It’s been a while since I talked about my skincare routine, and with all this discussion about “skin cycling” being a new trend, it seemed like a good time to revisit it. It turns out my last video on it was in 2020! So I thought I’d have a look at what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.
Here’s the video version where I reacted to my 2020 video, which was reacting to my 2019 blog post talking about my routine – scroll down for the very summarised written version of this latest update!
Why I don’t talk about my routine that often
The reasons have largely stayed the same since 2019:
I’m often testing products and I don’t want to endorse something that I haven’t fully tested yet
Before I have an opinion on a product, I like to use it consistently for a couple weeks, then use it on and off in different conditions (in different weather, different parts of my menstrual cycle, when my skin’s irritated, when it’s fine). This helps me get a really thorough idea of how the product interacts with my skin, and where it really shines, and what comes from the product versus what comes from other factors.
It’s tempting for people to see my routine and try to copy it exactly – I think it’s much better to base skincare decisions on your own skin’s needs, your budget and product accessibility, which is what I go through in The Lab Muffin Guide to Basic Skincare
I’m a big fan of purposeful, deliberate, conscious skincare use (even though those words sound really hippie dippie). It stresses me out when I hear about products going viral and selling out.
I really feel like skincare shouldn’t be a fad, and I hate that skincare is heading towards a kind of fast fashion model, where products and even brands aren’t planning to stick around for even a year. I think it’s fine and natural to get bored of your products and want to change things up every once in a while, but this artificial marketing-driven overconsumption is just not sustainable, and not good for your skin or your wallet.
A lot of skincare Instagrammers tend to share routines with 10 products, and half of them will change every single day – this gives less experienced people a misleading idea of how many products should be in a routine and how often you should be changing them out
I still agree with this, although I think social media has moved from Instagram photos with 15 products to TikToks that are like, “You gotta try this product, it completely changed my skin, everyone run out and buy it NOW!!”
From the change in the comments and questions I get, it seems like a lot of people don’t actually know how to put together a routine anymore – social media is a lot more focused on trying individual trending products that might not make sense used together.
My skin is still oily and dehydration-prone, but my top priorities have shifted away from 2019 and 2020’s focuses of anti-acne and anti-pigmentation.
Acne – I was changing around my oral contraceptives in 2019 and 2020, but now in late 2022 I’ve been on the pill consistently for almost 3 years. My hormonal breakouts have died down a lot – I’ll get one deep pimple on my chin every second month.
Pigmentation – I mostly work from home in an office (well, spare room) that doesn’t get much sunlight. I also did a few rounds of Picosure laser treatments last year, and with less acne there’s less post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So it’s more about pigment prevention for me than treatment now, which is just my day routine with sunscreen (although we are heading into summer now, so the pigment situation might change – I do like hiking!).
Related post: The Science of Laser Skin Treatments and Picosure Review (with video)
Wrinkles – My wrinkle situation is still pretty unconcerning, since East Asians tend to age with changes in skin tone rather than texture. The lack of sun and the Picosure probably helped with that too.
What’s new is irritation, roughness and superficial clogged pores. Thanks to the pandemic, I wear a 3M Aura mask a lot of the time when I go out. It’s constructed to sit off the face so it isn’t very irritating, but it does trap moisture, especially when I’m teaching and talking a lot.
Related post: Dealing with Maskne: Irritation & Breakouts from Masks (with video)
Approach to my routine
My routine still isn’t rigid, and I adapt it based on how my skin feels.
I still prefer not to layer too many products. As I mentioned in my older routine video, too many steps gets confusing, takes longer than I can handle and feels heavy. It also increases the chances of products interacting or clumping up, or irritating my skin.
The actual number of leave-on products I use after cleansing has been trending down. In 2019 I used less than 4 products, while in 2020 I used 2 or 3… but in 2022 it’s down to 1 or 2. Part of this is because I’ve switched to more multifunctional products that take the place of 2 or 3 products.
