What are the basic knowledge blocks of skincare?
June 19, 2019 4:36 AM   Subscribe

I recently put some effort into learning the Curly Girl method and related info about caring for curly hair. The basic knowledge blocks have been more useful than specific advice, product recs, etc. (Examples inside.) What's the equivalent for skincare?

After lots of reading and research into the Curly Girl method and other resources on caring for curly hair, I found a few basic bits of knowledge were more useful and powerful than actual product recommendations, techniques, etc. For example:

- Learning about protein and moisture balance led me to try a product with protein and realise my hair loves it
- Learning the names of some of the most common ingredients to avoid helped me shop with more flexibility and confidence than when I had to rely on recommendations for specific products and brands
- Learning the basic types of steps in a full routine (e.g. wash, condition, deep condition, plopping, diffusing, product application) helped me figure out the minimum effort I can put in to get results I want, rather than blindly following someone else's routine
- Learning about the different curl types and hair porosity helped me make decision about my routine rather than blindly following advice that wouldn't suit me

I'm now ready to learn about skincare. I know nothing. I don't wear makeup. I want a minimal routine. I want to purchase the most ethically and sustainably-made (and local) brands I can find/afford. I'm a cis woman, 30 years old.

Where should I start in terms of learning similar building blocks of knowledge for skincare, so I can be informed enough to make decisions about my routine? Thanks!
posted by bellebethcooper to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Go read all the sidebar info on the skincareaddiction subreddit.
posted by geegollygosh at 4:49 AM on June 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

I had something similar in book form but this Ingredient Dictionary was very helpful when reading labels to determine exactly what did what. You might also look into DIY forums for women who make their own, eg lotions and creams from simple ingredients.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:01 AM on June 19, 2019

Seconding the sidebar of the skincare addiction subreddit.

Many, many skin woes can be bettered with the following very simple steps:

-chemical exfoliator
-[extremely optional 43 goos and tinctures]
posted by phunniemee at 5:31 AM on June 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

I am a big fan of an aesthetician named Nerida Joy. She has been in the business for decades, and has a youtube channel and she covers the basics as well as specifics related to the various skin types. I started following her approach a few months ago (using mostly The Ordinary products), and have seen positive improvements in my skin.

Here are some of her main guidelines:

-50% of skincare is good cleansing. She insists everyone (even oilier/problem skin) must use a non-foaming cleanser, massaged thoroughly into the skin and removed with a warm, wet washcloth.
-many skin problems occur from what she refers to as surface dryness, hence the above cleansing routine, and a good moisturizer.
-daily skin massage is very important
-non-prescription retinols and AHAs for most skin types, but not all.

That's just a summary. I highly recommend watching a few of her videos to get an overall sense.
posted by nanook at 6:14 AM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

People absolutely RAVE about the skincare subreddit linked above, but it is immersive and I find it a little confusing. phunniemae’s summary of it is spot-on but I would break it down even a little further and say the most basic you can get is: cleanse, moisturize, sunscreen. For overnight, you can cross off the sunscreen. The next step up (the way I do it) is adding in a Vitamin C product in the morning and a chemical exfoliater at night (before you moisturize each time). One more step up is adding in some face masks you can apply once or a few times per week.

I think you’ll find that this can be an expensive and time-consuming habit if you get into it, more so than haircare. There’s something about the Holy Grail of perfect skin that always has me looking for products that are just slightly better. Plus everyone’s skin is so different that it’s tough to know how something will work on you until you already buy it.

Also be very wary of buying products on Amazon (many are fakes) and of sponsored content / reviews. This is one of those “Internet Wild West” areas where I think people are hyping or recommending products for financial gain and don’t disclose it. Same with reviews of products in women’s magazines (an older form of sponcon). I find the best products by looking at reddit or Makeup Alley and similar sites with large amounts of reviews from random internet people, not whatever the latest beauty guru is trying to sell.
posted by sallybrown at 6:27 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Many, many skin woes can be bettered with the following very simple steps:

-chemical exfoliator
-[extremely optional 43 goos and tinctures]

This is a great start - I'd add "acids in the morning, retinols at night" and find one of those sites that tells you "which goos go first" - there are rules of thumb about "start with the thinnest and finish with the thickest goos", things like that. The Ordinary does a great job of telling you where in your routine their own products should be, so you can do some research on their product site.

The skin care board on Makeup Alley is also a good resource; however, they recently revamped their UI and there seems to be a bit of a revolt going on over there. You might have to dig back in the archives to find what you're looking for there.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:12 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I got into skincare seriously about two years ago. I am still overwhelmed by the Skincare Addiction subreddit.

