Skincare 101
February 25, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

It's time to come clean... literally. I'm 26 years old, and I don't really know how to take care of my skin properly to keep it clean, breakout free, and hydrated. Please teach me Skin Care 101, so I can have a daily routine to make this happen.

Note: I am the kind of person who has to have a list on the door of my apartment that says "MEDS, PHONE, KEYS, WALLET, WATCH, LUNCH" in order to remember all of those things each morning. I need a routine simple enough that I can put up a short list like that next to the mirror in my bathroom so I can remember it each day.

A few days ago, for the first time in several years, I took a bath, rather than my regular shower. I was appalled by the amount of dirt that came off me—the ring around the tub when I got out was phenomenal, especially since the tub had been cleaned just the day before. I realized that the way I shower and wash my face each day must not be getting me clean; it seems extremely unlikely that so much dirt came from just one day going to and from my office in Manhattan, especially in the winter, when most of my skin is covered up during my subway commute, when I'd expect to get dirt on skin exposed to the city air.

So, how should I be cleaning my body and my face? The way I currently clean myself, I don't smell, and I don't look dirty, but I often feel dirty and I know I'm not doing it as well as I'd like.

About my skin and when I clean it:
All of my skin is dry (particularly in the winter), and my face (including lips) is very flaky when it is dry. My neck almost always feels dirty to me, especially where it meets my shoulders and collarbone. I tend to get breakouts on my chin and on my back, particularly where waistband of my jeans and the band of my bra sit (largely, I think, because I'm not cleaning my back well enough). I don't wear makeup regularly, I usually wash my hair every other day, and I've recently switched to showering at night before bed (it's been pointed out to me that it makes sense to clean oneself just before getting between the sheets so that they'll last longer, and won't add to any breakout problems).
Cleansers, moisturizers, scrubbers, etc. which I have acquired and used in varying degrees of haphazardness:
Burt's Bees Orange Essence Facial Cleanser, a generic apricot face scrub, a basic drugstore body wash, bar soap, a back brush similar to this one (I hardly ever use it, though—the bristles come out, and the head keeps falling off the handle), washcloths, generic drugstore "pre-moistened face cleansing towelettes," Origins Mega Mushroom Face Lotion, Arbonne RE9 Advanced Restorative Day Crème SPF 20, and Arbonne Ginger Citrus Body Butter.
Which of that plethora of things are actually useful? What should I use regularly, and what should be sent to the trash? (I list them all because I'd like to use what I've already got, where possible, but I'd also like to avoid using useless things just because I've got them.)

Teach me how to take care of my skin, AskMe—I want to learn. What routine should I be doing each morning and night so that my skin feels clean, I get fewer breakouts, and my face doesn't look like it's constantly peeling? Oh, and so I don't leave such ghastly rings in the bath, of course.
posted by ocherdraco to Health & Fitness (48 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Not to go off topic, but what did you use in the tub for your bath? Sometimes the bath bubbles or whatnot leave a worse ring than would just soap in water, so it may not be as bad as it looked.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Overwashing can increase acne (and obviously skin dryness).

Overtreating your skin can increase acne.

If you have not tried a minimalist attempt (wash once a day, at most, and use a non-soap like cetaphil), you should try that first, and give plenty of time for adjustment (weeks).

That said, my wife had significant adult acne on her back until she started sweating each day in the gym and cut out almost all carbs in her diet; it is hard to tell which made the difference (though for timing reasons and my own observations, we're leaning toward the latter).

My skin has always [until recently, corresponding to the same dietary changes, two years+ at the gym didn't make any difference] been very, very oily [though mostly sans acne] and I too had the "feel dirty" feeling by day's end most of my life.

Now [post diet change] my skin is .. fine. Neither oily nor dry. My hair I wash once or twice a week, whereas previously my hair -- especially near my forehead -- would just get incredibly oily by the end of the day.
posted by rr at 9:46 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had skin problems well into my twenties and I've finally gotten it under control. This is the stuff I recommend because it's really worked for me:

- Cetaphil products -- ESPECIALLY because you have dry skin. I have two bars -- one is an anti-bacterial bar that I use on my face. When my skin was getting really bad in college my doctor actually prescribed me antibiotics for a short period to see if it would make a difference, and it did. Realizing I couldn't be on antibiotics all the time, I ended up using this antibacterial bar and it made a big difference. It's not the same as using an anti-bacterial hand wash, which would be way too drying--Cetaphil products are very gentle. The other bar I have is their "gentle cleansing" one that I use on my body, but if you are experiencing body breakouts I would just use the anti-bacterial bar for everything (use logic in the order you wash, if you catch my drift). Finally, if your skin is really as dry as it sounds, you need a heavy-duty moisturizer. When people break out, their immediate reaction is to dry everything out, and that only stimulates the production of "bad" oil (and it's just bad for your skin long-term, period). Cetaphil sells a big tub of moisturizer--I think the one I use doesn't even say that it is specifically FOR the face--I think you can use it all over and I do. It's PRETTY THICK, but a little goes a long way on your face and I will never go back to anything I used before.

