16 Skincare Essentials For Combination Skin
I’m certainly not a Type A person—not by a long shot. My bedroom chair barely sees the light of day, consistently draped in whatever I tried on that morning (or, more accurately, every day that week). My dresser drawers are never organized, and my clothes are hardly properly folded. One aspect of my oft off-kilter lifestyle is precise, though, and that’s my bathroom vanity. The shelves are intricately cataloged, with products grouped by formula and use. It’s a labyrinth of bottles, jars, and tubes.
See, to say I have an elaborate skincare routine would be a massive understatement. It has a lot to do with my job, naturally, but really it comes down to my penchant for a glowy, plump, and smooth skin. And, the work (and freakishly meticulous care) pays off. I’ll admit, I have good skin. That said, I’ve done a lot of trial and error and a lot of testing and retesting to find the formulas that work best for me and the frequency with which to use them. Below find every single product I use on a daily basis (and I few I reach for weekly, monthly, or to spot treat).
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quit this cleanser. It’s the only face wash I’ve ever used that yields as favorable results. Serums and moisturizers are important, but according to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, the cleansing portion of your skincare routine is perhaps the most vital. Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, notes, “The wrong cleanser can rub your skin barrier, leading to inflammation (or it may not do an effective enough job). Remember, the right cleanser for you may be very different from what your best friend is using.” (TL;DR: Our skin is not “one size fits all”—far from it, in fact.)
That being said, almost every editor at Byrdie HQ has given in to the magical powers of Eve Lom’s cleansing balm. I keep samples of it around in every pocket, drawer, and bag I come into contact with. The formula helps improve circulation, open your pores, cleanse, exfoliate, and tone your skin all in the amount of time it takes to massage it into your face. The blend of essential oils—chamomile, eucalyptus, and clove—work to melt away dirt, oil, debris, and makeup all the while smelling like a spa. It’s perfect. (FYI: I’m also a huge fan of Emma Hardie’s Moringa Cleansing Balm, $64, as it’s a bit less expensive and doesn’t contain mineral oil.)
After cleansing, I move to toner, specifically Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50 1970 ($67). I first had the tingly, vinegar-scented formula applied to my face during a facial at Toska European Spa, where its dark spot–erasing, pore-shrinking, and complexion-balancing results left my jaw dragging along the treatment room floor. “P50 is an acid toner that exfoliates the skin while nourishing it with botanical extracts and vitamins,” says esthetician Toska Husted.
The ingredients are a mix of a few of the usuals: lactic acid, salicylic acid, and citric acid blended together with a selection of other, more eyebrow-raising components like onion extract, horseradish, sulfur, and vinegar (which certainly explain the smell). Immediately after drenching a cotton pad with the bottle’s contents and swiping it carefully over my face (twice a day, as suggested by Husted), I feel a flush of tingling. It’s a sensation that doesn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable, but instead, it feels rather satisfying and exciting in that “I can tell this is working” kind of way.
Citric acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid extracted from citrus fruits. It promotes exfoliation, acts a natural astringent, and is a good source of antioxidants.
“It is widely believed by scientists around the world that one of the main reasons we age is because unstable electrons in molecules (called free radicals) attack healthy cells and change their composition, which causes them to no longer function the way normal, younger cells do,” Rouleau explains. That’s why using a vitamin C serum is vital.
If I had to pick one product to supplement the splendor and glory that P50 brings about, this is the one. On its own, the combination of ferulic acid and vitamin C and E enhances my skin’s protection against environmental damage caused by free radicals, improves signs of aging and photodamage, reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and brightens my complexion each time I use it. Together with P50, the duo is a skincare powerhouse I can’t believe I ever lived without.
The thing is that the reason I lived without it for so long (despite its many, many glowing reviews) is the smell. It was described to me as something like “boiling hot dog water,” which, to be fair, isn’t far from the truth. You get used to it, though, and for what it does to my skin, I’ll never complain again.
“Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body,” says esthetician and StackedSkincare founder Kerry Benjamin. “It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes.” The magic lies in the compound’s ability to retain moisture.1
To follow CE Ferulic, I use a fairly new product in my long list of time-tested favorites: SkinCeuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier ($98), which has done all the heavy lifting necessary to earn its spot in my medicine cabinet. It’s a potent blend of pure hyaluronic acid, pro-xylane, licorice root, and purple rice. Clearly, this is not just any hyaluronic acid serum. It has a thicker, more gel-like texture and visibly boosts my skin as I apply it. That’s right—there’s no waiting around and no trusting that it’s working. It penetrates your skin, and you can watch it plump up. I use it all over my face, but I specifically love to press it on underneath my eyes when I look tired or puffy. Immediately, my under eyes look less hollow and reflect more light. Plus, it’s incredible under makeup courtesy of those lovely smoothing properties.
Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Face Cream Rich is my most treasured moisturizer—I use it morning and night to finish off my multistep routine. Sturm herself calls it “your cell spa while you sleep,” as it is so intensely regenerating. The cream incorporates purslane (a succulent herb packed with omega-3 fatty acids) to reduce redness and skullcap extract to stimulate natural collagen production.2 No lie: Using this moisturizer results in more youthful-looking skin come morning.
This new (and arguably life-changing) eye cream was formulated by Danish skincare brand Ole Henriksen. Previously, I pretty much subscribed to the idea that no product would ever make a visible different in my under-eye circles, darkness, and bags. It’s genetic, I’d tell myself, cursing my parents. And while the tendency for my under eyes to look hallow and collect extra fluid is part of my biology, this eye cream is the only one I’ve ever tried that’s made a difference.
Like most eye creams, this one vows to target fine lines, reduce the look of dark circles, and support natural collagen production—only it actually does instantly brighten your under eyes. The formula is inspired by banana powder, a product used to color-correct dark under eyes, and it contains yellow pigments that actually do that. Only it’s not makeup. It’s a blend of vitamin C, collagen, and superior hydration. It creates a smooth canvas for makeup and still works if you go sans product.
At night, following my Cleanser ($80) and Lotion P50 1970 ($65), I apply Biologique Recherche’s Placenta Serum ($68), an intensive repairing serum that contains placental biostimulin protein extracts to help heal, strengthen, and rebuild my skin. It’s especially helpful for those lingering red marks that chronically stay put once a breakout clears up.
Additionally, this tiny bottle of goodness works to lighten dark circles (necessary), restore suppleness and tone to the skin, and lighten pigment spots, as well as reduce puffiness in your skin post–workweek stress (or one too many cocktails).
Next up is another Biologique Recherche serum—this time meant for tightening pores—Dermopore ($79) rebalances dilated pores and evens the complexion by refining irregularities of the skin grain. It nixes any unwanted shine while still allowing for dewiness in the places you want it.
I’ve been using this serum nightly as of late, mostly because I’ve been noticing a bit of excess oil and breakouts along my chin. Under normal circumstances, I won’t use it every day and only when I feel my skin really needs it. I follow it up with Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Facial Cream Rich ($230).
I finish off the serum portion of the program with a dose of SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel ($82), a lightweight hyaluronic acid serum meant to restore and bind moisture to the skin for enhanced radiance, suppleness, and comfort.3 It adds the extra moisture I need right before bedtime.
As I mentioned before, I’ve had dark circles for long enough to know that it’s mostly genetic. Sure, there will be some extra puffiness after a late night or lack of sleep, but I’ve pretty much had to just accept them as part of my face. Which means I’m not the likeliest candidate to try new eye creams because I pretty much stopped believing the hype.
That is, until the hype surrounding Philosophy’s Ultimate Miracle Worker Fix Eye Power-Treatment Fill & Firm ($60) was too positive to ignore. According to the website, after a four-week independent clinical and self-assessment study with 31 women ages 45 to 65, 97% of women saw a creaseless eye area that looked ironed flat in as little as 12 days, and 100% saw a less-crinkled eye area in just 31 days.4 See what I mean? I tried the creamy, light-feeling formula about a year ago and haven’t looked back.
My crow’s feet aren’t deep by any means, but small lines began cropping up around my under-eye bags—only making them more pronounced. This eye treatment blends together actives including a bi-retinoid, soy peptide extracts, and hyaluronic acid to visibly plump, firm, and densify skin; fill in the appearance of hollows; and target any budding wrinkles. I don’t say this often, but it’s a perfect product (and a dermatologist told me that too).