I have learned a lot from Caroline Hirons. She started out as an aesthetician and now she is a blogger and beauty industry consultant. She knows her stuff. Her Cheat Sheets are fabulous.

What was huge for me was getting into a double cleansing routine, and figuring out that my skin is actually dehydrated when I thought it was oily. Now that I am hydrating with hyaluronic acid my skin is a lot less oily.

Another game changer was figuring out that my skin doesn't like silicones like dimethicone, or butters like shea or cocoa. I used to get all these tiny bumps all over my face and I don't since I cut those out.

My routines look like:

Cleanse with non-foaming cleanser - I do this in the shower but I rinse with a washcloth and don't put my face under the water
Spritz with moisturizing toner
Hyaluronic acid serum (I love this super inexpensive Hada Labo Lotion)
Vitamin C serum
SPF (I use Asian ones because they are lighter)

Double cleanse with a cleansing oil or an oil-based balm followed by a non-foaming cleanser
Choose one--an acid toner or a retinol serum (my skin prefers this but you can do acid in the morning before your vitamin C and retinol every night, once you work up to that)
Moisturizing spritz
Hyaluronic acid serum

I have multiple options for some of these, but that isn't necessary. You can have one cleanser that you use in the morning and as a second cleanse, and use the same moisturizer for day and night. I keep track of my routines on a special Instagram account if anyone is interested!
posted by apricot at 7:17 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, don't make a bunch of different changes and add a bunch of products at once. Get your cleansing, moisturizing, and SPF down and then you can slowly add in serums and "actives" like acids or retinols. And if you start a retinol use it every 2-3 days for at least a few weeks, then slowly work up to more often. I don't use it more than every two days.
posted by apricot at 7:19 AM on June 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Nthing skincareaddiction subreddit sidebar. The subreddit is only overloading if you try to do all the things at once, pick an area of interest & focus on that, find a product you love in that area that works for you & move on.

My suggested order of focus would be sunscreen (specially if it's summer where you are), moisturisation, cleansing, then as you feel for it chemical exfoliants(acids) & serums/oils. Only the first three I would say are super necessary at 30, but as you age you might want to expand your routine to include some of the others or to address particular skin care concerns like adult acne, dark spots, wrinkle prevention.

Don't let the comments about it being confusing stop you from checking out the subreddit. It's not that bad, seriously I'm an idiot & I figured it out and my 50 year old post menopausal skin didn't look this good when I was in my 30s. Just take it slow, it's better for your skin to make changes slowly anyway.

If your really interested in a deep dive in the area check out r/AsianBeauty as well. Asian sunscreens & cleansers are amazing, though they're not "local" per se there are companies out there starting to copy their ideas locally.
posted by wwax at 8:04 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

So thinking in terms of "knowledge blocks" rather than specific advice, I think this is a rough outline of what's good to understand:

-Identifying your skin's oiliness and moisture levels (dry, oily, combination, dehydrated or normal)and protecting the moisture barrier of your skin

-identifying skin conditions and their origins (if it's acne, the type and cause of the acne, if wrinkles whether they are dynamic or static, etc- there are too many skin issues to list here but pinpointing which ones you care about and exploring different types or causes of those issues is a good start)

-determining if your skin is sensitive to or particularly likes specific ingredients, fragrance, physical exfoliation, cleansing methods, and so on. Using that information to build a daily routine of cleansing, nourishing and protecting your skin.

-learning about different cleansing approaches for skin to see what works for you.

-thinking about what your skin goals are and learning about what skincare ingredients are useful for those goals. If you want to deepdive into skincare ingredients, you could look at broad categories:

-Moisturisers, humectants and occlusives
-Collagen builders (vitamin C, peptides and retinoids)
-Chemical exfoliants (acids- alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy, other acids, and retinoids)
-Antioxidents (CoQ10, niacinamide, vitamins C, reseveratrol, there's a bunch more)
-Protective ingredients (types of sunscreen)
-Different oils, their absorption and effects and their comedogenic potential

You can look into the functions of these different kinds of actives and how to incorporate them if needed/wanted into a skincare routine. Note that a lot of these ingredients overlap.

And if those categories look strange or unfamiliar, forget about learning the ingredients and start with learning the categories. Look into what effects moisturising or exfoliating has, look into what collagen does and how collagen changes with age, learn why we care about antioxidents, etc.

You can also learn about what I think of as "interventions"- things you would go somewhere to get done, like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, lasers, and injections. Most interventions fit at least one of those categories above.

