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Back in November, I wrote an update about my skin and what I’ve been doing to it. I mentioned that I’d had some some concerns about whether my much-beloved Clarisonic could possibly be harboring bacteria even though I’m super-diligent about keeping the brush head clean (and changing it regularly), but it turned out my skin issues were apparently more likely a result of needing a change in prescription medications.

The Swedish company Foreo contacted me shortly after I wrote that post, asking if I’d be interested in trying their facial-cleansing device, the Luna. I agreed to try it out and write a review, which meant setting aside my Clarisonic for about two weeks so I could fairly compare the two and decide which I prefer.

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A few basics about each device…

Clarisonic Mia
✚ Retail price $125 (usually 20% off at SkinStore)
✚ Single speed (other Clarisonic devices have variable speeds)
✚ 1-minute cleansing cycle
✚ Must change brush head every 2–3 months (~$20 each)
✚ Must disassemble device in order to clean thoroughly and prevent bacteria growth
✚ Must charge device 2–3 times monthly

Foreo Luna
✚ Retail price $200
✚ Variable speeds
✚ Anti-aging facial massage mode
✚ 1-minute cleansing cycle
✚ No brush head to change
✚ Easy to clean; silicone does not harbor bacteria
✚ Single charge lasts for up to 450 uses (!)

On the surface, the Luna sounds like it would be the obvious winner between the two, right? That’s what I thought, and I was really excited to try it out. Reviews for the Luna on other blogs seem to be universally positive. I felt pretty certain that I was going to LOVE the Luna and be a total convert, and I was looking forward to never having to buy another disposable brush head again.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really happen that way. The first thing I noticed is that the Luna is uncomfortable to hold. The Clarisonic is ergonomically-designed and its contours fit in my hand easily, but the Luna is more like a disc. I felt like I was going to drop it, and even after two weeks of use I couldn’t figure out how to grasp it comfortably for a full minute. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me, though. What is a real issue is that the lack of ergonomics extended to the way the “bristles” (silicone nubs, really) made with my face. I had a really hard time maneuvering the Luna over the less-cushy parts of my face, like across my forehead and around my nose. I’ve always really liked the feeling of cleaning my face with my Clarisonic, but I found myself dreading using the Luna.

I would have put up with the discomfort if using the Luna made a positive change in the appearance of my skin, but sadly that was also not to be. Even on the lowest speed, the Luna seemed to be much harder on my skin than the Clarisonic. I don’t know if that’s a result of the ergonomic problems, but my face always looked red and irritated after use. After about five days of use, my skin became terribly dry. By the end of the first week, I was breaking out around the sides of my nose, which is exactly the area I was having trouble cleaning the most — and that’s not a part of my face where I typically have breakouts.

But still, I continued. I know as well as anyone that skin condition is not static, and I wanted to make sure that the negative changes weren’t the result of cold air or hormones or stress or dry heat in my house or whatever. There was no improvement into the second week, and on day 13 I officially put down the Luna and went back to my Clarisonic.

My skin pretty much immediately improved after going back to the Clarisonic. I think the difference really does come down to ergonomics more than anything — because the Clarisonic is so easy to hold and because the bristles easily accommodate facial contours, I naturally have a much lighter touch when I use it. I don’t use it like a scrub brush, I just slowly let it lightly glide over my face. I use the delicate brush heads, and never have any problems with over-cleansing or redness. Yeah, it’s kind of a hassle to have to take it apart and clean it every night (I use hot water and Dr. Bronner’s, then let it dry completely overnight, disassembled), but it’s not the end of the world. I don’t mind having to charge it more often, either. I would love to be able to quit spending $80–120/year (OUCH!) on brush heads, but given the incredibly positive effect the Clarisonic has had on my skin over the past few years, I feel like it’s worth it. Oh well.

I still feel pretty disappointed in myself for not liking the Luna. It’s the same feeling I have about not liking the oil cleansing method or mineral makeup — how come these things that seem to be universally awesome for everyone else are such duds for me? I don’t know. Maybe the problem is me!

Have you tried the Luna? Do you like it?

p.s. The skin care routine I wrote about in November is still working out really well for me. The tip of my nose is perpetually flaky in the winter cold and I’m forever battling dark underye circles, but everything else is about as good as its ever been — and continues to improve.

p.p.s. Um, this is probably obvious, but I feel like I should include a disclaimer just in case: Foreo sent me a Luna free of charge in exchange for a review, but this post is completely my own opinion.

