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April 2018

Evaluating Your Routine: Cleansers

So in my previous post, “Evaluating Your Routine: The Very Basics,” I posed the following question:

What does your skin feel like after you cleanse? Does it feel dry – parched and tender? Does it feel dry but quickly become oily? In my experience, this is usually a cleanser issue. It’s generally recommended that everyone should use “creamy” cleansers (these are usually cleansers that do not suds due to lacking the sudsing ingredients of sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate), and are advertised as “gentle,” “hydrating,” and “creamy”), and there are more options than ever within this category, from CeraVe to Skin Laundry.

However, if you find that creamier cleansers give you problems, you may need something that is a bit more translucent in appearance (meaning less moisturizing agents). These can be a bit tougher to find that fit within the usually-strict guidelines of no SLS/SLES (sodium lauryl sulfate or it’s gentler cousin, sodium laureth sulfate), so I usually advise people to experiment with what works. For me, this is Paula’s Choice Hydralight Cleanser, but there are also options like La Roche Posay Effaclar or Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser.

In this post, I’ll be breaking down general cleansers as well as oil cleansers (or the oil-cleansing method aka OCM) and micellar cleansers. Let’s dive right in!

Cleansers work by dissolving or binding to things on the skin that aren’t normally rinsed away by water, such as the waxes or oils produced by our skin.

Without getting too into the weeds, they are able to do this with surfactants  (or “the thing that makes cleansers sudsy”). The most common surfactants, and the ones you may have heard of are SLS and SLES (sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate). These ingredients work by binding to the lipids (oils such as jojoba oil or silicones like dimethicone) and then being whisked away by their water-loving properties. Once mixed with water, surfactant molecules cluster together into little spheres known as micelles. Some surfactants molecular size allows them to penetrate deeper into the skin (namely SLS), where they can bind to skin cells. As you can imagine, this is very irritating to skin, and is what causes the eventual drying that you may experience after using some products.


So by increasing the size of these molecules or adding additional ingredients, we get a gentler cleanser.

If you’ve hung out in any beauty circle, you’ve probably also heard chatter of pH – “What is the pH of that cleanser? Have you tried the CosRx Low pH Cleanser?”. The pH value of a cleanser can have an impact on how harsh your cleanser is on your skin as well, and simply put, it’s because the surface of your skin is naturally pretty acidic.

Going back to Chemistry class really quickly, you’ll probably remember something called the “pH Scale.”


Things on the left side of the scale (1-6) are considered acidic. Things on the right side (8-14) are considered basic or alkaline. And of course, there is what is considered neutral, or pH 7. Skin has a pH of around 5.5, but becomes more basic the further down into the dermis you go, reaching a pH of about 7. Why is this important, you may be asking? Well, if you think back to your high school Chemistry course, you may have remembered the good ol’ baking soda and vinegar reaction. When this reaction — called an acid-base reaction — occurs, the baking soda and vinegar exchange atoms and form different compounds, namely water and carbon dioxide. This is because bases are compounds that generally want to donate atoms and acids are compounds that generally want to accept atoms.

As skin comes in contact with other ingredients, even water, the pH temporarily raises and other compounds are created. Fatty acids (read: acidic components) of the skin are removed.

Healthy skin can usually re-balance itself within an hour or so. Some skin takes longer to do this, especially skin that is prone to irritation, such as skin with acne, rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis. This is why your boyfriend can cleanse his face with a Dial soap bar and have glowing skin an hour later, while you’re busily slathering on layer after layer of moisturizer.

Using a cleanser that is closer to our skin’s natural pH is the obvious solution to this problem, and most modern cleansers are formulated much better than those of the past.

So now you’re probably asking yourself: Well, how can I test the pH of the cleanser I would like to buy? And how do I know the surfactant isn’t going to irritate my skin?

A general rule of thumb is to look for mild surfactants, such as decyl glucoside, or multiple surfactants, like decyl glucoside, coco-glucoside, disodium cocoyl glutamate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, cocoyl methyl glucamide, sodium cocoyl isethionate, and lauryl lactyl lactate.

You should also look for moisturizers, like oils, ceramides, cholesterol, and humectants (water-binding ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or squalane). Avoid saponified oils (please don’t use Dr. Bronner’s on your skin) and bar soap.

