Many of you have asked me about my skincare routine, and of course, I’m happy to share it. Skincare is my favorite part of my beauty routine, and while it may sound like blasphemy for someone who works in fragrance, I’d rather imagine going without perfume than without sunscreen. I also enjoy researching the best products, reading studies in dermatology and comparing active ingredients, and skincare offers plenty of such geeky delights. At the same time, I don’t want to spend an hour each morning and evening doing my skincare treatments, and I’ve worked out a routine that takes me a maximum of 10 minutes from start to finish–and it can be compressed even further, as I will explain below.
The main principles of my skincare are cleansing, hydrating and sun protection. I don’t use particularly expensive products, apart from the eye cream, and I prefer to layer products. In other words, instead of using one moisturizer, I use several layers of moisturizing products. My skin is combination, and layering helps me to keep my skin hydrated and soft, without a risk of blemishes.
Such layering skincare routines are usually described as “Asian,” but of course, you don’t have to use Japanese or Korean brands. In fact, most of my favorites come from North American and French lines. The only exception is sunscreen, since no other country makes more effective and cosmetically elegant products than Japan. The main principle of layering to keep in mind is to start with the thinnest products and finish with the heavier creams.
My morning routine is fairly simple–cleanse and protect. If I were to streamline even further, I would just spritz my face with rosewater, apply a light moisturizer and sunscreen. I don’t recommend applying sunscreen on bare skin. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is a must. Nothing makes as much difference for the way my skin looks as sleep and a good sunscreen.
My skincare varies season to season, and sometimes I add products like essences or other serums. Below is my base routine.
In the US, I use Johnson & Johnson Purpose, while in Europe I’ve switched to La Roche Posay Toleriane Cleansing Gel. Both are gentle but effective, and they have been my staples for years. Purpose is clear, while Toleriane is a milky gel. Both should be lathered with a little bit of water until they form thick, meringue-like foam. I apply this foam evenly and gently onto damp skin and spread it in light circular motions. Rinse, blot gently with a towel and move onto the next step.
My favorite toner is rosewater. I buy mine from an organic grocery store and decant it into a spray bottle. I spray it all over my face and move onto the next step. I described other favorite toners in my previous articles: here and here.
Optional: Exfoliating Lotion
I prefer BHA based lotions for exfoliating, and Paula’s Choice Resist 2% BHA Daily Pore-Refining Treatment is one of my most used products. I generally use it only 2-3 times a week or daily only on the T-zone.
In this category you can use more than one serum, or an essence and a serum. An essence has a water-like texture, while serums approach that of a gel.
For the longest time, I used a simple hyaluronic acid serum after the exfoliating lotion and was quite happy with it. However, last summer I tried The Ordinary serums, and I have become a convert. I will save a discussion of the products I’ve tried for later; I’ve specifically held myself back from reviewing them earlier because I wanted to see the full results. For the past few months, I’ve been using two serums in the morning: Alpha Arbutin 2% + Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. The duo does a great job brightening my skin and preventing blemishes. The texture is light, and it doesn’t make my makeup or sunscreen peel.
Note: if you use a product containing Niacinamide, you shouldn’t use a Vitamin C product at the same time. I usually keep Niacinamide for the morning and Vitamin C for the evening.
My favorite moisturizers are light, milk-like in texture and oil-free. Sometimes I use what in Japanese skincare terminology is called lotion. The one I particularly like is Ishizawa Lab Urea and Hyaluronic Acid Lotion. It contains glycerin, hyaluronic acid, chamomile extract, grape water and licorice extract, some of my favorite ingredients for hydrating and brightening skin. For those with dry skin, it won’t be enough, but for those with combination or oily complexions, it’s a great, soothing option.
Sisley’s Sisleya Crème Contour des yeux et des lèvres (Eye and lip contour cream) is the only one I use. It’s the most expensive product in my skincare, but a jar lasts for several months and it’s the only cream that actually hydrates the undereye area without causing milia or irritation. I’ve tried so many products trying to find something as good but less expensive that I eventually gave up.
While I wait for my moisturizer to be absorbed, I get dressed and then I apply sunscreen. I have written two posts on this subject, so I will direct you here and here for specific recommendations. The type of sunscreen I use depends on how my skin feels. In the winter, I switch to the more moisturizing products such as Isehan Sunkiller Perfect Strong Moisture SPF50+ PA++++ and FotoProtector ISDIN Fusion Water SPF50+. I usually reapply sunscreen at least once a day.
