I can't believe it's not snake oil!!!
November 30, 2016 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I want to put some high end (or at least very effective) skin-care potions on my holiday gift wish list this year. I know nothing about this stuff. Need some specific recommendations and/or caveats.

So it used to be true, some 20 years ago when I started looking at skin care products, that they were pretty much just mineral oil in various forms. There was nothing that was going to really penetrate the dermis; they might lubricate, but they weren't going to do anything about wrinkles, skin tone etc. These days, I'm hearing about stuff that might actually work. I'd like my skin to be better, and while I'm not going to waste money on false hopes, I'd love some personal recommendations for products you find have actually worked.

I'm a 40ish woman and these are the things I'd like to fix:


* I have omnipresent dark circles, which are a function of my pigmentation (not of lack of rest, hydration, etc.) What, if anything, can I do about that?

* I don't have crow's feet yet; can I forestall them with anything topical?


* visible sebaceous filaments, so gross. Oil cleansing maybe reduces slightly but not much.


* starting to have some age spotting here, still faint. Would like more even tone.

Overall, I want smooth, glowing, even skin dammit. Smooth. Glowing. Even. (Was it ever smooth and glowing? Not sure. I got compliments on my skin in my 30s, after the acne had calmed down.) I still get the occasional pimple, bleh.

I should note that I do have access to a dermatologist so if there are products available by prescription only, I can get them. I had one prescribe some Retin A a while ago, but it didn't really seem to do anything for my face, and now my insurance won't cover it anyway.

Currently I use a very basic oil cleansing regimen (just sunflower oil) to clean, and Eucerin SPF moisturizer every day (which, considering the dark spots I'm seeing, is apparently not enough.) I bought a L'Oreal charcoal facial mask in the hope that it would reduce sebaceous filaments but it didn't do anything.

Tell me what has worked for you!
posted by fingersandtoes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (34 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
For face moisturizing, it's hard to go wrong with Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion. I swear by that yellow stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have a Sephora near you? If so head in there. They carry a wide range of product lines, are generous with samples and are pretty good at making recommendations to fit your particular needs.
posted by goggie at 12:52 PM on November 30, 2016

Paula's Choice products are recommended here frequently. I use them and love them.

As for the stuff that works, my dermatologist told me that sunscreen and retinoids were the only things proven to prevent or reverse aging. He also made positive noises about my using a vitamin C serum.
posted by Lycaste at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

I have very little brand or product loyalty, but this stuff I order over and over: RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% AHA. It's made a huge and very visible difference.

I don't use in conjunction with toner or anything like it says, I just wash my face with Cetaphil and then a dab of this stuff and my regular facial moisturizer.
posted by anderjen at 1:00 PM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I swear by Paula's Choice "Resist" BHA daily treatment, Philosophy "Renewed Hope in a Jar" lotion with AHA, Bye Bye Under Eye for circles and puffiness, and Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Toner.
posted by erst at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah, so there are basically a lot products that moisturize, as in prevent your skin from being dry and that's about it.

But if you are wanting to use something that actually can work on the issues you describe, you need to use AHAs. I myself use a glycolic peel, it is good for both acne and aging skin, and gives me a more glowing, even skin. But there are other AHAs, and formulas out there, so many. Paula's Choice is popular, and she also has a lot of information on products on her website.
posted by nanook at 1:02 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you only interested in use-at-home topical treatments, or would you also consider in-office procedures like BBL, Fraxel, or chemical peels?
posted by slenderloris at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2016

I'd love to hear about procedures that you thought were worth the cost/pain, yes absolutely!
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:12 PM on November 30, 2016

most people in my family, men and women, have had near-perfect skin since a family friend introduced us all to Kiehl's some 20 years ago. Seriously, we are often thought to be ten years younger than we are, and it's not only genetics, spouses are the same.
If you have a store near you, the staff is normally very well educated which is a good part of why it works. It is not cheap, but you only need tiny amounts - a jar of moisturizer lasts 6 months for me.
Before that, I used Clinique products which are still more widely available, and very good, and also Decleor for a bit of luxury now and then. Clinique has a product for those black circles that is very efficient. But both the service and the knowledge at Kiehl's is another level.

