There are a lot of skin metaphors out there: beauty is only skin deep; have a thick skin; feel (un)comfortable in your skin; you’re getting under my skin. What they all speak to is the fact that our skin is the most important barrier of, or entry point into, ourselves—not only our physical bodies, organs and cells and whatnot, but also our emotions and our minds. Biologically, too, skin is the body’s largest organ and is meant above all to protect the many small and diverse parts of our inner selves from the harsh outside world. There is some cruel poetic justice to the agonizing battle most of us wage with our skin during adolescence; the acne and redness and flare-ups and scarring seems to reflect the inner turmoil of our developing persons. We are trying desperately to figure out who we are, assaulted by so many expectations and desires and—ugh, feelings—on the inside, so what else can we expect to show on the outside?
Ostensibly, these issues should go away once we “find ourselves” as we grow up and settle into our skins with work, love, family, and friendships. And yet almost half of adults ages 20-40 suffer from adult acne of some form, due to many factors including emotional and environmental stressors ranging from inadequate sleep to high levels of air pollution in crowded cities.
I fought a full-out war with my face from around ages 8-19, a prolonged period that’s resulted in hard-to-erase insecurity about my complexion. For years I dutifully applied any and all cleansers, lotions, and prescription creams to try to quell the seemingly endless flow of sebum that exuded from my pores resulting in a constantly-refreshed crop of acne. My torched earth battle strategy resulted in scars I was convinced would never go away. Thankfully they did, but it was a process that involved a lot of learning, and unlearning, about how to take care of my skin internally and externally.
You can read just about anywhere these days that the secret to glowing skin—besides sleep and water, yeah, we know—is moisture. When I was young, the common thinking for acne treatment, which makes logical sense, is to combat excess oil with drying ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid and avoiding “trigger” foods high in fat and grease. Now, though, the thinking has reversed, and all the evidence points to a regimen of moisture balancing to, well, balance the skin, giving it oil so that it doesn’t feel the need to produce excess on its own.
Embracing face serums was the first step of my skincare overhaul. For a while, I was deeply skeptical and had never even thought of using a moisturizer on my already-slick face. Now, I consider serums an essential part of my skincare routine and even more important than cleansing (come back for Part 2 soon!) for the benefits that plant-derived oils contribute to my skin.
Single-ingredient oils are a great way to start experimenting if you are still discovering the perfect serum/ingredient for you. My training-wheels serum was Josie Maran’s Light Argan Oil, which is a faster-absorbing and more lightweight version of the original formula. With vitamin E, antioxidants, and fatty acids, this oil hailing from Morocco (hello, luxury) not only helps the face but can be rubbed into nails, hair, lips, or any dry part of the body for replenishing moisture and healing.
Josie Maran just released a new product in her very full and incredible line of Argan products that takes the classic serum to the next level. Her Whipped Face Butter is a more decadent, yet surprisingly light cream made from the same Argan kernels. I’ve liked rotating it into my nighttime moisturizing especially in the winter, so that the thicker texture can more deeply penetrate the skin during sleep.
Another single-ingredient serum ideal for stressed skin is Tarte’s Marajuca Oil. Easily absorbed and with a fresh smell (it’s derived from passionfruit), this oil has anti-inflammatory properties and and a calming effect that can even induce sleep. So when stress hits a high point in your mind and on your face, marajuca oil is your serum bestie especially at night. I find the slightly heavier consistency also helps in the under-eye area, and even more conveniently than applying a separate eye oil. (When my eyes are feeling especially tired and dry, a few drops of Hana Eye Oil is my bestie—sorry, Tarte.)
A few months ago, I underwent an Ayurvedic detox diet (food and lifestyle) to help rid me of chronic digestive stress (it worked!). I learned then that my combination vata-kapha skin type (my body is mainly data, though), benefits from oils including jojoba, sesame, and rose hip. When I found this Fig+Yarrow serum in Target—in one of their many fabulous designer collaborations in the beauty and fashion departments—it was music to my pores’ ears. Two powerhouse ingredients combine in this little bottle for anti-aging and antioxidant strength, even as it deeply moisturizes and calms inflammation.
My next serum splurge will definitely be the 100% squalane serum by Indie Lee. In contrast to squalene, a compound that’s derived from shark liver and definitely not vegan, squalane is a higher-concentrated, plant-based derivative made from olive oil. This serum is ideal for cell regeneration and oxygenation, which now that I’ve just turned another year older is probably something I should incorporate more into my skincare.
For all serums, 2-4 drops is all you need to cover your whole face generously, so the higher price tags on some of them evens out in the long run. It’s worth it, too, in my experience to invest in high-quality organic brands of skin care, especially for products that are going to be absorbed so directly into your face’s cells. Although I don’t have sensitive skin per se, a number of formulas I’ve tried in the past aggravated my skin because of lower-quality ingredients, so if you’re already sensitive you’ll want to avoid that exacerbation.
Share your serum secrets with me and look out for the next installment on a less-is-more cleansing routine that’s transformed my mornings (and saved my towels!).