- Trader Joe's skin products -- I use two of these products also. They have a tea tree oil cleanser, which I like to use after I've been wearing more make-up (I feel like the oil takes off the make-up more easily than straight-up soap does). They also have a jojoba oil that I love. I like to use that after I get out of the shower--the hot water opens up your pores and if you have blackheads and spend a few minutes rubbing it in well, the blackheads will literally come off on your fingertips (it's strangely satisfying).

- I also have a small exfoliant sponge I got at the drugstore for like a buck (or $3 for 3 or something). A godsend. I've read that a lot of dermatologists advise against those apricot scrubs because they are too harsh for your skin, and this feels a lot more gentle but seems to slough off dead skin well--my skin always feels very smooth after using it and I don't have to scrub that hard.

Finally (and I hate to say this because it means wasted money), I would toss pretty much everything you're using now. Anything that is scented is potentially irritating your skin, and it's just not necessary--no dermatologist would ever recommended anything like a scented body wash or a mushroom face cleanser--that crap does not help your skin and it's just thrown in there to make things seem more fancy and "natural". I would also take a break from the moisturizer with SPF--while the sunblock IS important, it could be clogging your pores and I think for now, you're better off using something with a simpler formula to at least get things under control.

I am not a dermatologist, but I've been dealing with skin issues for 15 years and finally got in under control based on what I've said above. For what it's worth--and don't let this cancel everything else out--I also got on hormonal birth control at some point and that seemed to help too, so if that is at all an option I would look into it. Good luck!
posted by lovableiago at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I thought about this a little more and wanted to add that it is imperative that you stayed hydrated. I have a smartwater bottle I keep at work and I refill it at least 4 times a day, and that is just during the 8 hours I'm at work. That should help with some of the flakiness--I would also put on lip balm (I don't like Burt's Bee's skin stuff but their lip balm is actually really good--Blistex is too) EVERY night before bed.
posted by lovableiago at 9:56 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to have horrible breakouts on my face, but since I adopted this regimen, it's gone away (mostly. I mean, I'm still human), and people tell me all the time that I have beautiful skin, which never gets old after years of having a pizza face:

Twice a day! 1. Wash with Neutrogena liquid soap. I prefer the basic variety, not the foaming kind. The foaming kind makes my skin dryer. 2. Tone it with Clinique Clarifying Lotion on a cotton ball. You can use any toner, though. Just don't confuse toner with astringent! Astringent practically rips my face off. 3. Acne treatment. I use an all-over preventative serum by Juice Beauty and then do spot treatment with Persa-Gel. If you have dry skin, you may want to skip the all-over stuff or test it out for a few days to see if it's making the dryness worse. 4. Moisturize. Especially for you as you have dry skin! I use Bare Escentuals RareMinerals moisturizer, but that's mostly because it seems to keep my face from becoming excessively oily later in the day. You can use any facial moisturizer.

Once in a while, I also exfoliate with a water + baking soda paste on an electric toothbrush. It scrubs off dead skin cells and makes everything soft, but don't do this too often. Couple of times a week at the most. If even.

It sounds like a lot to do, but once you get into the habit, it's just another thing like brushing your teeth. I actually find it kind of relaxing. It also helps to change your pillow cases frequently!

For all other cleaning, I just use any soap I feel like on a shower pouf. I'm fond of Philosophy's Vanilla Birthday Cake soap, but not everybody wants to smell like dessert. And then lotion after that.
posted by katillathehun at 9:57 AM on February 25, 2011

Response by poster: what did you use in the tub for your bath?

Nothing. Just water, me, and a little brown sugar and olive oil mixed together which I was trying out as an exfoliating scrub. I wasn't using bubble bath, or soap.

I hate to say this because it means wasted money

Fortunately, most of the fancy stuff is someone else's wasted money—the only scented things I paid for are the Burt's Bees face wash and the body wash. I am happy to be told not to use any of that list of things if they're ineffective or actually making things worse.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:58 AM on February 25, 2011

Seconding (or whatever numbering) Cetaphil, though I use it in conjunction with the regimen (which is great if you have real problem skin, but probably overkill for your occasional breakout).

I have been patting almond oil around my eyes before bed (I also shower at night) because I was getting awful peely skin in that area, and that has helped. I'm sure any similar oil would be fine.