That said, I sometimes buy a cheap mud-mask or peel-off mask at the drugstore, and they work wonders, when followed by my normal routine.
posted by mumimor at 1:15 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I take this with a grain a salt, since Paula's Choice is it's on brand with it's own products, and I disagree about some of their priorities*, but I do find the reviews on Beautypedia helpful.

*for example, they have a particular hate-on for citrus extracts, which don't trouble my skin at all. They give good ratings to moisturizers that are super skin clogging (for me) because high-SPF is more important to them.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:26 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

For your age spots, your derm can zap them with liquid nitrogen (like they use for warts). I had it done last summer and it was AWESOME. They turn darker and kind of scab (but not like a wound scab, just kind of raised/dark) and then when they fall off, after about a week, the skin underneath looks just like your other skin. I highly recommend.
posted by stellaluna at 1:40 PM on November 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've had really good luck with Paulas Choice products. I'm 48. They do have a great Retinol product. While not as good as prescription it has made a huge difference to my skin. I have a tonne of sun damage from a childhood under the Australian sun and it's really improved my skin.

I use their AHA Brightener which does great things for my Age spots. It does have Hydroquinone in which some people don't like, but they do another AHA product without it if that's a concern to you, & it is also very good.

I have used several of their serums over the years & they are all very good, though at the moment I am using Olay revitalift serum & loving it.

Their Vitamin C serum is very good but I find this one at half the price from Timeless just as good.

I have also just added the CQ10 from Timeless & use their Hyarulonic acid & am happy with all of them.

Oh & get the Paulas Choice Resist facewash if nothing else.

I use 2 of their sunblocks as well & am happy with both. This one in Summer or when I'm going to be out a lot and this one in winter because my skin seems to prefer it in winter.

You'd be surprised at how good a few of the lower end brands are, though I understand the wanting something thats a treat you wouldn't normally buy yourself for Christmas you might want to look into the Regenerist line & also pretty much anything by CeraVe when looking for more everyday stuff. They both have a lot of active ingredients based on solid research in them & not just mineral oils now a days.

I just realised just how many skin care products I own & use & I'm not sure how I feel about that.
posted by wwax at 2:00 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

i have forestalled crow's feet with botox because it's effective and it's a once a year expense and it's just not a big deal to me. people who've never had it or have only heard bad things about it will breathlessly warn you that you'll have a freakish frozen face and it's just not the case. literally all it does is prevent the outside corners of your eye skin from wrinkling when you squint, with two or three tiny injections by each eye. that's it, that's the whole thing. just don't let them talk you into a brow lift, that's a thing that can make your face less mobile in a kind of strange way.

when my sebaceous filaments get visible i just yank them out with those stupid pore strips. i don't care if it's bad for me, it's so satisfying to yank the strip off. i use a clarifying daily moisturizer so i rarely get them anymore, though. i think it's murad's skin perfecting lotion? i used to use philosophy's hope in a bottle, which was the greatest moisturizer i've ever used, but it was discontinued, presumably because there is no force of good in this horrible universe. their hope in a jar is completely different and feels greasy and terrible on my skin.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:38 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might get good results from posing this question on Reddit's Skincare Addiction sub.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:53 PM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seconding that Reddit sub. They've been pretty excited about this company lately. I can't vouch for it yet but I ordered a few items this week. I also swear by Paula's Choice (especially the Resist line); a lot of the Deciem products in their sub-brand The Ordinary have the same ingredients but are much cheaper than PC's. I'm hoping they might replace my expensive Paula's Choice habit.
posted by katie at 3:08 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

To avoid wrinkles as much as possible, sunscreen is recommended. There are some suggested earlier but I personally recommend Japanese ones. I use Biore Perfect Milk every day but there are lots of great options available on Amazon. Another subreddit to check for sunscreen recommendations is Asian Beauty.
posted by sarae at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you'd like to get really splurgey, the Sunday Riley luna sleeping oil is dreamy. It's like a magical skin-correcting serum and moisturizer combined - my skin always looked fantastic in the morning after use.

If lashes count, I recommend the Lashfood eyelash enhancer to grow amazing long lashes. I use it on my bottom lashes which were previously short and stubby and within a month there was a very noticeable difference.

