If you’re reading this, then chances are that one year ago you read about my Google doc. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s what happened: After going through a spell in which my skin was stressed out and irritated, I started extensively researching beauty products, K-beauty, and 12-step routines online. Once I nailed down my routine (and once my skin had dramatically improved), some curious friends asked if I’d share it, so I put the whole insane regimen into a Google doc.
It got into the hands of a friend of a friend, someone’s boss started looking at it, and then it made its way here, to the Strategist. The rest is history — or at least recent history, since it’s only been one year.
But a lot has changed in the past year. I had to quit SK-II Facial Treatment Essence and Tatcha Indigo Recovery Cream to save my finances. My eczema has worsened (I now have it on the bottom of my feet, which I guess is a conversation for another time). And I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that, 85 percent of the time, dairy makes me break out in cystic acne. So while my old routine was good to me — and I well up every time someone else tells me it was good to them — my increasingly dry, flaky skin and my refusal to give up soft serve have forced me to try many more products. After deep dives into skin-care blogs, subreddit threads, and YouTube videos (and, you know, 12 months of testing and writing about products for you guys), I thought the Google doc could use a refresh for 2018.
One note: Navigating the vast world of skin care can be really confusing. And proper product application is vital if you want to see results. So I’m sharing this incredibly helpful and thorough guide to layering skin-care products, from K-beauty blogger Tracy “Fanserviced” Robey. This guide describes every step of the K-beauty process in greater detail than I can, along with helpful visuals. And you’ll need it: One year in, and I’ve found and fallen for many new products, and the “Google doc” now contains more gems than before.
I’ve had Clean It Zero cleanser in my bathroom for a while, and I liked it fine. But a few months ago Banila dropped a new and improved formula of the K-beauty classic and I really fell in love. The smoother texture of this product — plus the addition of vitamin E — does truly wonderful things for my skin, leaving it soft and supple every time.
My other current go-to cleanser is from Beauty Pie. I have supersensitive, dry, breakout-prone skin, and gel cleansers tend to dry me out, while oils tend to not hydrate enough. So I typically gravitate toward standard cleansing milks. But about 100 different people told me that this cleanser was unique, life-changing, and nourishing. I was intrigued, but not sold. Then Jen Goldstein from the Fat Mascara beauty blog brought the product up on her podcast and said, “It’s kind of like washing your face with a moisturizer — in a good way.” Needless to say, within 24 hours I was lathering it all over my face. It goes on like a balm, then as you rub it, it becomes an oil, and then when you add water, it turns into a milk. It has truly done incredible things for my skin.
The K-beauty process calls for cleansing, toning, vitamin C, and exfoliation, in that order. Biologique, however, is both a toner and an exfoliant, so if I use Lotion P50, I never use another toner afterward, and I skip the exfoliant step below because that would be way too intense for my skin (I shiver even thinking about it). If you read a lot about skin care, I’m sure you’re bored of hearing about how great this expensive, stinky French product is. But it really is that good. It’s one of the most effective products for healing hyperpigmentation, combating acne, and helping brighten your overall complexion. However, it’s very strong, so if you’re planning on purchasing this product online, I would consider checking out this P50 guide from Into the Gloss — it explains which of the many different versions of P50 work best for certain skin types. I pour a few small drops of this into a cotton pad and dab it all over my face, following my cleanser.
Sometimes P50 can be intense, especially during the summer when I’m spending a ton of time outside in the sun. So I do like to take breaks from it and sub in a gentler toner. That’s when I use this super-plumping, nourishing toner. It contains five different types of hyaluronic acid for maximum hydration, peony extract for brightening, and centella for soothing angry skin. This toner makes my skin look like glass.
Okay guys, stay focused. This is where this routine gets confusing. Vitamin C, which brightens your skin and fades dark spots, should go on after you tone and before you exfoliate. If you’re using a toner-exfoliant combination such as P50, then you put your vitamin C on after. Are we still following? Are you scared? That’s okay, here’s the visual guide once again to keep you grounded.
I tend to try a lot of vitamin C serums — they don’t make me break out, and if they’re potent, I know how to gently ease them into my routine (slowly increase doses from once a week and wear a lot of sunscreen). The results of this vitamin C serum are fierce, and it is half the price of my former lover Drunk Elephant Vitamin C. Consistency is key here, so if you want to see this product work its wonders, use this every day. That said, this product is probably not right for you if you have supersensitive skin.
This is another great option for an effective, not too expensive vitamin C. It’s really great at helping dark spots and dull skin without being too aggressive.
Now for the straightforward exfoliators. A Google-doc original, this AHA product is great for combating acne, smoothing uneven texture, and decreasing redness. But, like P50, it’s very strong. When my skin is going through a sensitive phase, or when it’s the summer and I’m outside a lot (but want to be sure I’m actively fighting acne), I take one pum