Hard Lacquer: I Love Your Face, Please Moisturize

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Header by Rory Midhani

Welcome to Hard Lacquer, your new source for beauty news and reviews at Autostraddle. The world of cosmetics is a vast and shimmering sea filled with mermaids and wonders and ships in the night; but in its fetching waters as on land, we suffer a certain invisibility compounded by the narrow social canon of femininity.

Hard Lacquer turns the tide, providing a lush cosmetic isle for beauty-seeking queers who want a bay to call their own. Each post in the series will kick off with a short roundup of the latest in beauty, followed by a deeper dive into a few special products.


UPBRAIDED

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Gucci’s long, single braid looks sharp as a tack and Louis Vuitton’s ultra-skinny scattered braids break up a sheet of hair (left and right, via Town & Country), while Alice + Olivia’s soft, fluffy smaller braids were woven through a romantic, Bardot-esque ponytail (center, via The Outfit)

+ Loving the trend of smaller braids on spring runways, it’s definitely more wearable than some of the others and french braiding my bangs into the rest of my hair has been a godsend in taking the edge off the growing-out process.

+ A bronzed look for winter blues that’s pretty, simple and easy? Sign me up! Here’s a quick tutorial to achieve it, and if bronze isn’t your jam, here’s something punchier but still subtle.

+ You guys. There’s like, a Neko Atsume but for fish in an aquarium and FOR BRUSHING YOUR TEETH. I don’t understand it, but I need it. What a world!

+ In other goddess bless beauty news, Beauty Brains broke down the science (or lack thereof) behind Wen products and claims of hair loss. The bottom line? If you use Wen and it’s working for you, it seems perfectly safe to keep on keepin’ on. Phew!

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We’d love to stay and party but we gotta go to work (via Gossip’s Get A Job)

+ One thing y’all often ask for is low-key makeup for work settings, or makeup tips for looking more professional. That’s tricky for me to answer because while I love makeup, I don’t necessarily believe in the necessity of wearing it “for professional reasons.” I know, I know, pretty rich coming from a beauty editor, but hear me out: I’ve toiled in awe alongside tons of women who never wore makeup on the job (and rarely outside of it), yet they’re all highly professional, formidably smart and successful women who are great at what they do. It should not be news that for the vast majority of us, what we slap on our faces in the morning has absolutely nothing at all to do with our quality of work. And yet, unfortunately, “women who wear makeup earn more and are treated better” and are often perceived as more intelligent and competent, according to myriad studies and articles discussing the wildly unjust Makeup Tax (a not-so-distant cousin of the Tampon Tax).

Is it bullshit? Absolutely, of course it is. It all is. I think it’s reprehensible. I fucking LOVE makeup, but it really, really pisses me off that anyone would feel like they have to do shit they don’t want to do just to avoid any further widening of an already inexcusable wage gap that has massive short- and long-term financial and economic ramifications for women. The truth is, it doesn’t just start when you enter the workforce; wearing makeup at school helps get girls better grades and if I confessed how stabby that makes me, I’d probably get arrested. It makes me angry and it makes my heart ache, so I both fully support never, ever wearing anything you don’t feel comfortable wearing and sucking it up and wearing makeup because you can’t afford not to. What’s my point? (I have one, I swear!) If you opt for the latter, shoot for this breezy trifecta: Mascara, Brows, Lip Balm.

Seriously, that’s it. Don’t believe me? Check this out, and tell me mascara isn’t the #1 most striking effect, beating out brows, lipstick and blush. You can stop there, get a clear mascara or a brown one if you can’t stomach full black, it’s totally a thing. Or keep going; Grooming your brows can be as easy as running a little spoolie through them, getting them shaped periodically by a pro, or using a clear or lightly tinted formula rather than busting out the big guns. A good lip balm emphasizes or enhances your lips, and that’s often possible with little to no color at all — look for simple, fuss-free shades more honey and peach in tone. You shouldn’t need a mirror to confidently apply, it should be as easy as putting on Chapstick. Those should all help hit that sweet facial contrast spot without feeling like you’re “made up.”


