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NOW READING Use This Not That: 3 Easy Things to Switch Out For Instantly Better Skin
April 19, 2018

Use This Not That: 3 Easy Things to Switch Out For Instantly Better Skin

Ever wonder if you’re using the right cleanser/toner/treatments for your skin? Do you ever second guess what you put on your face, whether it may actually be doing more harm than good? Skincare proficiency is a slow and steady process, but here, we’ve got three easy “use this not that” switches that’ll set you on the right path.


Not that, thissss. A skincare story inspired by this tired old Drake meme that won’t die.


Life is a choose your own adventure book. Turn to page 5 if you want to piss your skin off, or continue reading if you want to have happier, healthier skin.


1. SLS vs. non-SLS cleansers


To answer the question of whether we should avoid SLS or not, we have to look into what exactly it is. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is not the “unique” name your weird cousin chose for her new daughter; it’s a ubiquitous foaming agent. Why do chemists add it to products? Because the market told them to. For the longest time we demanded super foamy face washes and shampoos that left your skin (and scalps) feeling squeaky clean. “It ain’t workin’ if I’m not squeakin'” seemed to be our common motto.


Well, guess how dumb we were? The answer is “very.” We were very dumb, y’all. SLS also has the sad side effect of stripping our skin of its much needed oils, leaving our moisture barrier open to infection for us dry skin types and making us oily peeps overstimulate sebum production in angry compensation. All in all, this is something to avoid entirely.


Look for cleansers and shampoos without SLS in the ingredients. You can’t go wrong with COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser or Innisfree Blueberry Rebalancing 5.5 Cleanser, both of which come with the added bonus of being at the proper pH. You get an A+ for that kind of extra credit.


use this not that


2. Alcohol toners vs. hydrating toners


I’m never one to say no to alcohol, as long as it’s in moderation. Alcohol is one of the ingredients that helps some of my fav sunscreens dry up quickly on my face so that I’m not left with a sticky feel. But just like with the alcohol you drink, all things in moderation, kids.


Avoiding an alcohol-heavy toner is just plain smart. Keep in mind there are bad alcohols and alcohols that aren’t so bad (but that’s a whole other story). So for the sake of clarity, what I’m talking about here are the bad alcohols: denatured alcohol, SD alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol.


Just like with the old face washes and shampoos of yesteryear, we wanted to hear the squeak with our toners as well as feel the burn. Alcohol gave the impression of super cleansing as its cooling effects were marketed as disinfecting (which I guess it is?). But at what cost?


Once again, your moisture barrier pays the ultimate price here. We wanted the toner to “get rid” of oil and dirt, so we blasted our faces with harshness and thumbed our noses at common sense. We need to rethink our toning step and get back to the root of its name: tone.


use this not that


This step should tone the skin and prepare it to receive the rest of your skincare products. If you really want this step to be a treatment step for acne, why not give a milder, alcohol-free version a whirl? COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner is a great option to test that out, and it treats without drying. If your skin is dry and you really need the hydration, you really can’t beat SanDaWha Liposome Skin Softener, which is like herbal tea for your face.


3. Starting acids RIGHT NOW vs. focusing on barrier strengthening


Not since hippies in the 1960s have people wanted to so badly be on acid. The effect of AHAs and BHAs on the skin are pretty obvious and amazing. They work by breaking apart the uppermost dead layer of skin and encouraging new growth underneath. The result is healthy, new skin that comes about in a uniform way. They’re also great acne treatments, penetrating and dissolving the gunk inside of pores. So it’s no wonder people are eager to jump on that acid train.


Have you ever actually seen someone jump on a moving train though? If you’re not fit, you’re not going to be able to run alongside and hop on safely. If you do manage to hop on and you’re not steady as a rock, you run the risk of slipping underneath and getting absolutely wrecked by that train. The same goes for your skin and acids. You need to essentially do some strength training for your skin before starting any acids (or any topical acne treatments IMO). This is a marathon, and right now you need to suck up to your moisture barrier and make sure it’s strong like a top athlete.


One way to expedite the process is giving the 7-skin method a try. This is going to push your skin’s hydration to the max. You also have the option of sheet mask binging. A sheet mask a day keeps the dryness away! Adding an additional oil like squalane and any skincare product with hyaluronic acid will also go a long way to getting your skin in top shape.


Got any favorite tips for use this not that? I’d love to hear them! (Also send me all of your best Drake gifs.)



Coco Park is an author, beauty journalist, blogger, podcast host, and all around oddball living in Montreal Quebec with her family. Originally from the southern USA, she worked for several years in the makeup industry as a professional makeup artist and holds a certificate in esthetics. She is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Want to know more? Check her out on the Beauty Beyond Basics podcast, on her blog, on Instagram @thebeautywolf, and in her book "Korean Beauty Secrets: A Practical Guide to Cutting-Edge Skincare & Makeup."



I've started to notice that I have to manage a balancing act with my skin and finding the right times to use products. Since I've started a prescription acne/anti-aging treatment that cause dryness and flakes with my normally oily T-zone combination skin, I have to evaulate when I'm using certain things.
-Prescription meds at night, every other night followed by layers of light moisture
-vitamin c during the day, plus moisture and lots of spf
-acids a couple times a week on nights without prescription, plus more mositure/hydrating serums and at least one weekly mask

I'm trying to keep down the flakes with... Read more

I used to think flaking and dryness were a necessary evil with acne products and retinoids. But I feel like my skin looks and feels so much better when I tone down the "scorched earth" method. I lowered the percentage of tretinoin, use it every other or third night, and take a break every 6 months or so. My derm recommended applying the tretinoin over my serums and even over my moisturizer if necessary to help it absorb more slowly and thereby produce less irritation.

Yeah I agree with what Anna said, I've seen a lot of advice from derms and people experimenting with "buffering" anyone retinol/retinoid treatments with serums. If you're using a topical treatment like that, I'd definitely ask your derm about buffering it if the flaking and dryness get too uncomfortable. It's a long journey but I think you taking the time to really try and nurture your skin is awesome!

Switching over to alcohol free toners/mostly alcohol free skincare has been one of the biggest turning points for me. I always thought of toners as something to "get off" the last steps of dirt/sunscreen/make up but adopting double cleansing and learning about toners that are focused on hydration and repair was definitely an eye opening experience for me.

Interesting article😊...One of the things I've never really been able to understand is the difference between bad alcohols and alcohols that aren’t so bad😕

Generally anything listed as "denatured alcohol" or just "alcohol" in an ingredient list is what you want to avoid. There are a lot of other alcohols that are fine to use, such as cetearyl alcohol, that are used for other purposes in a product other than just making it dry quickly. I always do a quick search online if I'm not sure, but first two alcohols I mentioned are ones that I am hesitant to use, especially if they're listed within the first 5 ingredients in an ingredients list.

I agree leolouie. The \"fatty alcohols\" like cetearyl alcohol are emollients. I make the rare exception for \"bad\" alcohol in the first 5 ingredients (Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum, I\'m looking at you!).

I have a serum too that I'm using after all my hydrating toners that has more alcohol than I would like lol. We all have our secrets and exceptions haha