A Lifestyle blog based in Sonoma County, in the heart of Wine Country. Amber is an outspoken voice for local activism, local wine tourism, and more.

My Journey Through Skincare PLUS My Favorite Products to Use

Growing up, I struggled with acne-prone skin that that only became increasingly worse as I entered into college. Once in junior high school on picture day I used concealer as a foundation in desperation to hide the red, flaking acne that I had. I remember I had stayed up the night before, praying for some type of skincare miracle: I steamed, masked, and iced my skin all the way up until bedtime.

In high school I would sleep with the Freeman's green clay mask on, only to wake the next morning in a pile of dried flaky crumbs scattered across my pillow, and much to my disappointment, the same pimples I had fallen asleep with the night before.

Then, at the pinnacle of my embarrassment, I was refused service at a beauty counter while living in LA. My skin was too bad for makeup she said. It would be "a waste to sell it to me". The shame that I felt in that moment is still hard to explain. To feel so ugly and unattractive in a city that praises The Beautiful was damaging: I was fresh out of high school, new to the big city life, and very much swayed by what I saw in magazines and on billboards.

Part way through my college career I started birth control. The hormones threw me for a loop but they fixed my skin. A few months later, I decided to go "raw vegan" (no animal products, no processed foods, and nothing heated or prepared above 110F), and I developed a glow from within that I had never experienced before. This was around the boom of Myspace - and suddenly I couldn't take enough selfies. I loved what I saw in the mirror: which was fresh, clear, and glowing skin. With my new diet, I became obsessed with other natural things, such as skincare, and reducing excessive waste. I began to slather coconut oil on my skin to fade my old acne scars. My eyelashes began to grow thick and long, and I became so confident in the appearance of my skin that I stopped wearing makeup altogether.

But, neither of these coping methods were sustainable: the hormones from the birth control made me feel erratic and completely unlike myself (I was on Yaz; before it was yanked from the shelves). As a result, I developed an intense, deep depression. I had taken up the raw food diet as a holistic way to control the change in my personality from the hormones, and for a while, it worked. But then an old skeleton from my past reemerged: my eating disorder. What had started as a fun and exciting journey into learning how to prepare and eat what I had thought to be a healthier diet, slowly progressed into an intense orthorexia, that led me back down an all too familiar path of an unhealthy relationship with food. And for me, that meant two things: an unhealthy obsession with food, and the return of really, really bad skin.

I was back to square one. Fast forward a few years, past the start of this blog, to about seven years ago. A website specializing in Japanese skincare reached out and offered me an ongoing sponsorship of quarterly shipments of any skincare product of my choosing in exchange for reviews. What launched was a ton of research, the discovery of the double cleanse (I had actually made this discovery in college, but didn't know what it was called), cult Japanese skincare brands, and my first introduction to the Japanese lotion-toner. It was life-changing. Throughout that sponsorship, my entire understanding of, and approach to skincare changed and evolved.

Growing up my mother had been a saleswoman for Mary Kay - so the multi-step skincare routine was nothing new to me. But what was new was the gentle approach; so much of the American skincare routine is about having a "squeaky clean" results, blasting away dead skin, and zapping problem skin away. The more I learned about Asian skincare, the more I realized that I needed to be patient and gentle with my skin. Much of the process was aimed at taking things slow, and to really enjoy the process of tending to the skin, and listening to its needs.

Fast forward to present day, I have made the choice to not continue on birth control, and I am much happier and more comfortable in my own skin because of that decision. And while I still get the occasional hormonal flare-up, I am able to tend to them in such a way that the little flare-ups don't stick around for too long. When the devastating 2017 Wine Country Fires struck my Northern California community, it released a myriad of toxins, chemicals, and ash into the atmosphere: to which my skin reacted in a violent, and explosive manner- and yet again, through gentle care and patience, I was able to bring it back to it's healthy, clear, and glowing self. (Part of me wishes I had shared that part of my skincare journey with you.)