Speaking of perfect products: This is my ride-or-die, the Clyde to my Bonnie, and any other iconic duo that fits in this analogy. Basically, chemical peels help your skin do what it naturally does better. As we age, our skin can’t renew itself as well as it did before. Peels remove the top layer of damaged skin to promote the growth of new, healthy skin, which aids in increased collagen production and improves the efficacy of your current skincare routine.5 Beyond that, peels are used to address skin concerns including hyperpigmentation and acne.
Each week, I spent 10 blissful minutes with Renée Rouleau’s Triple Berry Smoothing Peel ($87)—a professional-strength, at-home exfoliant facial peel that gently buffs away dullness. It’s the product I always turn to when I want my skin to look especially bright and glowy (I even used it before going makeup-free on a first date). It contains a blend of antioxidant-rich berries, fruit AHAs, BHAs, and enzymes to clear out any clogged pores, fade post-breakout marks, lift discoloration, and stimulate cellular renewal. Once it’s washed off, I notice a visible difference in my skin immediately and even more so the next morning. It’s a product that genuinely allows you to wake up with better skin than you had the night before. Plus it smells like jam (and our editorial director Faith almost ate it—I wouldn’t recommend that, though).
When I’m Hungover
This cream mask was inspired by “first protecting the skin at birth” (aka amniotic fluid and newborn baby skin). It’s a blend of fats, proteins, and antioxidant peptides to protect and help repair your lipidic barrier. Basically, it’s super hydrating—I leave it on for over an hour—and replenishes any moisture lost due to drinking or sleeping in my makeup (it’s shameful but true).
This one (which I mix with the Vernix mask above) is an oxygenating, moisturizing antipollution treatment that restores stressed, asphyxiated skin—which is exactly what happens when you’re hungover. Its formula is rich in moisturizing botanical ingredients and contains an oxygenating complex that stimulates epidermal regeneration.
When I Have Beard Burn
It happens. And, because my skin is important to me, I started to get a little proactive to prevent irritation. Prior to any making out, the goal is to put some sort of barrier on the lower half of your face to act as a protective shield. “To do this, use a heavier-than-normal moisturizer under your makeup, followed by primer and liquid foundation,” suggests Rouleau. “The idea here is you’re layering your face both with makeup and skin products that can prevent the barrier from being broken down due to the chafing. This gives the skin some defense and protects it from getting as easily irritated.”
There is no more effective or iconic thick moisturizer to choose than La Mer’s original Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream ($175). It’s chock-full of the brand’s signature Miracle Broth meant to anti-age, soothe, hydrate, and renew—and it helps to prevent and reduce that red, raw beard burn irritation. (A less expensive option is Embryolisse’s Lait-Creme Concentre, $16, as it’s thick, creamy, and antioxidant-enriched to nourish and protect your skin.)
“Post-care is where you can make the biggest difference,” Rouleau told me when I came to her complaining of beard burn. To soothe the visible signs of irritation, reduce the skin’s internal temperature (because when it’s irritated, the skin’s heat adds to redness), and provide an overall soothing comfort to the face, I turn yet again to Dr. Barbara Sturm. “You’ll want to apply a serum and moisturizer that is formulated to improve the barrier function of the skin. Doing this can help seal up little cracks created in the skin’s barrier that can cause moisture to escape and leave the skin feeling tight and dry,” Rouleua explains.
So I found and fell in love with Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Calming Serum ($250), a concentrate sent from the gods to rebalance and calm any irritated skin and help reduce redness. It’s an active plant-based complex that works to strengthen your skin’s natural defenses, minimizing a sensitized reaction (in this case, the irritation I experience post–make out). Purslane (one of the line’s hero ingredients) calms inflammation and protects your skin.6
When I’m Breaking Out
I’ll never give up the Eve Lom Cleanser, but in the case of hormonal breakouts, I double-cleanse and follow the balm with Tata Harper’s newest wash. The all-natural cleanser features 17 high-performance ingredients to cleanse away surface impurities—while maintaining hydration to leave the skin feeling cool and refreshed. It’s so invigorating (there’s some spicy ginger in there) and clears clusters of cystic acne in a day or so.