To be honest, posting this completely unretouched photo for the entire world to see was downright scary. And this is my face (and acne) on a really good day. After going off spironolactone for certain health reasons a little over a year ago, my skin flipped the eff out. It's been a journey ever since filled with highs and lows (but more lows).
Sometimes, my skin looks great, and I feel really confident—even if I'm totally makeup- and Facetune-free. But other times, I feel so self-conscious and sad I don't want to leave the house. It's hard! I know there is a spectrum of severity where acne is concerned (and I probably fall lower on said spectrum), but I'd be lying if I told you it never impacted the way I feel about myself.
That said, I've been taking the steps to try to make my skin as healthy and happy as I can until my hormones work through whatever they're working through. Whereas before I was getting frequent, extraction-heavy facials that left me swollen in conjunction with a heavy exfoliating skincare routine, I've switched over to a much more basic, gentler, and hydration-focused routine. Magically, my skin has gotten SO much better.
Turns out attacking my skin with acids and heavy-duty scrubs was having the exact opposite effect I had hoped it would. Not only were my skin's pH and microbiome completely whacked out, but it was also dry as the Sahara, which actually provokes breakouts. Madness. Anyway, these days, I stick to a gentle routine featuring hydrating cleansers with gentle clarifying properties, non-oily face mists, hydration-rich serums, and noncomedogenic moisturizers. And that's about it! In the morning, I cleanse, spritz a mist, and finish with an HA serum and SPF. At night, it's the exact same thing except I switch out SPF for a face cream, and I'll mask or exfoliate just once or twice (at most) a week. It's helped dramatically.
Below, I'm sharing the exact formulas I swear by and rotate through. (You can choose one product from each category with no hitch. I use whatever I have on hand.) Not only have they improved my skin's hydration levels, but they also don't clog my pores or provoke my acne. Win-win! Keep scrolling.
I have never been obsessed with a cleanser until I tried this (and the below!) from IS Clinical. Seriously, it's life-changing. I swear after using this gentle clarifying cleanser for just a few days in a row, my skin texture smoothed out, my bumps began to disperse, and my lingering redness and acne scars started to tone down their anger. It has all sorts of amazing ingredients like white willow bark, antioxidant-rich chamomile, and Centella asiatica, which not only heal any existing damage but help keep my skin barrier hydrated, plump, dewy, and happy. If you buy one product from this entire story, make it this one! It's a gel, and a little goes a long, long way, which makes the higher sticker price way worth it.
It was love at first try after Victoria Beckham's go-to facialist, Melanie Grant, recommended I start using this warming, honey-enriched cleanser daily. It utilizes super-luxe ingredients like the aforementioned raw honey, royal jelly, and propolis to moisturize, refine pores, and deeply exfoliate without irritating or compromising the hydration of your skin. I'm quite obsessed with it.
This is another great option for those looking for a gentle, ultra-moisturizing cleanser that won't strip your skin but delivers a super-thorough cleanse. The name doesn't lie. It has the velvety soft slip of a serum before you begin massaging it into your skin.
This is truly the only exfoliating, acne-centric cleanser that doesn't irritate or parch my complexion. I would basically trust celebrity facialist Renée Rouleau with my life (and the integrity of my skin), and I rely on this cleanser a few nights a week to keep my pores and acne in check. It's a great addition if you're looking to reduce breakouts, and it's a little bit more aggressive than the other cleansers here if your acne is feeling more out of control than usual.
This mist has been my morning-and-night saving grace. It firms, hydrates, and rebalances your skin's pH. I've had it for two weeks and am already halfway through the bottle. That's how much I love it.
I use this French-made pure rose water as a toner, a midday refresh, or a fancier, antioxidant-rich alternative to plain old water when I'm wetting my Beautyblender.
I'd bet a year's salary that every single beauty editor, celebrity, and model on Earth owns this cult-loved mist. I use it whenever my skin needs a boost whether that's before a date, in the middle of the day, mid-makeup application—24/7, it's fair game! The magic lies in the bottle's trademark mix of grape, rose, and rosemary. (So yes, it also smells dreamy AF.)
