Normally, I don't recommend going wild on active ingredients. The more of them in your routine, the more chance of irritation and interactions—not to mention, you won't know which ones are actually working (and which are not).
But hear me out. I've gone against my own advice this winter with a slightly more complex routine than usual... and it's because there's not much to do here at the moment except skincare.
Where I'm at, we've been in a lockdown since November, with no end in sight. (Hence my bad hair in need of a bang trim and a root touch-up!) So I've got all the time in the world for the layering and waiting times involved in this routine.
Here's what's new in my routine, followed by the exact products I'm using now.
My Winter 2021 Skincare Routine
Alright, these are the main things I've switched up versus my fall routine:
- Lightweight layers: Living in Canada, my skin obviously gets drier in the winter, and this year has been no exception. But since my skin responded so well to my "no moisturizer" experiment of 2020, I'm still trying to limit my use of creams and oils. So I'm layering a lot of serums, and sparingly using a lightweight moisturizer and balm only when and where I really need it.
- Vitamin C: Even though it's one of the best ingredients for your skin, L-ascorbic acid hasn't been part of my routine in a long time—until now. I finally found a formula that's specifically made for acne-prone skin, and like I said, I've got more time right now to fit it into my daily routine. (So I'll be able to use it up within three months, before it oxidizes.) Niacinamide has always been good to me, but I'm hoping that adding in vitamin C will make a difference on a couple of stubborn post-acne marks.
- Retinaldehyde: As much as I adore A313 and Retinol Reform, it's my duty here to test out new retinoids for you guys, and so I've moved on to a new one. I'm particularly excited about it because the active ingredient is retinaldehyde, which converts to retinoic acid (active vitamin A) in just one step.
- A cult-favourite serum: I also couldn't resist adding a new multitasking serum to my routine—which happens to be the number one product mentioned in all the celebrity skincare routines we've looked at over the years.
So yes, I've probably introduced too many new things at once. But so far, so good, and I'll give you all the juicy product details below!
My Morning Skincare Routine
After hearing so many celebrities rave about it in their skincare routines, I'm finally testing out the iS Clinical Cleansing Complex as my morning cleanser this winter. Now I understand the hype! It has a very viscous, slippery texture, and is truly the gentlest and least drying gel cleanser I've EVER used. I think this may be my new Holy Grail cleanser—I'd absolutely buy it again when I finish the bottle.
2. Eye Cream:
As soon as I step out of the shower, I apply iS Clinical Youth Eye Complex. (Yes, I'm on an iS Clinical kick at the moment—I stocked up on Black Friday!) Honestly, my eye area looks better since I started using this. It's light but hydrating, non-irritating, and full of peptides, including copper peptides. I like it even better than Dr. Sturm Eye Cream, which was one of my favourites last year.
I've also been using the new Goop Beauty GOOPGENES All-in-One Nourishing Eye Cream, which the brand sent me to try. It's great, too, and feels slightly richer. But I would say the iS Clinical is the most impressive in terms of visible results.
3. Vitamin C Serum:
Then comes iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+ (also known as Pro-Health in some countries, as you can see on the packaging). For me, this has been the perfect foray back into vitamin C, as it's made for both acne-prone and sensitive skin. Just like the gold standard, C E Ferulic, it contains 15% L-ascorbic acid and 1% vitamin E. But unlike other vitamin C serums, it specifically helps with redness, inflammation and even cystic acne. I will report back on my results!
Since Pro-Heal Serum Advance+ has a pH level of 3.1—and L-ascorbic acid penetrates best at pH 3.5 or lower—I incorporate a waiting time before I apply my usual layer of COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, which is pH 4.0. It's not a huge gap in pH, so I usually wait about 15 minutes.
I'm always talking about this product because it transformed my skin more than any other acid I've tried (including P50!). The active ingredient, betaine salicylate, gently exfoliates both my skin surface and inside my pores, leaving my skin smoother, clearer and brighter. See my full review here.
5. Niacinamide Serum:
Once I've got on my COSRX BHA, I need to wait again before I apply The Inkey List Niacinamide, since its pH is much higher at 6.0. (Usually, I wait about 20-30 minutes in between them.) Even though I'm using a vitamin C serum now, I'm such a fan of niacinamide—and this product in particular—that I didn't want to give it up. I find it so moisturizing, and it really does help to regulate oil production (among these other benefits).
6. Hyaluronic Acid Serum:
Then I do a couple drops of ClarityRx Daily Dose of Water Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum on top of the niacinamide. This is one of my favourite hyaluronic acid serums, with only four ingredients and a gel-like texture. Most days, I find that this plus the niacinamide serum is enough hydration for my skin, now that it is no longer "addicted" to moisturizer.
In the winter, I sometimes get dry patches on and around my nose, usually when I've been outside and exposed to the harsh weather. When that happens, I've been patting on Augustinus Bader The Cream, which is full of reparative ingredients like ceramides and shea butter. My skin doesn't need it all over anymore, so I'm just being strategic about my application.
If I'm leaving the house, EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35 is what I'm wearing over my serums, since UVA is ubiquitous even in the wintertime. With its light serum texture, high level of protection, and invisible, non-whitening finish (even on dark skin tones), it really is a game-changer.