SLATHER, SLAY, REPEAT

Let’s talk about moisturizers, babycats! Specifically, nighttime moisturizing. Why nighttime? Because beauty sleep is not a thing evil stepmothers and boogeymen made up to tuck you in with the patriarchy at night, it’s when our bodies rev up regenerative and restorative functions, and when moisture loss, collagen and hyaluronic breakdown are especially real. There’s also some evidence that suggests the absorption potential of ingredients formulated to penetrate the skin are increased during sleep (but the same can’t be said of ingredients NOT meant to penetrate the skin).

Sleeping woman wearing face masks

Gal pals are super good for excellent sleeps! via HuffPo

Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, spikes cortisol, which increases inflammation, which is definitely not your skin’s friend. Throwing your skin’s water balance off means it’s less supple, and the next thing you know, fine lines and wrinkles are like GUESS I’LL JUST LIVE HERE FOREVER IT’S COOL YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT ME WHATEVER. It’s not just about fighting dark circles or puffy eyes and keeping acne at bay (both of which are exacerbated by lack of sleep or low quality sleep), it’s about giving skin as much of a hand as possible in order for it to be its best 24/7.

REAL TALK

It would be nice to have an all-purpose moisturizer you could use anytime, wouldn’t it? Honestly, that’s how I do it. The premise of most night creams is technically kind of a sham. You don’t necessarily need to spend money, let alone loads of it, on a a special nighttime moisturizer for the sake of having a dedicated nighttime moisturizer.

According to most experts, however, it can make sense for a lot of people to have a separate nighttime moisturizer. WHAT THE WHAT, you say? Bear with me here: loads of moisturizers would be just dandy for day and night if it weren’t for key ingredients that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, such as:

  • AHAs (lactic acid or glycolic acid)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide (anti-acne agent)
  • BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids like salicylic acid)
  • Hydroquinone (used for skin whitening)
  • Retinol (anti-aging)
  • Natural oils (things like citrus, peppermint, and lavender oils may increase photosensitivity)

Of course, you can use sunscreen liberally to try and protect your skin (you should be wearing some anyway), but if you want to reduce risk, those creams will likely serve you best solely at bedtime, when they can do their best without putting your skin in harm’s way.

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A really handy chart from Birchbox on which ingredients do what and in how long!

There’s also the fact that some folks use daytime moisturizers containing SPF, which can compromise hydrating properties in order to accommodate the sunscreen. While most brands work hard at ensuring their SPF products are non-comedogenic, they are usually more expensive because it costs more to make them. Why slather that on at night when the upside is so marginal compared to the risks?

The other reasons for using two different moisturizers are mostly aesthetic. If you favor a nice, heavy cream for nighttime use, chances are that it’ll make a greasy, swampy mess under makeup (or even on its own). Folks will often pair something lighter and more primer-y than what they use at night for day, which makes perfect sense. Makeup can get expensive and it sucks to watch it collapse over moisturizer it doesn’t get along with!

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The actual worst! Cutie pie illustration via PicoPrince.

What does all of that mean? It means you don’t need a special PM moisturizer — for example, after cleansing I prefer to layer repairing serums with active ingredients at night under the same moisturizer I use under an SPF in the AM — but you may very well prefer one depending on your skin’s needs. Skincare isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be, but I’m here to help! Now let’s look at some wins and recommendations and get you fresh as daisies.

BUDGET

These are all every bit as good as the expensive stuff, which frees up your wallet for investing in other skincare products with more powerful and concentrated ingredients. CeraVe is packed with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, Simple is a really straightforward formula safe for the most sensitive skins, and Weleda packs a serious punch with a really thick, rich consistency and is best used sparingly (but you can use it all over, which is awesome). You can find it at Whole Foods, and the former two at drugstores and supermarkets.

MID-RANGE

I personally love every single one of these moisturizers, and while repeat buys are on the rare side for me, you can add Embyrolisse to the list alongside Weleda and CeraVe; I could not tell you how many tubes or bottles of this trio I’ve gone through, but it’s a lot.

Let’s start with the Block Island Organics Night Cream, though, because it is brilliant and I have had no qualms about using it for day. It’s a lovely, simple but effective and nourishing formula that works beautifully with every last one of my makeup and skincare products. I also love knowing that it’s made by a majority women-owned family company that started semi-locally on Block Island, Rhode Island! If your priority is using something organic and natural, made with botanical ingredients and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and E, you might want to give this a try. (Use code AJAA to get 20% off your order through 3/16!)