Below I am sharing with you products that have made a big difference in my skin, and as a result have become my trusted standards of skincare: ranging from toners, sunscreens, moisturizers and beyond. Some I have used in the past, and most I continue to use today. My skincare routine over the years has blossomed from a 3-step process to a 12-step one. I know to some it may sound excessive, or even self indulgent (or expensive), but what I have learned along the way is that layering skincare in small steps such as the ones I do now, produce major results. I hope you'll give some of my recommendations a try. And of course, should you ever have any questions, I am only a few clicks away!

How to use these products:
A word of advice: You can have all the right products, and still miss out on the benefits, no matter how wonderful the ingredients are. The power of the effectiveness in the layering process lies in how and when the products are applied. Whether you've got a 3, 5, 10, or even 12 step skincare routine, it is important that your skincare products are layered by their viscosity; meaning an essence would not be applied after a serum, and a moisturizer would not be applied before a toner. Your skin should be moist, and "sticky" before each layer. Remember to pat the product into your skin, rather than rubbing it on.

The trick to layering multiple products is this: start with the most liquid product first, and end with the thickest/heaviest. Patience is also recommended; this is not something that can be done in 5 minutes. Think of this as the time set aside in your day to focus on you. It isn't selfish, it's an important part of your self care routine.

Consistency is key: As with many things in life the more you do something, the better you will become. I have observed over the years that skincare is often an afterthought; usually forgotten until we start to see things we don't like, such as wrinkles, sun damage, and dull, dry skin. Remain consistent in your skincare routine, and you will start to see results that you do like, such as healthy vibrant skin, and reduced signs of aging.

Please remember that time is something that cannot be stopped! Many skincare ads talk about reversing the signs of aging - that is not what this post is about. I believe in embracing ourselves - with age comes wisdom, and perhaps a winkle or two. Nothing to be afraid of!

Please use sunscreen. Always, forever, every day, even if it's raining, and you can't see the sun 😊 A good rule to live by: if the sun is above the horizon, you should be wearing sunscreen (even if you work in an office). Also, blue light - the light that is emitted from our cell phone and computer screens, also contribution to premature aging of the skin. When shopping for a sunscreen, be sure to look for one that also blocks blue light.

Don't know where to start in your search for the perfect sunscreen? Start here: 3 Must-Have Sunscreens!

Shopping tips:
My hopes are that you will read this post and be inspired to look into my recommendations (i.e. shop). I understand that skin care is incredibly personal, and that we all have different needs and concerns! So when it comes to shopping for new skincare, I have the following advice: Think outside the beauty counter at the department store. For example: shopping for skincare on Amazon.com is great because of their customer service, 2-day shipping (for Prime Members), and reviews. The

Whole Body section at Whole Foods is a haven of natural, non-toxic beauty products that perform just as well, if not better than what can be found at department store beauty counters. The brands in Whole Body pride themselves for their small-batch production, ethically sourced ingredients, and go through a rigorous screening process before scoring a much envied place of honor on the grocer's sacred shelves (yes, sacred). Several of my picks below can be found at Whole Foods. If you have a local one in your area, I hope you'll check them out! (And they do samples too!)

My Favorite Skincare Products to Use 

Listed below are my favorite skincare products to use. I am always trying out new products and brands, but these are the ones I keep returning to. I hope you find value in this list! The links provided here are affiliate - meaning I will receive a percentage of the purchase that you make, but at no additional cost to you. And as always, if you ever have any questions, I am here to help!

