Here’s my second video. It’s based on my Purging vs Breakouts post, which I got a lot of questions on – I’m hoping that this video makes things a bit clearer if you’re trying to work out if you’re purging or breaking out from a new product! In it I cover:
the science behind purging and breakouts
tips on working out if you’re purging or breaking out
some ways of making the purging process less severe
(Yes, right after I edited this photo and realised how bad my eye wrinkles were, I started using anti-aging peptides and sunscreen around my eyes religiously.)
Here’s a handy, Pinterest-friendly summary of the key points for differentiating between purging and regular breakouts. These rules aren’t hard and fast, and the lists of product types are really not exhaustive at all. There’s a fair bit of guesswork required to figure out what’s going on too. But hopefully it helps!
Glycerin’s in a lot of skincare products because it’s an awesome humectant moisturiser that can grab onto water and hold it to the skin. It’s also very cheap to buy at the supermarket ($9.35 for 200 mL at Coles in Australia, $6-7 for 473 mL/16 fl. oz on iHerb or Amazon).
What can you do with it? Here are some (low-effort) suggestions:
Make a moisturising nail polish remover
Most nail polish removers have this issue where they either work very well but dessicate your cuticles, or they’re kind to your skin but take forever to dissolve nail polish. This acetone-glycerin mix blends the best of both worlds: acetone will dissolve your nail polish like no one’s business, and glycerin will stop it from stripping away moisture. Here’s my recipe for a gentle but effective DIY glycerin/acetone remover.
Make a hydrating toner
Glycerin is found in tons of toners thanks to its ability to hold onto water, which can revive dehydrated skin. Plain water will normally dehydrate your skin because it makes your skin more permeable, then when it evaporates it makes your skin drier than before. Adding glycerin stops this from happening. The only problem with this is that glycerin/water combos need preservatives if you leave them for more than a few days, because glycerin is very good food for bacteria (if it’s above ~50% glycerin content it’s a bit like honey so bacteria can’t survive…but it’s also sticky and thick like honey so it isn’t pleasant to have on your skin all day).
Sunscreen, BHA, clay mask, oil cleanser, toner, AHA, retinol, moisturiser, sheet mask, cream cleanser… If you’re having trouble finding the time (or the dedication) to do all the steps in your skincare routine, here are some time-saving methods I’ve found to work for me over the years.
1. Wash your face in the shower
If you shower at night, washing and scrubbing your face in the shower works amazingly.
You don’t have to worry about splashing water all over your clothes and down your sleeves (the actual worst in winter), or spend ages trying to splash enough water onto your face to wash off your cleanser – just stick your face under the shower head! (Make sure the shower temperature isn’t too hot though.)
You can save time by multitasking in the shower – wash your face while waiting for your hair conditioner to soak off, let your oil cleanser sit while you shave your legs etc.
Showers work great for washing off clay masks too – just dunk your face under the shower head briefly and the entire mask will be washable in seconds. Less mess as well!
The cult of coconut oil is going strong, and while a lot of the uses are pretty BS (pulling out toxins, for example), it is actually better for your hair than other oils! Here’s why, and how to best use it…
What Happens When Your Hair Gets Wet
First, we have to take a look at what happens when you wash your hair, at a microscopic level.
The outer layer of your hair is called the cuticle. It’s made up of rigid overlapping scales, full of keratin, a tough protein that also makes up a large proportion of your nails. The cuticle acts like a shield around the spongy interior of the hair, the cortex. The cortex and cuticle are all stuck together by the cell membrane complex.
When hair gets wet, the cell membrane complex and the inner cuticle (endocuticle) soak up water and swell up, but the rigid outer layer doesn’t. This makes the scales stick up, and they get snagged and snap off when strands rub against each other or when you run a comb through it. This damage to the cuticle leads to split ends and breakage.
How Can Oil Help?
There are 2 key ways that oiling hair can help. When oil is applied on hair after washing and before combing, it lubricates the hair so there’s less friction, leading to less snagging.
More powerfully though, adding oil to hair before washing, the oil coats the hair in a protective layer. Since oil is water-repellent, less water will get inside the hair, so there’s a lot less swelling. The cuticle scales stick up less, so less damage occurs.
Why Is Coconut Oil the Best Oil for Hair?
Coconut oil is particularly good because its structure means it can penetrate the hair shaft more than most other oils, leading to a stronger water-repellent effect. Here are the average structures of mineral oil, coconut oil and sunflower oil (all three are actually complex mixtures):
Here’s the final part of this series on exfoliation. We’ve looked at all of the physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants, now we’re turning to the most important question: Which exfoliant should you use? And how often?