My general product preferences are still the same: I’ll reach for a slightly less effective product that’s really lovely to use (nice texture, convenient packaging, pleasant scent) over a more effective one that’s an aesthetic mess.
I think my preferences are pretty solidly set now. I think a lot of my preferences come with getting older, and being less money-poor but more time-poor and energy-poor.
I also got diagnosed with ADHD, and that’s part of why I find it difficult to stick to routines – bad textures, weird scents, fiddly packaging act as giant barriers to me using a product.
Products I’m using =/= my favourites
As I said in my earlier posts, just because I don’t regularly use a product anymore doesn’t mean I no longer recommend it. It could be that:
- A similar product has replaced it and I haven’t felt the need to repurchase it yet
- I’ve switched to a different product and forgotten how good it was
- I try a lot of products so I’ve just forgotten about them
- It’s been superseded by a multifunctional product or a product that I prefer aesthetically, and other people might not have the same needs or preferences (e.g. I prefer fragranced products, I like pump packaging that fits in my bathroom cabinet better, it’s easier to get in Australia, it works better in the weather we’ve just had here…)
I’ve tried so many products over the last decade-and-a-bit, and in every category there’s probably at least 3 or 4 products that I think are all really great. So which one I’m using at a particular time might be based on something super trivial! The products in this post going to be more like a snapshot of what I’m currently using rather than my favourite products.
Disclaimer: Almost all the products I’ll be mentioning are PR samples, which are products I’ve been sent with no obligation to talk about them, or products I was sent as part of sponsorships (this video/post is not part of any sponsorships).
I get sent a lot more products than I can try out, and almost all the brands I like and would buy offer to send me products – it’s just how beauty marketing works at the moment.
More info here: Thoughts on Sponsorships, Disclosures, Product Samples, Bias etc.
2019 and 2020 routine
Double cleanse. Apply cleansing oil on face, then step into the shower for foaming cleanser.
My cleansing routine changed around 2021, after I’d been working from home for a year or so. I mostly shower in the morning or afternoon now, so my hair can air dry as much as possible before I go to sleep (less effort).
I don’t wear much makeup under my mask to reduce breakouts and to keep my mask less gross, so I only really use cleansing balms after filming (about once a week).
Related post: Are You Washing Your Face Wrong? Busting Cleanser Myths (with video)
- Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm: I still love this, it’s still my top cleansing balm of all time.
- The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser: This is still my top budget friendly recommendation, but I haven’t used it for a while because I’ve been trying out so many other cleansing balms.
I’ve actually found a few more cleansing balms to join Then I Met You in the favourites: Alpha-H Melting Moment Cleansing Balm and Krave Beauty Makeup Re-Wined. Both of these smell nice, and are just really a joy to use.
- Then I Met You Soothing Tea Cleansing Gel
- Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser
I don’t use any of the 2020 products anymore – I think this is just because a lot of cleansers on the market work well on my skin, so I don’t really feel the need to repurchase old cleansers I’ve already reviewed.
I haven’t really been consistently using any wash-off cleansers lately, but here are the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed recently:
Geek & Gorgeous Jelly Joker Low pH Gentle Cleanser: Non-foaming, really gentle and inoffensive, fragrance-free – but I think I just need a little fragrance in a cleanser to really love it
Iunik Centella Bubble Cleansing Foam: Nice self-foaming pump, has a herbal scent, really gentle and hydrating
CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser: Very popular salicylic acid cleanser. I recommended to my friend and then realised I hadn’t actually tried it – it’s fine, if slightly drying. I didn’t really see much of a difference on my skin, but it might just be because I’m already using too much salicylic acid for this to add much.
I hate washing my face over the sink, I hate how the water goes everywhere and I have to wipe it down afterwards, so the shower is the best place for me to use these.