I also recommend a Dermstore BeautyFix subscription box. I have been doing it for a year now and every month it comes with some sort of insanely expensive full-size skincare product in addition to a million other things for skin, hair, and nails.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're looking for gentle exfoliation (re: glow and pigmentation concerns). I've been doing bi-weekly mandelic acid peels from Makeup Artist's Choice for a while (6+ months consistently), and they've been good for evening out my skin tone and general removing-dead-skin-opening-pores. It's a pretty gentle place to start with chemical exfoliants, and good for sensitive skin, if that's a concern. Another good exfoliant to consider is lactic acid.
posted by momus_window at 4:30 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

My skin hates retinA and stays red and scaly for ever if I use it instead of calming down and looking nice like it's supposed to. Retinol does nothing for me. Matrixyl, however, is my jam. I recommend the Boots No. 7 serum very highly.

Also Cerave moisturizer is a heaping dose of hyraulonic acid and is the only thing I keep buying over and over again.
posted by fshgrl at 4:51 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Morning: any 2% salicylic acid wash, left on for a couple of minute while brushing teeth. Gillette do the cheapest one in the men's section, IME the Neutrogena one doesn't work but the Garnier does in the women's section; other than that, any one will do.

Then, Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion for 10 minutes.

Then, Ocean Potion Face spf45 zinc oxide sunscreen, smoothed on with a sponge. Leave that for a few mins before proceeding with makeup.

Evening: two washes with Cetaphil cleansing lotion, followed by a rinse, followed by a salicylic acid wash.

After that, Cetaphil Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion for 15 minutes, before smearing on the prescription topical retinoid.

Sorry that's not high-end, but IME those are the treatments that work. Skincare is idiosyncratic, though, so recommendations in this area can only mean so much.
posted by tel3path at 5:08 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

For an even tone you want to chemically exfoliate. BHA in the morning and AHA at night (photosensitivity). Vitamin C serums help with brightness.

My specific routine:

AM: Wash with cerave hydrating wash. Swipe with stridex in the red box (BHA). Paula's choice vitamin c serum. Biore watery essence sunscreen. Cerave in the tub.

PM: Wash with cerave hydrating wash. Swipe with st Ives exfoliating pads (AHA). Cerave in the tub.

I love all of these specific products. It's been a long road but this is what works for me!

And nthing the Reddit skincare addiction sub. Those ladies and gents know their shit.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I bought Phytomer's Vegetal Exfoliant on a whim at a spa because I had money left on a gift card and the lady recommended it. I really like it. It's a very gentle exfoliant that I use about once a week. Definitely makes my skin smoother.
posted by radioamy at 8:58 PM on November 30, 2016

If you don't have a good cleanse/chemical exfoliation (aka acid tone)/moisturizer/spf regimen, there's no reason to splurge on a magic potion. Pintapicasso's above is a good place to start.

Once you have a regimen, that's the time to supplement with something powerful and active. For me (a skincare addict extraordinaire), the ultimate miracle amazing product is Sunday Riley Good Genes serum. It's a strong lactic acid treatment that is the only thing I've ever used that consistently makes me wake up looking smoother, glowier, and generally more gorgeous. It's stupidly expensive. And stupidly wonderful. WOOOOOOOONDERFUL.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:22 PM on November 30, 2016

My skin is the only area that don't need much help with, but as I get older (I'm 52) I've started playing around with things. Since I dnot need a ton of help I haven't seen any remarkable changes, until now. Like, right now.

I just used this Serious Skincare C-Extreme duo and left to come to my mom's. A neighbor in my elevator told me I looked great, and my mom's caregiver just told me my skin looks so bright and smooth. (Not humblebragging, really, I'm just excited this stuff works!)
posted by Room 641-A at 6:38 AM on December 1, 2016

Retin-A is about the only topical cream whatnot actually proven to have permanent effects -- how long did you use it for? It's definitely not a quick fix.

I've been using it since I was about 11 -- I'm almost 42 -- I still get "carded" occasionally, and every time I have told a derm (or GP with an interest in vanity skin care whatnot) that I've been using it pretty much constantly for thirty years (stopped for pregnancy, even though the risks are probably de minimis), they make an audible sort of squee! and, invariably, "Wow! You're REALLY lucky."

Last I looked you could buy it cheap from India and I've never read any complaints on the internet from people who discuss buying it from there, just good stuff.