Or which exfoliants, rather. Because once you start seeing the results from exfoliating – the glowy skin, the smooth texture, the pigmentation fading – you’ll want to try more. It’s a slippery slope into pretty skin. Unfortunately though, this process can be painstaking and slow, since it takes a while to see the results of any changes in your skincare routine, so have patience!
Let’s lay out some guiding principles before we get too excited…
1. Add one new product at a time, a couple of weeks apart
Introducing a whole bunch of skincare products at once is tempting, but a bit of self-control is a good idea. The key reason is that if your skin has a reaction (allergy, irritation, breakouts or just clogged pores), you won’t be able to work out what the culprit is for a while. You’ll have to take everything out, then reintroduce them one by one a couple of weeks apart to check.
Best case scenario? Your skin doesn’t react, it looks amazing, but now you don’t know which of the 5 new products worked. Your skincare routine now takes 3 hours and costs $200 a month.
2. Go slow
This applies to all dimensions of exfoliation. For everything, you need to patch test first if you have sensitive skin. If you have robust skin, you should still patch test first, but I’m the first to admit that I’m too impatient for this most of the time.
In terms of frequency, this means start off with once a week, and if your skin can handle it, then work up gradually.
In terms of harshness for physical exfoliation, start gentle – this means starting with the softest brush, or the finest grains, or pressing gently and scrubbing for only a few seconds.
For chemical exfoliation, this means starting on a lower percentage and working upwards, or starting for a few minutes if it’s a wash-off product, before working up to 10 minutes or whatever the maximum recommended time is.
3. Watch out for overexfoliation
Sensitive, red, tight, weirdly shiny (not in a good way) skin is a hallmark of exfoliating too much, too fast. Your skin needs its protective outer layer, and scrubbing too much off will lead to inflamed, dehydrated skin. If this happens to you, put a hold on all exfoliation until your skin gets back to normal – then let it rest for a few days before going back to exfoliating.
4. Your mileage may vary
This applies to skincare in general. Human skin is all the same to some extent, but it’s still different enough that no product will ever work for everyone the same way. So don’t blindly follow someone on social media who has great skin and scrubs with diamond dust for 5 hours a day – but at the same time, if there’s someone with similar skin concerns as you, and a particular product worked fantastically for them, then it could be a good starting point.
5. Don’t just exfoliate
You should be cleansing before you exfoliate, and moisturising afterwards. Your skincare needs might also change a bit as you exfoliate more regularly.
How to Get Started
Depending on your skincare routine and how well you know your skin, you may be able to skip some of these steps.
Your skin is covered in a thin protective layer of dead cells (the stratum corneum) which naturally shed over time in a process called desquamation. Sometimes this layer gets too thick, resulting in dull, rough skin. Exfoliants help the shedding along, resulting in more even, “glowier” skin.
What’s chemical exfoliation?
Chemical exfoliants help cells shed in a more indirect way than physical exfoliation, which works using friction between the tool or scrub and the skin. The mechanism of how chemical exfoliants work aren’t always obvious, but the most common theories and methods of how they work are:
by normalising cell turnover – that is, how quickly cells in the epidermis die and migrate to the stratum corneum, pushing old cells out. Exfoliants do this by travelling to living cells under the dead layer and telling them to change how they behave – in more technical terms, they act on receptors to upregulate cell division. (Technically, any ingredient that does this is a drug, but regulations around these “cosmeceuticals” is pretty iffy.)
by unsticking the cellular glue (desmosomes) holding dead cells together in the stratum corneum.
Chemical exfoliation is touted to be gentler than physical exfoliation, mostly because it’s less prone to user error. However, how well it works depends largely on the formulation of the product. A poorly formulated product might not work, or it might work so well that it irritates your skin and causes uneven pigmentation and chemical burns.
Hydroxy acids are the most common ingredients in chemical exfoliants. There are two main types:
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which includes ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and mandelic acid. Glycolic and lactic acids are most common in skincare, and the vast majority of scientific studies on AHAs are based on the action of glycolic acid.
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), of which salicylic acid is the only one commonly used in skincare (I’ll be using the terms “BHA” and “salicylic acid” interchangeably).
A few ingredients are technically both alpha and beta hydroxy acids such as citric acid, which acts more like an AHA.
It’s not 100% clear how AHAs and BHAs work to exfoliate the skin – it’s likely to be a combination of the two actions described at the beginning: increasing cell turnover at the epidermis and unsticking stratum corneum cells. As well as just removing build-up of skin, they can also improve hyperpigmentation and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Solubility: The commonly used AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid) are water soluble, while salicylic acid is oil soluble. Theoretically this means salicylic acid is better for treating oily skin and clogged pores because they can penetrate through sebum and sebum plugs, but there’s a lot of variation between people’s experiences. You’ll generally find AHAs in products for dry, ageing skin, and BHA in products for oily, acne-prone skin.
