Discover more from How Not to F*ck Up Your Face
plus, inspiring toilet talk
Questions, questions! Val loves them! Please keep them coming! And now that I’ve used up this post’s ration of exclamation points, I’ll try to proceed with more equanimity. 😑
Oh, forget it! I’m so happy you’re here! Please hit that little ❤️ button before I explode!
“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions, Vol. 30.
Yes, you in the Clark Kent glasses working on—a spreadsheet?
Q: My research shows that salicylic acid (or sal acid) pads marketed to teens for acne relief are far less expensive than most other pads marketed as beauty treatments. Can sal acid be used as an exfoliator the same way pricier glycolic or lactic acid is?
A: Your query popped up right before I mentioned in last week’s post that I’ve been using a cleanser containing sal acid because I like the exfoliation effect. (By the way, treatment cleansers are generally a waste of money because the treatment isn’t on your skin long enough to be effective. A cleanser with sal acid is the exception.) I emailed dermatologist Heidi Waldorf—who I’m honored to report recently accepted the position of HNTFUYF’s resident DermDiva—for her expertise.
First, a few words about categories of exfoliating acids. The ones you’re mostly likely to encounter are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic, lactic, or malic; beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), like salicylic; and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), which are gentler AHAs. Their purpose is to help sweep away dead skin cells to reveal a brighter complexion. Your skin exfoliates naturally, so acid treatments aren’t a necessary step in a skincare routine. But I’ve used them on and off for years and have been pleased with the way they seemed to nudge my complexion in the direction of…fresher.
As for your question about sal acid specifically, Waldorf confirms it can be used as an exfoliator—but its main benefit is its ability to loosen the sticky cells in pores because it’s attracted to oil. So it’s best for those with oily skin, or acne, or used in combination with other ingredients. Waldorf recommends Aveeno’s Clear Complexion products, which include moisturizing soy. She also likes La Roche-Posay’s Pigmentclar and Effaclar lines, which contain micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid, a second-generation salicylic acid that’s gentler.
But for effects beyond exfoliation—like smoothing fine lines and evening out texture—Waldorf recommends AHAs. (For sensitive skin, PHAs can be an effective alternative.) The Neostrata brand has a full range of AHAs and PHAs. If you like sampling everything on a menu, you can find exfoliating pads that contain both AHAs and BHAs.
You know what I said a couple paragraphs ago about how the acids “seemed to” work on my skin? That made me think about cause and effect, which then led me to this (I admit, loosely related) story.
During a visit to see my mom when she was very old, I remember noticing that her skin looked uncharacteristically troubled. (“Troubled” skin; what a concept.) She had mysteriously accumulated whiteheads on her previously (by which I mean 93-year-old) unblemished cheeks. When I asked if she had changed anything about her skincare, she pulled out a frosted jar the size of a small cantaloupe she’d found under her bathroom sink. She didn’t know its provenance but loved the stuff because it relieved her dry skin. I unscrewed the Rococo-style metal lid; the smell of a thousand jasmine blossoms flew up into my face. (Fragrance can be one of the more irritating skincare ingredients.) The consistency of the cream—for the body, obviously—was like crème fraiche. I think I encouraged Mom to switch to Aquaphor and soon her troubles disappeared. Which is to say that it does matter what you slap on your face; but if I know you, you’re more likely to be resolutely applying something, hoping for a marvel, that does little or nothing for your complexion rather than something damaging. If you do decide to try acid treatment pads, be aware of the potentially irritating factors (like a retinoid) in your other skincare products.
As I’ve previously mentioned, there are a lot of things I love about Japan. That includes the toilets. You might already know something about Japanese toilets; you can buy the popular brand Toto in the U.S. The most luxurious models offer a sensitive seat-heating system, along with various options—direction and intensity of water-stream—for a wash and even a creative sound system to relax you if you prefer the feeling of relieving yourself while perched under a waterfall or in a meadow serenaded by birdsong. It’s hard to get back to TP after a Toto experience. As for the cleanliness aspect, I think my son put it best: “Mom, if a pigeon pooped on your head, would you be cleaner if you wiped it off with toilet paper or if you showered?” A pigeon did poop on my head once. It didn’t take me a second to make my choice.
Book Club News: New Book!
Though I’ve been a latecomer to audiobooks, once I discovered them I couldn’t get enough. I borrow them from the public library, but as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the library snatches them back before I can finish. So I'm happy to share I'm partnering with Chirp to organize an audiobook club of biographies and memoirs called “Unfiltered Women.” Two things: It’s free to subscribe and Chirp offers great deals. Plus, you obviously get to keep the book to listen to at your leisure.
Full transparency: At this point, I’m choosing not to receive payback for sign-ups, but I do hope to get the benefit of introducing HNTFUYF to Chirp subscribers.
Here’s how it works. Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick that we’ll listen to together. You’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on the book a few weeks later and hear what other readers thought, too. My second pick is the memoir H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I’ve now listened to this book twice and I’m sure I could listen to it again and still get fresh insights into the author and find new poetry in her language. This is a story about how a woman deals with the sudden death of her beloved father by retreating into herself, keeping only one relationship alive: with Mabel, a goshawk she trains. Goshawks are notoriously difficult and Macdonald struggles to domesticate her. Mealtimes are especially grisly, but Macdonald seems immune to the blood and guts she often holds in her bare hands or stuffs into a pocket. She describes in minute detail the primeval, prehistoric beauty of the bird and her intelligence. The fear of abandonment is strong and Macdonald’s grief seems bottomless till she understands viscerally the healing power of human connection. Like me, you’ve probably never considered becoming a falconer—and you’ll be glad you didn’t when you’ve finished this book! But you’ll get inside the head of someone very different from you, and it’s a fascinating place to be.
To get started, go to chirpbooks.com/val and press FOLLOW to join my club. (Again, it’s free and there is NO commitment.) There, for a limited time, you can buy H Is for Hawk for only $2.99 (normally $19.95), including a 50% discount with code VAL50 if it's your first Chirp purchase.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered aloud to me if I get a cut from sales when I mention a product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation. The only financial contributions I receive from these posts are from those of you—thank you!—who have generously subscribed. All posts and the archive are free; there’s no paywall. Please do become a paying subscriber if you can.