Now I know you’re asking: What about oil cleansers then?

What if I told you that your grandmother was ahead of the game?

Nearly all of us have seen a tub of Pond’s Cold Cream hanging out in our grandmother’s bathroom or on her vanity. You might’ve seen her dab some all over her skin and wipe away all of her makeup with a tissue. She may have sworn by it as the thing that kept her looking young, and she’s not entirely wrong.

I like to think of oil cleansers as being broken down into two types of cleansers — wipe-off cleansers like your grandmother’s Pond’s, and emulsifying cleansers like the translucent oil cleansers that come in a pump or tub.

The former — wipe-off cleansers — are the most common mixtures in the cosmetics industry. They are usually simple mixtures of oil and water, and are high in water content, which makes them inexpensive.


They spread easily and often leave an oily or richly moisturized feeling behind. They’re typically purchased by people with mature skin, but are a great alternative for people with dry skin.

The latter — emulsifying cleansers — are also mixtures of oil and water, but are higher in oil content, which makes them more expensive. They contain emulsifiers that bind well to water, which allows them to rinse away in water.


The benefit of these cleansers is there is no real “sudsing” action on the skin. Indeed many of them can actually feel “moisturizing” due to their ingredient makeup. They are also excellent for breaking down make-up and other waterproof things, such as mascara, due to the high oil content.

When picking out an oil-cleanser, look for shortened ingredient lists. Don’t be swayed by extracts or other frills that will wash away. The oil itself will be the biggest point of irritation (or not) for your skin, so don’t be afraid of “boring” oils like mineral oil or petrolatum, which is one of the blandest, most non-reactive molecules around.

Just one more to go…

Micellar water is quite literally made up of micelles, or the molecular bunches of surfactants that group up, their water-loving butts faced outwards. These larger bunches of molecules, diluted in combinations of water and hydrating ingredients (such as glycerin), are the most mild of cleansers.

The percentage of surfactant to other ingredients is generally so low that micellar water does not need to be washed away. This allows the hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin, to stay on the skin after the debris has been removed.


This makes micellar water ideal for sensitive skin or prepping the skin for product application, when cleansing with a standard cleanser and water will be too drying.

So what does this all mean? Here are some general skin cleanser guidelines to follow:

  • Cleanse your skin at least once a day. At the end of the day, your skin not only has a build-up of oils, but also debris and particulates in the air.
  • Don’t pile it on. Your non-sudsing cleanser does not need to suds to work.
  • Two-step cleanse for removing make-up. Most make-up is waterproof and does not easily cleanse away. Use an oil cleanser to break down the make-up and remove it.
  • Use cottons to remove cream cleansers like Pond’s. The friction will help to remove grime and dirt. Splash with water after to remove any leftover emulsifiers.
  • Use cool water when cleansing. Hot water can make surfactants penetrate deeper by reducing the size of the micelles, which is why your hot shower is more irritating and drying to your skin than the less-fun cooler shower.
  • Moisturize. Even water strips away the valuable fatty acids in your skin. Using a moisturizer on your skin after will help your skin to re-balance itself quicker.

Sources and Further Reading:


Evaluating Your Routine: The Very Basics

Welcome to my first post in my series, “Evaluating Your Routine.”

If you’ve ever eagerly picked up a new skincare product and slathered it on, only to be greeted with a skin reaction (allergic or acne), this series is for you. In each post, I’ll be breaking down a step within the classic skincare routine and helping you evaluate your current routine so you can make changes where it may be best rather than scrapping everything all at once.

Most people already have a routine, even if it begins and ends with cleansing their skin in the shower. Just because your routine is not expensive or ten steps does not mean it is bad. However, since you are here, I can assume that you would like to change something about your skin (and thus your routine). Much of these changes will come with time and individual experimentation, but having a solid foundation will make this process easier.