The most important part of my evening routine is cleansing. Sometimes people complain that sunscreen makes them breakout, in which case I’d say that the problem is not with the sunscreen but with the way you clean it off. Most sunscreens are not water soluble, and unless you use an oil based cleanser first, they will be hard to remove.
At least once a week, I don’t apply anything on my skin at all after the double cleanse.
I tried many much more expensive and fancy oil cleansers, but nothing comes close to DHC Cleansing Oil. First of all, it’s unscented. Second, it cleanses numerous layers of sunscreen effortlessly and leaves no greasy trace. Also, the price is reasonable. I spread it over dry skin, taking an opportunity to do a basic face massage at the same time, and then rinse with warm water.
Then I follow with the same cleanser I use in the morning.
Pick One: Vitamin C or a Retinol product or an Exfoliating Lotion
Vitamin C and retinols are among the ingredients proven to have a positive effect on skin (reversing sun damage, for instance), so I include them in my routine. On most evenings I use a Vitamin C Serum, such as The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + Hyaluronic Acid Spheres 2%. I apply it on bare, freshly cleansed but dry skin and wait for a few minutes before applying other products.
Alternatively, I may use a retinol (retinoid) product such as The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%. If you’re new to using retinols and retinoids and have acne-prone skin, you may experience increase in acne for the first week or two. Please don’t stop during this stage. But to make the transition smoother, it’s best to introduce retinols slowly into your routine. Also, sun protection in the morning is a must.
Vitamin C and retinols can be used together, once your skin is used to both ingredients. Wait a few minutes after applying the Vitamin C serum and apply your chosen form of retinol (retinoid).
Or I may skip the Vitamin C and retinols and instead pick an exfoliating product: Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA or Biologique Recherche Lotion P50W. The latter, a new discovery, is especially elegant and non-irritating, and it leaves my skin perfectly lustrous.
My favorite serums contain hyaluronic acid–it plumps my skin and hydrates it better than anything else. These days I use either The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2%+B5 or Mizon Hyaluronic Acid 100. Mizon, a Korean brand, has several different HA options, all fairly straightforward but effective. Like The Ordinary, it’s priced under $15 for 1 oz.
Moisturizer and Eye Cream
Same as in my morning routine. These days of central heating and dry air call for something richer, and a couple of times a week I’m also using Hada Labo Gokujyun Cream.
Optional: Face Oil
Odacite face oils are my favorites, and I’ve written about them in the past. For my winter routine I’ve selected Odacite Carrot Seed Oil, which smells like a concentrated version of iris butter and makes my skin as soft as flower petals. Sea buckthorn, evening primrose, borage, almond, grape seed, apricot seed, argan and plain extra-virgin olive oil are also excellent options. Pure oils spoil very quickly, so it’s a good idea to keep only one or two oils on hand at any given time.
I do a sheet mask at least once a week. Sometimes I make my own blends of various ingredients, but such homemade potions require me to lie down for 15-20 minutes–a good idea in theory but hard to implement on a regular basis in practice. Sheet masks, however, are easy: open a package, apply on clean skin and do whatever you want for the time it takes for the ingredients to work. In Japan I’ve even seen special face shields to keep the masks in place should one wish to do yoga or hang upside down, but even without that, my masks don’t slide off. I just don’t do headstands with them on.
When shopping for sheet masks, I make sure that the ingredient lists contains no alcohol (エタノール), silicones or mineral oils. I especially like green tea, licorice, seaweed extracts, and Vitamin C in my masks. In the US, you can try Peach and Lily for various sheet mask options, while in the EU, I use Himawari, an Asian skincare store based in France. There are numerous others, but those two websites are the only ones I’ve tried and feel confident recommending.
A Note on Skincare Storage
The bathroom is the worst place for storing perfume and skincare. I’ve solved this problem by keeping all of my products, apart from cleansers, in a shoe box, which I keep in a cool spot in my bedroom. I bring it into the bathroom once I’m ready to do my morning and evening routine. It’s less of a hassle than it seems, and it does ensure that all of my products are fresh and effective.
I’d love to hear about your skincare, favorite products and any other tips you’d like to share.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin