exfoliation 101: the face
December 9, 2011 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Why do I suck at washing my face? Help me learn how to properly exfoliate so I can have that beautiful skin I've always wanted.

I genuinely suck at washing my face. I wash it every night because I wear makeup every day, I wash it in the morning with something gentle so I can start the day fresh without the grime that's there from sleeping, and still, my skin is dull and gross looking and I constantly feel like I look dirty. I have never figured out the proper way to exfoliate and given that florals, sulfates, and fragrances make me hive out within minutes, I am afraid I either scrub my face too hard in an effort to get dead skin off and I avoid products because I don't know how to use them. Stridex breaks me out; moisturizers break me out; and I get "immune" to certain acne medications pretty quickly.

What should this sensitive-skinned girl do? I also have a difficult time working up a sweat, so I know my pores aren't getting refreshed the way other people's pores do. Proper exfoliation just needs to happen here and there. What products and techniques do I need?
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (43 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Chemical exfoliation is rather better than mechanical, as it does not create microscopic tears and scrapes. Try something like this.
posted by oflinkey at 7:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Exfoliating with pure sea salt is a good idea. Just rub it all over your face.

I use exfoliating gloves and scrub my skin with them, but they tend to carry germs that make certain people break out. Replacing the gloves every couple of weeks probably mitigates this issue somewhat.

Also, if you want to really clean out your pores, steaming your face is the way to go. Put a pot of water over the stove (add sea salt to it if you like, I do this), boil at the highest temperature you find comfortable, put a towel over your head and put your face over the steam. Don't be a nervous Nelly about this technique-- if you test with your hand before your head goes over the pot, you'll be fine. And this sounds obvious but use a *short* towel so you can keep it clear of the burner.

And Bikram yoga will make your skin incredibly clear, magically, incredibly, shockingly clear.

This sounds obvious, but you must drink enough water for your skin to be at its best. Lots and lots of water.
posted by devymetal at 7:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just saw the sensitive skin part-- I would test-run anything with glycolic acid in it, an possibly use it once or twice a week. Getting a product like this at Sephora or Ulta will will allow you to return it very easily. The above product is also available in a #2 strength, which I use. I would be very surprised if you got used to that strength (assuming you used it 2-3 times a week as needed). I spot treat with retinoids, and I am not used to it.

devymetal also has great points about water, steam and exercise. Great skin is hydrated and nourished.
posted by oflinkey at 7:10 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try a Vic washcloth from vermontcountrystore.com, some Cetaphil, sunscreen, and drink lots of water.
posted by jgirl at 7:13 PM on December 9, 2011

I work for Lush and the product we usually suggest for skin like yours is called Coalface. It has charcoal powder which just barely exfoliates your skin so that it looks a bit brighter after you use it.

I just used it minutes ago and my skin feels soft and smooth, clean, and not dry. It has liquorice root infusion in there, but you can barely smell it. One bar will last you a few months.
posted by oceanview at 7:13 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I recommend you get a Clarisonic and let it do the work for you. It does a fabulous job of exfoliating without irritating, and you can use whatever face wash you like (preferably something gentle). It does an AMAZING job of removing makeup too.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:16 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nordstrom's cosmetic counter is a nice place to start because they can give mini facials and more importantly, samples. I'm a big fan of Erno Laszlo, this is an older line known for it's 'splashing' method of rinsing. In any case, explain that you're looking to take better care of your skin.

But facials at day spas are good and ask about products. Be careful, they often try to sell a boatload of products. Melvita is an organic French line that many people like. Ask your friends for referrals, look at yelp and citysearch reviews (take with a grain of salt) but try different things. This is why samples are nice. Ask lots of questions. You can usually tell when people don't know jack or are bullshitting you and trying to get you to buy a bunch of stuff.
posted by shoesietart at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2011

Do you do physical exercise which causes you to break a sweat regularly? That will help your complexion.
posted by bearette at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oil cleansing method. Everything else leaves my skin dry and flaky, but this works.
posted by heatherann at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm not a girly girl but I do wear full makeup. After 32 years, this is what I've come up with:

1. Don't wash my face in the morning. Water in the shower is fine. No product and no washcloth, just hands. I was a hard sell on this, but an esthetician taught me the skin responds to trauma by producing oil. Oil during the day when you wear full makeup gets gross.