Micellar Water and Eye Makeup Remover
- Bio Essence Bio-Water Micellar Water
Because of how my showering routine’s changed, I use micellar water a lot more now, and I’ve gone through a LOT of bottles of Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water. I use it anytime I’m cleansing my face outside of the shower, which is most nights.
Related post: Wash your face with no sink + cleansing myths (with video)
For eye makeup removal I’ve been using the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Eye Bi-Phase Makeup Remover since it came out.
I use these with reusable cotton rounds – velvet/velour texture for the eyes and terry cloth for the face. These are super soft compared to disposable rounds, and they’re easy to maintain (I put them in a mesh bag and wash them with my regular laundry).
- Bambu Face Pads: I’ve been using these for a long time. They come in a mixed pack with a mix of velour and terrycloth pads, and have little tags that are good for clothes pegs
- Medik8 Bamboo Cotton Pads: These are a new find for me. I love them because one side is terry and one side is velvet, so I just use one of these for both steps.
- Garnier Micellar Reusable Eco Pads: I don’t like these as much. They’re fluffy and the two sides separate, plus they aren’t actually cheaper than other options.
Overall “skin cycling” approach
2019 and 2020 routine
Three night cycle for leave on evening products:
Night 1: Tretinoin
Night 2: Exfoliation
Night 3: Gentler “recovery” products
“Skin cycling” is trending now, but it isn’t anything new. At its core, “cycling” is simply not using every single product every night, which has always been the case if you followed the instructions on a lot of skincare products (“use twice a week”). People have been doing it as long as skincare has been around – there’s records of people in the late 1800s “cycling” milk baths, and there were harsh products used in ancient times that weren’t made for daily use.
The “official” skin cycle recommends one night for exfoliating, one night for retinoids, and two nights for hydration and soothing. My 2019 and 2020 routines were similar, but with retinoids and exfoliation swapped around, and one less “rest” night.
I actually think most people could (and should) work up to using retinoids every other night, or every night. Even with my three night cycle I felt like I wasn’t using retinoids enough.
Most of the studies on the benefits of retinoids are on nightly use. There are a few where retinoids were used every second night, and a couple where retinoids were used twice a week or once a week. From the studies that looked at frequency, it seems like you will get more benefits with more frequent use.
The reason I wasn’t using tretinoin as often was because of the irritation and flaking. I found that my skin was the most irritated two nights after using tretinoin, so exfoliation was on the other night to avoid stinging.
The supply chain crisis hit tretinoin supplies (of all things), so my Stieva 0.05% tretinoin was gone for about 6 months. I tried out a lot of other retinoid products instead, and these were my favourites:
Medik8 Crystal Retinal: My favourite retinal product. I’ve been seeing more retinal products launching onto the market, and a lot of these are really bright yellow. This is fine from an effectiveness standpoint, but I find it a bit offputting.
Trinny London Overnight Clarity Retinal/Niacinamide Serum: My favourite of the really yellow retinal products
Geek & Gorgeous A Game: The most budget-friendly retinal product, a great starting point if you want to try it out. I personally found that my skin didn’t look as nice as with other retinal products, which I think is from the relative lack of other actives
Stratia Skin Night Shift: This uses a form of encapsulated retinol which is more stable and gentler based on studies on raw ingredient. Stratia also tested the finished product on a lot of people to optimise the efficacy and gentleness – even though it “only” has 0.15% retinol, they found worse results with higher percentages and didn’t need more to compensate for degradation. It has a bunch of soothing ingredients in a moisturising base, and works nicely as an all-in-one product.
Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment: Another all-in-one product I love. Paula’s Choice like to jam in lots of supporting ingredients. This has peptides, skin soothing ingredients and antioxidants – I think if I wanted a really simple routine, I could use this every night as my only product.
Strivectin Super C Retinol: In case I didn’t make it clear how much I like all-in-one products, here’s another – this has vitamins A, B and C all in the one product, so you don’t need to worry about layering or cycling or how much to use of each product. My only issue with this is that it’s in a dropper bottle, which is slightly more effort to use than a pump.