A Note on Patch Testing

I know, I know. I’m no fun at parties. However, if you have allergies or sensitive skin, this will be critical. I’ve used serums from a well-trusted brand only to wake up to hives all over my face. I’ve used Korean beauty favorites only to end up with breakouts so swollen and extreme that my right eye was nearly swelled shut by my puffy eyebrow. Ever since, I’ve used new products on only one temple for the first week.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve never patch tested a product before, or you’re asking the screen, “But what is patch testing?”, let me explain. Patch testing means taking a small amount of the product and applying it to a portion of your skin that is typically reactive but otherwise hidden from view. For instance, when testing people for allergies, the allergens are usually applied all over the subject’s back. When patch testing a new makeup product or facial skincare product, consider testing on your forearm for allergic reactions first, and then a portion of your face that is not usually affected by hormonal or stress breakouts. For me, this is my temples. Apply a small amount of product to this location once a day (or twice, if this is how you’d normally use the product) and see how your skin reacts over the next couple days. I’ve used photos on my phone to track this so I know if it is causing something less visible than simply enormous breakouts.

Where To Begin

It’s tempting to throw everything you have into the trash and buy a bunch of new things at the latest Sephora sale, but this is completely unnecessary to get started. It’s possible to identify the holes in your routine by asking yourself some questions.

  • What does your skin feel like after you cleanse? Does it feel dry – parched and tender? Does it feel dry but quickly become oily? In my experience, this is usually a cleanser issue. It’s generally recommended that everyone should use “creamy” cleansers (these are usually cleansers that do not suds due to lacking the sudsing ingredients of sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate), and are advertised as “gentle,” “hydrating,” and “creamy”), and there are more options than ever within this category, from CeraVe to Skin Laundry. However, if you find that creamier cleansers give you problems, you may need something that is a bit more translucent in appearance (meaning less moisturizing agents). These can be a bit tougher to find that fit within the usually-strict guidelines of no SLS/SLES (sodium lauryl sulfate or it’s gentler cousin, sodium laureth sulfate), so I usually advise people to experiment with what works. For me, this is Paula’s Choice Hydralight Cleanser, but there are also options like La Roche Posay Effaclar or Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser.
  • What does your skin feel like after you moisturize? Does it still feel parched? Does it burn? Does it feel tingly? Does it get very red and not return to a more normalized flush after a few minutes? This is usually due to an incompatible moisturizer.There are several reasons this may happen. Most often than not, it is due to too many irritants or too few of the ingredients your skin needs.Common irritants include fragrance (or perfum), alcohol (or alcohol SD-40 – not to be confused with ingredients like cetyl alcohol, which are technically “fatty alcohols” — something I’ll get into in another post), menthol or camphor (cold and “tingly” feeling ingredients), clove extract, essential oils,  or citrus oils. Of course nothing is ever truly hypoallergenic or non-irritating, and you may have problems with otherwise “good” ingredients, but starting by ruling out common irritants is a good place to start.

    If your skin feels dry after moisturizing, your moisturizer may contain too few of the ingredients your skin needs, such as good fats and oils. Try using a heavier moisturizer (such as a cream instead of a lotion). If you’ve already done this but your skin is still thirsting for moisture, try sleeping with a humidifier near your bed and using an occlusive (water-trapping ingredient), such as Vaseline, on your driest areas at night.

  • What does your skin texture look like? Do you get acne, small red bumps, or red patches? Skin conditions and texture can be genetic, but sometimes it can be due to exfoliating habits. When you cleanse, are you scrubbing your face with a washcloth, facial scrub brush, sponge, scrub, or Clarisonic? Scrubbing and rubbing can be very irritating to some skin types. Try dropping these cleansing tools and/or products for a couple weeks, using only your hands to cleanse. Watch how your skin reacts. If it begins to improve, you can try slowly re-introducing these cleansing and exfoliating tools. You could also try a chemical exfoliant (something that, again, I’ll get into in another post) and ditch physical exfoliation all together.
  • Does your skin look dull? If you have skin that is dull in appearance, it is usually due to not enough exfoliation or lack of antioxidants. This is generally a more “advanced” solve that I’ll help you tackle later.
  • Do you have unwanted freckling, dark spots, or irritation only on the driving side of your face? This is usually due to the lack of sunscreen, or using an inadequate sunscreen. There are a lot of things to consider when buying a sunscreen, but a general rule of thumb is to make sure you’re applying a full 1/4 teaspoon of the product to your face to receive the coverage listed on the bottle and to wear a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or above.