I've had Fraxel and a few other things along those lines from a derm. I have periodic pre-cancerous lesions frozen off and can confirm that if there is a little patch of whatever you want gone, it's pretty cool -- thawing out hurts a bit but doesn't last, and then it scabs and when the scab falls off there's no scar. I also had 'photodynamic therapy with Levulan,' if I'm remembering the term correctly, and I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the car mirror a week or two later and nearly crying; I had acne as a teenager and hadn't seen skin that great since pre-puberty days. Insurance covered the Levulan. There's some debate about its efficacy, but I found it to be miraculous. The effect isn't permanent, though.

Talk to a good derm, the kind with a proper practice that also treats severe cystic acne and burn victims, not a Groupon enthusiast where they've spent a lot on machines but not so much on well-educated staff and are confused by non-aesthetic procedures. Anything you will get there will be loads better than anything in Sephora et al. +1 on AHAs & BHA (and retinol, in higher concentrations) for maintenance, but if you want something that will last when you stop it, you need a doctor, or at least her/his prescription pad. Avoid ones who are heavily into selling stuff -- the derm that did my Fraxel told me to use olive oil or Vaseline afterwards, with no mention of anything pricy, even though you could buy products there. One derm I saw wanted to do a peel with I-forget-what at 10%. I told her I used 10% at home regularly. She insisted I needed to start with 10% at her office. Okay, great, thanks for your time... Don't be afraid to just walk out of places that just want to empty your wallet.

At-home mild chemical peels are pretty amazing if you're brave. (Would suggest getting one done by a pro 1st to see how you react.)
posted by kmennie at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Emu oil is amazing stuff--a friend let me use some a decade ago and I still remember the beautiful glowing skin it gave me. (It's so not vegan though--it's a byproduct of the emu meat industry.) I also like more-affordable jojoba oil, which is especially good for keeping blemishes from scarring.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 4:46 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kmennie, any chance you recall the India pharmacy site? Will any of them do?
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:14 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add another recommendation for where you can buy AHAs, I haven't tried this company yet but I am going to (inexpensive, looks like high quality formulations). The Ordinary (linking to one of their AHAs, lactic acid).
posted by nanook at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2016

Blogger Jude Chao (aka Fiddy Snails of Fifty Shades of Snail) has a great routine for dealing with sebaceous filaments: How to Shrink Pores (Temporarily), Plus Three Pore Myths.

Her routine takes an hour and involves the use of a 2% BHA product with a pH between 3 and 4, a clay mask, and an emulsifying oil cleanser or a pure carrier oil ("Mineral oil seems to work best"). If you don't have any of the above on hand, she makes some suggestions about what products to use.

It took some experimenting for me to get satisfaction. Mineral oil didn't work for me, but my old favorite, safflower oil, did the trick, along with Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Treatment Lotion (2% salicylic acid; pH 3.8) and Evan Healy's French Rose Clay mask (I happened to have it sitting around from a Whole Paycheck skin care spree a couple of years ago). Other people have had luck with the Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque.

I've heard the siren call of Biore nose strips, and, like poffin boffin, I've happily succumbed to that call. But I've found Fiddy's routine more workable for me in the long run, although it lacks the sheer gross-osity and instant gratification that make the nose strip experience so satisfying.
posted by virago at 8:58 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Haven't ordered myself, but have heard good things about "alldaychemist." The only bummer is they don't sell the strongest strength of Retin-A, but I think the lower ones agree with more people's skins...

(I've had good experiences mixing this retinyl palmitate with jojoba oil, and with other stuff bought to add a dab of to existing products from that company, even though I wasn't impressed with their customer service -- they sent an incorrect product and ignored me until I gave up on e-mail and went for a PayPal complaint, which finally snapped them into action. But the selection can't be beat and the prices are good. The price of a LITRE of lactic acid from "Saffire Blue" is all of CDN$15, and I dump that in cheap body lotions to terrific effect -- discount Lac-Hydrin! {Sold OTC at...12%? here in Canada, but I understand that strength is Rx-only in the States?} Usual disclaimers apply about learning a bit about cosmetic chemistry and making sure you're not screwing anything up -- but with virtually all acids I've had 0 problems adding a dab to facial/body creams and even face washes.)
posted by kmennie at 1:35 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all who answered! I had to take my kid to the dermatologist yesterday anyway so I got myself an appointment and talked through all of this. I am typing up my notes this morning and thought I would copy/paste them for you. (She did a "these are your options" discussion for the treatments, not saying we all need to run do them.)

