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The Evening Beauty Routine That Keeps My Breakouts at Bay

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Learning how to take care of my dry, sensitive, breakout-prone skin hasn’t been easy. It has taken me years — and lots of trial and error — to settle into a routine that keeps my acne at bay without stripping or drying out my fussy skin.

Some aspects of my evening routine have remained the same since my early Google-doc days. I still rely on pimple patches, deeply hydrating toners and essences, and rich moisturizers to keep my skin balanced and quenched. However, one of my greatest new discoveries has been short contact therapy: a method that minimizes irritation by delivering intense activities (like retinoids or acids) in a wash-off treatment rather than a leave-on. In aesthetician school, we learned how this method is particularly helpful for anyone with ultrasensitive skin, as it can help them reap the benefits of strong activities while reducing the risk of flaky, dry, scaly patches.

So these days, I rely on my cleanser to deliver pimple-busting ingredients. Then, once it’s washed off, I layer products packed with deeply hydrating, soothing, and calming ingredients to lock in a moisture boost. With this routine, I’ve been able to reduce hormonal breakouts all while making sure my skin never feels tight, dehydrated, or stripped in the slightest.

Below, the evening skin-care routine I use to make sure my temperamental, dry, blemish-prone skin stays hydrated, clear, and calm.

To remove any makeup or sweat from the day, I start my skin-care routine off with this cleansing balm from Then I Met You. As someone who has tried many cleansing balms in their day, I can say with confidence that this is one of the very best out there. It smells great, it feels amazing, and it does a stand-up job of melting away all the products on my skin — be it mascara, foundation, or sunscreen — without ever stripping it of its natural oils. This balm uses antioxidant-rich vitamin E, fatty acid–rich sea-buckthorn oil, and anti-inflammatory grape-seed oil, among other gold-star ingredients, to hydrate and calm the skin throughout my first cleanse. I apply this on dry skin, massage for about 60 seconds (or whenever I can see my makeup dissolving), and wash it off with lukewarm water.

Next, I do my short-contact-therapy-treatment step. I tend to only break out along my chin and jawline, so instead of using this as I would a traditional cleanser (all over my entire face), I typically focus it only on the areas where I’m most prone to acne. On clean skin, I apply about a dime-size amount all along my chin and jawline and massage it in. I let the product sit on my skin for about 30 seconds to a minute, then wash it off with cold water. If I’m having a bad breakout, I’ll do this about three days in a row until it starts to clear up. Otherwise, I generally only use this cleanser once a week or so, as a kind of maintenance to ensure no new hormonal acne sprouts up.

After washing off my cleanser, I do not dry my face. Your skin is more permeable when it’s wet, which means products applied to damp skin will absorb better. And seeing as I’m trying to lock in as much moisture as possible following my strong benzoyl-peroxide treatment, I always make sure my skin is a little damp before patting in this wonderfully hydrating toner from Olivarrier. This toner is chock-full of gold-star ingredients such as green tea (one of my favorite calming and anti-inflammatory ingredients), glycerin, hyaluronic acid (for hydration), and squalane (which helps trap moisture into skin). My skin simply drinks this product up — it conditions and quenches the skin while also calming and reducing any redness.

Once upon a time, I tried a sample of SkinCeuticals’ Triple Lipid cream, per my dermatologist’s recommendation, and totally fell in love. My skin felt hydrated, soft, and soothed throughout the day, and it added this beautiful, luminous glow to my skin. I’m generally pretty non-fussy about my moisturizers, but this one really improved the texture and tone of my skin. However, when I went to buy another tub of it, I noticed the price tag was steep — $130 a pop to be exact. My hunt for a dupe had begun. A few months ago, I stumbled across an Instagram story by dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch (who is an absolute must-follow if you love skin care), in which she claimed that Skinfix Barrier+ Triple-Lipid Peptide Cream was a pretty good alternative for those who couldn’t afford SkinCeuticals. Now, this moisturizer is by no means cheap, either — it’s about $50. But for less than half the price of SkinCeuticals, it’s an excellent replacement. Barrier+ Triple-Lipid Peptide Cream is rich in ceramides, peptides, and hyaluronic acid to support your skin’s natural barrier, minimize redness, and deliver hydration to the skin. I absolutely adore this Skinfix cream for locking in moisture as the final step of my routine. If you have dry or sensitive skin, it’s definitely worth a try. And if this is way out of your budget, my favorite under-$20 moisturizer is E.L.F. “Holy Hydration!”

For eye cream, I like to use this Bubblewrap formula from Glossier. It doesn’t do a whole lot for my chronic raccoon eyes, but it moisturizes, smooths, and fills in any fine lines, ultimately making the skin under my eyes a much better canvas for concealer in the morning. I also love that you can use this on chapped lips.

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The Evening Routine that Keeps My Breakouts at Bay