Just about a year ago, I wrote a post about my skin, specifically about coping with adult acne at the (then) age of 37. It was tough to write, but I’m glad I did it. I have spent a lot of years of my adult life feeling ashamed for not having great (or even good) skin, and for not finding solutions in the simple, natural methods that have worked for so many. At the time I wrote that post, I’d been following a regimen recommended by my dermatologist for about six months — and my skin was looking pretty good. Not perfect, but I felt better about my face than I had in many years. The only prescription I was using at the time was a combination topical antibiotic/retinoid called Ziana, and it was working really well for me.

This past June (almost exactly one year after after I started the regimen and the Ziana), though, something changed. Suddenly my skin was getting lots of clogged pores, and I was started to get cystic breakouts again. It seemed like it was overnight, and it was very upsetting. First I worried that I’d developed an antibiotic resistance, then I worried my Clarisonic was harboring bacteria (even though I clean it thoroughly after every use and change the brush head as recommended)…I panicked. I waited a couple of months and blamed stress. I blamed lack of sleep. And then I stopped being dumb, and I went back to the dermatologist.

I don’t know why I waited so long. I guess it was that sense of shame again, like the doctor was going to tell me I was doing something wrong or that I was apparently untreatable and was destined to a lifetime of looking like a goblin. She didn’t say either of those things, of course (tip: if you doctor calls you a goblin, find another doctor), but instead said that she suspected the dosage of tretinoin in Ziana (.025%) was too low for me. OK!

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So here’s what I’m using now. It’s been about two months, and HELLO! My skin looks pretty good, and every day it looks better. I still have a lot of discoloration from past breakouts, but it’s fading gradually and is relatively easy to cover in the mean time. I don’t think I’ll ever think I look good without makeup on, but at least now I don’t think I look diseased when I walk in the bathroom in the morning. At age 38, I can finally even bring myself to be around a friend (AT HOME! Let’s not get carried away…) in the evening after I’ve washed my face. That’s big for me. I think it’s been about five weeks since I’ve had any sort of breakout, and even then it was minor.

Anyway, here’s the current product lineup:

1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
Yeah, on some level I still feel like this is chemical-laden, unglamorous garbage and I kind of do wish I could wash my face with, like, virgin coconut oil and fulvic-enhanced mineral water (heh), but it’s $5 and it works so I just don’t even care anymore. I use it twice a day, once in the morning, then twice at night — once to remove makeup, then again right after with my Clarisonic.

2. Clarisonic (20% off at SkinStore.com right now, FYI)
I always come back to my Clarisonic. Whenever I think it’s failing me, it turns out it was actually something else. Like I said, I’m diligent about keeping it clean and changing the brush head (I always use the ones made for delicate skin). I love my Clarisonic, and I feel badly for ever doubting it. I’ve actually had a couple of terrifying dreams in which I find myself Clarisonic-less, which is admittedly kind of sad but also very telling and let’s just blame stress for everything.

3. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Complex
This incredible serum has mostly taken the place of my former favorite, Huile Prodigieuse, as a nighttime treatment. I still use Huile Prodigieuse during the day if my face feels tight, and it’s great in my hair, but the older I get the dryer my skin…and I needed something more intensive. I’d gone through a couple of sample bottles of the Midnight Recovery Complex when it was first introduced and really liked it, but I didn’t fork over the money for a full-size bottle until last June. It’s wonderful stuff. Magical, even. I only use it at night, and because I just need 2-3 drops to cover my whole face, one bottle will last a really long time.

4. Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado
Yep, my old standby for the past five years. As much as I hope to someday find an eye serum that can rid me of my undereye circles, this cream remains the only one I’d found that truly keeps my eye area hydrated in the colder months. No matter how many other eye creams I bring home samples of, I always wind up coming back to this one. Again, as with most Kiehl’s products, the price tag is offset by the generous amount of product. One jar of this eye cream lasts me almost a year.

On to the prescriptions…

5. Retin-A Micro
I actually use a generic version of this, which I think came out to something like $8 for three big tubes with my insurance. My dermatologist prescribed it in .04% retinoid strength, which is nearly double what I was using before in the Ziana (.025%). Unlike Ziana, it does not contain an antibiotic. I use it nightly only, never during the day. Retin-A works by increasing the rate of your skin’s cellular turnover, which means pores are less likely to clog, decreasing pore dilation and (of course) breakouts. It also boosts collagen production, so fine lines and sagginess are diminished. And it really works. Apparently I won’t see the full effects until I’ve been on it for the better part of a year, but it’s made an enormous difference in the clarity and smoothness of my skin already. There was an adjustment period in the form of breakouts and dryness when I started using it, but it wasn’t horrendous — probably in part because I’d already been using a lower dose of retinoids for a year before starting. I do have some adjustment advice, though…