Tretinoin finally came back in stock around September, so I’m back to working my way up slowly, and I’m being a bit more cautious because of the mask irritation. So I’ve still been using these gentler retinoid products when my skin’s too irritated to risk using tretinoin.
Unpredictable peeling and irritation has also thrown my cycle out of whack, so it’s sort of in transition – ideally I’m aiming to use a retinoid product every second night.
- Laneige Cream Skin Toner and Moisturizer
- Jordan Samuel Skin Performance Cream
- Bioderma Sensibio Light
- Dr. Dennis Gross’s Stress Repair Face Cream
- Kate Ryan Total Nutrition Night Repair
For mixing with tretinoin, La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 is my mainstay. It’s my go-to soothing cream, so I figure it has the best chance of stopping the flaking (even though it still couldn’t save me from a half pea of freshly opened tretinoin that left me peeling for a week). This has been reformulated and relaunched as the B5+, which I picked up in Europe and am still trying out (it seems to be very similar so far).
I’ve also been trying out a lot of really bougie moisturisers that I’ve been sent. I’ve been curious about fancy moisturisers for a while, and since my skin’s been so irritated, trying out creams with lots of actives has felt a bit safer than trying out serums.
The ones I’ve been using:
- Biologique Recherche Creme Iso-Placenta
- Sulwhasoo Essential Comfort Firming Cream (Sulwhasoo is one of the brands that Jude from Fifty Shades of Snail has been recommending repeatedly since I started following her a decade ago, so it’s about time I tried them)
- Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream (This gets mentioned a lot in beauty magazines so I was curious)
- Then I Met You Renewing Rich Beauty Cream
- Emma Lewisham Supernatural 72-Hour Hydration Face Crème
They do seem to do more than cheaper moisturisers, but I haven’t really made up my mind about them yet – I’m not entirely sure you couldn’t get a similar effect more cheaply with a serum plus a moisturiser. So far they seem to be like a nice, “treat yourself” sort of product, but I still need to test them out more before I make my mind up.
Kate Ryan Total Nutrition Night Repair Complex is the only moisturiser from my 2020 routine I’m still using. In 2020, I was using it on nights before I wanted my skin to look really good. It’s still my favourite to reliably give me this effect, but some of the fancy moisturisers I’ve been using do this too, and the textures are a lot nicer – as much as I love the Kate Ryan cream, it does have a pretty gluey texture that’s a bit hard to spread. I think I’ve been noticing it more because of my skin irritation.
In 2019 and 2020, I was using exfoliants as well as tretinoin. Some people have found that tretinoin could take the place of exfoliants, but my skin still gets clogged pores and whiteheads if I don’t use hydroxy acid products regularly, especially if I’m trying out sunscreens. This is still true in 2022.
2019 and 2020 products:
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid: To no one’s surprise, I’m still using this – we’re basically married now and celebrating our 13th anniversary in this year. It’s still my default choice of chemical exfoliant and works fantastically well on my skin.
Ultraceuticals Ultra Brightening Serum: This was in my 2019 routine as well, and I still have it on my bedside table. But I do my routine in the bathroom now, so this has become my “emergency exfoliant” when I’ve gone to bed and realised I’ve forgotten to put an exfoliant on – there’s no real reason it gets that job over another product.
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50: I stopped using this because I started using the PIGM400 version, which is recommended for people with East Asian skin prone to hyperpigmentation because it’s gentler. I found that the PIGM400 was too weak on my skin, and then just… forgot to go back to the P50.
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel: I used this out of convenience, and it’s still my travel exfoliant (which I took with me to Europe recently).
For more about different exfoliants and how to add them to your routine, check out my Free Exfoliation Guide.
This is my default active for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It left my regular 2020 routine because I stopped getting as much PIH, and that’s still the case now in 2022.
