Listen, the future holds nothing good for my face. A white guy like me? I know exactly where this train is headed because I’ve got a one-way ticket to jowls-ville, with stops at wrinkle-city and whatever the eff those lines around your mouth are called town. Wait, this train thing was a bad idea to start with, what I meant to say is that I didn’t win the genetic lottery so my face is going to age fast and hard. In case it isn’t obvious, I am desperately clinging to the shattered remains of my youth so that means a new found interest in skin care. Which… I guess I’m going to share? Or I mean, yes, the fact that there are a bunch of words below this means that I’m going to share.
This is new ground for me. Normally I love forcing my views on the poor few who take the time to skim this site. But skin care is a hard field. I wasn’t convinced that I should even try to write about it, but I’ve had some explicit requests for a post and I’ve actually seen visible results so here we are. The reason skin care is hard is that there are two really well established things that dermatologists agrees you should do. I could write a few sentences on those things and be done. Instead I’ll write a lot of sentences about them and call that part 1. It is more complicated than that though. You only get one face so there is a lot of additional interest in going beyond the tried and true to experiment with the less established. Ooooo those less established options get much murkier so it is harder to share them with the same confidence, but, yeah, whatever, I’ll share my strategy there in part 2 and let you decide.
Skincare Musts - Sunblock and Retinoids
If you already use some form of both of these then you are already doing good things for your skin. If you aren’t, then these are the low hanging fruit and if you care even remotely about your skin, you should start using both.
When I started researching skin care sunblock and some form of Retinoids were the two things that kept popping up as research proven effective treatments. When I went to see a Dermatologist to get an expert opinion, she said sunblock and Retinoids where the first two steps I needed to take for skin care. When there is so much agreement in a field that these two things actually work, you should just be grateful that something good exists and start using it ASAP.
The damaging effects of sun on skin are so well documented and non-controversial that I’m just going to state it as a given: You need to wear sunblock if you want to reduce aging. If you really want a source on this then how about this World Health Organization publication Sun Protection: A Primary Teaching Resource.
If you don’t already have a facial sunblock that you like then just use the one that I like: Missha Sun Milk. Here is the post I wrote or here is the direct amazon link. I thought it would be cute to do a super short post on this sunblock and well that was probably not as smart as I thought because now I have to actually explain why it is good. When it comes to sunblock there are three factors to consider: ease of application, SPF, and chemical vs physical. They are all interrelated which is fun.
Ease of application/wearability is super important until it isn’t. Basically you need to wear this sunblock every single day and you need to wear it on your face. If you are hardcore about skin care you then maybe you aren’t afraid to put weird things on your face and just deal with how it feels. But if you aren’t even wearing a daily facial sunblock yet then it is going to be super important that it goes on quickly, easily, and feels like nothing. This is where the Missha Sun Milk excels. It is ridiculously light and you forget you are wearing it immediately. Previously I have spent twice as much for sunblocks that felt half as good. Sun Milk felt instantly better.
Next is SPF. There is plenty of debate about whether very high SPF sunblocks actually provide that much extra protection and I just honestly don’t care. SPF 50 is a nice high number. Often higher SPF means lower wearability, but in the case of sun milk that isn’t a problem so, why not go with 50? Will it actually reduce 50 minutes of sun exposure to the impact of 1 minute of unprotected sun exposure? Chill out bro .
Finally comes chemical vs physical sunblocks. Some people have very strong opinions about this. Chemical sunblocks work by changing UV rays into heat which is released in the skin. The benefit of chemical sunblocks is that they are lighter and easier to wear. This is the biggest reason I recommend the Missha Sun Milk first. If you are actually reading this section then it may mean that you aren’t using any sunblock and I would argue that the most important thing is to get you putting on daily sunblock. Prevention is so much easier than correction. Hence wearability is super important and a chemical sunblock is a good idea. The other benefits of chemical sunblocks is that they don’t rub off.
Oh but of course there are downsides. When chemical sunblocks turn UV into heat, that heat can make brown spots more apparent. Some people with sensitive skin are more sensitive to chemical sunblocks. Also chemical sunblocks can get “used up” when in direct sunlight requiring you to reapply.
So if you aren’t sold on chemical sunblocks of course I have a physical sunblock that I like: Neogen Day Light Protection Sunscreen. Physical sunblocks just sit on your skin and deflect UV light. The downsides are that they feel thicker so they are harder to rub in and you can feel them more on your skin. They are also easier to sweat off, need to be applied more generously so that you get full protection, and are more likely to compete with whatever else you put on your skin. My opinion is that physical sunblocks are for people who are already all in on skin care. I really like the Neogen, but the Missha is just so easy to slap on that I still count it as my go to. It is really up to you. If you are having a lot of fun learning about chemical vs physical sunblocks and want to learn more  then I like this page for learning more.
Retinoids have been important in modern medicine since the early 1900s. Research on the efficacy of Retinoids, specifically Tretinoin, in treatment of photoaging has been going on since the 1980s and, just like with sunblock, the results are well established. So I’m not going to spend time on them. Retinoids work. If you want to dig into evidence then this review article is quite good.
As far as how you get your Retinoids, that is more of an open question. The main two options are Retinols and Tretinoin. I (and my dermatologist) recommend Tretinoin.
Both Retinols and Tretinoin work by providing retinoic acid to the skin which increases skin cell turnover, encourages collagen formation, reduce pigmentation, and shrinks pores. The benefit of Tretinoin, besides being widely studied and shown to be effective, is that it is essentially pure retinoic acid so it works quickly. It is available generically, so it is super cheap as well. The downsides are that Tretinoin requires a prescription. Yes, you will have to go to your general practitioner or dermatologist to get awesome. It also can be hard on sensitive skin. My leather face hasn’t had any trouble with the relatively strong 0.1% cream, but I have heard plenty of stories of a ramp up period involving redness and pealing from people using even the weaker 0.05% gel.
Retinols are the alternative. Retinols are stored in the skin where they are converted to retinoic acid. They are less likely to cause irritation and are available without a prescription. If your skin hasn’t been able to tolerate even the weakest doses of Tretinoin (even after a ramp up period) then that seems like a great reason to use Retinols. If you are just not going to be convinced to see a doctor to get a Tretinoin prescription then you should probably feel bad about your life decisions, but that would be another reason to use Retinols.
Honestly, the only downsides to Retinols is that they are less well studied, likely less effective, and not available as generics. If you want to buy Retinols then that means you need to pick a brand to buy and there are plenty of brands out there willing to prey on you and take far more of your money than you should really be paying.
If you want to know my recommendation for a good Retinol you are just going to have to wait for part 2.
No. I can’t do it. Cliff hangers are the worst. I can’t just leave things like that. If you want a preview of the next post I’ll tell you right now that it is going to be a lot of products from The Ordinary. They are fantastic. Specifically if you are looking for a Retinol you want the Advanced Retinoid 2%. God just look at the beautiful low price on that. I love The Ordinary.
think Pharell. That guy definitely won the genetic lottery ↩
whoah, wait, that isn’t how this site works. What I meant to say was use what I like and don’t even think about being different form me ↩
do you think there are skin care bros out there? Oh god. Wait. Am I a skin care bro? I do not like this idea. Am I encouraging the creation of skin care bros? The only good response I can come up with to that is instant vomiting ↩
I don’t know you. I’m not judging what you do with your time. I’m just happy you are here ↩