2. In the evening, washing my face with a light cleanser, then using a toner (both Neutrogena, not due to loyalty, just those work for me), then a thick moisturizer (Nivea). I spot treat the occasional blemish with a benzol peroxide-based spot treatment. A few times a week using a washcloth. If I have one (don't always due to cost), I'll use a salycic acid gel rather than the Nivea.

3. Once a week, as part of the evening ritual, exfoliating with a planty mixture from the herb store. Then using a light paste mask. Then doing #2, but maybe without the toner.

4. If I'm going to do extractions, ideally I'll open up the pores first with a steam or exfoliation or both.
posted by letahl at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Clairisonic here. Since I bought one, my skin's been much nicer.

Avoid acne washes! It seems counterintuitive, but they start a cycle of your skin producing more oil and shedding more dead skin, so they end up making you break out. I use Purity face wash by philosophy (which is a damned stupid name for a company) with my Clairisonic scrubber to gently exfoliate and provide a nice gentle cleaning that moisturizes but doesn't make me break out. If you're allergic to flower oils, though, the Purity might not be a great idea.
If you need the big guns every once in a while, dissolve some plain asprin in water and GENTLY scrub the paste into your face. Leave it on for about 2 minutes, rinse it off, and smear yogurt all over where the asprin was. This sounds insane and gross, but the asprin turns to acid in water and will clear up acne, and the yogurt will soothe your skin and kill bacteria. Yogurt smells awful when it warms up, so rinse it off when you can't stand to wear it any longer.

Last thing: if you have broken blood vessels or redness problems, do not use hot water or steam to clear your pores. It will make your red face much worse in the long term.
posted by zinful at 7:33 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

What if you skipped the foundation, powder, and blush and tried going natural for awhile? I have sensitive skin too, and find that nothing looks as young and healthy as leaving it alone. It seems like everything looks dull and flat compared to a genuinely natural glow. Getting exercise, drinking water, taking omega-3 oil, a good B-complex (and multi) and plenty of antioxidants couldn't hurt. These days, I've been drinking liquid chlorophyll and tart cherry juice-- and was overjoyed to find this flax oil-based omega-3 that's not only palatable, but actually tasty:


I used to be plagued by dry skin, but now it's as soft and rosy as it's ever been. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 7:37 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

exfoliating doesn't have much to do with having beautiful skin. this is a myth. if you want beautiful skin you should wear sunscreen regularly that blocks both uva and uvb rays and possibly use a prescription cream like Retin A. Most over the counter stuff is useless.
posted by timsneezed at 7:39 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am not sure how old you are, but the way you exfoliate your skin matters depending on your age. You don't wanna exfoliate too much, especially since your skin is sensitive. I've heard good things about Clarisonic, but if your skin is dull and gross looking (I take it that means oily/greasy?) I would also try drinking more water. In my teens, my face was constantly oily, even in the winter time. I'd wash it 3 times a day, and it'd still be oily, it turns out the more I wash, the more oil my face produces. In my 20s, I started drinking a lot of water, recommended 2liters, and I noticed a big difference in how my skin felt and how it seemed less dirty(blackheads, less pimples, less of the problems I would have if I went a week or two without drinking enough water).

I still use cleansers, Lancome Creme Douceur for removing make up. I also heard Shu Uemura has oil-based mak-up remover that's great, but it's oil based, but leaves your skin feeling very smooth and not tight. I also use Origin's cream cleanser after I remove the make-up. In the morning, I use warm, not hot water, and use Dove cream soap. I don't use soap on my face or body, except Dove.

2-3 times a week, I use a VERY mild scrub. This means not one of those apricot scrubs, I mean round beads that seem like just not enough beads in it to remove all the dirty on my face. Dont scrub too hard, just enough to massage your face and promote circulation. Hope this helps! Good luck.
posted by icollectpurses at 7:40 PM on December 9, 2011

