I'm a Recovering Sun Worshipper—Here's How I Saved My Skin

The Lineup is a monthly series where we’re giving you an inside peek at the beauty lineups of cool fashion people, editors, makeup artists, hairstylists, and estheticians—all the people we trust the most. Get ready for a behind-the-scenes look at all the can’t-live-without products that make their worlds go round.

In many ways, the world feels a bit out of control right now. There are stressors we’ve never encountered before creeping into our daily lives, and while it’s certainly not the most pressing matter on anyone’s agenda, delving into our beauty routines can offer a much-needed reprieve from the intense news cycle. But I was reminded recently by Melanie Bender—the president of Who What Wear’s clean sister skincare brand, Versed—that our beauty practices carry more weight than we often consider, not just for ourselves and our outward appearances but for our communities at large.

“In my early 20s, it dawned on me that this is the only skin I’ve got,” Bender tells me. Growing up in Hawaii, where she lived an active life involving surfing and playing water sports, she got more than her fair share of exposure to environmental stressors that can lead to all sorts of damage. “Then about a decade ago, I started working in beauty, where I learned about ingredients and product formulation from some of the industry’s leading chemists. It completely changed how I evaluated the products on my shelf, focusing on clean, science-backed ingredients and not getting caught up in the hype.”

Clean, effective products that don’t tear up your skin (and don’t drain your bank account) are what Versed is all about. Bender, who says that SPF and retinol are now two of her absolute must-haves, is all too familiar with the smoke and mirrors running rampant in the industry. “In reality, the biggest drivers of most product prices are packaging and markup. If an item is in a heavy, custom component and sold through a prestige retailer, I know I’m paying for a lot more than the goop inside the bottle,” she explains. And even beyond the monetary implications, the products we choose to buy also have impacts on our earth and the many life-forms that inhabit this place. “Like everything we do, our beauty regimen has an impact on the planet. To help minimize yours, think about using each item to the last drop before buying something new, and if a product wasn’t the right fit for your regimen, use it on your body or offer it to a friend. Support brands that are committed to sustainable practices, like Klur, By Humankind, Youth to the People, and Versed, and recycle and reuse your beauty containers to their fullest potential.”

Bender’s advice? “Don’t do things to your skin that you wouldn’t do to your best friend’s. We tend to be overly harsh on ourselves, which can lead to unnecessary damage and irritation.” I’ll take it! Ahead, check out the lineup of beauty products occupying permanent spots on her vanity, and get ready to level up your own routine.

"I have a lot of lurking sun damage from growing up in Hawaii. Think hyperpigmentation, redness, and uneven texture. This two-minute mask gives results that rival my favorite in-office facial, and I’ve seen progressive improvement with each week."

"I have ultra combination skin with oiliness in places and severe dryness in others. This yummy cream manages to satisfy everything and wears perfectly under SPF and makeup."

"This brightening toner has made a noticeable difference in my post-acne marks and sunspots without relying on potentially harmful ingredients like hydroquinone. I use mine with our Down to Earth Reusable Cotton Pads ($20) to nix the single-use waste."

"If you’re a body-oil person (raises hand emphatically), this one has all the skin-soft suppleness while drying down in mere minutes. I also love the light white floral fragrance. No spritz of perfume needed."

"I’m one of the millions of women struggling with acne well into their 30s. Mine is hormonal, which means my chin wants to erupt every few weeks or so. With regular use, this cleanser acts preventatively to stop those breakouts in their tracks and nourishes my skin instead of overly drying it. I use it just on my chin or other areas prone to acne."

"I like a good deep cleanse, and this one gets rid of makeup and grime without stripping my skin. I make sure to lather it on my nose for at least a minute to take care of blackheads, too. I use this on areas I’m not using my Keep the Peace cleanser."

"SPF, always. We took 14 months to develop this because we wanted to create a physical SPF—the safest for skin and reefs—that people actually want to wear. IMO, it was well worth the wait, and I actually look forward to wearing this, even on indoor days. Bonus: The packaging is made with 79% post-consumer recycled plastic."

"There’s nothing like a good physical exfoliation, am I right? This creamy pore polish gently buffs away my dead skin using crystalline plant cellulose, meaning it’s made from the most abundant organic compound on earth and is fully biodegradable."

"I miss my bimonthly facials with Biba, and using her super-enriching night cream is what’s tiding me over. I’ve noticed my skin looks smoother and firmer, and I also love the hydrated glow it gives upon application."

"I do a lot with my skin. Treatments! Tools! Formula testing! This soothing mist helps add back some of the hydration I strip while calming redness and irritation. Plus, I love the fine spritz of the applicator."

"Retinol (and SPF) would have to be my desert island beauty item. I’ve been using retinol consistently since my 20s and suspect it’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to keep the signs of sun damage at bay. This is a super-gentle formula that's perfect for first-time retinol users or more sensitive skin, including necks and chests."

"Let’s be real: Loss of facial volume as we age is not something a face cream can treat. I’m a big fan of microcurrent devices to stimulate the facial muscles and improve volume. I recently upgraded from NuFace to PureLift, a higher-strength device that’s used by FaceGym. I use it every other day and see a noticeable difference within minutes."

"I was intimidated by dermaplaning until an expert demoed it in our office. My skin looked and felt smoother after just one treatment, and I’ve kept up with it at home ever since. I also notice that my facial treatments penetrate more deeply after using it."

"I have fickle skin that’s prone to breakouts, redness, and pilling. This tinted moisturizer came recommended by Biba, and sure enough, it plays nice with my skin on even the most troublesome days. It gives a hint of color and glow and also mixes well with foundation when more coverage is needed. Big fan."

"After tweezing and lightening my brows within an inch of their life in my teens, I’ve learned to embrace my full, dark brows. I use this pomade in clear to groom hairs into symmetrical, foxesque arches."

"Zoom is my life right now, and this lightweight lipstick gives a hint of blushy color in a chic, matte finish—perfect for a visible pick-me-up between call number 242 and 243 of the day."

Previous attempts to blow-dry my own hair ended in a shapeless disappointment. After hearing this tool name-dropped multiple times in the Who What Wear hallways, I gave it a try. And wow, in just 10 minutes it looks like I’ve stepped out of a blow-dry bar. No skill required.

"I’d never given hair pomades a second thought until a friend at Ouai sent me this one to try. Just a dab brings some serious polish to my bob, taming pesky flyaways and adding a sleek finish to the tips. It’s now a must-have."

"A good dry shampoo is life, and I was introduced to this one on a photo shoot. It’s a powder, which means I’m not inhaling all those aerosolized baddies, and adds volume while drawing in day-after oils."

"I just feel better with a little bit of glow. I love that I can mix these scent-free, buildable self-tan drops in with my favorite moisturizer. Whereas other self-tanners go splotchy on my fair skin after a few days, these fade gradually and evenly."

Up next, I Had Problematic Skin Growing Up—Here's What Fixed It

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