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 40, and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t truly get serious about caring for my skin until five years ago—and even then, I go in waves. It’s tough having a consistent routine in anything when you travel like I do, so I put together this play-by-play of how to maintain a skincare routine in your 30s and 40s—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 laser treatments.
My daytime skin routine
After going overboard with products initially and, as a result, creating blackheads for the first time in my life, this is now what I do in the morning now. I don’t double-cleanse every single day, as I don’t wear makeup regularly and my skin is already sensitive, so the second step is just an occasional add depending on how my skin is feeling that day.
Finding the right skincare mix is 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 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)
- Step 7: Go about my day!
I try to wear SPF every single day, even if I don’t think I’m going out in the sun. Supergoop! products are my absolute favorites. If I’m going to be out in the sun for a substantial amount of time, whether at the pool or painting a building, my face and neck are lathered up with the Superscreen Daily Moisturizer (SPF 40) and the rest of me is covered in this reef-safe product from Hawaiian Tropic. The Superscreen is not too thick, and it has a nice smell. The Unseen Sunscreen (SPF 40) is more my everyday wear; it is a bit oily, but it has great staying power and no annoying sunscreen scent.
GlowScreen (SPF 40) is fun if you want a subtle shimmer or the illusion of a highlighter, and I love that the Supergoop! products are available in 1.7-ounce bottles, so I can keep them in my carry-on for travel. Back home, I have a massive tube of Le Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF, a line a makeup artist friend 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 summer months, my sunscreen doubles as my moisturizer. When I do need it, though, I’m a big fan of the gentle moisturizers like Cetaphil that your dermatologist inevitably recommends and Tatcha’s Water Cream, which bonus, is a certified clean product, too.
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 twice a week
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 and Tatcha’s The Rice Wash)
- 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 am loyal to yet)
- 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; more in the winter. naturally. My go-to for years has been Belif’s Aqua Bomb, particularly in the drier months, but I really love Farmacy’s Sleep Tight quenches my skin but doesn’t make me wake up feeling oily.
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 instead—so maybe I needed a stronger prescription?
After a decade of using retinol from my derm, I’ve been using OTC retinol products for the past few years after my skin went ballistic with an allergic reaction from a medical-grade product a few years back. 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. I do love how clean my skin feels when I use Drunk Elephant (their products are non-irritating and non-toxic).
Laser facial treatments
Brightening creams be damned, the only thing that truly has reduced the redness of my skin is BBL treatments (BroadBand Light), which use a laser to bring sun damage to the surface, and it eventually peppers off. I’ve had three treatments at my dermatologist’s office in the past and am ready to go back for a fourth, only you can’t get BBL when you’re going to be in the sun so I missed the boat not doing it in winter. I tried IPL (Intense Pulsed Light Therapy), a similar process, twice and while it hurt just as badly, I saw no change in my skin redness after the treatments.
What you sleep on matters, too
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.
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 traded in my old caddy for this sturdy Calpak cosmetics organizer, which I love because it’s clear and I can easily find all my products, day and night. 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 magnetic pill box 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 through promos 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:
- FAB Faves Trio (which includes the face cleanser, bump eraser and ultimate repair cream)
- Drunk Elephant’s The Littles (which includes a small version of every one of the products I use of theirs)
- Tatcha Dewy Cleanse & Hydrate 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 don’t eat a ton of dairy, I never pass up cheese and occasionally opt for real creamer as opposed to my oat milk substitute from Califia.
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 this Hero Cosmetics patch ($9 for 24) 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 Skincare dermaplaning tool
- Level Setter Razors
- Metal Facial Razor
- Advanced Sonic Dermaplaning
- Tinkle Hair Removal Razors
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 and 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’ve even gotten a prescription for Latisse from my derm and … nothing.
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).
I’ve also been toying with the idea of powder brows, which is less invasive than microblading and a far easier healing process.
And the secret weapon … Botox
Expensive skincare can only get you so far; Botox will take you over the finish line. I’m angry nobody told me until my mid-30s that every woman over the age of 25 with a creamy forehead got it thanks to preventive injections. I started getting ‘toxed at 37 and honestly wish I had done so sooner. This is obviously a very personal choice and I only get it in my forehead, but it’s made me far less self-conscious about my deep smile lines!