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to find a cleaner setting spray than the one I'd been using forever and which, I had a sneaking suspicion, was contributing to my breakouts. This luscious little mist from clean beauty brand Lilah B. saved the day. It has only the highest-quality ingredients and does a fabulous job of keeping my skin dewy, hydrated, and pimple-free. We've lived happily ever after, and I haven't missed my old setting spray. MVP ingredients include knotgrass extract (for firming and environmental defense), enriched mineral water (for hydration and pH balance), fig extract (for calming antioxidants), dandelion extract (for detoxification and radiance), and brown algae (for one more hit of moisture and dewiness).
If you don't have at least one of Mario Badescu's best-selling facial mists, what are you even doing with your life? Kidding. But no, really, they're great. They're affordable, and I love this one especially thanks to its strategic mix of lavender, chamomile, aloe, and thyme, which keeps my skin calm, not thirsty. I also love to spritz it on a Beautyblender and dot it onto my skin in the middle of the day or right before I head out for the night if I've been wearing my makeup for a full day.
I've tried lots of different serums for acne, and honestly, most make my flare-ups worse. I noticed a HUGE difference in the health, clarity, brightness, and plumpness of my skin after using this hyaluronic acid– and niacinamide-infused cooling serum from IS Clinical. I use it morning and night.
But I also really love this hyaluronic acid and aloe vera essence-serum from Facile Dermatology + Boutique, a spot frequented by many a member of the A-list in West Hollywood. It's uncomplicated, non-irritating, and intensely moisturizing without leaving my skin sticky or tacky.
Skincare products with epidermal growth factors are getting a lot of buzz right now, and I started using this serum every morning after facialist Kerry Benjamin prescribed it, saying it would help with my acne by expediting my skin's ability to repair itself. It's lightweight, it makes my skin bouncy and bright, and I definitely think it's helped lighten up my pigmentation and acne scars. And the best part is it hasn't spurred any new breakouts.
This new serum is the love child of Victoria Beckham and Augustinus Bader, and frankly, I don't feel like I really have to go on. It's brand new and AMAZING. (Seriously, my makeup looks way more exceptional if I prep my skin with this before my application.) It has a healthy dose of hyaluronic acid for max hydration but so many other amazing things as well like Augustinus Bader's patented TFC8 technology, brightening niacinamide, microalgae, rich yeast ferment, olive fruit extract, vitamin E, and porcelain flower biopeptides.
Exfoliating is a necessary part of any acne regimen. The key is just not to get too heavy-handed or aggressive. You don't need all of these exfoliating options. Choose one formula, and use it once or twice a week AT MOST. Also, look for products that have your typical pore-de-gunking ingredients like exfoliating acids but plenty of other hydrating and calming ingredients as well. These glow peel pads are one of my favorite skincare products ever. I use them at night before I moisturize once or twice a week and wake up with a smoother, brighter, clearer complexion.
This is one of the first products I fell in love with as a beauty editor, and it's still going strong and constantly stationed on my vanity. I'll use it once a week (at most) when my skin is feeling congested. Straight away afterward, my skin is smoother, brighter, and super glowy and dewy.
These pads are a little similar to the M-61 ones but a tad stronger. I would choose one or the other, and I rotate using them depending on which I have in stock. To reap their glow- and skin-improving benefits (they also have hydrating HA), just use once per week at night, and make sure you hit your neck and chest too.
This liquid peel is the next best thing to getting one of Kerry Benjamin's cult-loved facials IRL. She formulated it with the perfect balance of five different acids to help with acne, aging, and hyperpigmentation. Basically you'll apply it after cleansing and before your moisturizers. It's self-neutralizing, so there's no need to rinse. You'll wake up, wash your face, and notice the difference.
Kate Somerville's ExfoliKate is probably the most OG exfoliating product in the industry, and honestly, I still love it. (I've used it since high school because my mom always kept it in our shower.) Since it has luxe ingredients like honey, aloe, and vitamin E, it keeps your skin balanced and beautifully moisturized. The smell, also, is seriously amazing.