But vitamin C is a really good ingredient for other reasons too. I used to use it at night because I didn’t like layering anything under sunscreen (it was too sticky). But now that I don’t wear sunscreen most days, I tend to use vitamin C in the morning when I remember (which is about twice a week – I should really put it on top of my toothbrush or something…).
Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Serum: This is my top pick for vitamin C. It’s similar to the classic, well-researched CE Ferulic combo but designed for oily skin, with the vitamin E replaced with less thick and oily silymarin, an antioxidant from milk thistle. I like that it has a caramel coffee scent that reminds me of Kopiko coffee lollies, which is a bit nicer than the classic ferulic acid hotdog water smell.
More commonly, I’ve been relying on other products that incorporate vitamin C as a supporting active, such as the Strivectin Super-C Retinol or Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment.
Niacinamide, Soothing Actives
I stopped using a dedicated niacinamide product because I was using so many products with niacinamide incorporated into them.
I’ve gotten back into niacinamide because of the skin irritation, and because I’d been using more Western products that tend to have less niacinamide in them.
tbh skincare Rebound Serum: This was a product developed as a collaboration with my friend Hannah English, a pharmaceutical scientist. It has a huge list of other soothing ingredients in it as well (humectants, ceramide, allantoin, centella, panthenol) which makes it great for a sort of “active recovery” night.
Then I Met You The Giving Essence: This is a really thin essence that works well for layering, with niacinamide as well as fermented ingredients
- Paula’s Choice 4% BHA
- Microneedle patches
I ran out of the 4% BHA and I didn’t really like the texture. I don’t get pimples that often, so I usually just use a microneedle patch like the Zitsticka Killa patches overnight and Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid during the day when they pop up.
Masks and Other Treatments
- Masks: I’d gotten lazy and I didn’t feel the need to use hydrating masks because so many of my products were packed with humectants.
- Extra in-shower exfoliation: Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
- Physical exfoliation: Skinfood Pineapple Peeling Gel
I still don’t use masks, although when I have irritated skin I use a thick layer of La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 as a sort of overnight mask.
I still use Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment – it’s just the best in-shower exfoliating mask I’ve tried.
I ran out of the Skinfood peeling gel, so I’m currently trying out the Missha Super Aqua Ultra Hyalron Peeling Gel which works pretty well. (I generally prefer cellulose peeling gels to carbomer or acrylates peeling gels – they seem to work better on wet skin, and don’t leave a weird film.)
Since the last video I’ve added microcurrent devices to my routine. I’ve been a bit sporadic with them (again, I’m bad at consistency) and am trying to get back into them post-holiday – part of this is also because I’m a night owl, so extra steps at night tend to be skipped. I’ve been trying to compare the Foreo Bear and Nuface Trinity.
Related post: Microcurrent Devices: Science and Foreo Bear Review
I forgot to talk about lip balms last time, even though they’re a very essential part of my evening routine.
My favourite is the Dermal Therapy Manuka Honey Lip Balm. Their range of $6 lip balms are the best I’ve ever tried, and they’re really popular with Accutane users who struggle with dryness. They have a bunch of different flavours, and many of them contain menthol which I don’t like because of the tingling feeling – if you’re like me, the Manuka Honey and Pawpaw options are menthol-free.
Skinfix Barrier+ Lip Repair Balm has also been great, although I’m not a big fan of their clean marketing.
How has my routine changed from 2020 to 2022?
My skin has gotten more sensitive and prone to irritation, but there’s less acne and hyperpigmentation
My routine has more of a focus on soothing products and gentler retinoids (which was also because I ran out of tretinoin)
My cleansing routine has changed, largely because my showering time has changed
But conceptually it’s still pretty much the same routine, which works well for my skin (although it might not work for yours, of course!). I’m planning to ramp up the retinoid use and actually change my cycle though, so we’ll revisit how that goes next year…
Many products mentioned were provided for editorial consideration or as part of sponsorships, which did not affect my opinion. This post also contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.