscreens that apply with a brush (like the Supergoop! (Re)setting Powder SPF 45 I used in the summer), this is the first one I’ve found that is a pressed powder. Not only do I prefer this format, I also love that it contains only a handful of ingredients, including 25% zinc oxide. It’s also completely translucent on the skin.
After that, I use pretty much the same products I told you about in the summer—MERIT The Minimalist for dark circles, W3ll People Bio Powder Foundation to conceal redness and blemishes, and Freck Cheekslime and Freck The Original Freckle to mimic a sun-kissed look.
My Nighttime Skincare Routine
1. Micellar Water
For the first step in my nightly double cleanse, I do some Bioderma Sensibio H2O on a Shiseido Facial Cotton pad. I always come back to this micellar water. It’s so gentle and effective, and feels so fresh on my skin.
I was using the oil-based Hylamide High Efficiency Face Cleaner before, and that was great for getting off sweat, grime and sunscreen (therefore preventing breakouts). But now that the weather has cooled down, I find the micellar water is sufficient. It’s also quicker and easier.
It has a slippery, jelly-like texture, and is extremely gentle and softening. It’s specifically formulated for sensitive skin, so I’d be comfortable recommending this for all skin types. If you’re looking for a non-drying gel cleanser, you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve become a big proponent of toner after washing my face at the sink, to ensure that all traces of product are removed and not left on my skin. It definitely makes a difference if you are acne-prone like me.
I decided to go back to the PHA Toner after using Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner (which has 2% BHA) in the summer. Obviously, my skin was having trouble with the multiple acids, so I needed to ease up. This toner is non-acidic and has 3% niacinamide, so it’s extremely mild. I’m on my second bottle of this stuff—I love it!
4. Acid Exfoliant
Next comes my COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which I apply directly to my skin and then spread with my fingertips to create a light layer. (Don’t use a cotton pad, as it’s more of a gel than a liquid, so you’ll just end up wasting it.)
You probably already know how much I love and recommend this BHA. It is the key treatment I rely on to exfoliate and brighten my skin, prevent acne and keep my pores clean and clear. Its active ingredient is 4% betaine salicylate, which is a gentle and hydrating type of BHA. If you’ve found 2% salicylic acid to be too drying, I’d definitely give this a shot.
Since this was such a transformative product for me in clearing breakouts, I was nervous to go from twice to once a day. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, so I think I’ll just be using it at night from now on. (That’ll save me money, too!)
5. Eye Balm
The texture is like a lip balm, and it’s important to warm it up before you apply it to your eye area—otherwise it can drag on the skin. So that’s kind of annoying, but I do like the concept otherwise. They don’t disclose the percentage of retinol, but it’s in encapsulated form and unlikely to cause irritation.
I think that if you can tolerate your regular retinoid around your eyes, that’s always going to be the better (stronger) option. If not, I would consider this treatment, as the retinol will give you some mild anti-aging benefits.
I give my COSRX BHA 20-30 minutes to absorb and work its magic, and then it’s time for the Big Daddy: A313 Cosmetic Cream with Retinyl Palmitate. (That’s what the North American packaging says; I have the French version in this photo. But either one is good, as the formula is exactly the same.)
This is another product I can’t quit—it’s the strongest over-the-counter retinoid I’ve ever used. I actually prefer it to prescription Retin-A! Everything you need to know about is in this detailed review. I swear that it has softened fine lines and made my skin thicker and more resilient overall.
7. Lip Balm
To finish off, I use Lansinoh Lanolin again as my lip balm. I find the lanolin is much more protective than petrolatum—or any other lip balm, for that matter—and ensures that my lips don’t dry out, crack or split overnight.
My Extra Skincare Treatments
I finally got back into using my ZIIP Electrical Facial Device again! This is actually my second device, as the first one suddenly wouldn’t hold a charge. (The company was great and sent me a replacement completely free.)
This device, if you’re not familiar with it, emits painless electrical currents that increase levels of ATP (cellular energy) and stimulate facial muscles. It syncs up with an app on your phone to guide you through various treatments, ranging from sculpting and lifting to softening fine lines and boosting glow. The app was just relaunched, so I’ve been familiarizing myself with all the new programs, which you can see here.
The thing about microcurrent is that it does work—I do notice my face looks more “lifted” immediately after—but you have to be consistent for the improvements to last. So I’ll keep you posted! I would say that if you’re mainly interested in firming and want a device you can use on autopilot, go with the NuFace. But if you want to treat different skin concerns and can commit to doing the guided programs, then the ZIIP is a lot more versatile.
Red Light Therapy
My other treatment is red light, and with my new Red Light Man Combo Bodylight 2.0, I’m not just working on my face but also the rest of my body! I finally decided to invest in this full-body light panel after using a few other Red Light Man lights over the years, and I’m so glad I did.
It’s the most powerful light they sell, so treatment times are shorter, and you’re also getting the most optimal red and infrared wavelengths. (Find out more about wavelengths and power densities and why they matter in my red light therapy series.) I love that it’s “hands-free,” and effective at up to six feet away.
I generally just sit in front of it and chill... this light is so incredibly relaxing. And when I use red light regularly, it just makes my skin look better, like the before and after here!
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