My Updated (again!) skin care and make-up routine

I know, I know, I just wrote about my updated skin care and makeup routine recently. How could I possibly have a new one three months after that post?

Well, for one thing, that routine wasn’t really “new.” It just took me a while to get to write about it. For another, I’ve since fallen into a K-beauty hole that’s resulted in new skin care steps and products being introduced into my routine.  While I was already quite happy with the improvement with my skin then, I’ve seen even more improvement now, that I thought it was worth another post.

New: Chemical Exfoliants

The idea of applying acid on my face conjures images of telenovela villainesses splashing acid on their enemies’ faces to disfigure them forever. But the more I read about exfoliation as part of my skincare overhaul research, I realized I had to give chemical exfoliants a try, flashbacks to Samantha’s chemical peel on Sex and the City notwithstanding. There were too many benefits to using AHAs and BHAs for me to ignore.

When it came to which specific AHA and BHA products to use, it was a no-brainer. Yes, part of it was because the other popular brands (Paula’s Choice, Stridex) were inaccessible and/or too pricey. But I chose COSRX’s AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid and, eventually, BHA Blackhead Power Liquid mostly because of their cult status in the world of K-Beauty. Yes, even the notorious, dumpster-adjacent scent of the AHA liquid has not put off its loyal fans.

All my researched advised that actives should be introduced one by one, and even then, gradually. I started with the AHA, using it once a week for the first two weeks, then slowly built up to twice, and then thrice a week. I then introduced the BHA via the same pattern. I now alternate the BHA and AHA daily.

My skin is now generally softer and smoother, and I’ve had fewer and less frequent blemishes appearing. I now also have fewer sebaceous filaments (commonly mistaken for blackheads) on my nose, and the pores around on and around my nose are less visible (i.e. less clogged). And that’s just with two months of using AHA and one of BHA. I’m so happy with the results that I actually look forward to this step in my skin routine, even with the notorious stench of the AHA.

Replaced: Physical Exfoliant

I’ve finished the last of my St. Ives Apricot Scrub and will never look back. I was stubborn about it, as I loved the way my skin felt after a good scrubbing with it, but articles like this one have finally convinced me that there are better ways to work off my dead skin cells. Enter Skin Food Black Sugar Strawberry Mask Wash-Off. Not only is it gentler than the giant granules in the St. Ives, it also leaves my skin feeling so much softer and moisturized. It also smells very, very, very good, like a jam you’d want to spread over a bagel with cream cheese. Kerry of Skin and Tonics gives a comprehensive review of the product, if you need more convincing.

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The new guard

Replaced: Sunscreen

I still love the Clinique Even Better City Block Anti-Pollution SPF40 PA+++ and still reach out for it when I’m too lazy to apply foundation on top of my sunscreen. But given that I live in the tropics, SPF40 just won’t cut it for me. I discovered the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++ through milady Fiddy Snails, whose review of the product started with the announcement of her engagement to… the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++.

And, really, I can’t blame her. This creamy sunscreen lives up to its “Aqua Rich Water Essence” (Kao really wanted to get the “hydration” message across, no?) name. This is the most hydrated my skin has ever felt after applying sunscreen, probably thanks to the sodium hyaluronic (i.e. the salt version of hyaluronic acid) in it. It dries clear despite the slight white cast when initially applied. Another plus? It’s cheap! I can buy three 50ml bottles of the Biore with one small tube of the Clinique.

New: Foundation

As much as I loved my new Biore sunscreen and the extra protection it delivers, I also wanted the cosmetic benefits of the tint in the Clinique. I loved how it evened out my skin tone and made any blemishes or dark spots less prominent. The easy solution, of course, was foundation. After some research, I settled on NARS Sheer Glow Foundation in Punjab as my first ever (yeah, I know) bottle of foundation. I was happy with how it tested on my jawline at the counter and bought it, thinking I could try something else if I wasn’t happy with it in the long run. A few months in, though, I’m thinking I might never have to try any other foundation. For some reason (probably the 90s) I always associated foundation with cakey finishes; thick, gloopy liquids; and mismatched faces and necks. But then again they probably didn’t have NARS Sheer Glow in the 90s. The liquid is incredibly light, I don’t feel it at all on my face even when I’ve dispensed too much. It has a semi-matte finish and blends beautifully into my skin and with my skin tone.