Don't underestimate the value of moisturizer. I have very sensitive, acne prone skin like yours, so I always avoided moisturizer for fear that it would break me out -- besides, my skin seemed pretty oily and didn't feel "tight" so why moisturize? Anyway, I finally caved in to conventional wisdom and started moisturizing morning and night after cleansing with Cerave and my skin is brighter and clearer than ever. I recommend La Roche Posay Toleriane -- it's very light, no fragrances, and has never irritated my sensitive skin even a tiny bit.
posted by telegraph at 7:45 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like heatherann, I do the oil cleansing method. I did some trial and error and found that, for my super-sensitive skin, I was best using 100% olive oil -- no castor or anything else. It's nice because you've probably already got olive oil and a washcloth at home, so you can give it a shot without committing to anything expensive.
To do it, just pour a little bit (between the size of a dime and a quarter seems to work for me) into your hands, rub them together to get it warmed up, then massage it into your face. Do that for however long feels good, with a bit of extra focus on any trouble spots (for me it was the flaky patches on my forehead). Run hot water onto the washcloth, wring it out, then lay it over your face for 20-30 seconds. Then use the washcloth to gently rub the oil off your face, rinse the washcloth, and repeat.
After doing it for a few weeks, my mom commented on how brilliant my complexion was. The dry, flaky patches are gone, my skin doesn't break out (unless I screw up and use castor oil, which is drying), and it feels soft and smooth.
posted by katemonster at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

What exactly is the nature of your problem? You want beautiful skin, but what's un-beautiful about it? You say certain things make you break out; does that mean you don't break out if you don't use them? You say you can't work up a sweat, but that's not the same as having dry skin, so...?

Exfoliation is pretty much unnecessary. Skin knows how to shed on its own; trying to speed up the process is just going to irritate the skin.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:52 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have sensitive skin and use one of those little facial loofah pad things with olive oil soap when I feel like my face needs to be exfoliated. For moisturizer I use jojoba oil. In the morning I don't wash my face, I just take a couple drops of jojoba and rub it into my face about 10 minutes before I put on makeup. If there is any excess I blot it off and my makeup is fine.

Drinking water is good, I always drink tons but I really notice that my skin looks better when I eat a lot of vegetables. Bikram yoga is good too.
posted by fromageball at 7:56 PM on December 9, 2011

I went for my first facial recently (big birthday gift), and my esthetician was really nice. She told me what was in the products she was using and made general recommendations, not specific to the product line they carry there. I went out the next day and picked up some things at the drugstore - I've been amazed at how well it's working and I got compliments on my skin from family at Thanksgiving. In the past I've always assumed that the less I do, the better, but...

As a middle-aged person with oily skin, the esthetician told me that I need to exfoliate more. So I'm now using a daily scrub w/salicylic acid, plus a retinol lotion at night. My skin looks a ton better! I've always used daily moisturizer w/sunscreen - that's a must.

But the thing is - I'm older, and I have oily skin. Until last year, I got away with using Cetaphil most of the time. Do you really need more exfoliation, or something else? If you can save up for a good facial, might be worth it just for the advice.
posted by hms71 at 8:00 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am not a woman.

My facial skin is extremely sensitive to everything. I have suffered for years from what 3 different dermatologists say is "acne rosacea." Nothing they ever did for me worked. Long-term antibiotic use with absolutely zero etiological explanation for why it should work? Hell no.

All I know is that the more I intervened, the worse it got. Dermatologist 'expressed' my blocked pores? Looked great for about 12 hours. Then everything went to pustules and inflammation.

Here's the simple regimen:

1. use as little as possible on your face on a daily basis (yeah, you're a woman and most women wear makeup, sorry, but I understand there's really safe makeup available)
2. change your pillowcase nightly or put a fresh towel on the pillow every night
3. rinse in the shower, don't let shampoo run down your face
4. ignore diet, it doesn't matter
5. No soap, ever, on your face.
6. No moisturizer, cream, or any "product" at night.

Sorry, but this has been what has been working for me. After 10 years of "rosacea" problems, I've been symptom free for 2 years by being product free.

By the way, if you have pets -- every thing you put on your hands will be eaten by your pets if you touch them. So that lotion, or that prescription medication --- yeah, each time you stroke your cat or dog, you are transferring that product to their digestive tract, since they bathe themselves multiple times daily. Personal rant, I know. Sorry.
posted by yesster at 8:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I get super complimented on my skin, even now that I am 41. Just yesterday, in fact!

I have a few hacks. And a few new ones have come to my attention just recently. I've also bought and used seriously expensive products over the years, but find myself back at the tried and true. Here they are....

- Baking soda as exfoliant mixed with a vegetable based soap.

