Beauty and its intersections.
Past Masque Up Entries
11 Summer Essentials
My Favorite Sunscreens for Dark Skin
Winter Skin 101
8 Acids That Will Fix Your Skin and Your Life
A Conversation on Beauty
Setting the Tone
Some Scars Are Cool. Some Scars Are a Pain in the Ass.
Learning Curves: A Skincare Guide
Pores: Not That Big of a Deal
Masque Up by Alesia Pullins
Learning Curves: A Skincare Guide
I’ve always cared about my skin, not to the obsessive point that I do now, but I always insisted that it was maintained to the best of my ability. There’s so much information on the internet about skincare that doesn’t necessarily apply to dark Black skin, so the beginning of my skincare journey was incredibly frustrating and I threw a lot of money into the fire, but after a year or so of sampling and spending like a rapper with zero financial literacy, I have this shit down. My skincare routine is equal parts necessity and fun. There are things I use because I need them, and things I use simply because I want to. Let’s get into it.
Reminder: this is my skincare routine. A lot of the products are universal, meaning they are made to work for any skin type, but this is what works for me. If you have oily skin, a cleanser that is made for dry skin is not going to work for you. The key to finding your skincare routine is being proactive, doing your research, and being okay with trial and error. You’ll get there, but it won’t be overnight. The most rewarding things take time, skincare included. And when it all starts feeling too complicated (because let’s face it, sometimes it is), just remember the basic steps of any skincare routine, for both day and night: cleanse, tone, treat, and moisturize.
Wash your face. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Cleansers are a hard nut to crack, especially if you have normal to dry skin like myself in the winter, and normal to oily skin when the weather heats up. Yes, your skin type can absolutely change with the weather. Since it’s cooler out, my cheeks are dry and my T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) is normal (normal as in a balance between dry and oily). It’s always been tough for me to find a cleanser that regulates the oil in my T-zone without depleting the moisture in my cheeks, but Checks and Balances by Origins works for me. For the frugal and sensitivity-prone, I also like Cetaphil’s Gentle Cleanser. On the natural end, black soap seems to receive rave reviews from anyone who’s tried it, including myself. If you’re lucky, you can find black soap at your local Black Beauty Supply (count your blessings if you have access to an African or Caribbean beauty supply). Shea Moisture has a black soap line so don’t fret if you can’t find a ticket to the most magical place on earth.
For extra pampering and efficiency, try double cleansing. If you wear makeup and find removing it to be similar to manual labor, double cleansing is a life/time saver. It’s essentially oil cleansing followed by your regular cleansing routine. Gently massage your face with a non comedogenic oil and you’ll see even the most resistant makeup (including waterproof eyeliner and mascara and waterproof sunscreen) lift off your face. Then take a facial wipe and remove the oil and makeup from your face before you go in with your cleanser of choice.
Cleaning can leave your face feeling dry and tight because it throws the pH balance of your skin out of whack. A few gentle swipes of toner will regulate your pH, which in turn regulates moisture, and is so key in training your skin to behave (more on that below). My favorite toner at the moment is Pixi’s Glow Tonic. It gently exfoliates dead skin cells using a mix of aloe, ginseng, and glycolic acid (a facial acid that curbs breakouts, wrinkles and oiliness) to brighten your complexion. I use it morning and night by adding a few drops to a cotton square and gently swiping over my entire face. You’ll see a bit of leftover residue on the cotton, but don’t panic – that means the toner is doing it’s job. It’s completely reasonable, though, that you might not want to shell out $15-30 for a toner. In which case, my tried and true budget-friendly toner is Thayer’s Alcohol Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel. You’ve probably seen this stuff in organic grocery stores and wondered what the deal is. It’s god’s nectar and does everything my beloved Glow Tonic does, leaving you feeling refreshed for less money.
