Chasing Davies: The skin products you actually need

April 29, 2019

The skin products you actually need


There are a plethora of skincare products out there, and I feel like we are in a time where science has offered us ways to keep our skin looking great, younger and clearer for longer, but with all the options it's hard to figure out what you actually need, when you need to splurge and when you can go cheap (or skip).

I have had all these questions, and because I'm a naturally over-curious person who likes to really understand things (vs. just take someone's word for it), I dug in - and dug in too deep (talk about a rabbit hole). I talked to estheticians, my dermatologist, read a million articles/reviews and even a few friends that are scientists (two in the beauty/skincare field!).

And then the ultimate test... I tried a bunch of stuff out. 

The hardest thing with this kind of stuff is you don't often see very immediate results. Proper skin care is taking years off down the road (like in your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond) and the results now might be more subtle. But you will thank your younger self someday. And if you start early enough, you might see a difference sooner. 

So, I'm going to share what I've learned and what I've distilled down to the things you actually need, plus the extras you could use on top of the basic regime, depending on your more specific needs (i.e. brightening skin, reducing sun spots, acne, etc).

First: the 4 basic, minimum types of products every upper 20 to lower 30-something should start using immediately:

1. A Gentle, Non-Foaming Cleanser 

And this is a product you do NOT need to splurge on. You just want to make sure it's non-foaming so it doesn't strip away and dry out your skin. When you use a cleanser that removes all the oil, your face works hard to replace it with even more. I use mostly over the counter/basic stuff and typically switch it up, rotating between 2-3 kinds that offer different benefits that my specific skin type needs:

- I use CeraVe hydrating face wash on the regular.

- Then I rotate in an acne fighting one to keep my acne prone skin in check. I have it under control right now (after years of working to get it there), so don't use it daily. But I like this Acne Free brand because it uses salicylic acid, which is great for preventing breakouts! 

- The other is always an exfoliator, which is important to do several times a week because it helps your face look more alive when you remove the dead stuff.  Right now,  I am using this one that is a bit more expensive, but it makes my face look brighter and yet it's still gentle (use SKINMED10 at checkout or 10% off).

Face Wash Products:

2. Antioxidant (Vitamin C) 

This is the first thing you want to apply after cleansing and drying your face. This is also where things can start to get expensive... and the ingredient list can make your eyes cross.  You can use Vitamin C serum morning and night - but night is more important if using just once, as sun can break the effectiveness down. Here are some options at different price points:

- The mack-daddy of Vitamin C serums (and most expensive) that every skin person swears by is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic. I've used it and loved it, but knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up that price point.  That's when this whole deep dive into skin products really took off. 

After the research and talking to experts mentioned above, I switched to a less expensive product (as well as received recommendations for even more less expensive options) and so far haven't noticed a difference from when I was using SkinCeuticals.
Paula's Choice's C15 Booster is the Vitamin C product I'm using currently - and under $50.  I'm told it's the closest dupe to the SkinCeuticals one out there, and Paula, an OG in skincare, is very thoughtful on her product formulas. 

- Another option for a really cheap route or to experiment with different kinds of serums/layering them, is from The Ordinary. The reason the products are so cheap is that the formulas generally have only 2-3 active ingredients (not a host of them like more expensive products have). You can layer them so you have a more powerful combo.
Their Vitamin C is strong - you typically want 15-20% (some say up to 30%) Vitamin C, and theirs is 23% so you want to start with just a little (especially if you are new to this serum).

Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic Acid 3% and EUK 134 0.1% are both antioxidants that are typically also in Vitamin C serums in other brands that are more $$.  These are good to use in the morning to protect you during the day and can be layered on top of their Vitamin C (or any Vitamin C that doesn't have this in it) at night.

- A combo product that includes Vitamin C + E and most importantly, SPF,  for those that like to wash and then spend minimal time applying much else.  I use this SPF serum in the mornings after I wash and dry, and love it. It is SPF 50 and has Vitamin C + acts as a moisturizer, so talk about multiple things in one! The one caveat is that this product likely has less Vitamin C, but it's good for someone new to Vitamin C or as a second dose (the morning dose, using the above serum at night).

    Vitamin C & Antioxidant Products:

    3. Retinoid (Retinol, Tretinoin)

    This is another area I fell down the rabbit hole of research.  What the heck is Retinoid vs. Retinol, and is Tretinoin the same thing?  

    Well, the overview version of it all is that the Retinoid family is made up of Vitamin A compounds and derivatives that include Retinol and Retinoic Acid, which are naturally occurring in humans.  Retinol is the over counter version of retinoid that uses a less potent amount of Rentioid and is derivatives from Vitamin A.  

    Retinol is used to treat signs of aging (age spots, wrinkles, etc). Tretinoin is Vitamin A, available by prescription only, that was originally used to prevent acne, but was later discovered to also prevent other signs of aging (wrinkles, age spots, etc). 

    I use this only a few nights a week, and if you are new to using any sort of Retinoid, you want to work up in dosage slowly, starting with a little few times/week (like every other or every two nights).

    - I use the Tretinoin cream prescribed to me by my dermatologist. This kind is better suited for those with oily or combo skin and those with current or past acne tendencies, as a one-two punch for acne and signs of aging prevention.

