The hardest thing about traveling so often is keeping a regular, healthy diet and a skincare routine compatible with TSA requirements and my aging self. I recently turned 36, and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t truly get serious about caring for my skin until about 18 months ago. That said, better late than never (right? RIGHT?), so I put together this play-by-play of how to maintain a skincare routine in your 30s—and, in particular, how I keep it up while on the road.
But first, it must be said, I am not a doctor, a dermatologist or an aesthetician (clearly). You should absolutely see one (or all) of the above before doing anything drastic with your own skin. I do have a great derm, Dr. Lorien Sites at Nashville Skin, who I see once a year for skin checks and preventative cancer screenings and an aesthetician in Nashville, Mallory Hamilton at Woo Cosmetics, as well as one in Manchester, Megan Hershman of Be Well Skin, who I go to for professional facials and waxing. That said, I can only afford so many such treatments, so I’ve learned what I can do on my own and what I need to leave to the pros.
And it happens to be my favorite time of year: the Sephora VIB sale! I tend to stock up on all the products I need during this sale for 11 days every April and November. It’s the perfect excuse to try out a bevy of new products as there are 10 to 20 percent discounts throughout the course of 11 days, in addition to all sorts of freebies and perks.
Note: This post is in no way sponsored by Sephora, though I did include affiliate links when applicable below. I purchased every beauty product I featured below through Sephora (or Ulta if I can’t find it at my first-choice shop) and have stopped buying actual skincare products via Amazon. Why? Read this.
My Daytime Routine
After going overboard with products to start and creating blackheads for the first time in my life as a result, this is now what I do in the morning now. I don’t double-cleanse every single day, as I don’t wear makeup and my skin is already sensitive, so the second step is just an occasional add depending on how my skin is feeling that day. It’s always a trial-and-error with what works for you, though I’ve found a lot of helpful tips via beauty guru Caroline Hirons over the years. I also often defer to this New York Times piece on building a skincare routine when I’m feeling overwhelmed and sifting through the black hole of skincare recommendations that is the Internet.
- Step 1: Rinse my face with warm water and a cleanser like this Algenist one
- Step 2: Double cleanse with an exfoliating product like Tatcha’s Deep Cleanse (optional)
- Step 3: Apply Tarte Knockout Tingling Treatment as a toner (I don’t do this every day)
- Step 4: Splash my face with Fresh’s Black Tea Kombucha Antioxidant Essence to ward off pollutants
- Step 5: Apply a layer of Drunk Elephant Day Serum
- Step 6: Apply Supergoop SPF and an additional thin coat of moisturizer if needed (i.e. if my skin is dry)
- Go about my day!
I’ve tried to be better about wearing SPF every single day, even if I don’t think I’m going out in the sun. My bestie Lemon turned me onto Supergoop! products a couple years ago, and those are my go-to for days I know I’ll be outside at some point. Plus, I love that it comes in a 1.7-ounce bottle, so I can keep it in my carry-on and reapply as needed. Back home, I have a massive tube of Le Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF, a line my makeup artist friend Brenna introduced me to a few years ago (and one you can now find at your local pharmacy like Walgreens), that I apply when running or working in the yard.
I have combination skin that errs on the oily side, so won’t use a moisturizer during the day unless it’s winter (or allergy season like now) and my skin is feeling tight and itchy. In that case, I’m a big fan of Little Seed Farm’s Goat’s Milk Moisturizer, which is a nearby Tennessee brand I purchase locally from Kroger’s but has a website from which you can order if you aren’t local. I also love Tatcha’s Water Cream, and it’s a bonus that it’s a clean product, too (slowly making the switch to mostly products that are certified clean).
Keeping my products organized and ready to use step-by-step has been a lot easier in the new house as we actually have bathroom space and closets here. I like to keep everything where I can see it so I can survey what I have in stock, so I loved adding this rotating beauty organizer I got on Amazon for just $26 to my new bathroom. I also have a variety of Container Store and STORi plastic bins like this one that I use to organize my overflow and hair products in my bathroom closet.
Using Face Masks
Since I work from home, I often do a mask once or twice a week midday and have all my skincare products readily available and have liked splashing this Fresh essence on my face throughout the day when I need a boost. I’m constantly trying new ones, but here are a few of my favorites:
- REN’s Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask (I use this peel once a week and it’s glorious)
- Sephora Collection Face Masks (I prefer the coconut, pearl and lychee)
- TONYMOLY Sheet Masks (for $3.75 a pop, you can’t beat the price)
My Nighttime Routine
One thing to note is that figuring out what works for you takes time. Don’t introduce everything at once, otherwise you won’t know what’s working and what’s not. For example, the Pixie Glow Tonic from Target beauty bloggers rave about? Only made my skin break out and become more red in complexion. I immediately took it out of my rotation and started testing out different Vitamin C and brightening serums instead.
- Wash with a deep cleanser (I like various Peter Thomas Roth products)
- Apply a serum (Sunday Riley Vitamin C or Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos)
- Apply a retinol (currently using Drunk Elephant’s A-Passioni)
- Apply an eye cream (I haven’t found one I love but currently am using Drunk Elephant’s that came in a set)
- Apply a night cream (see below for my thoughts on this)
Between each step, I make sure the product has properly soaked in before I add the next layer. Rule of thumb if you can’t remember which order to apply is: lightest to heaviest. My night cream or moisturizer depends on how thirsty my skin is (I used to not use one, but now I’m trying to reverse deep forehead wrinkles without Botox so use one religiously). My go-to is Belif’s Aqua Bomb, particularly in the drier months like winter, but I really love Farmacy’s Sleep Tight quenches my skin but doesn’t make me wake up feeling oily.