Clinique is fantastic for oilier, combo or troubled skins that are more in need of a balancing, fast-absorbing, oil-free formula. It’s nice that you get a whopping 4 oz. of product for $26, it’ll last you awhile! Embryolisse is a bit of cult classic, works wonders removing makeup and as a base under makeup, but it just happens to be a completely unfussy, really gorgeous moisturizer. Yes, I know Paula’s Choice hates it and no, I don’t bloody care. My skin is stupid happy whenever I’m using this, and just writing about it is making me annoyed that I don’t have some on hand right this second!

LUXURY

One thing to know as we get into pricier options is that the cost is partially explained by costlier ingredients, fancier packaging, or the experience. I can’t tell you whether or not those things are worth your hard-earned cash when there are far cheaper options that do the job (and well), but if they are, these are some really delicious options!

Lush’s Gorgeous smells freaking divine. Let’s be real, that’s Lush’s forte and sometimes its own downfall, but here it works. It’s packed with oils, sinks in beautifully and has worked wonders in the texture and brightness of some folks’ skins. Belif’s Aqua Bomb is SO GOOD, it smells like Sprite but if K-Beauty is your jam, this is a total must-have. It’ll give your skin that squishy, bouncy, “moistful” feel so sought after in Korean skincare. I was skeptical at first but kept having super grabby hands and realized I couldn’t get enough of this little pot! It’s more expensive but not, like, obscene. For fancy lady vibes, grab this sleek black bottle from Chanel (of course). A lot of skincare products talk a big game but deliver mediocre results, but every time I went to bed with this on, my skin felt changed immediately, and even better in the morning. Softer, radiant and glowing. I used an even lighter hand than usual with my favorite CCs, and went totally barefaced more often. Considering how little I used, the $85 price tag doesn’t seem outrageous – this will last you six months or more.

OILS

If you’re more of a facial oil kinda person, I don’t blame you. They’re hella dreamy, easy to use year-round, and have a ton of versatility when it comes to adding a drop to other products, kinda like beauty mixology! This roundup includes a few I’ve tested recently, as well as trusty standbys.

Fresh’s offering is loaded with omegas and antioxidants to keep skin youthful and protected, while Nude’s is an inventive, silky formula that aims to help tone, firm and smooth the skin. I’ve hungrily gone through two samples and might just snag this since it’s on sale — it feels super luxurious! You couldn’t pick anything more solid than Josie Maran’s classic Argan Oil for achieving a glow, and it’s great for use anywhere on the body (there’s a semi-matte light version now, too). Finally, this Lotus face oil from Clarins is part of a trio of oils that they offer — it’s best for combination skin, but there’s one geared toward normal (Blue Orchid) and dry skins (Santal). I love that it hydrates like an oil and treats like a serum. I’ve used this morning and night since October and the bottle is not quite half empty, which makes the price tag a little easier to swallow. They all smell really lovely and last ages and ages.

APPLICATION

Now that you’ve got lots to choose from, a few notes on application! While there’s nothing wrong with going straight from cleansing to moisturizing, if you have other products you use, it’s important to know how to layer ’em up so that each one can be most effective. A good rule of thumb I think I’ve mentioned before is to start from thinnest and work your way up to thickest. If they’re similar in viscosity, go with potency instead.

You also don’t want to pile too many products on at once; according to a Vogue guide on layering, “most dermatologists agree that applying more than three formulas at a time can be a bit overwhelming,” creating a traffic jam of sorts on your face. Here’s an awesome chart for figuring it out:

And something even simpler:

Just like with diligently washing the day off your face at night, moisturizing is an important step in giving your skin what it needs to look its best. You gotta give it tools — sleep, breathing room, a moisture barrier and steady arsenal of kickass, good-for-you ingredients — so it can do its job! I’m still going through trial-and-error to bring you a thorough sheet face mask post next, but so far the results are exciting and I can’t wait to share more with you soon. ‘Til then, sweet peas!