Anna’s Retin-A tips:
✚ Wait at least 10 minutes (preferably 20) after washing your face to apply it. Really for real. Retin-A and water are not friends. If you don’t wait, you are just asking for over-dryness.
✚ ONLY USE A PEA-SIZED AMOUNT. That means a standard green pea, not a chickpea or a lima bean. PEA-SIZED. Squeeze it into your hand, dot it all over your face (avoiding the eye area), then rub it in. It’s not a spot treatment or a mask. Take it easy.
✚ If your skin is getting really dry, apply a light moisturizer first as a barrier. I always put my Kiehl’s serum on right after washing, then wait 20 minutes before applying the Retin-A.
✚ If you feel like you need to skip a night, skip a night. In fact, you might want to start out only using it every other night until your skin adjusts. Everyone is different. Pay attention to how your skin is reacting, and know that the adjustment period of flaking and breakouts is NOT forever.
✚ USE SUNSCREEN during the daytime. Retin-A increases your skin’s sensitivity to light. Don’t mess around with this one. Please.

6. Aczone Gel
Aczone gel is a relatively new medication, but its active ingredient, dapsone, has been used as an anti-inflammatory/antibacterial for a long time…including as a treatment for leprosy. And hey, if it’s good enough for lepers, it’s certainly good enough for me! Seriously though, I’m amazed by this stuff. It’s a gel formula that goes on really nicely, and it’s kept me totally free of any cystic breakouts that Retin-a alone can’t prevent. I use it twice a day (at night after applying Retin-a, and in the morning under my makeup). I saw pretty much immediate results when I started using Aczone — by the next morning anything inflamed on my face had calmed down, and I haven’t had a recurrence since. I don’t even have any tips for using Aczone because it’s so gentle and (at least for me) totally non-irritating.

One downside to Aczone is that it’s new enough that there’s no generic option, and the price tag ($200 for a one month supply!) is prohibitive if you either don’t have insurance or if your insurance won’t cover it (mine won’t, and I have really good insurance). That said, there are coupons you can download to reduce the cost (man, the prescription drug industry is soooooo, so super shady…). I was able to get a three month supply (90g tube) for $25, which is totally worth it. If the coupons stop working…well, let’s not think about that.

So that’s it, really. I still have not found a sunscreen I love, so I won’t share a recommendation. That said, if you have one you love that’s broad-spectrum and nice under makeup, I’d love to know about it! My favorite sunscreen (a lightweight spray from Paula’s Choice) was discontinued a couple of years ago, and I’ve been wandering aimlessly through disappointing alternatives ever since.

One more thing for those of you who have had to deal with similar skin issues: If something isn’t working (even if it used to work!), don’t give up. If you can go to a dermatologist, do it. There are so many options for treating problem skin, and I really, truly believe that improving your emotional health through dealing with those problems is incredibly important. It’s not just about vanity, and there’s not going to be one thing that works for everyone. This has been a very long struggle for me, and I am under no illusion that this is going to work for me forever. I have to do something, though, and it’s a massive relief to have found the right thing for me…for now.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long, long time now. Skin—and, more specifically, adult acne—is something I’ve touched on briefly here and on my old blog, but never really in depth. It’s such a sensitive, personal subject, and it’s hard to talk about. The skin on our faces is so intimate, but we show it to the world every day. I’m constantly trying to reconcile that fact.

I don’t like having my photo taken. I’m OK taking my own photo (which is why most pictures of me also contain a camera and are in reverse), but the second someone else aims a camera at me I feel extremely anxious. I imagine the photographer at home, hours later, zooming in on my skin and discovering all of the many things that are wrong with it. It feels naked; it feels bad. When I take a photo of myself, though, it’s more about the act of taking the picture than it is an examination of my face. It’s safe, and if it looks bad, I can delete it and no one else ever has to know.

It really all comes down to skin. Forget the shape of my nose or the color of my eyes or anything at all about my face, because the only thing I’m seeing when I look in the mirror is whether my skin is flaky or red or if I have a pimple or two or seven. The condition of my skin plays a huge role in defining my confidence, my overall mood and even my productivity on any given day. My rational mind tells me this is ridiculous, but my irrational mind has used personal days to stay home from work because of breakouts. So.

My skin was fine when I was teenager, OK in my early 20s…and then it just got progressively worse. I never used to wear foundation, but my the time I was in my early 30s it was a daily operation. Ridiculous amounts of time spent every morning dotting on teensy amounts of concealer over red marks with a tiny brush, all so no one would have to know my terrible secret. It’s hard to explain this stuff with anyone who doesn’t know what it’s like to deal with adult acne, so if you fall into that camp, please try to cut those of us who have some slack. To be 37 years old and battling breakouts and wrinkles at the same time sucks. It makes you feel like you’re perpetually trapped in a delayed adolescence while simultaneously running out of the years when you’re supposed to look your best. It’s embarrassing. It makes you feel inept and unprofessional and dirty. And you will try anything to make it all better.