This is an optional part of your routine that technically falls under “treat,” but masks are so fun and essential they deserve their own section. Nothing is better than applying a mask to your skin and doing nothing for 10-30 minutes. I’m going to list a few of my favorites and let them speak for themselves when you try them:
- Bentonite clay and activated charcoal: discussed here
- Freeman Charcoal & Black Sugar Facial Polishing Mask & Freeman Cucumber Facial Peel Off Mask – one’s a gentle sugar scrub, but both will give you softest skin of your life. I’ve yet to try a Freeman mask I didn’t like.
- Rose Kaolin Clay: make a DIY mask with aloe vera or check out this retexturizing mask from Origins. Either way, you can’t go wrong with a moisturizing pink clay mask.
- Aloe: I always keep this on standby in my fridge. Aloe all over your face is heavenly after a day in the sun or an equally unforgiving day in frigid temps. If slathering aloe all over your face is a no-go for you, try it in sheet mask form.
- Sheet masks: I’m a big fan of Korean beauty routine staples such as Tosowoong’s sheet mask in Pure Propolis and Pure Deep Sea Water.
When I think of treating specific skin concerns, I automatically think of serums, which are concentrated products that give you an extra boost when it comes to targeting specific challenges. There’s a serum for everything. If you have concerns like acne, dry skin, discoloration, or premature aging (like wrinkles), you don’t want to skip this step. To make things simple, I’m just going to focus on what I use.
But before we get into serums, let’s discuss essences, which are like primers for serums. They add an extra layer of moisture, and often contain a higher concentration of whatever magic ingredient is in your chosen serum. My current favorite is May Coop’s Raw Sauce. Put it on after cleansing and toning, and while your skin is still a bit damp gently apply your serum.
Now about that serum. As I’ve mentioned before, a sunspot ruined my life. KIDDING, but that sunspot is what led me to serums, vitamin C serums to be specific. Vitamin C will help you in several ways: it evens discoloration, adds extra protection against sun damage (in addition to your sunscreen), and prevents/reverses aging. Vitamin C serums tend to be more expensive based on their effectiveness, but the two I stand by are Resist C15 Super Booster and Resist Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum, both from Paula’s Choice. You can also DIY a vitamin C serum, but it’s a process. The thing to remember about ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) is that it’s highly sensitive to light and air, so it doesn’t last long and should be kept in a light tight bottle/tube in a dark, cool place. Vitamin C in serum form, in addition to a topical solution that I’ll get into shortly, is something I refuse to live without because the results are real and relatively quick.
The most important thing you need to understand and hold close to your heart is that moisturizing is not an option. You need to moisturize. The thought of people not moisturizing sends me into a panic. Please moisturize. I know lots of folks with oily skin think the last thing they need is more hydration, but oily skin isn’t necessarily hydrated. When you think you’re restricting oil by refusing to moisturize, your skin produces more oil because it assumes you need help. So if you notice your skin is oilier than usual, to an uncontrollable degree, this could be why. However, I’m not a dermatologist, just a friend of Google and experience.
I feel like I’ve tried hundreds of moisturizers and have been left with skin that was either slick and heavy, or that felt parched within an hour. Until I tried Dr Jart+’s Ceramidin Cream. It miraculously works for every part of my face without leaving my skin feeling weighed down or sticky. However, it is important to note that this is made with dry skin in mind. My entire face isn’t dry, but it manages to leave my face feeling great all over, all day. Ceramidin is an ingredient that’s meant to time release moisture, so instead of drowning your face it paces itself. This stuff costs a pretty penny, but it’s worth it. For days when I’m feeling like my skin is pretty chill, I reach for Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Water Gel. Made for all skin types, it’s an extremely lightweight gel with skin plumping hyaluronic acid that absorbs into your skin quickly. There’s not much else to say because the product does what it says it will do, which is something I’ve come to appreciate in the beauty world.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention eye creams, even though I don’t consistently use one myself. This is blasphemous in some circles, but I find that applying my regular moisturizer with extra care around my eye area is just fine. Hydration is the first defense against wrinkles, so the very emollient Dr Jart+ cream works great for me as a nighttime eye cream. If I want something lighter for the daytime, I’ll use the Vitamin E Eye Cream from The Body Shop. I’ve accepted that my hereditary dark under eye circles are stronger than me so I’m going to discuss my options with a dermatologist – I’ll share the results of that visit here, of course. As for the deep creases that seem to be resistant to concealer, hiding them is all in your technique.