A Basic Routine

Now I know you’re probably wondering, “What is a basic routine then? What should I be doing?” This is highly individual, but generally, you should be using a cleanser that can remove whatever you wear during the day (two cleansers for makeup, one for day-to-day products like moisturizer and sunscreen), a moisturizer that seals in the moisture of your skin, and a sunscreen during the day (yes, seriously – skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, outnumbering all other forms of cancer combined, and sun damage can seriously wreak havoc on how skin looks and functions). Your AM/PM skin routine should look something like this:





Once you have a small number of products that work for you, you can begin experimenting and building upon your routine.

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A NYC Beauty Tour

by Kristen
A NYC Beauty Tour

Note: This post does not contain any product reviews, just a list of places I visited and recommend. 

I live in Los Angeles – the home of incredible film and celebrity skincare experts. So when I tell you that New York City blew my mind in terms of accessible skincare and beauty shopping, I don’t mean that lightly.

I had planned my romp through the available pharmacies and beauty hot spots well in advance, and thanks to the New York subway, I was able to visit most of the locations on my list, despite the cold, rainy weather.

Let’s get right into it, shall we?




Glossier is best known for their makeup. You’ve probably seen one of their ads in your Facebook feed or following you around the web after your cursory Google search.

When I got to the Glossier showroom, I was greeted by a woman at the door who told me to proceed to the top floor of the building for Glossier. There was a large number of people waiting to go up to the showroom, and when the elevator came down, we all packed in.

The door slid open to a bright, neatly organized showroom, bustling with people. There were multiple stations with testers, cottons, and disposable applicators. There was a general arrangement to it all: skincare and makeup primers, blushes and cream eyeshadows, bases and powders, and a washbasin with their multiple bottles of their famous Milky Jelly Cleanser as well as their skin salves.

To purchase products, you simply pick up a sheet with a list of all the products, marking what you want and how many. Take it to the front, pay, and they call you when your order is ready for pick-up!

I found the process to all be very smooth and quick, despite the showroom being so busy and crowded.




oo35mm (pronounced like “oh oh thirty-five millimeter”) is a small shop in Chinatown. It’s a short walk away from Glossier, and a highly recommended jaunt for any Asian beauty aficionado.

Ceiling to floor, oo35mm is stacked with cult classics like Cure, Missha, Biore, My Beauty Diary, and Hada Labo but also slightly lesser known brands such as Benton, Hana, and Cosrx. No matter what you’re looking for, oo35mm is exhaustive in their collection of Japanese and Korean beauty.

You can sample anything before you buy, though there is a $10 minimum on any credit card purchase. Thankfully, there are plenty of sheet masks to choose from to meet your purchase minimum.



New London Pharmacy

New London Pharmacy is everything a girl could ever want. It is the brick-and-mortar home of the beloved Internet brand Stratia, as well as several French pharmacy favorites, such as Avene, Bioderma, La Roche Posay, Caudalie, and Embryolisse.

As a French pharmacy fangirl, I was reeling at the selection inside of New London Pharmacy. Besides housing the big French skincare brands, they’re also…  you know… an actual pharmacy. While there, pick up a tube of Marvis toothpaste or virtually any drugstore skincare brand you can think of (including hard-to-find products like DML Moisturizing Lotion).

I was so overwhelmed that I visited the store twice. The first time, I picked up some Stratia Liquid Gold (the cashier told me that it has sold out twice, and “everyone is coming in for this stuff”), a deliciously scented bar of soap, Embryolisse, and a tube of Cinnamon Mint Marvis toothpaste. Upon my second visit, I bought a tube of the French favorites Hexomedine (known for it’s acne-drying properties) and ialuset (a pure hyaluronic acid creme).

As if this wasn’t enough to choose from, New London Pharmacy also stocks a small selection of European sunscreens that are neigh-impossible to find in the United States.

If you only have time for one stop in New York City, I highly recommend making it New London Pharmacy.



Worth a Mention: Ricky’s NYC

Okay, okay — so it isn’t strictly skincare, nor is it particularly exotic, but Ricky’s is a store that pops up everywhere across NYC. In fact, no matter where you are, you’re bound to find a Ricky’s within a short walk (or subway ride) away.

Ricky’s is the perfect spot to get your Ardell lashes and stock up on your basics, like deodorant, toothpaste, and delicate wash detergent, but it is also a pretty good spot to find The Ordinary, Baby Foot peels, and Embryolisse.