Sun sensitivity: Glycolic acid is documentedto causesun sensitivity for a while even after you finish using it, while salicylic acid isn’t. Salicylic acid has a UV protective effect while on the skin, due to the benzene ring in its structure which lets it act as a chemical sunscreen. You need to wear sunscreen while you use alpha hydroxy acids, and for at least a week after you finish – otherwise, you can actually cause more wrinkles and uneven pigmentation and sagginess than you started off with! And you should use sunscreen with salicylic acid anyway.
Other effects: Salicylic acid can have some anti-inflammatory action, depending on whether enough gets through the skin – it’s actually one of the active forms of aspirin. Glycolic and lactic acids are humectants that act to slow down the evaporation of water from the skin.
Are you confused about how to choose the right exfoliation method for your skincare routine? This three-part series rounds up all the types of exfoliants for your face, with examples of products and their pros and cons!
This post covers all the physical exfoliation options. Part 2 will be on chemical exfoliation, and Part 3 will be a guide on how to choose the one(s) that will work for you. For a more barebones overview, check out this exfoliation basics post.
What is exfoliation?
Your skin consists of living skin (the epidermis), covered in a 15-20 layers of dead cells (the stratum corneum). The dead cells in the stratum corneum have an important role in protecting your living tissue from the outside environment. They’re completely replaced around every 2 weeks – the cells at the surface are constantly shedding. However, the shedding isn’t always regular, and sometimes it happens slower than it should. This leads to your skin being covered by too thick a layer of dead cells, which looks dull, uneven, scaly and flaky. Exfoliation helps the shedding along, ideally without compromising the ability of the stratum corneum to act as a barrier.
There are 2 main categories of exfoliation: physical and chemical. I’m including exfoliation tools under the banner of physical exfoliation, and enzymes in the chemical group.
What Is Physical Exfoliation?
Dead cells are buffed away mechanically using grainy products or tools. It’s a lot like sandpapering a block of wood or scrubbing tiles – the friction from rubbing an object back and forth over the skin lifts stuck cells.
Much like sandpapering wood, the harshness of physical exfoliation depends on a few factors:
what the exfoliating objects are like (how large, how hard, how smooth)
how you move them over your skin (how hard you press, what direction you go in, how long you rub it in for)
I personally find that rubbing lightly in small circles for a minute or two is more effective and less irritating than rubbing hard for a short period, with any physical exfoliation method.
Physical exfoliation has a reputation for being harsh, but I think it’s unfair – it can be very gentle, but most people use physical exfoliants way too frequently, and feel like it’s not working if they don’t feel raw and tingly afterwards. Don’t fall into this trap! It’ll make your skin worse in the long run, reducing the ability of the stratum corneum to act as a barrier against the outside world and prevent moisture from leaving (its barrier function).
These round beads are made of plastic and come in every imaginable colour. They used to be in tons of products because they’re really cheap and smoothly shaped, so they were budget-friendly and gentle on the skin.
However, it turned out that microbeads were an environmental pollutant – they made their way through the sewage system and into waterways, where environmental toxins (actual toxins) like pesticides latched onto them. When aquatic animals ate them, they would release the toxins. Nasty! (You can read more on microbead pollution on this post.)
Plastic microbeads were banned in a handful of US states after research showed that the beads were turning up everywhere. The Netherlands are in the process of phasing them out. Other Western countries are moving in this direction, so plastic microbeads are found in less products these days.
You’ll see them listed on the ingredients list as:
You can find lists of microbead-containing and microbead-free products in your country on Beat the Microbead.
How to use
These are the standard scrub products – squeeze some into your hand, slap it on your clean face and rub around, then rinse.
It’s actually been quite difficult to locate plastic microbeads in my skincare collection – I only managed to find an old tube of Nivea Pure Effect All-in-1 Multi Action Cleanser, and a couple of Asian products (Muji Scrub Face Soap and Missha Cacao &Cream Facial Scrub).
There are lots of replacements for plastic microbeads available now, so you can still get your scrub on without as much guilt.
One of the most popular replacements for plastic microbeads are jojoba beads. They’re made of chemicallyprocessed jojoba oil (the same process used to make solid margarine from liquid vegetable oil), and are usually listed as “hydrogenated jojoba oil” or “jojoba esters” in the ingredients list. These beads are translucent white, and they’re usually found in products as very fine grains.
How to use
Just like microbeads, these are straightforward scrubs. Rub them onto clean damp skin, rinse away afterwards.
These are particularly popular in products marketed as natural – they show up in Jurlique, Moreishand Neutrogena Naturals scrubs, as well as a Guinot Gentle Face Exfoliating Cream, a scrub/peeling gel hybrid. They’re popular but I’m personally not that fond of how they feel on my skin, so I don’t reach for these that often.