Discover more from How Not to F*ck Up Your Face
Easy, Effective—and Inexpensive
I'm talking about my daily skincare routine
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I was scrolling through Instagram last week thinking about what I could post to encourage random co-scrollers to check out HNTFUYF—and by the way, this is one of my least favorite activities; all I want to say is There’s a new post, people, please read it. But that feels like giving you a bar of soap with SOAP carved crudely into it. Even if it’s a great soap, that probably wouldn’t inspire you to use it.
Anyway, while scrolling I came across beauty journalist Jolene Edgar’s post on a new story in Allure about the skincare product phenomenon Augustinus Bader. Her post immediately caught my eye, because I remembered when I first heard about it four years ago, I thought exactly this: Here’s another wildly expensive face lotion that does nothing but moisturize. The press releases insisted that Augustinus Bader, a scientist who (it was claimed) had worked miracles on savagely damaged skin, had finally made available to the public a product containing the secret to his revolutionary skincare magic. I was blessed with a bottle of the holy cream ($280), along with a sermon about how using it every day was going to completely renew my skin. After I tried it for a few weeks and experienced no ecclesiastical transformation, I stashed the bottle under my bathroom sink to enjoy its heavenly rest.
The thing is, unlike other expensive face lotions sold with similarly outlandish claims, this one suddenly started popping up everywhere—and I mean everywhere—a mention of a fancy face lotion might appear. Clearly, there was a marketing (if not a skincare) miracle involved. And, as Allure deftly points out, it was a doozy. Read the story here.
One more thought: For a magazine that has always inched along the heavily greased tightrope between truth-telling and marketing in the beauty big-top, this piece is a valiant example of how it can be gracefully done.
So I hope you’ll soon feel more confident that your FOMO about expensive skincare is misplaced. If having pricey lotions and creams on your vanity makes you feel good, if that’s a treat you like and can afford, go for it. And make the most of that enjoyment. Your investment might result in an improved mood, but don’t expect an improvement in your complexion.
You can buy all the essential, over-the-counter facial products I use for around $50. Do they work? I’d show you a photo of my face, but why? Let’s not compare.
This is what I wrote to gentle reader D, who asked for a simple, effective skincare routine. It’s my own, approved by HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf.
Wash your face in the evening with a non-soap cleanser. (In the morning, I only rinse with water but you could use a cleanser if you think you need it.) Almost any drugstore cleanser will do the job—and you can check out this post for suggestions. At night, you might also try a prescription retinoid, the vitamin-A derivative that's been shown to help generate collagen and elastin. You can see your dermatologist for a prescription ($$$) or try an online prescription source (I've used this one and like it). I’m currently trying this inexpensive drugstore retinoid and like it fine. If you find the retinoid initially irritating, apply it once a week and gradually increase the usage till you use it every night or every other. Use a pea-size amount of product only! You can apply a moisturizer on top of it if your skin feels dry. And be sure to moisturize on non-retinoid nights to prevent dryness, says Waldorf. For daytime, you need a broad spectrum sunscreen after you wash or rinse your face in the morning. I use this one. I also like the Colorescience powder sunscreens in a brush system to reapply if I'm outdoors all day.
That's it. To recap:
gentle, non-soap cleanser
broad spectrum sunscreen
If you're like most women I know, you want to ask, "But doesn't ABCDExpensive serum help with OPQRSkin issue?" And I want to answer, "IMHONo."
The effect you see from most skincare products is the result of moisturization, not the fancy and often outlandish claims on the label (note Allure story above). Many dermatologists advise using a vitamin C serum for extra protection against sun damage; though studies have shown some effectiveness, I think the price of most popular vitamin C serums isn’t worth the potential help you might get from it. Your call.
With the money I save from avoiding expensive creams and lotions, I choose a few in-office treatments. Why? Because medical treatments have real science behind them and are therefore more likely to result in a difference you can see. I always ask how visible a difference a treatment will most likely make on me.
Around six months ago, dermatologist Estee Williams gave me a Sofwave treatment on my forehead and a radio frequency (or RF) microneedling treatment on my lower face and neck. When I saw her recently for my bi-annual neurotoxin treatment (forehead only, saving my crow’s feet), we compared photos from before the Sofwave and RF microneedling. We agreed: If there was a difference, it was micro…scopic. That may be because of my age (71) or because I had one treatment only. These two treatments can help with tightening and the results are variable and somewhat unpredictable depending on the patient; some respond better to one device than another, says Williams. (And, she adds, with her usual, admirable, even breathtaking honesty, the less they have to do, the better they work 😉.) I wouldn’t have another Sofwave treatment, but will probably at some point have another RF microneedling. Though I saw no appreciable difference in my neck, I’ve previously had RF microneedling on my face and liked the results: It’s been shown to help regenerate collagen and elastin, giving the skin a healthy, more even-toned look.
Paying someone to punch microscopic holes in my face seems primitive—then again, so does sliding a piece of thread between my teeth to clean them. And right now I still have my limits: No surgery till we have pop-off heads.
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Book Club News: New book about a rich lady who lived a long time!
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.
Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick 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 third pick is the biography Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend by the superb reporter Meryl Gordon. I’m not alone in wondering what it’s like to be remarkably rich (consider the success of shows about the Kardashians and the “real” housewives). I don’t watch those shows, but I do love to read about the wealthiest of the wealthy. For me, the story of Bunny Mellon—a serious, high-society horticulturist (she designed the White House Rose Garden), patron of the arts, and wife of multimillionaire Paul Mellon—is like a piece of chocolate cake; I don’t want a steady diet of it, but it’s delicious. How well-off was she? Though she owned many homes (in the Caribbean, Paris, New York, Cape Cod, and Nantucket), her main residence was a 4,000-acre estate in Virginia with its own mile-long airstrip to accommodate her private plane. Unlike some other socialites of her time like Slim Keith, Mellon was not a great beauty. But she surrounded herself with beautiful things: gorgeous table settings, magnificent bouquets, exquisite gardening outfits designed by Balenciaga and Givenchy. The most satisfying takeaway from this account of a long and privileged life (Mellon lived to 103)? In spite of the opportunities open to them, the rich are no happier than you or me.
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 Bunny Mellon for only $4.99 (normally $25.98), 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 email@example.com. 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 beauty 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. All posts and the archive are free; there’s currently no paywall. I rely on readers for financial support, so please consider becoming a paying subscriber if you can.