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For much of my adolescence, I lived in a house without a shower. The house was built in 1820, and when indoor plumbing was added, a bathroom was built on the second floor. It had a toilet, a chrome-legged sink, and a cast iron pedestal tub. My mother, two of of my sisters and I took turns taking baths every morning. The tub didn’t have a spray handle, so we kept a big plastic cup next to the tub for rinsing shampoo out of our hair with clean water. I’m not going to romanticize things: It sucked. It made getting ready in the mornings a huge hassle, and it sucked. I loved staying over at friends’ houses so I could take a real SHOWER. (And also so I could eat microwave popcorn and watch cable TV.)

When I was 16 or so, we got one of those shower enclosure conversion things, and life immediately got better. Showers! Every! Day! So! Clean! And do you think I ever took a bath in that house again? HELL NO.

Anyway, that was in 1991. Fast forward 17 years to 2008, when we were renovating the downstairs bathroom. Taking that shower out of commission meant that we were limited to taking baths in the upstairs bathroom for however many months (six…) it took us to finish the renovation. Fortunately we do have a hand-held sprayer so no plastic rinsing cups were necessary, but let me tell you…taking daily baths as part of regular grooming and personal upkeep is one thing, but bathing after a long day of demolition and sweaty, dirty renovation work is quite another. One bath to get the grime off, another bath to get the dirty water off, and then a cleaning session to get the haze of grime off of the tub. There was no lazing about in mounds of bubbles while listening to Mets games on the radio with the window open. No, none of that. All business, no pleasure.

So, naturally, once the downstairs bathroom renovation was complete and the shower was back in order, I quit baths like a bad habit. Until last month, I think I’d taken a grand total of maybe five baths in the past five years. How pathetic is that? We put all of this hard work into renovating the bathroom and spent a bunch of money having the clawfoot tub refinished, and I’m not even taking baths in it?!?!

Well, that’s all changing now, and you know what the incentive was? No, not a desire for relaxation, but packaging. Beautiful, minimal packaging from Herbivore Botanicals, who I first discovered via their Etsy shop. Seattle-based Julia and Alex started Herbivore Botanicals three years ago, and everything in the line is totally vegan and completely natural. Now, I don’t want to stereotype too much here, but as someone who is increasingly doing a lot of shopping in health food stores’ cosmetics aisles, I can tell you that “vegan” and “natural” are not usually words that I associate with incredible packaging design. And that stuff matters—it matters to me as someone who cares about design, and it matters when it comes to the perception of animal-friendly and natural products as being part of the world of luxury skin care.

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Let’s talk about that Coconut Milk Bath Soak. It’s amazing. It doesn’t make bubbles or anything like that, it really is a soak. It has the most gentle, calming coconut/vanilla scent imaginable—not like one of those gross, chemical-y “birthday cake”-scented bubble baths. It doesn’t make the tub (or you) weird colors. After getting out of the tub, my skin feels so super-soft…not coated or oily, just soft and fresh. There is a subtle fragrance that lingers, but it’s nothing that would interfere with another perfume (if you’re into stuff like that). The Coconut Milk Bath Soak has turned me into a bath devotee. I am committed to taking baths in the evenings on weekends now!

I bought a couple of other products at the same time as the bath soak—Vetiver Cardamom Luminous Body Oil for me, and Men’s Face Elixir for Evan. We love them both! I use the body oil almost every day now, right after I get out of the shower (or bath). It’s much more viscous than body oils I’ve used in the past, so I do need to apply it while my skin is still warm. It’s done an incredible job of keeping my legs from turning into crocodile skin this winter. The cardamom vetiver scent does linger for a while, but it’s exactly the kind of warm fragrance I love when it’s cold out. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll probably switch to the Neroli Blossom version. Evan really likes the Face Elixir! He uses it every night, and was able to give up the very unnatural nighttime moisturizer he’d been using previously.

I have to admit that after having struggled for so many years to find a facial skin care routine that really works for me I am hesitant to change anything about it. I don’t think I can walk away from my prescription medications without my skin freaking out (the emotional distress of adult acne is something I’ve discussed before, I won’t get into it again now…), but I am going to try to phase out the other products—and phase in more natural, animal-friendly ones. I’m going to start by ordering the Pink Clay Soap and see how it goes. My skin is far too dry and delicate for anything like the Bamboo Charcoal.