FOREHEAD WRINKLES (RESULTING FROM FACIAL MOVEMENT):[from my memory, sorry no notes here]
*Botox, now, preventatively, for the vertical lines that will someday form above the inner eyebrow. Note that once they're there, they can't be fixed.

*fillers? [again have no written notes on this but I think it's what she said. I personally think fillers around the mouth wind up looking bizarre.]

*Zyrtec daily for the undereye circles [nb: never heard this before, fingers crossed!!!]
*ROC retinol eye cream @night - optional
*can use Colore Science powder sunblock safely on eye area

FACE - morning:
*Vit C serum, between 10-24%, buy any brand on Amazon, keep out of light
*sunscreen: Neutrogena Clear Face sunblock. Use a lot, every day even in winter (but even more in summer.) Reapply throughout day. If wearing makeup and not wanting to smear lotion onto it, can use Colore Science powder sunblock on top when reapplying. (Make sure not to wash the brush in water as it will ruin it and it's pricy.) [NB: I bought the Neutrogena stuff this morning and I think it may also act as a bit of a makeup primer. We'll see.]

FACE - evening:
*wash face (oil cleanse is ok, or can use makeup remover if need to remove a bunch of stuff)
*dry + wait 10 mins, important bc if you put retin A on a wet face it will be too harsh
*retin A (scrip) or retinol (OTC) (retinol is gentler to start with), pea size for whole face
*ROC retinol eye cream if using
*moisturizer on top

PORES: only treatments have real effect here
*Fraxel laser, $1500, 7-10 days downtime (face is scabby mess)
*Microneedle treatment, $350 per session

I asked about the lactic acid and other fruit peels we discussed in the thread, and she said they'll do no harm but are unnecessary once retin-a effect is established. She also said retin-a will make you peel in the beginning but works once you power through it and are consistent.

She was not in favor of physical exfoliants.

Hope someone finds this helpful!
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:07 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Microneedle treatment, $350 per session


My derm told me to just go out and buy one if I wanted to try it. Loads of brands out there, don't go too cheap but don't overpay ($50ish?). It's a thing you can do while watching TV and should not cost $350. (Oh, almost bang on with the price guess. I bought from here.

I haven't found the effect to be permanent, but it really smooths things out for the odd time you want to glow. There's a sort of...micro-puffiness?...that takes away all wrinkles and odd skin what-not; you're just left very smooth. But it goes away.
posted by kmennie at 12:48 PM on December 18, 2016

Speaking of tools, I was gifted this Luna Play sonic, silicone face brush, and it's bonkers how well it works. My skin is so smooth, unlike anytime I can recall after just washing my face, and while I don't have a ton of those black nose pore things I have some and it cleaned it all out with a couple of swipes. Most of the negative review are specific to this particular model: there's no way to charge it so it's basically disposable, and some people got a really shitty lifespan out of them. The rest of the line is highly rated.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:32 AM on December 19, 2016

Update 6 months later:

Facial skin looks freaking amazing. Like I get out of the shower every morning and look am like "that's some great skin right there." So I got my wish. Thought I'd share what I wound up with since it really has been effective.

at night:
*prescription strength retin-A obtained from an India pharmacy per kmennie's suggestion above. It took a while to feel right.
*sometimes a face oil on top of that. Either the $6 argan oil from TJ's or one of the fancy samples I got from the mall on my birthday.
*most of the time I cannot be bothered to wash my face at night. The retin-A penetrates everything anyway, per my derm, so who cares. I'm lazy. But if I have a lot of makeup on or have had a dirty day then of course I do wash, and I do that with a mix of castor and vit e oil (rub on, wipe off with warm water rinsed baby wipe.)

in the morning:
*wash face in shower with a $15 knockoff I found on Amazon of the silicon face brush recommended above and Cerave daily face wash which was also recommended here
*serums: both a Vitamin C one and a straight hyaluronic acid one I found on Amazon, about $10 each.
*lots of sunscreen always. I use the Neutrogena one my derm recommended. It seems to work without breaking me out so that's nice, but I won't lie to you: it stings like a bitch. But only for a moment.

Hope someone finds this useful!
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

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