    Retinol is better suited for more sensitive skin, and more focused on reducing/preventing signs of aging.

    I have both sensitive skin and oily/combo skin... and both are ok for me. I actually even use both (never at the same time) throughout the week. I will use Tretinoin cream only 1-2 nights, or more if broken out/spot treat as needed. And I use Retinol a different 2 nights a week:

    - The Retinol I also use is this one (you can also go stronger with this one) and again, my Tretinoin is prescription only (so ask your derm!). This Retinol doesn't dry me out as the Tretinoin cream can.

    The Ordinary also has one that is CHEAP, I might try it and, at that price, rub it all over my body, too! haha!

    Retinol Products:

    4. Moisturizer/SPF Combo

    Another product that doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, but is a mandatory must-have (even in the winter months) is SPF.  And these days, it's in everything - so I like to find moisturizer that is appropriate for my skin type that includes SPF, or sunscreen that is made for your face and also moisturizes. So many options and it's as easy as looking on Amazon or at Target. Either way, this is the last thing you put on your face before layering on makeup (and even my makeup has SPF for additional protection).

    - Sunscreen—Something that is SPF 25 or higher that you like to wear and will wear will do, but I just got and have been trying this new REN one and love it - doesn't feel like sunscreen, doesn't break you out, moisturizes my face and lays nicely under makeup.

    Moisturizer - This is by the same brand as my everyday face wash, and has an SPF of 30!

    If you are super oily prone - this one under $9 is a great option.

    And if you want an even higher SPF, I really like the La Roche-Posay brand. This one is for your face, with an SPF of 60 and can even me reimbursed by your FSA/HSA (some SPF products over 50 can!).

    - Powerful Combo - I mentioned this up above under Antioxidants (Vitamin C), but because it's such a powerful combo product, it deserves a second mention, and can be reimbursed by your FSA/HSA! I use this SPF/Moisturizer/Serum almost every morning (and the other mornings I use the REN skincare SPF). This is the only product of this type of combo that I have seen -  taking combining steps 2 & 4 with one product.

    Moisturizers and SPF Products:

    Second: bonus product recommendations for more specific problems or concentrations. These are extras to the 4 must-haves listed above if you want to spend the extra money to more focused solutions:

    1. Eye Creams

    Once I got to my mid-30s, I quickly (like overnight it seemed) noticed fine lines around my eyes that were even hard to cover up with makeup. I feel like those wrinkles around the eye can make someone look way older quicker. So, I started doing some research and layered in an additional product to my above skincare regimen.

    -  I recently started using this extra moisturizing eye balm (on the pricier side) around my eyes at night b/c I was starting to see those changes there. I got this after a lot of research around the best anti-aging eye cream and went for it, and I actually feel like I have seen more immediate results (over the last few weeks).

    - A less expensive options is this eye firming cream by Paula's Choice (I've not used this, but love this brand, so would trust it). It's under $50.

    In the morning, I love this eye de-puffing gel for under my eyes. It feels good, lays under my under eye concealer makeup well and - as the name says - takes care of my bags!

    - Want to try it for less first? You can buy the travel size. I noticed this working almost right away, so you should know quick!

    2.  Acne

    As mentioned throughout and above, I have struggled with breakouts and hormonal acne most of my adult life. Just in the last year, after a lot of trial and error of products - over the counter and prescription, dosage and even medications - have I finally gotten most of my acne issues under control. But I still like to maintain by using some acne products rotated in and for the now more occasional blemish/breakout, I have favorite products on hand. 

    - A couple times a week, in the morning, I'll use this Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner by AcneFree that helps reduce shine, removes excess oil and balances the skin's ph levels.

    Drying Lotion is great for spot treating and minimizing the life of a blemish quickly! I use so sparingly and such a small amount at a time, I've had my same bottle for 2 years (and now doesn't seem to be avail). Here is another one that looks similar to mine.

    Eye & Acne Products:

    Third: services to just consider (more into your 30s) are other ways to intervene with the aging process: 

    1. Lasers

    These aren't for everyone because they can be quite expensive - and to be honest, they hurt (depending on your pain tolerance, a little to a lot).  I get the Forever Young BBL laser once a year. You should get a consultation to discuss the specific kind of laser treatment and the cadence you need.  In the Kansas City area, I like Dr. Amy Carter's Kansas City Wellness Center. You can read more about the benefits of the BBL here.

    2.  Botox/Dysport

    I feel like botox has such a negative connotation, because freezing your muscles can go so wrong and people can end up looking very strange (to put it very simply). You want to make sure you find the right place - ask around, read reviews, make sure they actually have a license - and then talk to the person doing the service. 

    Make sure they understand the specific areas you are looking to target and the goal is to rest your wrinkles/wrinkle prone areas vs. look different. This service in your 30s is all about preventing the wrinkles and lines from getting deeper by resting them. (p.s. the difference between botox/dysport here, they are same thing just different brands)

    Quick Note:
    Where you get your products is part of how good the products are. I stay away from Amazon for those more expensive, professional grade and serum type products. Things you can get at drug stores/Target - go for it with Amazon (I've linked the products that I'd get at Amazon here, and linked other stores for where to get those other products). Many people have told me their products from Amazon seemed watered down or fakes, and all my estheticians have warned me against Amazon for these types of products. 

    Shop all the products mentioned in this post here:

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