How about you? Are there any natural, vegan, non-irritating face washes you’d like to recommend I try? Preferably ones that work well with a Clarisonic (not all cleansers do)—and bonus points if the packaging is nice. Of course.

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.

It’s been a while since I wrote about my daily cosmetics routine, and now that I have my skin under control (or at least as much as it’s ever going to be), I feel like it’s much less of a struggle to figure out what products I like and what I don’t. I doubt I’ll ever be the kind of person who goes out bare-faced (I don’t even stay in bare-faced), but I also don’t like to look really made-up…at least not when it comes to my skin. I save the color/drama for my eyes and lips, and I’ll get into those products in another post. This is really just about what works to make my overall complexion look a little brighter and fresher.

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Presented in order of application…

1. Too Faced / Tinted Beauty Balm (Vanilla Glow)
Judging by the reviews I’ve read, this is one of those products that people either love or hate, and I think it all comes down to expectation. Here’s what it’s not: A true beauty balm or a foundation. Here’s what it is: A very sheer tinted moisturizer containing broad-spectrum SPF and miniscule light-reflecting particles. If you want a full-coverage foundation, this is not the product for you. I used Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturizer for years, and while I still think it’s a great product, I found myself wanting something even lighter weight. This Too Faced cream is perfect. It evens out my complexion while still letting my skin show, and the color it provides is very forgiving. My skin tone is very difficult to match, but this goes on imperceptibly. I apply it with my fingers.

2. Make Up For Ever / Lift Concealer (Pink Beige 1)
I recently ran out of my holy grail undereye concealer, Bobbi Brown’s Creamy Concealer Kit (which I previously reviewed at length), and since I’ve been making an effort to use up leftover products I already own before buying anything new, I pulled out this tube of MUFE concealer to give it a go. I can’t remember why I’d rejected it initially, but now I love it. The key is to pat it on under your eyes very lightly with your ring finger — I find that works much better than using a brush, which tends to move the product around too much. I also use it to cover up any minor blemishes and dark areas around my nose.

3. Urban Decay / Eyeshadow Primer Potion (Original)
Yeah, everyone uses this stuff, including me. It’s great. I’ve always had a problem with eyeshadow sliding around and creasing in the past, and this primer does an excellent job of keeping lid oils at bay and helping my eye makeup stay put all day long. I can’t put it under my lower lash line so I still get some little smudges there from my mascara, but that’s really not a huge deal. I highly recommend this stuff if you have problems with your eye makeup wearing off or looking cruddy after a few hours!

4. the Balm Stainiac / Tinted Gel Blush (Prom Queen)
I bought this with the intention of using it as a lip stain, but the color didn’t work well for me. Rather than toss it I tried dabbing a bit on the apples of my cheeks. Perfect! It doesn’t give a deep stain or anything, just a little bit of a flush. I like to layer a light stain under my powder blush — that helps the pinkyness last all day.

5. Too Faced / Primed & Poreless Powder (Translucent)
This is the best face powder I’ve ever tried! I has NO color whatsoever and provides no coverage, but it does an amaaaaaaazing job of keeping other makeup in place and of stopping any oiliness without drying out my skin or accentuating tiny flakes. I use a small brush to apply it in under my eyes (no creasing or crepe-y skin!) and around my nose, and a big fluffy brush to dust it lightly all over my face. The package says you can also use it under your makeup as a primer, but I’ve never tried that. I find that a very light layer on top of everything is enough, and I don’t have to touch it up unless I’m going out at night. The finish is silky-smooth and very, very natural-looking.

6. NARS / Blush (Deep Throat)
Oh, NARS and your stupid color names…sigh. I used Orgasm for years, but switched to Deep Throat on a whim last time I needed a refill. It’s very similar, but with less sparkle and a tone that leans just slightly more pink than coral. NARS blushes are all very highly-pigmented and long-lasting, so you do need to use a light hand. I lightly swipe my blush brush in the pan, tap off the excess on my back of my hand, and ever so gently stipple it onto my cheeks. Very natural, very pretty.

Does that sound like a lot of stuff? I guess it does, but it doesn’t seem like it when I’m putting it all on! After all of this comes eye makeup and lips, so there’s still more to come. Stay tuned!

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…!