This is a lot, so start with whatever most interests you. In the meantime, the most important things you can do for your skin are to gently cleanse it, keep it mousturised and protect it with sunscreen.
posted by windykites at 8:07 AM on June 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

Seconding windykites' approach of Know Thyself, especially because I find the reddit skincareaddition overwhelming and fear-monger-y. They're also super-focused on skincare issues more common for people in their late teens/twenties (acne, and finding with effective drugstore products with less importance on animal testing/ethical production/being cruelty-free)

My skincare point person is Rio Viera Newton, because she has dehydrated skin and likes vegan, cruelty-free products.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

The skin care board on Makeup Alley is also a good resource; however, they recently revamped their UI and there seems to be a bit of a revolt going on over there. You might have to dig back in the archives to find what you're looking for there.

They brought back the old UI so activity should be picking back up.

Skin care products can be expensive so before committing yourself to buying a 2 ounce jar of moisturizer, you should go to Sephora and ask for a sample if it is a product they carry. Also, it is perfectly fine to use different products from different lines/companies - you do not have to commit yourself to one brand. I use Neutrogena hylauronic serum and sunscreen in the morning (less than $20 for each at the drug store) and a much more expensive Dermalogica product ($75) at night during the winter. I've since switched back to using Neutrogena at night because it's summer and I don't want to use up the expensive stuff when the cheaper stuff works. I plan on switching back for the winter.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 11:10 AM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Use caution with skincareaddiction and skincare boards in general-- they are filled with young women who use 40 products and are so obsessed with aging they're afraid of going outdoors. Not to mention the fact that the time, money, and plastic waste involved in these multi-step routines isn't exactly "minimal" or "sustainable."

If you don't wear moisturizer or facial sunscreen, start there-- resist the urge to run out and buy 50 products right away, even though these sites will act like you need them. Be skeptical and remember, skincare is a business like any other.
posted by noxperpetua at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Getting samples at Sephora is a great tip! They will make you a little sample pot of just about anything they sell.
posted by apricot at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2019

Paula's Choice for product reviews.
posted by she's not there at 3:29 PM on June 19, 2019

CosDNA is a great resource. It offers full ingredient lists for a huge variety of skincare products, or you can paste in a list you found somewhere online - you then get a breakdown of what each ingredient does, plus how likely it is to cause irritation.

Also, remember that what works for someone else may not work for you, even if they have exactly the same skin type on paper, and you may not ever understand why. Trial and error is inevitable - just think of it as doing science experiments on your face.
posted by guessthis at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was recently introduced to Chemist Confessions though a podcast, and I really like their science informed but fun and simple to understand style.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 4:18 PM on June 19, 2019

Thanks everyone! Lots of good ideas here for starting points. This all seems way more overwhelming than I expected, but I've got some good ideas of how to start small, and that'll do for now :)
posted by bellebethcooper at 10:46 PM on June 19, 2019

Late to the party but I wanted to mention a simple routine that has largely resolved a persistent skin issue. (Sorry for the "one weird trick" wording, heh.)

Anyway, if you've looked in the mirror and said "How can I get rid of all these blackheads on my nose?", this may help you, too.

In many cases, what you think are blackheads are actually sebaceous filaments, according to Jude Chao -- aka Fiddy Snails -- of the blog Fifty Shades of Snail. She has a routine that clears out your nose pores if done once every week/10 days.

It takes 45 minutes to an hour, and it requires 2% salicylic acid lotion, a clay mask, and a cleansing oil (or an oil plus a gentle cleanser).

Apply the lotion and wait 20-25 minutes. Don't rinse.

Apply the clay mask according to the product instructions and let dry. Rinse off with lukewarm water.

Apply oil to face and wait 10-15 minutes. (A lot of people use mineral oil; safflower works best for my combination, dehydrated skin.)

Now *gently* massage your face for 2-3 minutes. This helps dislodge anything that may be clogging your nose pores. Then thoroughly rinse your face with a gentle cleanser.

Here's Chao's blog post on the routine: How to Shrink Pores Temporarily, Plus 3 Pore Myths.

Chao's pore-clearing instructions are pertinent on a meta level to skin care in general: Take it easy on your dermis. Be gentle. If a routine helps your skin when you do it once a week, it doesn't follow that it will be even better for your skin if you do it three times a week.

She's also a proponent of wearing sunscreen every day and says that the best sunscreen is the one that you wear -- which sounds kinda obvious until I think of the ones I didn't use because they made me break out or made my eyes sting or whatever.

"Trial and error is inevitable," as guessthis wisely says -- whenever you see any skin care recommendations, keep the words "Your mileage may vary" in mind. Good luck!
posted by virago at 6:18 PM on June 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

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