Aja Aguirre is a perpetual late bloomer from SF who writes about style, fashion and beauty for Autostraddle. Her award-nominated style blog, Fit for a Femme, takes on both coasts' signature styles and draws on her experience as a personal stylist. Check out Instagram for her latest looks, and Twitter or Tumblr for QPOC Speakeasy x Femme Power vibes.

Aja has written 45 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. This is one of those things I didn’t want to read because it would force me to think about becoming a Real Adult who actually does things like use night cream, but actually I’m really glad I read it!
    It was super easy to understand and is making the transition to Human Who Semi Cares About The Future of My Skin so much more bearable, so thank you!!

    • That’s so good to hear, and I totally get it. I still struggle to adult in areas like Don’t Skip Breakfast, You Dodo Bird and Maybe Take a Multivitamin More Than Once Every Two Months!

  2. I’m trying to get my skin to behave as I have a dream of having beautiful skin, but in fact I have combination, sometimes flaky, sometimes clogged skin that’s prone to spots. Any recommendations for chemical exfoliants suitable for combination skin that are available in the UK/Ireland?

    • I really love this product — but very, very gently — for a traditional exfoliant, but I know you’re looking at chemical.

      Your skin actually sounds quite similar to mine! I would definitely recommend stripping back your routine back to basics and simplifying it, then adding in one new product at a time. If you’re impatient like me, I know that’s the worst news ever, but it can really make a difference!

      Most AHAs disagree with my skin, though I’ve had some luck with glycolic acid, so maybe look for Boots or Lierac products (or local brands) with that ingredient, or even BHAs, which also go down into pores instead of just the skin’s surface. Paula’s Choice is available in the UK (at least there’s a EUR storefront online), and if you have a SpaceNK nearby, that’s definitely someplace you can find a treasure trove of products and expert advice — the one in my town is always generous and helpful with giving samples and letting me try things. NaturaBisse is an outstanding Spanish brand, and SF-based Algenist products are available there as well, but I really like the look of this NUDE mask — it’s packed with good stuff, and you only use it 1-2x per week!

      I hope that helps you out! Good luck!

        • i’ve been using these recently & have had really good results: http://m.boots.com/h5/cat_hub?unCountry=uk&path=/en/Nip-Fab-Glycolic-Fix-Night-Pads-Extreme_1711352/

          also pixi glow tonic is nice (about £18 from m&s) & have just bought clinique mild clarifying lotion (£22ish from boots) on the recommendation of caroline hirons, a uk based beauty blogger; read her blog for lots of tips & recs – sali hughes is also good & reviews things from a wide range of prices

          • I second the nip+fab products. My skin is pretty sensitive and the night pads made my face sore and red (though I have heard lots of other people rave about them) but I use the glycolic fix ones and am loving them – they’re a bit more gentle. They also make the best eye cream I’ve tried, has made a definite difference to my puffy eye bags and you only need the tiniest amount.

          • Thanks Julianna and Cat! My experience with Clinique is that it leaves my skin looking good but feeling unpleasant, but I will definitely look for the Nip Fab products and check out what else Caroline Hirons is recommending. For some reason I thought she was US-based so thanks for the heads up!

  3. For a nice AHA budget option, Walgreens has a house brand called Studio 35, and their AHA is under ten bucks and absolutely fantastic. I like it at night with Mario Badescu’s seaweed night cream around my eyes.

    Also I love this column SO MUCH. I wish it was published every single day.

  4. Any thoughts on people who use acne meds prescribed by a dermatologist? Do the other facial items recommended in this post, like moisturizer or toner or whatever, negate the effects of acne meds, or does the combination of acne meds and those products make your face more likely to break out?

    • I’m not well-versed in prescription acne meds, so I’d probably advise you to run anything you’re switching up by your doctor. It might be best to stick to really simple, fragrance-free moisturizers for sensitive skin if there’s any inflammation going on.

      For other products, you just want to make sure they don’t get in the way of your prescription, and you certainly don’t want to stress skin by being overaggressive or make it fight two battles. If you really want to use a toner, I’d look for formulas that promise to soothe and calm skin.

  5. As someone with super terrible skin (ah to be in high school again when I was convinced that once I was in my mid-20s my skin would clear up) I second the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel. I’ve found a lot of moisturizers for oily skin end up making my face super shiny really quickly, but not this one! Also I bought the travel size one and it has lasted me several months.