Evanhealy French Rose Clay mask
I'll admit: I initially purchased this because it was pink. And it said it was French. Thankfully the product works just as well as its marketing. This gentle, detoxifying mask is a tad messy to use. Because it is powdered, there is a slight learning curve on finding the right liquid to product ratio. My advice is to start small, and slowly add in more product to avoid waste.
⁕If you need moisture as part of this detoxing mask: Mix in honey as the binder, and apply to your face for 20 minutes. A nice alternative is also rosewater.
⁕If you want to improve texture and have oily skin: this works beautifully by adding in raw, Apple Cider Vinegar instead of water (this helps with skin detoxification, and acne). I prefer the Braggs brand, which can also be found on the Whole Foods shelves.
→Tip: Do not allow the clay mask to dry completely on your skin. Gently remove with cloth and water when the clay mask is damp, but starting to lighten. To extend the mask treatment, simply spritz your face a few times before removing.

Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil
If you are unsure about oil on your face, start with this
This lightweight oil has become something I look forward to using every day. I have experimented with it, and found a variety of ways to use it: I like mixing 3-4 drops of it into my AM or PM cream moisturizers. I will also use it as a "sealing" treatment after layering my evening serums and creams. I like to use it on it's own, directly on to my skin as well. One evening I used it as a makeup remover, and wiped my face clean with a warm washcloth, and did nothing else. I woke to the softest skin that had a lovely glow.

Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil promotes healing and hydration, and assists with healing scars. It also comes in two versions: the original, and the Light Blend. Both deeply penetrate the skin, leaving it well moisturized and healthy. Independent clinical studies have shown to improve the appearance of fine lines and stretch marks as well. It can be purchased on Amazon, or at Whole Foods, in their Whole Body skincare section.

Basically anything by Derma E (except their makeup removal wipes)
Accessible pricing and high-performance products  
I could dedicate an entire article to this natural brand. Native to California, their focus on sustainability and 100% vegan ingredients has made me a proud customer. Here are some of my top favorites: (but there are oh so many more!)

Vitamin C Micellar Cleansing Water
This is my stateside back up to my French favorite. Gentle, and quick to remove everything but mascara, this is a solid staple on my beauty counter. You know it's love when you repurchase, instead of trying something else! This Vitamin C Micellar Cleansing Water is easy on the eyes as well. But full disclosure: it is not the best at removing mascara. I don't know of any micellar water that is, tbh.

There are a couple different ways that I use this: sometimes I will use it as the first step in my double cleanse, and other times I will use it as my part of my 3rd step in my triple cleanse. Really, it just depends where I've been, what I've done, and how much makeup I need to remove that day. 

Overnight Peel with Alpha Hydroxy Acids
This overnight peel gives me glowing, radiant skin in the morning. I simply cleanse my face, slather this on (avoiding the eye area), and let it set. I then double-mask it (it's a thing) by layering a moisturizing sleeping mask on top. Double the moisture, and double the glow. It works beautifully on its own, but if I'm going to be removing dead skin cells, I want to make sure to hydrate the underneath.
→Tip: layer this overnight peel under a moisture mask, and leave both on overnight: you will wake up to soft, happy, and deeply moisturized skin. 

Hydrating Serum with Hyaluronic Acid (the HA entire line, really)
The entire hyaluronic acid line by Derma E is great. This serum is my favorite: it's lightweight, quickly absorbs into my skin, and leaves it feeling plump and soft. It is a great base for heavier moisturizers as well. I use this as a part of my morning regimen after I have layered my serums, and before my day cream.


Cocokind Organic Rosewater Facial Toner
Another California, female owned brand that I love!
The website says that this toner can be used as part of a double cleanse; I don't use this for that. Instead, this is part of my serum layering process; hyaluronic acid is water loving, and draws moisture to it. So what happens if you're in a dry environment? The reverse: it can cause your skin to become more dry. So to prevent this I spritz this on top of my 88% hyaluronic acid serum, wait a few minutes, and then apply my moisturizers.