Not a lot of baking soda, just a little. It is super fine and nothing does a better job. Don't forget your neck! I do this maybe every 3 to 4 days. You'll know when because your skin will start feeling a bit rough again. RUB GENTLY.

- Sunscreen moisturizer with zinc - 30 spf.

I live in LA and I regret terribly the years between 2005 and 2009 when I stopped using this. It's not just the spf factor, zinc is really really good for your skin. Now that I am back on the program, my freckles are fading. I am very very fair and can not afford age spots or freckles.

- Neosporin for pimples.

Not surprisingly, since I started using the baking soda, I don't break out much anymore. But I used to swear by this for pimples.

I've got two new tips...

- Goat's milk soap.

Holy shit. I don't even know what to say here. This shit has changed my life. I still mix it with the baking soda. It has enzymes and they work! All natural and such. I get mine from someone with a goat farm at the farmer's market. You can internet order it here. (Sorry - that's only Lavenderwood Farm's fb wall, but surely you can track them down. I know they'll be in Whole Foods soon, because the soap is handmade, but maybe not in your hood? Contact them or just try to find another local source for the real deal:)

- TUMERIC, that cheap powdered spice you can get anywhere.

Weirdly, this has come up a lot for me in the past two weeks, so I'm happy to pass it on...

If you Google tumeric, it seems that it interrupts the inflammation reaction. I have a slight case of rosacea, so this is good for me. It is good in food, as a vitamin supplement, and some beautiful girl I know with a Phd just told me this week I should really really be using it in face masks because it has super skin properties. Google tells me it is good for acne and rosacea. I think it might be a blood-flow thing, tumeric is a rhisome (root) in the ginger family.

You can mix it with honey, or plain water + flour, or a little yoghurt... kinda like an add-on to whatever your fav skin mask is. I was thinking either oats in the food processor turned to flour of with powdered clay.


It's really not that hard to have great skin. I also like Jojba oil (you can get this at trader joe's) but not on my face during the day.

I used to live down the street from the original Kiehl's shop before they were in every department store. I've also used everything commercial at one point or another. Nothing seems to work as well as the stuff that is closer to natural, FWIW.

I know the goat's milk soap I use isn't vegetable based. With that suggestion I was specifically alerting you to stay away from anything with Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - in fact, when my stylist switched me from sulfate based shampoo to non-sulfate, the condition of my long hair improved considerably about 2 years ago. Organix makes an affordable non-sulfate brand of shampoo you can get at any drugstore ($7 or less.) That shit (sulfate) is actually poison, but makes a frothy lather and is a surfactant, which is why it gets used in soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. Stay away from that. Check label ingredients!

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:37 PM on December 9, 2011 [21 favorites]

FWIW, I've used products with salicylic acid and not been as happy as I am now. Never used anything with retinol because I am fair skinned and I am under the impression it causes photo-sensitivity - but I could be wrong about that.
posted by jbenben at 8:42 PM on December 9, 2011

It sounds like you are exfoliating too much. Exfoliating makes the skin on my face worse - when I tried it, it would make my skin get dryer and flakier, which of course made me think I needed to exfoliate more in order to get rid of the dead skin. But that only sped up the flaky skin cycle. So I stopped.

You also might be washing your face too much or with stuff that's too harsh. I wash my face at night, but in the morning I just use a gentle toner. I don't think it's necessary to wash it all over again in the morning if all you've done is sleep and you aren't really sweating.

What moisturizers have made you break out? I have good luck with Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion, which is good for sensitive skin. It makes my face a little shiny, so I wear makeup/powder over it if I'm going out, but aside from that I like it a lot.
posted by wondermouse at 8:57 PM on December 9, 2011


I left out my greatest new find.... Long Story... stay with me....

I started using diaper cream with zinc on my D├ęcolletage because having ample cleavage and living in sunny climes + being fair skinned = Sun Damage.

Diaper cream was the highest zinc content cream I could find in the drugstore.


RiteAid, specifically, makes a generic diaper cream with a super high zinc content, + cod liver oil + aloe.

My (now) 8 month old son had a few baby acne spots, and this cleared it right up where Neosporin failed. I It's also helped my skin damaged cleavage, and my scars from a c-section. I can't even remember how I first got the idea to dab it on my son's acne, but it worked so well, I started experimenting.

