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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.

Last month, my lovely friend Ilenia told me about Huile Prodigieuse (literally “prodigious oil”) from the French brand Nuxe, and I figured that since she’s Italian she probably knows what she’s talking about because popular culture tells me European women know everything about skin care. Right? So I took the next step toward what we beauty product-obsessed types like to call “lemming” (yes, used as a verb—I hate myself too, don’t worry) something: Reading all of the 100+ reviews for it on Makeup Alley. 4.2 lippies and a 78% “would buy again” rating is high praise in that community. Commence lemming!

Completely positive that Huile Prodigieuse would, in fact, change my life, I committed myself to shelling out the $46 the large bottle sells for locally at Thompson Alchemists as soon as possible. Upon returning from London last Monday, I knew the time had come. Between the 12 hours spent on airplanes, a week of washing my face with hard water (which, by the way, made my hair look AMAZING…but my skin, not so much) and dropping temperatures, I looked like a floured potato roll. I made plans to have coffee with Ilenia the very next day, and after consuming four lattes between the two us, we headed over to the pharmacy.

Can I pause for a moment to recognize New York City’s small pharmacies? Yes, there may be a Duane Reade on every other corner, but we also have lots of old-school, independent apothecaries here that sell just about every brand imaginable of cosmetics, skin care and toiletries from all over the world. My favorites are Avignone Chemists and Bigelow Apothecary (both Avignone and Bigelow opened in the 1830s—each claims to be the oldest apothecary in the United States), but I also love ogling the goods at New London Pharmacy and Thompson Alchemists. Yes, it usually costs a few dollars more to buy something locally than to order it from Amazon, but I’m OK with that if it means supporting a small business that’s managed to survive for decades (or centuries!) in NYC.

Something happens to me when I walk into one of these pretty little pharmacies that’s kind of trance-like. I realize it’s pure escapism, that glassy-eyed state of being that sets in when there’s a $30 bottle of French makeup remover at arm’s reach. The packaging, the scents, the foreign languages…I fall for all of it. Apart from a bar of eucalyptus soap for Evan and about a million samples (that’s the other benefit of shopping at these little stores—the salespeople love to give out samples), though, I managed to walk out with only a bottle Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse in my bag. Mission accomplished!

I’ve been using Huile Prodigieuse on my face and in my hair night and day for two weeks now, and it is SO GOOD. I have delicate skin that’s prone to dryness and scaliness while also being annoyingly acne-prone. The Nuxe oil is just the right formulation (borage, St. John’s wort, sweet almond, camellia, hazelnut and macadamia oils, plus vitamin E) for me, apparently, because my face feels softer and looks brighter than it has in years right now. I’ve tried using various combinations of oils (jojoba, olive, coconut, argan, etc.) on my face in the past, and I’ve never had results like this. I love that the oil goes on “dry,” leaving absolutely no residue. Any redness in my skin is almost immediately abated, and dry flakes are gone overnight. It’s also lovely to wear under makeup—I haven’t had any issues with it altering the color of my face powder at all, something I’ve experienced with other facial oils. At night I use two spritzes in my palm smoothed over my entire face and neck, and in the morning one spritz is sufficient (I avoid putting it on my forehead in the mornings since bangs + oil = ugh).

I also like to rub a little oil into my hair, mostly at the ends. I usually just use whatever is remaining on my palms after putting it on my face—it’s sufficient to smooth out any dryness or flyaways and to weigh down my hair a bit so it doesn’t look “fluffy.” If I’m wearing my hair wavy/natural, the oil provides a bit of separation and texture that I love. If there’s still any oil left on my hands, I rub it into my cuticles. A little goes a very long way.

Oh, and did I mention the scent of Huile Prodigieuse? It’s my dream fragrance. I don’t even know what it smells like—it’s somewhere between earthy and flowery; very very soft and warm. Every time I put it on I wish it would last all day and double as perfume, but the scent dissipates completely within a half hour or so. I did discover that Nuxe has just released Prodigieux le parfum—perfume based on the scent of the oil—in France, though, and that the fragrance will be available here by January. Wishlisted in advance! And I’m not even one of those people who really thinks about stuff like perfume.

What fancy European skin care products should I try next? Bioderma Crealine/Sensibio H2O and Caudalíe Beauty Elixer are on my short list…!