In the shower, I ... don't wash much. Heh heh. A mild bar soap (olive oil based something at the moment) for a few relevant bits and I figure the rest of me doesn't need more than a good rinse. It's not like I'm mud-wrestling every day. (... any day) My back used to break out all the time, but it has cleared up completely. I can't swear that it's because I eased up on the soaps and scrubs and exfoliating products, but it may well be.
posted by little cow make small moo at 10:06 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I also have a small exfoliant sponge... this feels a lot more gentle but seems to slough off dead skin well--my skin always feels very smooth after using it and I don't have to scrub that hard.

Once in a while, I also exfoliate with a water + baking soda paste on an electric toothbrush... For all other cleaning, I just use any soap I feel like on a shower pouf.

I'm going to sound like a complete idiot here: where and how do you use these things? Which parts of your body? How do you scrub so that you know you've gotten everything? It's embarrassing, but my knowledge of proper washing technique is effectively nil. Everything I've ever read about it (or been taught about it) seems to assume that one only needs to be told what to use, not how to use it. Maybe I'm the only one, but I need to be told how. Which body parts use which soap and which scrubber? What needs to be thoroughly scrubbed every time I shower, and what can be dealt with every other time, or once a week, or once a decade? (I keed.)

Don't get me wrong, I understand the basic mechanics of scrubbing. Soap on scrubber, scrubber on body, rub back and forth. But unlike, say, cleaning a dirty sink, where at the end you can look at it and identify any spots you've missed, when I get out of the shower, I'm never sure if I'm actually clean all over.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

and I've recently switched to showering at night before bed (it's been pointed out to me that it makes sense to clean oneself just before getting between the sheets so that they'll last longer, and won't add to any breakout problems)

I don't know if this is true. I have normal-to-oily skin, sweat a fair amount, and I discovered back in high school that I sweat exponentially more if I don't shower in the morning (especially my feet, for some reason). I also smell worse, and feel greasier. I think the soap helps to get some of the icky bacteria and oil off your body in the morning.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2011

I'm going to go all nutso and tell you what I use. Nothing. Never used soap in my life. I wash my face with cold water every time I go to the bathroom, and first thing in the morning, and before bed. I shower with as hot water as I can stand (just my personal preference) and no soap. (I do use shampoo and conditioner on my hair.)

I have occasional pimples, but I've always been complimented on my beautiful skin. I don't feel dirty.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:24 AM on February 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

Please don't feel like an idiot! I only know because I've researched the heck out of this stuff and asked anyone I knew who might know anything. That's what we're here for!

I can only speak for myself, but I use my little scrubber thing (I meant to mention it's sort of egg-shaped, if that helps you find it) mostly just on my face. Not around my eyes, because the skin is thin and delicate there. But definitely on my forehead and cheeks, and I usually get a little more aggressive with on my chin and nose (especially the crease where your nose meets your face) because that is where I get blackheads. Sometimes I use the scrubber on my neck and shoulders if I am in extra need of a shower (e.g. I've just worked out or spent a lot of time outside).

At the risk of sounding like a hippie, most people really only need to use soap on private bits, under your arms, on your feet (if you're like me they get sweaty!) and anywhere else that dirt/sweat may get trapped (like under your breasts). You don't need to worry about "getting everything". Humans have been around for quite a long time now without modern cosmetic products and we were just fine. You don't need to scrub everywhere--it probably doesn't hurt to do a good scrub-down on arms, legs, stomach, back, etc. every once in while (maybe what was needed at the time you left the ring around the tub) but otherwise it's just not something that you need to do every time you're in the shower.
posted by lovableiago at 10:25 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go for the simple stuff with fewer ingredients and irritating chemicals. I use Olay 30 and Cerave for additional moisture. If I get really dry spots, nothing works better than some plain ol' Vaseline at night. In fact, Vaseline is probably my #1 beauty secret. I don't exfoliate my face; a scrub with a washcloth and water is enough.
posted by yarly at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2011

This "dirty" feeling that you have just sounds like dry skin to me. Unless you're digging ditches or working in the boiler room, I don't see why you think you're so dirty and need so much washing. That ring you saw on the bathtub was probably just skin cells plus the olive oil in the exfoliant you made. I stopped using an soap on my face about 10 years ago and just use water and a washcloth and my skin improved immediately.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:43 AM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had dramatic results in my facial skin with two products: Philosophy's Purity and Oil of Olay (I had thought it was for old ladies) with SPF. My breakouts are much rarer and my skin feels amazing. Just to add to products for you to try in the future if you want! Lush's Skin's Shangri-la is a heavier moisturizer that I would recommend for dry skin or nighttime. Good luck.
posted by theredpen at 10:44 AM on February 25, 2011

My usual routine in the shower involves a good rubdown. Using only my fingers, I turn off the water briefly and work on rubbing different parts: arms, torso, back, legs, neck. That means really pressing down with your fingers. No water and soap makes for better friction/grabbing too. You'd be amazed at how much dirt sloughs off, even if it's only been a couple of days. I rinse all that off and then soap. I was taught to clean myself this way as a child and I've been doing it ever since. I get the feeling it's not a Common U.S. Thing.