9. Lip Balm:
I was recently sent the WLDKAT Cupuacu + Mango Butter Lip Balm to try, and so I've been wearing both shades. O.G. is clear, while Headband, which I'm wearing up top, reacts with your lips' pH level to create a unique shade of pink. (On me, it turns a very cool-toned fuchsia, so I warmed it up a bit with the Dior Addict Lip Tattoo that I told you about in the fall.) Both are super moisturizing, with a glossy finish, but I love how Headband creates an intense and long-lasting stain that you can also wear blotted.
10. Skin Balm:
Last but not least, Tatcha The Serum Stick is my favourite new discovery for dry skin touch-ups throughout the day. It's 80% squalane oil in a glide-on stick, so it's very lightweight yet healing. I use it around my eyes and nose, and on my lips—anywhere that skin starts feeling parched.
My Nighttime Skincare Routine
1. Makeup Remover:
At night, I do a first pass all over my face with the Huangjisoo Sugar No:rinse Cleansing Pads, which were sent to me last year. This is a Korean clean beauty brand, so they're soaked in a 99.5% natural micellar water solution. I've been pleasantly surprised at how effective they are, while still being very gentle on your skin. One side of the pad is more textured than the other, so you're also getting a mild mechanical exfoliation.
Next, I wash my face with the new Shani Darden Cleansing Serum (which, as a huge fan of Retinol Reform, I HAD to buy ). I wouldn't really call it a "serum," though—the texture is more of a jelly. It lathers up really well, does a good job of cleansing, and doesn't irritate my skin. I just find it leaves me feeling a tiny bit tight when I rinse it off, so I may save it for the spring or summer, when I'm oilier.
After I finish washing my face, I like to use The Inkey List PHA Toner on a Shiseido Facial Cotton to ensure that all traces of dirt and cleanser are removed from my skin. This is a toner I fell in love with in the fall, and I'm still very much into it. The combination of 3% PHAs and 3% niacinamide is super gentle and preps my skin to receive my nighttime actives.
4. Eye Cream:
I like iS Clinical Youth Eye Complex so much that I'm actually applying it twice a day, morning and night. Why was I sleeping on this brand before, you guys?! Everything is just SO GOOD.
5. Clarifying Serum:
Now it's time for the iS Clinical treatment that I was most excited about trying: iS Clinical Active Serum. This does a bit of everything: it cleans pores, gently exfoliates, brightens and softens fine lines. It's too soon to give you the full verdict, but so far, it seems to be keeping my skin smooth and clear.
It's just hard to give this a proper test because I'm still using the COSRX BHA, which has many of the same benefits. I didn't want to quit cold turkey in case that triggered breakouts, but I've cut back to mainly mornings, and my plan is to gradually wean off it for a while so I can see how Active Serum performs on its own.
Whereas I used to religiously apply COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid every night, right now I'm only using it a few times a week, and only on my "problem area" (around the chin and jawline). Again, this is for the sake of testing Active Serum. I suspect the COSRX is a stronger exfoliant, but we shall see!
Since Active Serum is pH 3.8 and BHA Blackhead Power Liquid is pH 4.0, I leave them on my skin for a good half hour to work their magic before I apply my retinoid. I don't know the exact pH of Osmosis MD Renew Advanced Retinal Serum, but typically, retinoids have a higher, neutral (not acidic) pH.
The active ingredient here is retinaldehyde, one of the most potent over-the-counter retinoids. Very few companies use it, so I've long been searching for a strong (and silicone-free) formula like this one. Having come from using A313 previously, my skin tolerates it just fine; in fact, A313 always makes me flaky in the winter, but the flakes have all gone away since I started Osmosis MD. It's still early days, but I think this could be a new favourite anti-aging treatment!
8. Neck Cream:
I'm guilty of forgetting about my neck, so I'm trying to change that bad habit with SkinCeuticals TriPeptide-R Neck Repair. The brand had sent me this some time ago, and it's actually both a peptide treatment and a retinoid, with 0.2% retinol. The silicones in it would be a no-go for the finicky skin on my face, but on my neck, I'm having no issues with them.
9. Lip Balm:
Obviously, winter is the worst for chapped lips, so I like to do a nice, thick layer of Lansinoh HPA Lanolin (also known as Lansinoh Nipple Cream). Yes, technically it is for sore nipples, but it's just pure lanolin—the best ingredient for healing dry lips!
10. Red Light Device:
Unless I'm extremely tired, I always like to finish off with a good red light therapy session before I drift off to sleep. Red Light Man Red-Infrared Combo Light was a Black Friday present to me, from me. I wanted to get back into experimenting with infrared light, since I have an old model from years ago that I rarely use (and is no longer sold). This new device emits both red and infrared light, and is both more powerful and ergonomically-designed versus my old one.
What does it treat? As explained in my red light therapy series (Part 1 and Part 2), red wavelengths are good for surface skin issues such as acne and signs of aging. Infrared wavelengths are more penetrative, so in addition they can target the underlying tissue. So many of the top facialists are using red light now, it just makes sense to invest in your own device to do treatments whenever you like!
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