    It’s amazing how much better my skin feels and looks when I actually go through the complete wash/tone/acne treatment/moisturizer shtick. It makes a routine much easier to stick to since you can see the difference pretty quickly.

    I really love the lipstick/nude face look but I can never seem to pull it off. I dunno if it’s cause I have to wear foundation, but it always looks like I just forgot a step when I try it.

    I love the infographics, thank you for sharing! I’d be interested to know how skin products that have multiple ingredients work. If a serum has vitamin c and also salicylic acid does it make one of the ingredients work less? Does it only sometimes matter?

    • I wish someone would make an app in which you could dump your products in and it would quickly apply an algorithm to the ingredients and spit out the best possible routines and note any risks for you within seconds, because it’s so tedious and error-prone to DIY it, especially if you’re not well-versed in ingredients or, like, a professional. If I could figure out a way to make that profitable, I’d do it in a heartbeat!

      Until then, we’re forced to google shit and sift through 89% unreliable sources in order to get to actual legit data. Or ask our dermatologists, if we have them, and that shit costs money!

      I think you’re in the clear here (retinol and vitamin C are a no-no, however), but here’s a quick-and-dirty cheat sheet for some key combos to avoid. Some ingredients destabilize vitamin C’s antioxidant properties, but I don’t believe that salicylic acid is one of them!

    • I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to pick/ choose based on what my skin needs most (I don’t have infinite $$$$). For example, spot treatments are essential for me because my skin is prone to scarring from even the smallest acne bump. But, I’ve never been one to have problems with bags under my eyes or puffiness or wrinkles, those are not common in my family- so I skip eye cream.

      I’ve never tried a face oil, but am super curious about it! I wear and moisturizer with SPF during the day, but switching to a serum at night has been doing great things to increase the supple quality of my skin (I had a friend at brunch recently describe it as my skin has picked up a “post-sex” glow).

      Mostly I think that it’s about what your skin needs at different times a day. The biggest lesson I’ve picked up is that you shouldn’t just wash your face and leave it “dry”. If you wash it, you should always follow it up with a moisturizer/serum/ oil of some sort. I guess what of that variety you pick is up to your needs.

    • Serum is like a carrier for distilled good-for-you ingredients that you want to work directly into skin to see maximum benefits. Unlike a face oil or moisturizer (which may also contain bonus ingredients beyond hydration), serums don’t necessarily hydrate, which is why it’s important (as C.P. says) to always moisturize immediately after cleansing.

      On the bright side, it’s pretty widely accepted that the eye area doesn’t need or necessarily benefit from a special cream. While that skin is so much more delicate and sensitive than the rest of the your face, a plain moisturizer is often as effective as fancy eye cream. You might want a dedicated eye cream when your moisturizer contains SPF, which is usually irritating to the eye area, or when other ingredients in your moisturizer are too harsh for the eye area. Hope that clears it up for you!

    • To add on to Aja’s comment, if you have any under-eye things going on (dry skin, premature wrinkles, dark spots etc) the only active ingredient in special eye creams that actually has been proven to aid is retinol. So if you wanted to try an under eye cream, make sure you get one with retinol in it, or else it’s just a fancy moisturizer. 🙂

  6. This is all sooo important! I really appreciate the reminders Aja. I have terrible skin problems (particularly with dark spots/ hyper pigmentation from left over acne scars that is common with black women), but I have found that when I sleep more regularly and have a set skin care routine, my face appreciates it so much more.

    Unfortunately, I have terrible insomnia problems. It’s important to sleep. It’s important to take care of your skin at night. YAY for doing better!! I’m going to try!

    • If you have insomnia, you’ve probably already tried this but can you create a bedtime ritual? Maybe keep lavender oil by your bed, or even wherever you usually are before you head to bed? A drop or two might help signal to your body that it’s time for sleep over time and it’s an inexpensive experiment! Good luck and hang in there!

  7. This came at the perfect time. The stress of work + grad school + life is really starting to show on my face.

    That Lush moisturizer is almost $90 for 1.5 ounces??? Goodness. I wonder if there are any good dupes on the market…

    • You REALLY don’t need it. Nobody does it! Definitely a nice-to-have, but maybe save your pennies and get a quality, lower-priced moisturizer that’ll do a good job, but a really nice face mist or toner to treat yourself.