I'm pretty much obsessed with Vanessa Lee, RN, Hollywood's ultimate skin whisperer. And not surprisingly, her own line of products is just as dreamy as the woman herself. Leave it on for 30 minutes, and let the mix of organic oats, vitamin B5, and hyaluronic acid work its nourishing, lifting, and tightening magic.
These days, I steer clear of clay and charcoal masks that suck my pores a little too dry and often leave my skin angry, red, and super-duper dehydrated. When I'm dealing with a bout of breakouts, I always reach for Renée's best-selling detoxifying mask. It looks likes like a sparkling pot of honey inside and strategically uses a blend of tea tree, manuka, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, and allantoin to control any bourgeoning new friends on your face.
The dreamiest ingredients like saffron flower extract, shea butter, kokum butter, Padina pavonica extract, thyme honey, vitamin B3, plant-based glycerin, and lightweight oils work in tandem while you sleep to rehydrate your skin. This mask is a little on the heavy side, so I make sure not to use it too often. But when I do, I can never get over how effective it is at relieving dryness and boosting my skin's natural glow.
If you're super oily and acne-prone, I recommend Shani Darden's oil-free moisturizer. It's never broken me out, and it leaves my skin with a velvet matte finish.
That said, if your skin is in need of some serious TLC and you need something a little heavier but which still won't break you out, I can't recommend this ultra-reparative hydrator from iS Clinical. I've been using it at night for a while now and am SO impressed with the results. Plus, it was designed with leading makeup artists, so it looks insanely great underneath your foundation. (If you happen to care about such things.)
I'm pretty sure this is the only SPF on Earth that doesn't break me out and is 100% effective at keeping the sun's damage at bay.
This is another oil-free option I've recently glommed onto. It's a wee bit more hydrating than Shani's so is a great middle ground between hers and the more intense formula from IS Clinical.
If you're in L.A. and in need of a really great facial, I can't recommend Caroline Godsick at Facile Dermatology + Boutique enough. Thanks to a few of her product recommendations (like this vitamin-rich cleanser formulated for oily, acne-prone skin; the Facile Essence; and the IS Cleansing Complex above), my skin has made a turn for the *much* better.
Eye & Lip Products
Not only is this eye cream insanely creamy and hydrating (but not at all sticky or slimy like some eye creams can be), but it's also a huge help in the dark-circle department. I'll apply it before bed and then again in the morning to finish off my morning skin routine. My circles are still there (obviously), but they're a lot less glaring. The key is in the mix of hyaluronic acid, peptides, and antioxidants.
Once I found out that makeup artists use this formula from 111Skin to prep celebs' skin pre–red carpet, I was 88.5% on board. And after a few applications when I started to notice that my under-eyes looked less shadowy and significantly firmer, tighter, and all-around less fatigued, I leaped to 120%. Categorically, it's an eye cream, but it's formulated as a soothing, lightweight gel anyone who's against heavy, cloying creams will absolutely adore. Plus, there's the whole eye-lifting effect which is pretty dang wonderful in and of itself.
This eye cream is one of the most deeply hydrating formulas I've ever tested, and due to that insane moisture, I notice that my under-eyes look less dried and skeletal and brighter, dewier, and plumper instead. It's a lightweight, very soothing formula that boasts a whopping 26-hour span of hydration endurance. It's one to throw in your basket the next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of Sephora.
Sorry, but I will never stop talking about this lip product. (I pretty much work it into every single story I write.) It's just magic! It plumps your lips, keeps them hydrated for hours, and it isn't too sticky or slippery.
I'm also obsessed with this lip balm from Fresh—don't make me choose! This one has the yummiest taste/scent, keeps my lips chap-free forever, enhances their shape, and is also great underneath makeup. (Typically, I'll layer the one from PCA Skin over top!)
This rose- and hyaluronic acid–infused vegan lip balm is a new find that I love. Most balms that are super thick and balmy like this are laden with comedogenic oils that break me out, but not this one! I love slathering it all over my lips at night. When I wake up, my pout is still all plump and hydrated. I love it.