I remember staying the night with some black friends as a kid. Their parents ran a bath for each kid, and not having taken a bath in years I was unsure how to properly wash my hair. I didn't realize yet that black people have different bathing routines than I because their hair is so sensitive to water. I did my scrubby magic and when I got out I was asked doubtfully how I had washed myself if the washcloth they had set out was still sitting there, unused. If you don't feel comfortable using your hands to rub the dirt off, maybe a washcloth would work for you. In my opinion, it's not as satisfying as getting all the gunk off digitally.
posted by therewolf at 10:59 AM on February 25, 2011

I'm going to sound like a complete idiot here: where and how do you use these things? Which parts of your body? How do you scrub so that you know you've gotten everything?

I do the toothbrush + baking soda on my face. It's like cheap microdermabrasion. Although, really, you can do that on any exposed skin. I don't see why not. As for how I know I've gotten everything - well. I don't know. I just clean everything. I agree with those who've said your dirty feeling may very well just be dry skin. Feels like you've got an extra layer or something, right? Moisturize and drink lots of water. I swear it'll help.
posted by katillathehun at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2011

When I go to the local Korean spa and have a body scrub, the process involves a scratchy synthetic washcloth (like this) and some generic bodywash. The key is the detailed and attentive scrubbing, which goes on until little shreds of dead skin surround you on the table. I (partially) reproduce this at home with a pair of scrubby shower gloves and the fancy bodywash I got at TJ Maxx.

As for my face, I haven't washed it with anything but Cetaphil or the equivalent in years, and I'm happy with my skin. I use a Clarisonic (rechargeable vibrating brush device), mostly because I get a little too enthusiastic with facial exfoliating sponges and have actually rubbed myself raw in the past. You can find facial brushes fairly easily; they're far softer than a nail brush and have longer bristles, but do a good job exfoliating without the ability to scrub too hard.
posted by catlet at 11:36 AM on February 25, 2011

Even into my 40's I had terrible zits and blackheads up the point of once needing to have one excised through minor surgery. I was using Ivory soap to wash my face in the mistaken belief that drying out my skin would help reduce acne. Since I started using a moisturizing body wash, my skin problems have disappeared. It just work some body wash on a washcloth until the washcloth is sudsy and gently scrub everywhere, including my scalp (I'm pretty bald), rinse off the body wash and I'm done. I ask my wife to wash my back for me. I use Dial Yogurt Aloe Vera Nourishing body wash, which has the added benefit of being inexpensive.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2011

Response by poster: When I go to the local Korean spa and have a body scrub

Whoa, whoa, whoa! This exists? I can go to a spa for a scrubdown? I know where my next disposable income is going. (Not that I don't need to know how to take care of these things myself, but oh my goodness, that sounds amazing.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:41 AM on February 25, 2011

Be gentle with the exfoliation! I use a baby washcloth.
posted by freshwater at 11:48 AM on February 25, 2011

Yep! I can't remember what the big Korean spa in your area is called, but I know there is one. Previously.
posted by catlet at 11:50 AM on February 25, 2011

Count me in as another person whose breakouts almost vanished once I stopped using soap on my face. I have combination (dry on cheeks + oily on forehead, nose, and chin) skin so I'm not sure how useful this will be to you, but here's my morning routine:

1. Soak a washcloth in hot water, rub it gently on face. Rinse cloth and repeat once or twice, until my face feels free of oil but not tight. (I replace this washcloth once a week.)
2. Rinse with cold water, pat dry.
3. Mist LUSH's tea tree oil toner all over my face.
4. Dab on LUSH's acne spot treatment in trouble spots - around my nose and hairline, generally, or anywhere where I'm feeling that pre-pimple soreness. Let dry. I love this product because it's excellent at killing the bacteria that cause pimples before sore spot turns into a visible breakout.
4. Let toner and spot treatment dry, then put on oil-free moisturizer with a bit of SPF -- right now I use the store brand from Coop, a Swiss supermarket chain, but when I lived in the US I used one from Boscia. For lips, I use Burt's Bees lipbalm.
4b. I'm really not a makeup person, but when I want to even out my skintone I mix in a bit of my LUSH color supplement. I love this stuff because it gives me the benefits of tinted moisturizer without the hassle and cost of trying to find a pre-tinted moisturizer that works for my finicky skin. Not sure how well it works on darker skin tones, though.

Every once in a while (aiming for once a week, but that doesn't always happen) I use the oil cleansing method with jojoba oil.

