Welcome to AM/PM, where Autostraddle team members break down and share their skincare routines, makeup looks and more!
I’m Meg—a 36-year-old queer femmish person who lives in Brooklyn. I’m a photographer, writer, tarot reader, and witchy author, whose goals include getting as many tattoos as possible, selling more books, and trying to leave the world better than I found it. I mostly write about tarot but I also sometimes share personal essays, television reviews, and snarky commentary on a variety of topics. I’m also really, really into skincare.
When I was fresh out of college in 2007, with a valuable (lol) BA in Technical Theatre from a homophobic Christian college, I landed a job at Sephora as a seasonal cashier. Anyone that’s worked the nightmare that is holiday retail knows that these jobs are usually temporary and rarely come with training, desirable hours, or benefits of any kind—but I hoped to turn that three-month gig into something permanent, ideally in the skincare department. I never quite made it to full-time status, but I did manage around 30 hours a week for over three years, eventually moving to the mall’s nearby Lush Cosmetics for another year before I decided to quit retail and go back to school.
A big part of my desire to work for these companies was a craving for education. When I was growing up, over-the-counter treatments for acne were limited to harsh products that wreaked havoc on my dry, sensitive skin. Products like Oxy and Stridex pads, Sea Breeze astringents, and Neutrogena’s iconic oil-free acne wash irritated my skin and did nothing to help my hormonal cystic acne. I spent most of my teenage years slathering on thick foundation in a futile effort to fake smooth, blemish-free skin, which rarely looked natural and usually served to make my skin even more unhappy. In addition to getting lots of free samples, working at Sephora felt like an amazing opportunity to get insider knowledge on what my skin needed, and perhaps even use that sweet discount to find products that would finally help me achieve the skin of my dreams.
What no one told me is that once you’re a permanent employee, brand representatives come in several times a week to hold trainings and give away products—and as fun as it is to constantly get showered with free eyeliners and lipsticks from expensive brands, the skincare gratis was overwhelming. I wanted to try everything, ignoring the suggestions from the older and more experienced skincare veterans at my store and rarely giving individual products enough time to have an impact on my skin before trying another one. Instead, I threw anything that might help onto my face, mixing with abandon and only making my skin worse. Even after leaving Sephora and working at Lush, I still thought that using a lot of different products was the answer, eventually falling into a complex, expensive multi-step skincare routine that was nearly impossible to keep up with and didn’t even bring particularly great results.
Over the last three or four years, I’ve done a complete reversal, simplifying my routine as much as possible. I have some old standbys that I discovered during my time at Sephora and Lush, products I’ve been using for over a decade and refuse to give up—but I combine these thoughtfully and prudently with a few newcomers. Paying attention to my skin and trying to give it what it needs without making things too complicated is now my primary focus. I still experience hormonal breakouts, but they’re nothing like they used to be, and I’ve also found good options to help treat my other skin issues like rosacea, eczema, and keratosis pilaris. My skin will probably never look smooth, poreless, and clear like I dreamed in high school, but at least I know how to color match my foundation now.
1. DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($29) 2. Youth to the People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser ($36) 3. Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water ($11) 4. Avene Thermal Spring Water Facial Mist ($19) 5. Youth to the People Triple Peptide ($54) 6. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($38) 7. Everyday Oil ($22) 8. COSRX Master Pimple Patch ($15) 9. Rael Miracle Microcrystal Spot Cover ($12)
I exfoliate and often play with different products during the day, but my evening routine is fairly standard—the variations come from whether or not I’m wearing makeup, sunscreen, or if I exercised.
If I had an introvert day and didn’t leave the house, then I probably didn’t put on sunscreen or makeup either—which means that I just like to give my face a quick swipe with micellar water to get rid of any oil, dead skin, or sweat that may have collected over the day. It’s a nice little refresher and assuages any lingering guilt over not doing a full cleanse.
However. If I had a big day and actually ventured outside, or even (gasp) went to a secondary location besides my apartment, I always put on SPF, and probably also slap on some amount of makeup. In that case, I’ll do a full double cleanse, starting with my beloved DHC oil cleanser to break up any product on my face and follow it with my Youth to the People cleanser to actually wash my skin. Both of these come in a pump, don’t have any extra fragrance or color added, and leave my skin feeling refreshed without getting dried out.
After the cleanser, I grab my favorite Avene mineral water face mist. I’m a sucker for a facial spray, especially in the summer when I love to keep several in the fridge. This is incredibly soothing, plus I always have some on hand in the bathroom to help set my makeup.
Every other night, I use a pump or two of Youth to the People’s triple peptide serum, which keeps my dry skin hydrated and also helps to even out my redness. The serum step is the one part of my routine where I allow myself to experiment. I used to use Sunday Riley’s Good Genes but haven’t found a suitable replacement since they changed the formulation a few years ago. This serum is my current pick, and while the bottle’s pump often sticks, I do like the product itself.
Lastly, I grab my absolute ride-or-die skincare product: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream. I swear by this stuff and have recommended it to everyone from my friends and family to literal strangers on the street. It’s hydrating, calming, and incredibly gentle. I use it morning and night to soothe, moisturize, and comfort my cranky skin. This shit is the best. If my skin is feeling extremely dehydrated, I pat some of my unscented Everyday Oil on top to really seal in extra moisture and soothe any irritation.
If I have an active pimple or two, I finish up the routine with patches. I’ve used a lot of different brands, but my current favorite is these nearly-invisible ovals from COSRX, which combine hydrocolloid (to extract the gunk) with gentle salicylic acid to treat the blemish. For the deep, painful cystic blemishes that still pop up from time to time, I grab patches with microcrystals or microdarts to help get underneath the surface and kill bacteria as quickly as possible.
After years of layering product after product, and doing tons of research to avoid bad reactions or interactions, it’s really empowering to have a handful of products in my medicine cabinet that I can rely on. I’m still on the hunt for a new serum, as I’m not sure that I’ll repurchase the one I’m using now, but I don’t mind it—I just always think that there’s something out there, some magical ingredient, that might work better for me. But all in all, my skin is about as happy as it’s ever been, and for the first time in years I’m no longer buying enough product to keep me in the VIB Rouge tier at Sephora. My wallet, and my skin, are both grateful.