How I Learned to Listen to My Skin & Treat My Face Like a Princess
A self-described K-beauty “noob” discovers that when you treat your skin like the princess it is, amazing things can happen.
For a long time, I did not love my skin. K-beauty changed that when I learned how to listen to my skin.
As recently as last year, before K-beauty, when I wanted to “do something” about my complexion, I always started from the premise that my skin was a problem that needed to be fixed. I looked for strong — nay, harsh — products because I thought my skin was so bad that only those would be adequate.
Our attitudes make a big difference. If I think my skin is the worst skin, the most clogged, more prone to breakouts than anyone else’s, then I am likely to reach for the strongest products I can find. The truth is that most of us have skin more or less in the average range. The strongest products aren’t always appropriate for everyone.
So with my weapons in hand, I went to war. I soaked my face in acids and scrubbed it with bits of broken shell. When it did not change to my liking I glared at it in the mirror. If I had been speaking to my skin, I would have said things like “What the f—k, I told you to stop that” and “Why can’t you be more like Halle Berry?”
Big surprise: This did not work. Without a regimen that took into account what it actually needed, how it felt, and what it was thirsty for, my skin continued to act exactly like itself.
Today if I were speaking to my skin, I would say things like “Good morning, sweet pea” and “That looks like it hurts. What do you need?” Every skincare session begins with listening. I’m still learning to interpret my skin’s signals, but I’m getting better every day.
Here are the main things I’ve learned when I listen to my skin.
My skin is chronically dehydrated. (I didn’t know it was possible to be both acne-prone and dehydrated until y’all told me so.) Morning and night, I pat in layers of whatever my face wants to drink. I use a modified 7-skin method: My forehead isn’t as thirsty as my cheeks and usually says when after about two layers, but my cheeks can guzzle water all night. My favorite products for this step are thin (so they don’t leave a layer of residue after my skin has sucked the water out of them) and smell delicious.
Current fave: Innisfree Jeju Cherry Blossom Skin
I sometimes mix in a purely hydrating product as well — something like straight hyaluronic acid — to help my TEWL-prone cheeks hang on to that H2O. When I run out of what I’ve got now I want to try seaNtree’s Hyaluron Ampoule.
I have a lot of redness in my skin. I can’t always predict when it’s going to be chill and when it’s going to go wild. At some point down the road I’m sure I’ll have a spreadsheet with ingredient lists and work through it systematically to determine exactly what my skin is reacting to, but for right now, I’m having too much fun trying new things to be really disciplined about that.
Which means I need to have products on hand that will soothe my face when it’s irritated. I’ve found that snail mucin layered on top of my hydrators calms my redness down.
Current fave: COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
I also use niacinamide daily. Check out Sheryll Donerson’s fabulous article on niacinamide for details about that powerhouse brightener.
For some reason my face absolutely cannot hold on to water. I’m talking it loses half its moisture overnight through petrolatum, which is supposed to be the queen of occlusives.
I don’t even know.
I have no problem hydrating my face morning and night and every time I put my hand on a mist bottle in between. It makes me feel fancy. At the same time, I’d like to give my skin a chance to repair itself so it doesn’t get so dehydrated in the first place. Ceramides, the glue that holds together cells in the moisture barrier layer, are what I’m trying to replenish first.
I recently began using Innisfree’s Derma Formula Skin Barrier Cream. I haven’t had it long enough to know how it works in the long term, but I can tell you it smoothes onto my face like a dream. I hope this is the sort of babying my princess skin will appreciate. I hope it contributes to skin strength and resilience. But if it doesn’t, I will listen to my skin about that, too.
Ahh, good ol’ SPF/PA. Like most Americans, I disliked the look and feel of our facial sunscreens. I also frankly liked getting sunburns. It made me feel sporty. It wasn’t until I made the connection between sun damage and all the other challenges my face has to deal with daily that I decided it was time to start protecting myself from those rays.
I have a few sunscreens in rotation now. The one that feels best, a French sunscreen with SPF 50, has no rating for UVA protection. I’m not quite far enough down the K-beauty rabbit hole to throw away mostly-full sunscreens that were expensive and do the majority of what I need them to do, but when I run low, I’m moving on to better things. I’m looking forward to trying A’Pieu Pure Block Natural Sun Cream, seaNtree Donkey Milk Waterful Sunblock, and So Natural Sebum Water Sun Gel.
And that’s it: hydration, calming, ceramides, protection.
So … what about acids?
I have a Curology prescription that includes azelaic acid, which is supposed to address some of my acne-proneness as well as inflammation. I’m still adjusting to it. (That purge is a whole ’nother topic.) I’ve noticed that within a couple minutes of applying it, my skin starts screaming for water, so I apply Curology at night after cleansing and follow it with hydrating layers. I like that this prescription comes from a dermatologist rather than being something I manage on my own.
As for listening to my skin and giving it additional acids as needed? The truth is I’m not sure I’m ready. I’ve learned what dehydrated feels like, and I know when my skin needs soothing. I am not yet confident in my ability to tell the difference between “I want a BHA!” and “AHA exfoliation, please!” I think antioxidants are my next frontier, and vitamin C comes in acid form, too. So I’m moving slowly on the acid front. (If your skin has made it clear it wants acids, I am all for acids for your skin. The point is to pay attention deeply to what our skin is saying. It’s my own skin that hasn’t given me the green light.)
Yes, I still have that part of me that secretly wants to go to war. I own some hardcore exfoliators, and some days I’m tempted to break them out just to show my face who’s boss. But I wouldn’t treat a princess that way. Slow and steady, listening and adjusting, responding to what I’m sure I understand and holding off on the guesses is one of the ways I show my skin love today.
What signals does your skin send clearly? Are there any you’re still trying to decode? Let me know in the comments — maybe we can help each other out!