I also try and change my pillowcase no less than once a week (you can use the same pillowcase for two weeks by flipping it over to the clean side). I can tell I've waited too long to change it when I wake up and can feel a pimple coming on.

I'm still working on the slight rosacea and dark undereye circles, but I get very few pimples now and when I do they're basically unnoticeable to anyone besides me.

As far as the body goes, I shower every other day and use plain, non-drying soap with one of those mesh shower scrubbies that come in little poufs. I usually give a pass over trouble areas (neck, breasts, behind the ears) morning and night with a damp washcloth, and use a store brand moisturizer that's an Aveeno knockoff for dry areas.
posted by bettafish at 11:50 AM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I can't remember what the big Korean spa in your area is called, but I know there is one

You must be thinking of Spa Castle! It's out in Flushing, you can take the 7 train and then a shuttle run by the spa. You can also get a scrubdown at the Russian Turkish Baths in the East Village.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:57 AM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing Cetaphil products. I finally caved in after reading all the recommendations on AskMe and I haven't had a single breakout since. I use the Gentle Skin Cleanser, and the Moisturizing CREAM which is heavier than the lotion. I have dry skin, but generally break out, so I am amazingly happy that this stuff is causing no irritation. In the past, when my skin would start to break out, I would use one quick scrub with Pernox scrub cleanser. It has sulfur in it, and seemed to re-set my skin for a month at least. It's semi-pricey, but amazing. For my body I only use Dr. Bronners. I don't recommend anything else, and I can't sing it's praises loudly enough. It is natural, super-sudsy, and leaves me feeling really clean. If you add that to a synthetic scrubby cloth as mentioned upthread (found at most Asian markets), you will be good. Some of those scrubby cloths come in a long rectangular version which you can use to clean your back and neck very well. Finally, change your towels very often. Blot yourself dry with the towel, rather scrub yourself, so you don't coat your clean towel in more dry skin. I have yet to find the perfect body moisturizer, but I am deeply in love with Lush Karma Kream is you can handle the intense scent. My skin is really sensitive, but this just feels great and I love the smell which makes me feel even cleaner somehow. It's based on Orange Flower Water and Almond Oil (it's not the cheapest thing in the world, but one container has lasted me a year already and it is still going strong.) A Cetaphil cream would probably work great on the body too, but I like some fragrance personally. Good luck!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:57 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is my usual 'keep clean' method. It's not that special, but it's simple and works for me.

1. Step in running shower, wet hair and skin. Shampoo if I need to.

2. Take a washcloth and gently rub all over from toes to neck, concentrating on ankles, ladybits, chest, armpits, behind ears.

3. If feeling extra-dirty (just worked out, was in a mud puddle, who knows) or want to feel squeaky clean, use LUSH Ocean Salt. Just scoop a marble-sized amount in your palm, rub hands together, then gently rub all over. I have crazy sensitive skin and was worried it would be too abrasive, but it's really nice and also smells citrusy-fresh.

4. Use Ocean Salt or Cetaphil cleanser on face.

5. Dry off (pat your skin instead of rubbing) and apply Cetaphil cream to face, neck and wherever else you feel a bit dry. Try to do this while you skin is still damp.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2011

When I go to the local Korean spa and have a body scrub

Be careful with these -- if your skin is the least bit sensitive you'll end up rubbed raw, and the hygiene can seem a little dodgy too. The last time we went my friends and I all ended up with breakouts.
posted by yarly at 12:08 PM on February 25, 2011

If you have super-dry skin, I'd be extra careful with the Korean rub-down, especially in winter. Although you say you have flaky skin, extreme exfoliation isn't going to make that better, it'll just make it worse. In the short term, you'll have scraped away the dead skin but the exfoliation can strip your skin of all moisture, leading to even drier skin.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:09 PM on February 25, 2011

Face skin is weird and complicated, but for body skin, I don't feel clean unless I use a seriously exfoliating washcloth, like the Salux nylon cloths from Japan. I use them with a not-especially-moisturizing bar soap, specifically Zest. I find that the really creamy soaps don't always make me feel clean. Moisturizing can be done afterward with moisturizer, if needed.

This might be too much for people with sensitive skin, though.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:58 PM on February 25, 2011

Nothing. Just water, me, and a little brown sugar and olive oil mixed together which I was trying out as an exfoliating scrub. I wasn't using bubble bath, or soap.
I find anything oil-based leaves a ring in the tub, for what that's worth.
posted by mishaps at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2011

I humbly argue against the no-soap policy. I know many people swear by it, and swear that they don't smell and are just as clean. But the majority of people I know who swear by that policy absolutely do smell. I support the idea wholeheartedly, and it kills me to chime in here with this, but chances are that you are going to smell bad. if you do not care about your outward smell and its effect on those who are not used to your personal natural scent, go and give it a whirl! Why not? Just my two cents on this fraught subject.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just want to mention that olive oil and brown sugar sound like a recipe for bathtub scum - so you might not be as backward as you think.

