When skincare is your job, it’s always a challenge to test-drive the latest launches while also maintaining your skin with the products you already love. That’s why it was hard to say goodbye to my my winter routine (one of my favourites in recent memory) in order to try a new lineup for spring. But hey, I’ll always offer up my face so I can report back on what is worth it... and what is not!
In this routine, I’ve included some PR samples that piqued my curiosity, products I bought myself that I wanted to try, and of course, my Holy Grails that I just can’t quit.
First, the highlights (and what’s changed versus last time), and then I’ll walk you through it all step by step.
My Spring Skincare Routine: Overview and What’s New
Red Light Therapy Device
Alright, here’s what’s up with my skin and my routine for this season:
- Pigmentation fighters: My skin is acne-prone, but what bothers me more than the occasional pimple (which I’ll get before my cycle) is the dreaded post-acne mark that is left behind. Those suckers can take forever to fade! So, I decided it was time I test-drove a new product that was created specifically for this issue, with six ingredients to fight pigmentation.
- EltaMD sunscreens: Everyone (including celebs) goes crazy for EltaMD sunscreens, and I’m often asked which ones I recommend. For face, there are two. I’ve been testing both all spring, and you can find out my thoughts (and the differences between them) below.
- Retinyl retinoate: I love retinoids for their anti-aging and anti-acne effects, and this is a next-gen one that I’ve been wanting to try. It’s a retinoic acid ester that is said to be eight times more effective than retinol, but only half as irritating.
Alright, now for the details on everything I’ve been using (with mixed results 🤔) this spring.
My Morning Skincare Routine
I was recently sent the Peach & Lily Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser to try, and it’s so good, I’ll be adding it to my list of favourite gel cleansers. Similar to The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser, which I loved in the winter, it is gentle, sulfate-free and non-stripping. This one has more of a cream-gel texture and doesn’t lather quite as much, but it still rinses away thoroughly without any residue.
I would recommend this for everyone, especially sensitive types, because it makes your skin feel so clean, soft and soothed.
I don’t use toner in the morning because I wash my face in the shower (so the water removes all traces of my cleanser). Then, I go straight for my most beloved exfoliant: COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. For a while there, I had stopped this product in the mornings because I was using SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF and then C E Ferulic, and it seemed like too much acid for my skin to handle. But now that I’ve switched to a different pigmentation treatment—which is non-acidic, and a lot more rich!—I decided I could safely add it back.
This exfoliant makes a huge difference in preventing not only blackheads but also breakouts, as well as brightening my skin and reducing excess oil. See my review here.
3. Eye Cream
At the same time as my BHA, I also apply my eye cream: Summer Fridays Light Aura Vitamin C + Peptide Eye Cream. This one was sent to me, and it’s loaded with ingredients (including niacinamide, THD ascorbate, peptides and caffeine) to improve the eye area.
I knew from covering the launch that it had light-reflective particles in it, but what I didn’t realize is that it’s also orange-tinted—both of which can create an immediately brighter look for dark circles. The problem is that it becomes patchy, so you get these little orange bits sitting on top of your skin (and orange is not my colour!). Otherwise, it’s fine, but I think they need to reformulate to make the particles more evenly distributed (or ideally, remove the colour and shimmer altogether!).
4. Pigmentation Treatment
I try to give my BHA about half an hour to do its job, and then I apply Topicals Faded Brightening Serum, the pigmentation treatment that was constantly selling out in 2020 and 2021. I had to see if it lived up to the hype! What intrigued me about this product is that it contains niacinamide, tranexamic acid, alpha-arbutin, kojic acid, azelaic acid and licorice root, all of which can help to fade dark marks.
It’s called a serum, but in reality it’s more of a gel-cream. On your skin, it has the opposite feeling to a light, watery serum—I actually find it kind of greasy and sticky, like it doesn’t really sink in. So I’m crossing my fingers that it doesn’t backfire and cause new breakouts, which would be ironic! (That’s another reason I’ve stepped it up with the BHA!)
What I will probably end up doing, since I feel like the texture is too heavy for me, is go back to niacinamide serum all over my face, and then just use this as a spot treatment. I am genuinely surprised that a brand that caters to acne-prone skin would make such an emollient product, so I hope they consider offering a more lightweight version in the future.
Since Topicals Faded is so moisturizing on its own, I have zero need for a separate moisturizer. So I move straight to sunscreen. As you may know, I only use and recommend mineral sunscreen, and for this routine, I wanted to focus on the two best options from EltaMD. (I got them without a tint, but they also come in tinted versions.)
EltaMD UV Glow Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 is the most protective, with 20.15% zinc oxide and a high concentration of niacinamide for brightening. It’s quite white and thick when you first dispense it, which I know will be a turnoff if you’re used to chemical sunscreens. (What can help is if you apply mineral sunscreen in quadrants, working it into one section of your skin at a time.) For me, there’s no white cast, but I suspect there would be on deep tones. This is one of the more moisturizing sunscreens, but once it dries down, it does not feel heavy or greasy on the skin.
