This is what an irritant-free skin care routine could look like

As a kind of follow-up to my last post “What you finally need to understand about your skin,” I thought it’d be helpful to share my own personal skin care routine and recommendations.

Until last year, my skin was still prone to breakouts and I regularly had hormonal adult acne tied to my menstrual cycle. I got so sick of this and started reading, reading, reading, then experimenting with a couple of things. The result of this is this blog right here, as well as my current skin care routine.

I try to steer clear from potential skin irritants as much as possible, and step by step have eliminated alcohol and harsh surfactants in my products completely, and sensitizing fragrances to most parts! Here’s what’s left.

non-irritant skin care routine

Cleanser

I love the Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm for cleansing, but The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter is cheaper and really good as well. However, as an all around safe recommendation, I would always say: pick Clinique. It has one of the purest formulations out there while The Body Shop contains perfume and Linalool, a fragrance and allergen.

For water-based foam cleansers, I love the Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Foam Cleanser or the admittedly completely overpriced SK-II Facial Treatment Cleanser.

I’d also been into double-cleansing for a while, but now I understand it’s unnecessary. The emulsifiers in modern cleansing oils and balms mean they wash off without residues anyway, and each time we cleanse our skin it puts stress onto it. So now I will cleanse with either one of the balms or foam cleansers, not both.

Toner

After cleansing, I’ll occasionally tone my skin. It’s up for debate whether toners are necessary at all. But I stand firmly on the “YES!” side because I appreciate the thin texture of toners, and that if you get yourself the right one that means you can layer on even more antioxidants and humectants. Or re-adjust your pH to prep it for more effective exfoliation or absorption.

My every day toner of choice is currently the MAC Lightful C Marine-Bright Formula Softening Lotion. It says Lotion, but it’s a straight-up liquid. If you need one reason to look into it: it contains Vitamin C!

Vitamin C

Sometimes I’ll also dissolve a bit of philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder with the toner on a cotton pad in addition, and apply.

The powder is made from 99.8 % straight up L-Ascorbic Acid, the creme de la creme among topical Vitamin C supplements. At a pH between 2 – 3.5, it has some gentle exfoliating effect – although it will sting a bit. But even without, it is still able to repair potential sun damage and has beneficial antioxidative properties for the skin that aid anti-aging.

Essences and more

After my toner with the Vitamin C has dried, I’ll spritz on an essence.

The brands themselves always advise you to dispense their essences onto the palms of your hands and pat it onto your skin, or use a cotton pad. But I always decant essences into spray bottles and spritz them on directly, then drum them into my skin. Saves you a lot of product!

I’ve used the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence for a long time, but lately I use the Su:m37 Secret Programming Essence, which I like even more. It’s packed with a blend of like 80 different fermented plant extracts, is slightly thicker than other essences, but sinks in seamlessly, feels super light, hydrating and smells nice. It’s lovely!

Moisturizer

Once the essence is on my face and still moist, I seal everything in with Japanese komenuka rice bran oil during the colder seasons. I got my current bottle from Tokyu Hands in Tokyo, and you can read a bit about it here. The way I apply is by warming up two to three drops between my hands, then pat it on top of the still moist essence.

I don’t use a moisturizer because what I’d basically want from it is two things: hydration and occlusion. However, for moisturizer to offer both and have the texture it has, manufacturers also need to add a bunch of other stuff in – like emulsifiers, pH-balancers, preservatives… Layering skin care like I do, however, gets me all the humectants + antioxidants (toner, essence) and occlusives (facial oil) it requires without that other stuff.

But for M I try to get cheap, ready-made moisturizers without irritants because I know he’d be too lazy to layer and add superfluous steps to his routine. With that said, we both love the Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel for summer or the Balea Med Ultra Sensitive Intensivcreme. They are both irritant-free and the latter even contains some Tocopherol = Vitamin E. Not bad for a German drugstore product!

Special treatments

Since I’m pretty lazy myself, I don’t do much in terms of masks or special treatments. But twice a week, I’ll use the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2 % BHA Gel Exfoliant after cleansing. It keeps my skin clear and unclogged, and I haven’t had a spot in months and months.

I wrote about BHA in detail here.

Whenever I do feel a spot coming anyway, I’ll slap on a super thin layer of prescription-free Benzaknen 5 % Benzoyl Peroxide Gel at the end of my entire routine. This, too, never ceases to amaze me as spot prevention/treatment. It’s not not an irritant, more the opposite. But it works. After purchasing a 50 mg tube and barely using up a fifth until it supposedly expired after three months upon opening, I always go with the small 25 mg tube now.

Sunscreen

For sunscreen, I’ve recently discovered the Bioderma Photoderm Max Lait SPF 50+ / PPD 42 for face and body. It has high UVB and UVA protection, top modern sunscreen agents, and does not contain alcohol – like for example these do. Since I want to write about this product in more detail at a later point, however, that’s all I’ll say about it for now.

A preview: It’s good!

Edit: I wrote more about it here.

Conclusion

As it is with skin care, my personal routine can only serve as an inspiration. There is never a guarantee the individual products will suit your skin. You could always be allergic to any of the ingredients they contain, or prefer entirely different textures to satisfy your skin needs. If you’re already using things that work for you, stick with them. As for the rest, I’m afraid trial and error is inevitable.

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