Especially if you smell fine (that seems like it would be a bigger giveaway). Take the great advice from the ladies, but also try a bath without oil and sugar.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 1:45 PM on February 25, 2011

I don't look dirty, but I often feel dirty and I know I'm not doing it as well as I'd like.

If you don't look dirty you probably aren't dirty. Since being dirty can't directly cause symptoms, it is impossible to say if you're "feeling" dirty is an accurate assessment of how dirty you are. In other words, you might be overthinking and imagining this.

Humans have been around for quite a long time now without modern cosmetic products and we were just fine. Please listen to lovableiago on this. Chances are you need do nothing and overcleaning it might make it worse.

it is imperative that you stayed hydrated. Please do *not* listen to lovableiago on this.

All the exfoliating, hydrating, and cleansing stuff is, well cosmetic.

Your skin is dead - at least the outer layer. Your epidermis is bereft of life, has met its maker, shuffled off its mortal coil. It's metabolic functions have ceased to be. You get the picture.

Drinking 80 gallons of water/day will not hydrate your *dead* epidermis any more than pumping 80 gallons of water into the gullet of a recently dead corpse will do anything. Putting moisturizers on your skin will temporarily make it look less wrinkled or "moisturized" until the stuff wears off. The rate at which your *dead* epidermis sloughs off will determine flakiness and exposed to the elements your *dead* epidermis might dry out quicker, hence the temporary cosmetic effects of moisturizers. This will have zero, absolutely no effect on live skin beneath the epidermis. As a matter of fact if you scrub and exfoliate too much your new skin might be more prone to acne, breakouts and might even work harder to replace the dead outer layer by growing more outer layer to die.

Stay out of th sun, use just water or soap occasionally, and that is pretty much it.

Oh and don't share towels or washcloths unless you know it has been laundered on high heat. Even with significant others whom you share, um other stuff. You'd be surprised how many acne like infections can be transmitted through towels. A person not susceptible to acne might harbor the Propionibacterium acnes but you, alas, might be very sensitive to the little buggers.
posted by xetere at 1:49 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the Korean spa in NYC is called Spa Castle.
posted by at 1:53 PM on February 25, 2011

With all due respect Xetere, I don't think you should write off the water advice all together. Get plenty of water is never a bad thing--it's not a cure-all in itself obviously (and no, of course it doesn't hydrate DEAD skin but that's not what I was saying), but ask ANY dermatologist whether proper hydration is important to having good skin and they'll say yes. I've seen enough and been told by enough of them to say this with confidence.
posted by lovableiago at 2:23 PM on February 25, 2011

I'm gonna disagree with xetere as well. Water is essential to healthy-looking skin/hair/everything. It doesn't have magical powers or anything, but if you're not getting enough water, it's going to affect those things. Ask your doctor. It really does make a difference. So do exfoliation and moisturizers, though those are not long-term fixes. As with everything, use those things in moderation. I suggest this out of experience and past consultation with dermatologists. Do you need expensive products? No. Should you drink more water than you need to stay healthy? Of course not. But I don't think completely ignoring advice to drink enough water is wise.
posted by katillathehun at 3:04 PM on February 25, 2011

Wow, as you can see from the answers here, opinions and experiences and routines with skincare vary quite widely. All I can say is you might want to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for you, and getting ideas on routines and products from this thread is a good start.

If you aren't feeling clean, regardless of what humans did for thousands of years before modern times, I would definitely start using cleanser in the shower daily. Or however often you shower, which for me would be at least every other day. Also, for me, washing my skin morning and night are critical to maintaining nice-looking skin. If your skin tends to feel dry, make sure to use a moisturizer after every shower (and apply within a few minutes of exiting the shower, while your skin is still moist. Also, make sure to exfoliate, either with a washcloth, and scrubber, or a cleanser with added exfoliants.

Differentiating between body and facial products is important for a portion of people, me included. I love using scented bath products on my body, alternating between citrus, berry, ginger, green tea, eucalyptus, whatever. For my face, I need something lighter and with fewer irritants. When I had a lot of acne, the only products that ever worked for me was Rodan and Fields Unblemish system. I stopped using them when my skin cleared (and because I find the company somewhat obnoxious. Now I mostly use products, including a milk cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen, and exfoliants, from an Oakland based company called Tuel. My aesthetician introduced me to them (formerly called Eva's Esthetics).
posted by JenMarie at 3:40 PM on February 25, 2011

Seconding the recommendation for the Japanese nylon washcloths. Worth mentioning: they're scratchy, but not unpleasantly so, and definitely exfoliate. I found these a better choice than stiff brushes, which I love the feel of, but which tend to rot/fall apart.