So here’s where I’m at right now, and I can say this with confidence: My skin has never looked better. Well, maybe it looked better when I was 15, but this is as good as it’s been in the 22 years since. Every now and then I have a minor breakout, but it’s generally just one small blemish that goes away pretty quickly and doesn’t make my life too horrible while it’s around.

Here’s the rundown:

1. Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser
This is the least-glamorous face wash I’ve used in my adult life, and I admit I was really skeptical when my dermatologist recommended it to me. I like to use things in pretty packages that are only sold at tiny drugstores or fancy department stores. Again, I know it’s ridiculous, but I’m biased against a cleanser that’s available everywhere for $5. But yeah, my dermatologist was right, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever washed my face with. I actually use it twice at night: Once to do a quick makeup removal, and then again right after to deep-cleanse with my Clarisonic. Speaking of my Clarisonic…

2. Clarisonic Mia
I LOVE MY CLARISONIC. So much. I’ve had it for a couple of years now (it was a Hanukkah present from Daniel, who understands my quest for pore perfection), and we’ve been on a journey together. At first I loved it, and then I hated it, and then I really wanted to like it again, and now I love it and can’t imagine being without it. The trick is finding the right cleanser to use it with. There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s better to use it with a foaming or non-foaming face wash, and I really think it comes down to your skin type. For me, a gentle, foaming, soap-free cleanser works best. I use it every single night.

A couple of notes: I use the replacement brushes made for delicate skin. I can’t see why the new Mia 2 is worth the extra money, so my recommendation is to just go with the original Mia. It’s the cheapest model Clarisonic sells, and it does everything you need it to. I don’t know anything about the cheaper facial brushes that Olay and Neutrogena make, so I can’t advise you there—but I can say that my dermatologist was adamant that I only use a genuine Clarisonic. I already owned one, so fine by me!

✚ EDIT: Reader Tallin commented that SkinStore.com is having a 20% off sale right now that includes the whole Clarisonic line.

3. Ziana Gel
I realize this might be a controversial inclusion since it’s a prescription product that combines a topical antibiotic (clindamycin) with a retinoid (tretinoin), and I hesitated to mention it at all. I’m not big on using antibiotics, and I was initially hesitant to start applying them to my face. I’ve also had bad experiences with prescription retinoids in the past. I think I just got to a point of desperation, though—I weighed my emotional well-being against the potential risks, and I decided to fill the prescription.

Ziana has been amazing. Aside from inflamed blemishes, I’m really prone to clogged pores and closed comedones. After using Ziana (just a tiny, pea-sized amount over my entire face at night) for a week, the improvement in my skin’s texture and clarity was noticeable. After three months, my face was completely clear—and I mean completely. I’ve been using Ziana for a total of six months now, and my skin just looks so much brighter and smoother and healthier. Some of the reviews I read complained of redness and drying, but I didn’t experience any of that. Maybe they were using too much or not using a moisturizer? I don’t know, I can just tell you that it’s been wonderful for my skin.

4. Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado
I first wrote about this eye cream four years ago, and I’m still using it now. I usually only put it on at night since it’s a bit too emollient to wear under makeup, but it’s hydrating enough that the effects last even during the day. I’m careful when I wash my face in the morning to not get cleanser around my eyes, though, so maybe it’s just residual amounts that are doing the trick? Whatever it is, I love this stuff. No, it doesn’t cure me of my undereye circles, but it does keep the skin around my eyes soft and dewy-looking, and that’s good enough for me.

5. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse
I wrote an entire blog post about how much I love this stuff a couple of months ago, so I won’t dwell on it again too long now. The love affair is still going strong! Much like my Clarisonic, this is something I can’t imagine ever not having as part of my skin care routine. I’m forever thankful to Ilenia for recommending it to me! No more dry patches, no more irritation…just soft, happy skin.

So that’s about the size of it. I do also use a sunscreen daily, of course (a spray from Paula’s Choice that was just discontinued, much to my chagrin), as well as Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant when I feel like I need exfoliation, and Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads if my skin seems dull at all. Nothing else—and yes, that means that my formerly-beloved Mario Badescu is no longer in my life. I have a much simpler routine now, and it’s all come down to finding the right products for me.

I still feel a bit hesitant to publish this post since I know very well that skin is an incredibly personal thing and that everyone will react differently to various products, but I also understand how reassuring it can be to know that someone else is dealing with the same issues. I may not be jumping in front of cameras anytime soon and I still have no plans to ever leave the house without makeup, but at least I can look at my face now and not just see the state of my skin—and when I do, I’m mostly OK with it. Happy, even.