Imagine Derm Charcoal mask
Imagine Dermatology is one of my favorite skincare brands. Click here read my write up where I highlight my Top Favorite Products.  
Using a combination of activated charcoal, clay, B vitamins, and antioxidants vitamins A and E, this Imagine Dermatology Charcoal Mask is a bubbling multitasking powerhouse. The activated charcoal draws out impurities from the skin, while the bubbling action provides oxygen (a must for healthy skin!). What I love about this is that there are also tiny bits within the clay that provide a gentle exfoliation. The clay won't dry - so when it's time to remove, simply wet your hands and massage your face in a circular motion, and then rinse. 

Dr. Jart Cicapair Line
From their Tiger Grass Serum to their Nightly Re.Pair Mask, to their color-shifting sunscreen, there is a lot that I love about this line. These products are gentle, mutli-tasking, and travel friendly. I especially love throwing in the Re.Pair Mask single use pods into my travel bags: they are carry-on friendly at the airport, and are great for bringing along on work trips. The Cicapair line calms red, irritated and/or dry skin, and gives long-lasting moisture.

ODE Natural Beauty is a natural, extra virgin olive oil based skincare line that was founded in the Petaluma Gap of Northern California. While it is nearly impossible to go wrong with any of their products, my tippy-top, absolute all-time favorite product of theirs is the Olive Creambalm IntensiveMoisturizer. I use this product on my face, as well as my cuticles and hands. A little bit goes a (very) long way, and now that I have it in my product rotation, I cannot live without it! My skin becomes quite dry in the winter, and already this has proved to be such a skin-saver. I have been known to turn the car around to return to the house for this product, if that gives any indication as to just how hooked I am! Save $20 off of any ODE product or purchase with my code AMBER20!

Hada Labo Tokyo Anti-Aging Hydrator
A great way to ease into the layering Asian Beauty method of skincare
This super thin, lightweight moisturizing toner is small but mighty. I gently pat this into my skin, after applying my essence. When doing the 7-Skin method, I alternate between this, and the Hada Labo Rohto Gokujyn HA Lotion. Purchase on Amazon.

Karyng Restructuring Night Cream
If you only purchase one nighttime moisturizing product, I highly recommend investing in this one
This is a creamy, lightweight cream, that quickly absorbs into my skin. I don't ever travel without it, and I make sure to never miss an evening application. This Karyng product somehow manages to be rich and emollient without being heavy or greasy. On lazy evenings I will simply cleanse my face, and apply this restructuring cream, and jump into bed.

Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask
The epitome of French Beauty
This Allure Best of Beauty Award winner lives up to the hype. With a gel-like consistency, the Black Rose Cream Mask melts into my skin, and gives me a plump, freshly hydrated glow. The first time I ever used this I accidentally mistook it as their nighttime moisturizer and layered it over my serums and toner, and under my Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Nightly Re.Pair Sleeping Mask for the evening. I woke up beautiful glowing and radiant skin; and a fear that I was going to break out (I didn't). It's now how I prefer to wear/use this Cream Mask: I layer it over my skincare and sleep in it. A little goes a long, long way. And thank goodness too, given the price point. If you have the ability to invest in this brand, I highly recommend that you give this mask, the Eye Contour Mask, and the Sisley L'Intergral Eye & Lip Contour Cream a try. You'll be glad you did!

Whish Rose Hip + Lotus Nourishing Dew Mask
If the Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask is out of your price range, this is a fantastic alternative 
Whish Body Natural Skincare is a brand that I discovered just this year. And wow do they deliver! This Rose Hip + Lotus Nourishing Dew Mask is another deeply moisturizing mask that I elect to sleep in. It is lightweight, and comfortable on the skin. It makes for the perfect travel companion, as it gently combats dry, tired skin, and leave it healthy and refreshed. It also contains myriad of skin boosting ingredients that make this a must have on my skincare shelf. To learn more about this brand, and receive a 15% discount on any product, click here.

And there you have it! Hopefully this list of my favorite skincare products to use will jump start you onto your own journey through skincare. Have fun! 
© A•Mused

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A Mused Blog | A Northern California Sonoma County Blog