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The Skincare Report

By Amalah

Lately your serious advice column has been very serious. Can we talk about make-up and skin care, like the old days when you wore heels and sported Coach purses (I have been reading that long!)?

Specifically, what do you use for mild hormonal break-outs? I love Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle, but then I learned it’s been discontinued. I have no idea what to turn to next.


I would also love to hear any likes/dislikes (LISTS!) about your make-up and skin care routine in general. You always seem to know the best stuff. ūüôā


So there’s a full-on topic mutiny going on in the Advice Smackdown queue, you guys. In the past two weeks I have received at least a dozen hair/make-up/skincare questions, from people claiming Serious Subject (and All-Baby-All-The-Time) Fatigue. So okay! We’ll go old-school today and talk about beauty products.

Since I last covered this topic, a few things have happened: I had my third baby, I developed an Allergy Of Mystery to eye creams, Philosophy discontinued my favorite moisturizer, and¬†I officially hit my mid-30s. AND IT SHOWS. ON MY FACE. MY SIGNATURE LOOK IS “EXHAUSTED.”

So it’s been a…challenging year, to say the least. My oily-to-combination skin is as temperamental as ever, with the added bonus of being officially “aging,” with fine lines and all that good stuff. I get breakouts and blemishes if I don’t keep the oil under control…but going too harsh means the not-quite-as-oily areas get dry and tight and red. My eyes really need a good moisturizer, but suddenly almost every cream I try results in raised, red, scaly patches of angry under-eye skin. And then on top of all this is my desire to use more natural products and move away from suspect ingredients and packaging and blah blah hippiecakes.

I’ll tell you right now: I’m still not 100% successful on that last bit, despite my best efforts. I tried plenty of all-natural, organic products…and wasted plenty of money on them. The eye allergy was triggered by a range of products, from low- to high-end, organic and otherwise. I broke out, dried out, you name it. Eventually I had to cry uncle and and demote some of my ingredient concerns and 1) find something that WORKED, and 2) find something I could TEST OUT before I bought it.

So, here’s the current line-up of All The Crap I Put On My Face In Order To Not Look As Good As I Did Five Years Ago:

Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Face Cleanser: This is the closest thing I could find to Philosophy’s Purity face wash, in a paraben-free version. It’s a nice, gentle cleanser for all skin types. My only problems with it (and the Neutrogena Naturals line in general) are:

1) It’s NOT fragrance free, for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom. Why go to all the trouble to remove parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, dyes and phthalates and then add fragrance to it? Argh!

2) It made Jason break out like crazy. He refuses to give up the Purity wash, so I am alone in my principles, stupidly buying a whole second bottle of face wash just for myself while he keeps buying the ginormous economy-sized bottles of Philosophy.

3) The line is very limited, and hard to find around here. Neutrogena’s website lists several products (moisturizers, night cream) that I have yet to actually see in stores (Ulta, Target, neighborhood drugstores, etc.). You might have better luck, though.

Coalface soap by LUSH: Since Philosophy discontinued the Hope in a Bottle salicylic acid/exfoliating moisturizer (see the update in the comments section below– the product is back), I’ve had a hell of a time keeping my skin clear, yet balanced. No other moisturizer came close (oil-free Hope in a Jar, Murad, Burt’s Bees Acne Solutions, countless others), so I’ve had to add other products to my routine to keep blemishes at bay. I use the Neutrogena cleanser at night when I’m removing my makeup, but in the morning (when my skin is at its oilest), I wash with Coalface. It’s a gritty, hardcore soap — the kind I used to run screaming away from — but it gets the job done. Some mornings I skip it, while other times of the month (you know what I’m talking about) I use it every day without fail. It’s also completely preservative free, and the “perfumes” in Lush products are at least 60% natural…some are 100% natural, depending on the product.

Tea Tree Water toner by LUSH: After a.m./p.m. cleansing, I spritz this on a cotton ball and rub it only on my T-zone. Definitely improves my ¬†blackhead-prone pores. Pros: One or two sprays is all you need, so it lasts for-freaking-ever. (That’s true of most LUSH cosmetics, I’ve found, which is why I’ve become such a fan. They’re really a good value, considering how long they last.) Cons: Methylparaben. You can read LUSH’s take on parabens. Basically: They believe they are safe, the scare-studies are overblown, but they still use as little as possible in as few products as possible.

Imperialis moisturizer by LUSH: Yeah, the LUSH store pretty much gets all my money these days. But seriously, after years of hovering around the $50 price point for moisturizers, $24 for a giant tub is pretty good, considering. After giving up on finding an acne-fighting moisturizer like Hope in a Bottle that didn’t irritate my skin or leave the dry patches extra dry, I went with this one for combination skin. I would still get the occasional breakout without the Coalface or Tea Tree Water, I think, but Imperialis is really moisturizing while still being gentle and non-clogging. (I might try one of their moisturizers for strictly oily skin next, to see if I can eliminate the need for the extra oil-control products, so check back in like, two years when I finally run out of the stuff I already own.)

Enchanted Eye Cream by LUSH: Jason and I both tried this stuff in the store (he gets really bad dark circles) and miracle of miracles, we both loved it. Super soothing and moisturizing, even if you barely use a full half-squirt from the bottle. AND it was the first eye cream I’d tried in six months that didn’t cause that awful red rash. SOLD. DONE.

Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Spot Treatment:¬†I tried Burt’s Bees full line of acne products (wash, moisturizer, mask, etc.) and they didn’t really work for me. But this works about as well as other more expensive and additive-laden spot treatments I’ve tried.

Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF45. Since none of the above products contain any sun protection (and I still don’t like most moisturizers with SPF in them — they ALWAYS clog my pores eventually), I’ve been really digging this alternative to slathering on a whole separate greasy sunblock. It’s a translucent powder, so you can brush it over your makeup without adding any tint. It works nicely to control shine as well.

My makeup routine hasn’t changed much, since I last wrote about it — mostly because I don’t wear all that much on a regular basis, so I haven’t had to replace anything other than my foundation in ages. (Still wearing the Sue Devitt Triple Seaweed Gel Foundation¬†(UPDATE: now discontinued– find Amalah’s new faves here). I’ve tried other kinds and always end up wondering why I bother. Stick with what works, brainiac!)

Most days I just wear that, blush (NARS Orgasm) some neutral eyeshadow, a little eyeliner (I’m a fan of the metallic moss green/brown shades, but no particular brand preference), and mascara (L’oreal). ¬†Lip gloss (oh good lord do I still own a ton of ancient, half-empty tubes of lip gloss) if I’m feeling fancy. I wear more eye and lip makeup when I go out, and most of that is from a Tarte holiday gift box/palette thing I bought YEARS ago that’s still going strong. The rest is probably all NARS, I think, since I had my colors done at the NARS counter after I dyed my hair red and had no idea what to do with my makeup. The nice lady made me look pretty and handed me a list of recommended shades. I’ve never deviated from it since.

Welp, that about brings you up to date on the ABSOLUTELY THRILLING goings-on in my skincare and makeup routine. Now you can probably get a better idea on why I don’t tackle many questions about it these days, because I’ve been either flailing wildly or stuck in a rut for ages now.

(I still really do love wearing very high heels, though, whenever I can invent an occasion to. And I still own all those nice handbags. I’m still me! My purse is just more likely to be full of burp rags and Legos than lip gloss and disposable income now.)

Photo source: iStockphoto/ Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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