The other one I’m using is EltaMD UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40. It has 15% zinc oxide and 2% titanium dioxide, so the protection is almost as good as UV Glow. It’s oil-free, with a lighter, creamier and more spreadable texture that feels velvety-soft when it dries down. I would say this is the more elegant and less whitening of the two, and is suitable for all skin types and tones.
I would wear UV Glow when I need maximum protection, but I think UV Restore is fine for everyday incidental exposure. (The only issue with UV Restore is that it is slightly low in titanium dioxide—ideally it should have 5%. But the 15% zinc oxide will still give you good UVA protection.)
My Nighttime Skincare Routine
1. Oil-Based Cleanser
I always like to step it up with the double cleansing when the weather gets warmer—to help get off all the sweat, pollution and sunscreen—so my first cleanse is with Kjaer Weis The Cleanser. I was sent this to try, and it’s one of the most unique cleansers I’ve ever used.
It dispenses as a jelly (a little goes a long way!), but when you massage it on, it turns into an oil. You’re meant to use it on dry skin; I add a little water to emulsify it before rinsing off. I just don’t think you could use this as your only cleanser, as I find it doesn’t fully remove with water alone.
2. Gel Cleanser
For my second cleanse, I wanted to use a gel, and what better gel cleanser is there than iS Clinical Cleansing Complex?! Seriously, it’s the best—so gentle but so effective. The texture is kind of slippery, like snail mucin, and it lathers up just enough to make your face feel clean but not dried out. You can also leave it on for a few minutes as a quick mask!
To be extra sure I got off all the cleansers, I always use toner. (Otherwise, if I miss removing some, I’ll get breakouts around the edges of my face!) While I loved the Idealove The Balancing Act Aloe Propolis BHA Toner from my last routine, I figured I should give Shani Darden Sake Toning Essence a go, since I bought it quite some time ago.
This is a toner-essence hybrid, so it has a thicker texture than regular toner, and you can either pat it on with your hands or swipe with a cotton pad. I use Shiseido Facial Cotton. Its claim to fame is that it’s high in brightening sake water, which is similar to the famous SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, but at a much lower price point.
I have to say, I really like the feel of toner-essences. This product, Idealove, and Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner all have similar textures, although Shani’s is the only one that is not acidic. (For that reason, it’s probably not the best fit in my routine before an acid, but I think my morning exfoliant is doing most of the legwork!)
Moving on to exfoliation.... I’d probably be fine with just the COSRX BHA in the mornings, but I wanted to try the new Trinny London Find Your Balance BHA Exfoliant that was sent to me. So I’m incorporating this one at night.
This is a light, clear gel with two types of BHAs (salicylic acid and willow bark), plus mandelic acid (an AHA). I haven’t found it to be harsh or drying at all. I wish they’d disclose the exact percentages of the actives, but I suspect this is quite a mild treatment based on the ingredients list. (It’s highest in willow bark and mandelic acid, which are weak exfoliants, while salicylic acid, which is strongest, is near the end.)
So it’s probably not strong enough for my skin, which is well used to acids, but worth a shot if you are looking for an ultra-gentle clarifying exfoliant. The bottles are also refillable!
After exfoliating, I wait about half an hour to apply my retinoid—well, actually there are two retinoids right now. I use the strongest one, A313, around my eyes (where I want to target fine lines) as well as on my chin (where I get congested). This is a French pharmacy cult product that I honestly can’t live without. It’s anti-aging and anti-acne, and just makes my skin plumper and stronger overall. See my full review here.
On the rest of my face, I’m testing Verso Super Facial Serum with retinyl retinoate. If you’ve struggled with the side effects of retinol, this is the product for you. (Like I said, retinyl retinoate is eight times more effective than retinol, but half as irritating.) Even though I’ve been using A313 for so long, it can make me a bit dry and flaky around my nose and mouth. so this serum is a perfect alternative for those areas. It has a lovely light, creamy texture—actually, everything from this brand has been a pleasure to use!
My Skincare Treatments
I’m not much of a face mask person, but I couldn’t resist buying the new Agent Nateur Holi (Bright) Resurface Glass Face Mask, and it does not disappoint! It has a jelly texture that reminds me of Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask (which I also love), and it is packed with vitamin C, high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid, lactic acid and hydrolyzed silk in an aloe vera base. When I wash it off, my skin is smoother, softer and yes, brighter.
I told you about Dermaflash Dermapore Pore Extractor & Serum Infuser in my winter routine, and I’m still using it about once or twice per week. There is a learning curve—you have to make sure your skin stays wet, and hold it at the right angle—but I think it’s a safer option than those metal pore extractors that can damage your skin! I still haven’t gotten around to using the serum infusion function, but I do really like this for those areas where gunk builds up (like around the nose and chin).
Red Light Therapy Device
Last but not least, I’m still devoted to my Red Light Man Combo Bodylight 2.0 for red light therapy. This was definitely an investment, but I think I get more use out of it than a handheld device, because I can just sit cross-legged in front of it, hands free! Red light therapy floods your skin with ATP (cellular energy), so it helps with acne, inflammation, wound healing and even wrinkles and sagging!
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