The nylon cloth thing is available online and in most Asian markets for about $3. They last forever. And it's shaped like a scarf, which makes it possible to get every part of your back (which feels awesome).
posted by jessicapierce at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2011

Water is essential to healthy-looking skin/hair/everything. It doesn't have magical powers or anything, but if you're not getting enough water, it's going to affect those things. Ask your doctor. It really does make a difference.

You're quite right, but most people, unless they are doing heavy exercise in heat and humidity and are sweating up a storm get enough water. In the medical sense, I doubt you consciously have to sip water all day to stay hydrated. If we did, we'd have never survived enough to develop civilization.

What I am saying is that the advice to drink water or stay hydrated is almost talismanic and fetishistic, and absent heat, humidity, disease, or exercise there is no real reason to drink or sip water consciously to stay hydrated. It surely won't hurt you but well I question its effectiveness. As our grandparents would've done, drink when you're thirsty.

Since my credentials on this, as on most everything are nil, here are some links.

NPR article - 5 Myths about drinking water note especially myth 3.
Science daily article.
MedicineNet article reprint frmo WebMD

Now back to skin. Sorry for minor derail.

1. don't share towels
2. probably best not to put brown sugar in your bath. I don't know but I'd figure bacteria would really love the simple carbs of sugar.
3. good diet, not too much simple carbs. There is a growing body of evidence that simple carbs -> insulin spike -> cortisol -> bad skin and acne.
posted by xetere at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2011

The korean scrub place on 32nd street is called Yi Pak and it is seriously awesome. I have dry skin too, and last time they scrubbed so hard I broke out in red spots, but they faded by the time I left (2 hours later). It is a serious experience and you have to be prepared to be naked on a table (!) but it works and it's awesome. I can't wait to go back.
posted by bquarters at 6:13 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The long Japanese nylon scrubbycloths are the only reason my back has ever really felt clean, or been consistently pimple-free, since puberty. Delightful. My back starts to spot back up if I miss a day.
posted by eritain at 10:53 PM on February 25, 2011

I am a product minimalist, and yet I would say I'm reasonably clean, fresh, and filth-free.

I'm a morning showerer. In the shower I use cetaphil cleanser on my face, shampoo on my hair*, and bar soap on the rest of me. I splurge on fancy shampoo, largely because I like the way it smells. I've switched around soap brands over the years, and as long as it smells good and rinses off well, I'm happy.

After the shower, in cold winter months or if I've just shaved, I apply moisturizer (mostly on my legs, elbows, and tattoo). Right now I'm using Johnson & Johnson baby lotion with lavender, but it varies. I don't usually moisturize my face because I have oily skin, but I have some just in case (something by Aveda, if it matters). Sometimes in the summer I keep a bottle of toner or witch hazel in the fridge to spray on my face when it's sticky - again, very prone to oil, and between that, the sweat, and the city dirt, I need a little extra help.

That's pretty much my entire "skincare regimen" in a nutshell.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 PM on February 25, 2011

I'm going to sound like a complete idiot here: where and how do you use these things? Which parts of your body? How do you scrub so that you know you've gotten everything? It's embarrassing, but my knowledge of proper washing technique is effectively nil. Everything I've ever read about it (or been taught about it) seems to assume that one only needs to be told what to use, not how to use it.

I'm a dude, but I think this'll be applicable across genders. I just got out of the shower and feel fresh and clean like always. I'd been reading this thread, so I paid close attention to my (nearly automatic) shower routine. Usually it goes down in the morning, but also after heavy exertion or a particularly deep nap. Anyway—

Here's what I use: A dense, compact, and rather stiff loofah to scrub my most of my body and then my hands to scrub my face and everything that's left. Generic men's body soap, but soap's dead easy; it's a matter of matching dilution and scent to your taste. (OK yeah sometimes I do want to smell like dessert, fine.) As plain as possible shampoo and conditioner.

If it's that time again (about every 3 days), I start by washing and conditioning my hair. When that's done I rinse everything. (Everything.)

If it's not that time again, I go direct to step 2: face.

In the shower I clean my face with my hands and some plain ol' Neutrogena face soap (I have the foamy kind now and yeah it's inferior to the squareish bottle of liquid soap). 1 pump soap, rub hands together, start at the center of my forehead with my fingertips all touching and gently scrub outwards and around in a circular motion all the way to my chin, where the fingertips meet again. Back to the starting point, but this time down the bridge of the nose, over and under my eyes, across the cheeks, down and ending again with the chin. Full palms all the way around the neck, scrub scrub. Rinse everything.