I also finally started using a silk pillowcase, the Slip pillowcase beloved by bloggers everywhere, and I’m kind of mad my mom has used one her entire life and never enforced it upon me because it does help protect both your skin and your hair. And as someone with crazy wavy hair, I can actually straighten it one day, sleep on the silk pillowcase and wake up to it not a mess for a change.
In terms of toning and skin-brightening, friends of mine swear by Karen Hayes Esthetics’ Koji pads, and I finally dropped $160 on a pack and … was extremely underwhelmed. I used them religiously for the recommended 60 days and saw no change in my skin tone. That said, I didn’t actually go in to see the esthetician first—rather, I filled out the survey online—so maybe I needed a stronger prescription? I don’t know. In a world of abundant skincare options, I don’t think I’d drop the money to re-try this one. I’m getting more religious about using a toner and Vitamin C serum instead.
After a decade of using retinol from my derm, I’ve been using OTC retinol products for the past year after my skin went ballistic with an allergic reaction the last time I tried medical-grade products. I’m due for my annual skin checkup with my derm soon, so I’m going to ask her to prescribe me a new retinol—not because my skin breaks out regularly, but because I have deep forehead lines that need reversing (I laugh a lot, what can I say?) and I’m just not into the idea of Botox (no judgment if you are). For those who don’t need as strong a retinol, I do like Drunk Elephant’s A-Passioni Retinol Cream and also Algenist’s Retinol Serum.
Drunk Elephant products are pricey, so I’d recommend you go with a sampler kit like this one before investing in the full-sized products to see what you like. But I’m fully on that bandwagon now, as I’ve been using them for nearly a year, and my skin feels so clean and fresh daily (plus, their products are non-irritating and non-toxic).
When I Travel, Here’s My Beauty Kit
My friend Christie, to whom I also go for skincare tips, made me envious of how organized her beauty kit always is, so I threw out my old caddy and bought this hanging organizer instead. I keep it hanging in my bathroom and each section is organized by theme: first aid (Band-Aids, medicine, prescriptions, etc.), dental hygiene, shampoo and conditioner, hair products and skincare. It’s always ready to go when I need to pack my suitcase, and this way, I never forget anything, which I was inevitably doing before. I also now use this little $8 seven-day pill organizer for my prescriptions, which has reduced the chance of me forgetting one bottle since I’m on so many daily allergy meds.
For this, I typically use Sephora samples I get when I’m stocking up or I buy mini-kits of products I use that are under three ounces. Nothing will get me to check a bag when I travel, so I find it’s always easier to be prepared. Some kits of minis I’ve used and love:
- Algenist Discovery Kit (which includes the retinol, a serum, an eye cream and more)
- Drunk Elephant’s The Littles (which includes a small version of every one of the products I use of theirs)
- Tatcha Pore-Perfecting Duo (I use this for my cleanser and moisturizer when traveling)
What You Eat DOES Matter
Doing food elimination diets for my autoimmune disease means that I’ve seen firsthand how my skin reacts to certain foods, dairy in particular. And while we are mostly dairy-free day-to-day—we long ago, started making our own almond, cashew and coconut milk—neither one of us is one to turn down sour cream or cheese, and if I’m at a fancy coffee shop, I’ll occasionally opt for real creamer as opposed to oat milk or cashew substitute.
But if I’m consuming dairy or sugar on the regular, you better believe my skin reflects it. I get large breakouts around my mouth and jawline, and it’s just not pretty. Again, I’m a big fan of these cheap, but totally efficient Nexcare acne patches to get ride of isolated breakouts quickly (note: this is the only beauty product I buy via Amazon as my local Walgreens doesn’t carry it—but yours might). You can’t beat $6 a box! Target also carries the CosRx brand ($5 for 18) that beauty bloggers swear by.
I’ve had professional dermaplaning three times, and little has given my skin quite the glow as removing all the peach fuzz and dead skin cells. I absolutely love the effect of dermaplaning, but the problem is that it only lasts about two weeks (at least for me), and it is not cheap. Instead, these days I do weekly at-home dermaplaning with a variety of tools:
Stacked is by far the most efficient, but it’s also very sharp, so proceed with caution. The $10 drugstore brands work fine to just get your face smoother for applying serums and creams; not having that layer of fuzz and dead skin definitely helps your products soak in more (and your makeup to go on more smoothly if you’re a daily makeup-wearer).
Microblading & Your Brows
So far I’ve yet to find a brow-grow product that fills in the patchy parts of the brows I overplucked in my teen years. Ladies, why did we not listen to our mothers? *face palm*
I’ve tried Shisheido, Rapid Brow and Sephora—none of which have done anything for me. I finally ordered the two-part GrandeBrow Brow and Lash Enhancing Serums from Sephora, and still nothing. One eyebrow got thicker, I’ll give it that, but the problem brow stayed, well, problematic. So, if you have an effective eyebrow serum, help a girl out, will you? I’m thinking of asking my derm for a Latisse prescription next time I’m in as nothing OTC seems to work.
I would love to try microblading, and honestly was going to do it years ago until I found out you have to get touch-ups once to twice a year. While I’m OK paying $500 for something that has a semi-permanent effect, paying $500 and then hundreds of dollars for touch-ups every quarter or bi-annually is just an investment I’m not ready to make yet (plus, the thought of getting my brows tattooed freaks SVV out to no end). But if you have thoughts on microblading or success stories, please let me know in the comments!