So that's everything I know that actually works.
posted by jbenben at 9:01 PM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

In these type of threads I always suggest a little baking soda mixed into cetaphil to form a paste is wonderful for sensitive skin.
posted by saradarlin at 9:13 PM on December 9, 2011

Do you use a washcloth? If that's too rough, try cloth baby wipes. Some of my friends on MUA swear by them.

To wake up in the morning, I like a washcloth wrapped around the end of a vibrating toothbrush. It gets the blood flowing and helps to exfoliate a bit. Don't scrub (meaning vigorous back-and-forth motion), just move it around slowly using however much pressure feels comfortable. Nowadays I use something a bit larger (the Neutrogena wave, which is useless but can be hacked) but that's because my skin is not very sensitive. I have heard great things about the Clarisonic (it has sensitive and delicate brush heads) and am getting one soon, but it's really expensive and you might want to try less pricey options first.

Moisturizer at night is shockingly helpful in making you look good when you wake up. Figure out a type that you can use. Might not seem like a priority with your acne issue, but it is!

I am afraid to give you product recommendations because you didn't really give us a lot of info. While Makeupalley is an excellent resource in general, its skin care board is particularly well-informed. They know a scary amount about ingredients.
posted by acidic at 10:02 PM on December 9, 2011

If you work out, be sure to wash your face both before and after your routine.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:22 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really, really support seeing an aesthetician. I found mine after a long Yelp search for the highest rated one in my area. She looked at my skin and suggested products for me that were way better than the fancy, make-up counter stuff I was using. She spent way more time looking at my skin than my dermatologist and the products she recommended worked great. Also, I do a real facial with extractions every couple of months and that has improved my skin 10x. I understand that this is not an option for everyone. I budgeted for it because of my wedding coming up but I really was surprised by what a big difference it made.

I use a face wash that gently exfoliates using enzymes, it is called Osmosis Purify this works great for me but I don't know your skin type so I don't know how it will work for you. I also use a Clarisonic face brush. If you get it from Sephora, you can return it if you don't like it. This is especially great if you use make-up because it really removes everything.

How often are you washing your make-up brushes? You should be washing them once a week for powder applications and every day for cream applications.
posted by dottiechang at 10:28 PM on December 9, 2011

I use unscented Neutrogena liquid soap with this soft facial brush in the mornings, and then another wash, sans brush, at night. In the winter I use Cetaphil instead because my skin is a bit drier.

Another good exfoliator is a paste of coarse kosher salt and honey. Both are water-soluble, so they dissolve completely away, leaving no bits of grit behind on your skin to get trapped in your pores. Try this once or twice a week, followed by a quick wash with Neutrogena (no brush).

I use Neutrogena's No Stress hydrating acne treatment before I put on my makeup.

Other tips: Wash gently before and after working out so your makeup doesn't get clogged in your sweaty pores. Change your pillowcase often, maybe twice a week. Swab down your cell and office phone with rubbing alcohol or all-purpose cleaner like 409 every morning. If you put lotion on your hands or body after showering, wash your hands before putting anything on your face--body lotion makes my face break out.

I enjoy the occasional mud mask, and go sans-makeup whenever I can outside of work. In general, the fewer ingredients, the better. Kiehl's makes a good one, don't know if it's still around, but I've found the Boots brand at Target is good, too.

Drink a lot of water, and if moisturizer makes you feel greasy (I have never found one I like, even at my driest), use a humidifier at night. All moisturizer does is trap water in your skin--you can forego it with enough prolonged humidity. Bonus: Nice clear sinuses.
posted by elizeh at 1:41 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't wash my face. I wear liquid foundation, cream concealer under my eyes, cream blush, powder eyeliner and eyeshadow, and occasionally mascara. I have not washed my face with cleanser or soap of any kind in years - just a quick swipe with a washcloth in the shower to get the crusties out of my eyes in the morning. I use eye makeup remover before I go to bed if I've been wearing more eye makeup than usual, but aside from some cheap, unscented moisturiser to use if I'm going to be outside in the cold or wind in the winter and the aforementioned (super cheap) eye makeup remover, I have not purchased or used any skin care products in about six years.