      Especially if you’re stressed, having it in your bag and giving yourself periodic spritzes throughout the day is a major self-care pro tip, great for your skin and really calming/relaxing!

  8. Can we talk about toner??

    I’m so confused– some sites I’ve read say you gotta use it, others say toner was really for back in the day with older cleanser formulas and now it’s either useless, or does more harm than good.. I just don’t get it!

    • Really astringent, bad alcohol-based, old-school toners from back in the day are drying and minimally useful at best, super destructive at worst. Those are 100% useless.

      Today’s toners are gentle, packed with beneficial ingredients, and help to calm, balance and hydrate the skin, prepping it to take in all the goodies in your treatments, serums or moisturizers. Think of toner like stretching before a run or some exercise; your skin will be more supple and resilient with use!

  9. Thank you for this, Aja! This answers about 65% of the skincare questions I find myself frenetically Googling at 1am.

    Can anyone explain how *often* one should be doing the whole skincare shebang? i.e. should one do a cycle of cleanser+moisturizer+other-stuff every single morning and every single night, or every other day, or?

    • Cleanse: Light in the AM, deep in the PM (to remove SPF, makeup, dirt, sweat, etc.)
      Moisturizer: AM/PM
      Other Stuff: As needed, totally depends on ingredients/intensity — “use as directed” comes in handy here for whatever supplemental products you have or intend to pick up, but I like toner or face mists AM/PM, optional primer for day, optional treatments or serums at night, and masks 1-2x/wk. tops. Most folks will probably only get to these 1-2x/mo., and that’s okay, too!

  10. Feeling like a real rebel after reading this. I don’t even wash my face anymore unless I’ve used foundation or sunblock (rare). I had occasional but terrible cystic acne for a long time, fading but still there through my 20s. So I’m never going to have “nice” skin. That ship has sailed, and left in its place something in between Chris Pine and Edward James Olmos levels of scarring. Since I read more about ph levels and the moisture barrier and how even washing with water can alter your skin’s ph for hours, I feel okay about not washing often. I hardly ever get acne now, so apparently it never was because I didn’t slather myself in BP or wash with the right soaps or moisturize like I beat myself up over at the time.

    My mother hates mascara for some reason and always told me I didn’t need it, so I still often put on other makeup but accidentally forget the mascara part. I’m finally learning about mascara and filling in my eyebrows (I thought I didn’t need to because they’re naturally dark and thick but it makes such a difference!) and that good quality lip gloss that fades nicely rather than wearing into a ring like lipstick is a thing.

  11. I’ve just arrived at the mascara-brows-lips trifecta on my own, but even thought I’ve been wearing mascara and lip balm, I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing with them. Can someone give me pointers on any or all of the trifecta?

  12. As usual, loving this column and the comments. If I can share my budget favorite for face oil? I really like Olivella’s moisturizer oil for the price – $21 and it seems to go on sale down to $16 every few months on amazon for reasons I do not understand yet deeply appreciate.

  13. Just thought I’d drop in to mention how great BHA or AH exfoliants are for acne/combination type skin. Often exfoliant scrubs are waaaaay too harsh for skin, especially if it’s skin (like mine) that has acne or is oily. They can actually do more harm than good. You can often now get toner’s with BHA or AH exfoliants in them or use a specific BHA exfoliant cream that you put on before moisturizing. 🙂

  14. Moisturising has never worked for my face at all. I haven’t really had any problems with breakouts so far and I’m almost 20 now, but if I had to describe my skin I’d probably say it’s dry except for the T-zone where I can get greasy and have a couple of spots.

    A while back I got some cleanser, toner, and moisturiser, but all it did was cause breakouts which I never had a problem with before. At the moment I use no7 hypoallergenic gel cleanser to take off my eyeliner and brows at night and every so often I’ll wash my face with it but even then if I do it too often I’ll get a breakout.

    Everyone I know is so insistent that I should have a proper skincare routine and my lack of moisturising is making me worry about my skin in the future, but I’m not sure what the solution is?

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