Last thing I want to mention before I wrap up this campaign for moisturizing is that you also need to moisturize your lips. A cute hydrated face with dry, unloved lips is a NO. My lips are especially prone to dryness so I reach for lip balms with Shea butter, vitamin E or a nice blend of hydrating oils. Also, Chapstick and Aquaphor. If you find that your lips are especially dry, try layering products from thinnest to thickest. For example, I once scalded my lips on soup and the only thing that kept my lips hydrated during the healing process was applying a layer of Aquaphor followed by a layer of a thicker lip balm applied day and night.
Sun protection and Spot Treatments
Technically, moisturize is the last step in a basic routine, but during the day you also need sun protection. If you’re someone who has the time and committment to wear makeup everyday, 1. I admire you 2. you may already be using a foundation or tinted moisturizer that includes sun protection. Although I love makeup, sun protection and lip balm are usually as far as my day-to-day look goes. After trying what seems like every sunscreen imaginable, I rejoiced when I found Lancome’s BIENFAIT UV SPF 50+ Super Fluid. What I appreciate most about this product is it doesn’t leave a white film on my dark skin like most zinc filled (the active ingredient that protects us from evil the sun) sunscreens do. However, I have discovered a trick that may help with other sunscreens and the white cast problem. Allow all products you’ve used to dry on your face. Make sure your moisturizer has completely sunk into your skin, and only then add your sunscreen. I don’t know why or how this works, but using a sunscreen that was definitely not made with my dark skin tone in mind (SHOUT OUT LUPITA), I stumbled upon this trick. So if you don’t want to shell out $40, test this out with a drug store brand sunscreen.
Lastly, spot treatments. Sometimes the devil has his foot on your neck and makes it very hard for you to live by doing shit like buying all of the cheap seats for a Beyonce show and reselling them at four times the price, or giving you acne on your birthday and then leaving you with skin discoloration. Spot treatments will help with 2 out of 3 of these things.
Whenever a pimple sprouts due to stress or PMS a small dab of Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Spot Treatment dries it right up. Really, anything with salicylic acid will do. So head to your favorite drugstore and look for it in among the acne treatments. Another mainstay in my hormonal acne arsenal is tea tree oil. It’s an inexpensive natural antiseptic that will dry out nuisance bumps quickly, whether it’s acne or a bug bite. I’ve found that adding a drop of tea tree oil to my moisturizer has been the key to shortening breakouts.
As for discoloration, a concentrated vitamin C treatment will work wonders. I swear by Paula’s Choice Resist Pure Radiance Skin Brightening Treatment. The key here is consistency. Use this day and night for 4-8 weeks and you will see results.
If you got this far, THANKS, but also you may be wondering how you’re going to pay for all of this. How does impeccable skin fit into a budget? The answer to that is samples, dupes (cheaper products that yield similar results), trial size products, and non-traditional retailers. I never pay full price for an item unless I’ve tried a sample or a trial size first. If you’re shopping in a department store or at Sephora, always ask for samples – they’re free and the employees are happy to give them to you if it means you may come back and buy a full size. If you’re ordering online always pay attention to the different sizes offered. Often times you’ll be able to find a trial size, so take advantage of that. Next: GOOGLE. If you’re curious about a product, but the price tag is ridiculous, Google “the product’s name + dupe.” There’s a dupe for almost everything followed by a review on YouTube. Last frugal tip: eBay is your friend. I’ve purchased so many items through eBay after thoroughly reading reviews to find trusted sellers. Often people who have a wholesale retailer hookup will sell products on eBay for a fraction of the price you’ll see in a department store. Lucky you!
That’s it. My exhaustive, but definitely improved skin care routine. Well, the basics anyway. This beauty vortex is bottomless and there’s no other place I’d rather be.