I'm 33 now and my skin looks and feels fine even when I decide not to wear makeup. I used to buy all kinds of super expensive products - cleansers, exfoliating things, masks, etcetera- to deal with what I thought was dull, sensitive combination skin. When I finally just threw it all away I realised that I had perfectly pleasant, normal skin that just wanted to be left alone. It's worth a try, right?
posted by cilantro at 4:29 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

What should this sensitive-skinned girl do?

Stop abusing your sensitive skin with daily slatherings of expensive oily mud.

When showering, wash your face with a soft terry-towelling washcloth and no soap. Then put nothing on it at all, all day, on your perfectly-adequately-beautiful-as-it-came-from-the-face-factory face.

Sun protection? Hat.

Don't smoke.

Eat enough good fats.
posted by flabdablet at 4:37 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

-Exfoliate chemically (use tretinoin/"Retin-A")
-Exfoliate with a soft towel washcloth
-Wear only mineral sunscreens (I like this one)
-Don't use soap on your face unless you have, like, car grease on it
-Use something like argan oil/Cerave PM as your moisturizer

posted by 200burritos at 7:36 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love my Clairisonic, although it's pricey. Also I really like this "Peeling Vegetal" exfoliator - I bought it after a facial once when the esthetician recommended it. I have super sensitive skin and it does not bother me.

Also getting a facial once in a while will help.
posted by radioamy at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2011

+1 for oil cleansing method. It kind of covers all bases: steaming helps open the pores/ soften the skin for exfoliation, wiping off with washcloth provides gentle exfoliation, it's gentle, natural, and not drying (depending on amount of castor oil you put in). Also works great for taking off makeup, so no need for a makeup remover stage before cleansing.

But be aware that you may have to experiment with oils to find the right combination that works for your skin. I have normal-to-dry skin and did not like olive oil at all - I felt too sticky and not 'clean'. Pure jojoba (no castor) works great for me. I also add some tea tree oil to my mix.
posted by kitkatcathy at 10:54 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me, the best solution has been daily use of an 8% benzoyl peroxide gel (I use Paula's Choice, mostly because that's the only reliable chemical exfoliant I can find), and baking soda mixed with my gentle morning cleanser a couple of times a week. Baking soda is a miracle worker! It's fine but surprisingly scrubby and does a wonderful job. I also wear makeup, and use an oil cleanser (MAC's Cleanse Off oil, I'm too timid to try the oil cleansing method) at night and really love it.

But I can't recommend regular chemical exfoliation enough. Too much scrubby mechanical exfoliation makes my skin angry.
posted by nerdfish at 11:43 AM on December 10, 2011

My skin looks really luminous lately and here's what has helped me - I was actually just marveling about this last week.

1. I switched from foundation to powder foundation. My skin was not bad when I started to wear foundation, but once I did, my skin looked very dull and discolored if I skipped it. It took a little while to wean my skin away from foundation, but what helped is applying very little (just a tad around my chin) of MAC Studio Fix Powder Foundation with a big brush. MAC may not work for you, but I'd definitely recommend moving away from using foundation every day. It's a shame to be covering up youthful skin every day when old age and age spots will certainly require it. Get as much mileage from you natural skin while you can!

2. I started eating 1/2 cup of oatmeal with vanilla soymilk and ground flax seed every morning for breakfast. The oatmeal has fiber, the soymilk has protein, and the flax seed has plenty of omega-3. Whatever you do, don't add sugar - it's tastes great without it. Grind the flax seed so you can digest it (otherwise, you'll pass the seed without digestion) and grind it right before so it doesn't oxidize. Also, don't cook the flax seed in the oatmeal - heating up the omega-3s has a negative effect! I've had huge, huge benefits from this! Staying away from sugar is really important, too.

3. I started walking every day and exercising at least two times a week. My face doesn't break a sweat for some reason but circulating your blood for a while each day (even if it's just going on a walk and getting some fresh air) releases toxins, and is a de-stressor to boot.

4. I started keeping track that I actually drink 8 glasses of water a day. My mind used to overestimate the amount of water I got each day.

5. I moved away from using moisturizer at night and just let my skin breathe while I sleep. I remove my make up, wash my face, and apply a drop or two of Evan Healy Lavender Hydrosol. Applying a drop or two of this while steaming my face also helps a lot - I remember reading somewhere that oil binds oil.