Step three is everything below the neck, and for that I start by putting soap on a loofah and get to scrubbing. I try to respect gravity by holding my arms up and starting at the tips of my fingers, meticulously working my way around every articulation so hands, then forearms, then upper arms, then shoulders and neck, up and down and all the way around each section—switch loofah to other hand and repeat for opposite arm.

Then my torso and back, again working my way top to bottom (heh), where I scrub my butt cheeks and lower back but leave off from sticking the loofah in my crack. The upper back area is sort of haphazard, and I experiment with holding the loofah different ways; I will be looking into a longer, scarf-like one as a result of this thread.

Anyway, next I foam up whichever hand isn't holding the loofah and digitally scrub the twig'n'berries, making sure to detail the perineum area. The anal region I save for very last (going against gravity, sure, but along with the idea that I don't want to be scrubbing butt all over my legs and feet) so on to the rest of the appendages.

Legs and feet are next, first the left then the right, up and down up and down then around and again, each articulation with both hand and loofah. I put my foot up on a ledge rather than bend way over in the shower. I scrub the loofah across my toes and under my heel. If my feet are cracking then I give the undersides a good scrub with it and/or a scrub stone too. Otherwise simple manual scrubbing on the underside and between the toes.

After I'm done with my right foot I work my way back up the leg and get my fingers in my buttcrack butt good. Scrub scrub, rinse rinse (fingers and region), repeat. Upon thorough and satisfactory cleanse, I rinse my fingers really well and perform a sniff test.

Finally, I rinse the loofah repeatedly, squeezing it out over my shoulders. This doesn't really serve any purpose, it just feels nice. After that's clean it gets hung up and I rinse everything off one more time, running my hands over my entire body to rid it of that too-slippery feeling softened water leaves me with.

Pat dry with a clean towel and, occasionally if I notice my skin's super dry, I apply some moisturizer. I really like the Neutrogena Norwegian formula.

All this results in a blemish-free, clean-feeling existence. I sweat easily, but am comfortable throughout the day if my shower goes well. Zits only crop up when I've had my fingers on my face too much (wiping sweat away, fondling hair, or whatever) so I try not to touch my face unless I'm washing it.
posted by carsonb at 11:27 PM on February 25, 2011

Also, I only use paper towel or toilet paper to dry my face after washing it. A bit wasteful, but every time I so much as blot my chin with a towel after brushing my teeth, that area breaks out within a day. I don't know if it is simply bacteria, or detergent irritants, etc., but I know it makes a major difference for me. No towel= no breakouts.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:59 AM on February 26, 2011

With respect to the whole towel-causing-breakouts thing, this was happening to us, but switching to non-perfumed, non-dye, phosphate-free laundry detergent solved that problem. We think it might be the perfumes, etc., that were causing the problem.
posted by LN at 7:12 AM on February 26, 2011

Go to and read and learn and try. She gets into the actual ingredients of products and why what works works and what doesn't and why not, and recommends a broad range of products in a broad range of prices. It's free for the rest of February, but I'm a paid subscriber and find it worth every penny.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2011

Like a lot of other people here, I use no products (other than sunscreen). I wash with plain water only. Cold at night, and hot in the shower. I do use shampoo and conditioner (but just cheap supermarket brands). I don't smell and I've never felt "dirty", but sometimes by the end of the day my sunscreen kind of goes grey and smeary in places where I sweated a lot. But I just rub that off with some more water.

One product I have had success with in the past was for flaky dry skin. I had a problem with that for a little while, and saw a dermatologist. She prescribed me 100% lanolin, which I covered my face with twice a day, and then washed off after a couple of minutes in water. It fixed the dry skin within a couple of days, and my skin felt amazingly soft and clean afterwards. You can buy moisturises without a prescription that are purely lanolin with a water-based gel as the carrier, and they would probably work just as well.

The dermatologist was the one who told me not to use cleaning or moisturising products, too, and especially no soap on your face!
posted by lollusc at 8:32 PM on February 26, 2011

I use a scrubby towel thing that I bought at a Korean supermarket as well. I can't afford to go to spas so I do it myself. I have sensitive skin and rubbing hard to exfoliate really works. Do this on your body, being careful on your more sensitive skin. You probably shouldn't do it on your face but I use it very lightly to get rid of flaky skin and it helps a lot.

My skin clears up when I drink more water, eat less sugar/carbs and moisturize it more. Using a clean side of a pillowcase every night can help too. Although I don't like to spend money of stuff like this I have to admit that getting chemical peels helps the skin on my face stay clear, unflaky and pores smaller. I've been using Groupons and specials for more affordable peels. Facials do nothing for me and the products tend to make my skin feel worse.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2011

Jojoba oil - it's the greatest stuff ever as cleanser/makeup remover/moisturizer. Also make sure to drink a lot of water and eat fruits/veggies to stay hydrated.
posted by fromageball at 6:17 PM on August 13, 2011

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