The one annoying con I have for this product is that it comes with a screw-on cap by default. Not only do you have to buy the pump separately, the pump doesn’t come with a cover. The kind SA at the NARS boutique gave me a plastic cover (that they use for the counter samples) but it still had a small opening. So even with that cover, the foundation is still not entirely protected from the elements. Get it together, NARS.

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My growing COSRX family

Additional: Moisturizers/Overnight Masks

I love my SK-II Essential Power Cream, but I knew I needed something more substantial for my trip to the London and Paris in the middle of fall. And so began the frantic buying and testing of Korean moisturizers for my trip. I bought three in quick succession and all three made the 18-hour trip to Europe with me. I then purchased another one after the trip because I apparently have a problem.

First was the Benton High Content Snail Bee Steam Cream. I needed something lighter to wear under my sunscreen AND foundation for day. Given that the Benton Steam Cream was Lady Fiddy’s “summer” moisturizer, I figured it might fit the bill. And it sure did. It was occlusive enough to keep my skin soft an moisturized even in the cold and windy Parisian weather, but light and fast-drying enough to comfortably wear under two more layers of product. It didn’t leave an oily or greasy finish or cause my sunscreen or foundation to dry longer. It’s also a fantastic night moisturizer if you don’t have to deal with a radiator sucking the life out of your face. It’s chock full of ingredients that do wonders for your skin. For one thing, it’s 64% snail secretion filtrate (SSF). And if that wasn’t good enough, sodium hyaluronic, niacinamide, EGF, and bee venom are pretty high up in the ingredient list as well. All that good stuff comes together in a cream that is not only very hydrating, but is also great at calming down any redness/irritation, and keeping breakouts at bay.

The rest of my other new moisturizers are all from one brand, COSRX. I wasn’t able to purchase the  COSRX Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask in time for my trip, but in hindsight, it would not have made it with me anyway. Not because it’s not a good product, but because the light, golden gel was probably not the best option for my cold-weather needs. But despite its relative “lightweight” status, with 85% propolis extract (and, despite its name, no honey), this “honey” mask has a lot going for it. Its gel form and slight cooling effect makes it particularly suitable for humid, tropical climates and for people with oil-control issues.

The COSRX Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Spa Mask did make the trip with me, literally. It was with me on my carry-on bag as part of my in-flight skincare arsenal. Because a sheet mask was too scary/creepy/weird, I had to rely on this cream to protect my face from the drying cabin air. And that it did. Even a thin layer of this velvety cream was enough to keep my skin hydrated over my 11-hour flight. It also leaves my skin supple and bouncy even after I’ve wiped (in-flight) or rinsed (on land) the cream off.

The last cream that made it with me to France and the UK was the COSRX Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream. It was the richest and thickest of all them, so I used it exclusively for nighttime. Unlike the honey mask, this product actually has honey in it, and as the first thing on the list, it’s the most concentrated ingredient in the cream. And as I’ve found with the Etude House I Need You, Honey! mask, my face loves the moisturizing qualities of the sweet stuff, and this is no exception. It was the perfect thing to nourish my skin with after a day of exposure to the stiff fall breeze outdoors and the drying, heated air of indoors. And while it is the heaviest of all the moisturizers in my collection, it’s still comfortable enough to wear at night back home. It’s my go-to when my face feels even a little tight and dry, like on days I end up sitting right under the air conditioning vents at work.

I’m still new to the world of Korean/Asian beauty products so my skincare regimen could still change as I discovered even more new, fantastic products. I already have products that I’ve either just started or will be using soon, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on the ones I really like!

I got my CosRx products from either Amazon or locally (hooray!) via The Skincare Curator.

The Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50 PA++++ I also got via Amazon, but is apparently available in the new and improved beauty section of SM Department Stores. I’ve yet to see this specific product personally, but the rest of Biore’s sunscreen lines were there (Perfect Milk, etc.) with this product out of stock, according to the saleslady. 

The Benton Steam Cream was purchased via Amazon as well. 

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My K-Beauty Gateway Drug: Sheet Masks

In case it wasn’t obvious in my last post, I am obsessed with sheet masks. Sheet masks were my gateway drug into my budding Korean skincare addiction, and while I have since expanded my interests, I still get as giddy trying out a new one as I when I tried my first.

What’s not to love? First, they’re cheap. Most sheet masks range from PHP 60-120. Second, they’re really, really, really good for your face. Sheet masks are soaked in concentrated essences infused with skin care favorites like hyarulonic acid, fermented honey extract, propolis, or snail secretion filtrate (SSF). The cloth mask helps ensure that the essence does not evaporate into thin air and is instead absorbed by your skin. And the last reason to love sheet masks is that there’s something for everyone and every skin complaint. One brand alone has probably two or three dozen kinds, so everyone will definitely find one to address every skin situation and a few that their skin will absolutely love.

Which brings me to my favorite masks from the variety I’ve tried so far. These masks are now part of my regular rotation and are the constants in my ever expanding mask pile.

Benton Snail Bee High Content Mask Pack
This might be my favorite mask of them all, in terms of immediately obvious results. When I took off the first one I tried, I actually went “Ooooooooooohh!” My skin was noticeably brighter, more even, and, if this makes any sense at all, calmer. That’s likely to do with the high concentration of SSF, the second ingredient in the list. It’s followed by a host of other things good for your skin like hyarulonic acid, arbutin, and aloe leaf extract. I got my box of 10 via Amazon, but the masks are now locally available from The Skincare Curator.

Etude House I Need You, Honey! Mask Sheet
First of all, I feel the need to clarify that I am NOT Etude House’s target customer. It still freaks me out when I get greeted with “Welcome, princess!” every time I step into a store. But my dearest Lady Snails convinced me to give their masks a try. I chose their honey mask since it was labeled as “Richly Moisturizing” and I needed to amp up my moisture for the cold weather for my trip to Europe. I knew it was risky trying something for the first time while I was out of town, not the ideal time and place for a possible allergic reaction, but my stubbornness paid off. The mask delivered on its promise to “richly moisturize” my mug. It didn’t come with the usual clear essence, but with a thick, white cream. It was a little sticky on the mask, but didn’t leave my face icky. Instead, it left my skin smooth and very, very moisturized up until the next morning. I actually felt bad  washing off any residual goodness from the mask when I cleansed.

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Tony Moly Pureness 100 Hyarulonic Acid Mask Sheet
When I was still new to all these “exotic” ingredients (I still am, actually), I was confused as to how an acid could provide hydration. I’ve since educated myself on the matter, of course, and slap on this mask whenever I feel that my skin needs a boost of moisture. The first few times I’ve used this mask, I could still feel the effects of it two days after I’ve applied it.

Tony Moly Pureness 100 Snail Mask Sheet
Now what’s a list of sheet masks without a snail one? If I had to pick one specific sheet mask that opened up the world of Korean beauty products to me, it would be this one. There are probably better snail masks out there (the Benton one, for instance), but this was the product that got me over my intial “ewwwwww, snails, yuck!” reaction to the use of SSF. It’s pushed me headlong into the world of Korean skin care with its snails, bees, rice, and donkey milk (although I haven’t taken the plunge with that last one), to the infinite improvement of my skin, so it will always hold a special place in my sheet mask pile. As for the mask itself, my skin feels soothed and calmed after application.

I may well find better versions of these masks as I keep hoarding and trying sheet masks that tickle my fancy. But for now, these are my go-to masks, the ones that helped improved my skin since I decided to take my skincare seriously.

And I really, really, REALLY want to know. What are your favorite sheet masks? Any ones I should track down like a crazy person and try?