6. I searched and searched for a good exfoliator and everything I tried was a disappointment (Philosophy being absolutely the worst). They all felt like they had too much petroleum that would just sit on the face and make it feel smooth without actually removing dead skin (and if you scraped your skin your nail, layer and layer of the product would come out - gross!). Then I found absolutely the best exfoliator - Sisley Facial Buffing Cream. It's amazing! It's pricey (you can find it cheaper online) but totally worth it and one jar lasts me 6 months! (not to be used more than 2X a week, though!)

Good luck!
posted by gardenbex at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

here are some things that work for me:

microfiber cloths. Very, very gentle mechanical exfoliation. Buy a bunch so you can wash them regularly.

However, they will strip oils even if you use the oil cleansing method, so be sure to use a moisturizer afterwards. I like a moisturizer that contains jojoba because it works very well for my skin, niacinamide, and Retinyl acetate (vitamin A). These last two ingredients help with skin turnover, brightness, and wrinkle reduction. I've been using this very light but loaded cream from Skinactives, but think I may switch to this Vitamin A cream for the winter. This serum is also really good mixed with a drop of jojoba. Even if you don't buy from them, their site is a good resource for investigating individual ingredients. If you're feeling crafty, you can even buy Niacinamide or Retinyl acetate or whatever and add them to your own favorite lotion or serum.

I use OCM with straight jojoba. I don't steam because hot water can be drying to skin, and pores don't actually open and close- that's a myth. If I feel my face is really cruddy I make a mask with jojoba and extra fine (caster) sugar, lightly exfoliate with that, leave it on in the shower, then rinse with lukewarm water. Easy and cheap, and sugar is a gentle alpha-hydroxy-acid as well as a mild mechanical exfoliate.

Another thing for avoiding dull skin is not smoking, so if you do, cutting down would be beneficial.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2011

Nth-ing using baking soda 2-3 times a week with Cetaphil or olive oil or glycerine soap or water or whatever you choose. I use Lily of the Desert Aloe 80 Face Wash but anything can work. When I ran out of face wash I just used baking soda and water and it worked fine.

Do NOT scrub hard! In addition to being very fine particles, the baking soda is also a mild base, so it is also washing your face like a detergent.
posted by fiercekitten at 4:38 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

So my acne prone skin became ridiculously dry this autumn/winter and still breaking out...........yippee.

OCM with a flannel for slight mechanical exfoliation is good, with only a tiny bit castor oil.

When my skin turned into this dry blotchy mess this autumn the first thing I did was recall that I had an oil free but fairly heavy duty moisturiser in the bathroom cabinet. That was much more effective than my extremely light daily moisturiser at addressing this extreme dryness. But still not perfect.

So one day last week I succumbed and used a tiny bit of the jojoba oil that I normally use on my body on my face. That helped some more.

Then, on Friday night, after my work xmas do, I was a bit drunk and clumsy when I removed my make up before going to bed. And I was a bit more heavy handed with the jojoba oil and used a fair amount on my face as a result, as in I was massaging it into my face and then rubbing my lower arms on my forehead and cheeks to remove the excess. Was expecting my skin to break out massively but had had too much red wine to really care. And I woke up Saturday morning and, for the first time in months, my skin looks and feels soft and nicely moisturised (without feeling too oily) and looks nice and clean, too. So there, jojoba oil it is for the near future.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:42 AM on December 11, 2011

I have sensitive skin, and I take a really minimal approach and my skin comes out pretty soft. I do not exfoliate except with my fingers in the shower. I use unscented dove soap only. I don't wear much makeup. I wash with warm water in the shower in the morning and lukewarm water at night. I use neutrogena oil-free moisturizer sometimes and that's it.
posted by mai at 10:49 AM on December 11, 2011

I use warm water and a facecloth (washcloth) in the shower. I also use Nivea's SPF 15 moisturizer if I think about it. I get compliments on my skin.
posted by deborah at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2011

Response by poster: Good lord, so many responses! Thank you so much, my skin is starting to look better already.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:04 PM on December 15, 2011

retin-a is really really awesome and I've used it since I was 18, I spent my 20's drinking like a fish and smoking like a chimney but I still get id'd regularly and complimented on my glow... retin-a chemically exfoliates your skin and keeps collagen production steaming along. I use fragrance free moisturizer quite often as well.
posted by misspony at 2:32 AM on December 17, 2011

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