Welcome to You Look Moist, a regular column wherein Man Repeller asks cool people with glowing visages how they achieved their supreme hydration (amongst other things). Up first is Faith Xue, the Editorial Director at Byrdie.
How would you describe your skin?
My skin is definitely Zoë Kravitz’s character, Bonnie, in Big Little Lies—seemingly placid and chill on the surface, but has been through some heavy *stuff* in the past and is easily triggered into combustion. (Speaking of season 2, is there anything more chilling than getting a hug from Meryl Streep and hearing her say, “So who are we going to kill?” I’m breathless again just thinking about it.)
In basic terms, my skin is probably considered “combination.” It used to be straight-up oily—picture an ungodly amount of shine on my forehead, and cheeks, and nose an hour after leaving the house—but that changed when I started treating it more gently. I had terrible acne growing up and I’m still prone to random breakouts, but right now my biggest issues are uneven texture, shiny T-zone, and annoyingly large pores around my nose that I consider a personal attack on my well-being. The best thing about my skin is that it isn’t that sensitive. I’ve rarely had a bad reaction to anything I’ve tried, which is a blessing because I’m constantly putting weird things like placenta and salmon sperm on my face for my job.
How would you describe your skincare approach in general?
Fairly low-maintenance, but then again, people tend to shriek “Holy shit!” upon entering my bathroom, so it depends on your perspective. The number of products I own/rotate through might be dizzying (it’s for research, I swear), but my actual approach is pretty simple. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m lazy and/or tired by the time it’s time for me to go through my routine before bed, so usually I can barely muster the energy to go through anything beyond a basic cleanse, tone, serum and moisturizer (in the beauty editor world, that’s the bare minimum, seriously).
I like to use a peel or mask whenever my skin is looking particularly haggard, but even then, I expect instant gratification; if it doesn’t make my skin look noticeably brighter, tighter, or more fetus-like, it’s not for me. Now that I’m fully in the throes of my late twenties, I’ve noticed my skin showing the signs of my
tequila habit lifestyle. I used to be able to fall asleep with my makeup on after a long night of making bad decisions having valuable life experiences and just wake up, splash my hangover away with cold water, and be fine, but sadly that is not the case anymore. Nowadays, my skin definitely reflects what I put on it and what I do, so I’m trying to treat it like a priority instead of an afterthought.
What skincare products are integral to your routine for achieving your ideal, glowing, well-moisturized complexion, and how/when do you use each of them?
This is sooooo hard. I try a ton of stuff, and therefore I’m constantly rotating. So take this as my current regimen, but know it’ll probably change in three months.
First: cleansers. I’m obsessed with cleansers. Of all the things I try, I probably try cleansers the most, because it’s immediately apparent if they’re good or if they suck. I’ve been using Charlotte Cho’s Then I Met You Cleansing Balm and it’s the best thing ever. The consistency is so light and buttery and feels like you’re massaging margarine on your face, which is entirely more pleasant than it sounds. I also tested a ton of products for Byrdie’s Eco Beauty Awards, and left with a new favorite in Alpyn Beauty’s Bubbling Cleanser. It’s sulfate-free, mostly natural, full of botanicals, and still gives you a nice, satisfying lather. It’s one of the few natural cleansers I’ve tried that thoroughly removes makeup — plus, it smells like your crush’s clean T-shirt. I’ve stopped using an oil cleanser now that it’s summer and I’m perpetually sweaty, but Pai’s Oil Cleanser is the absolute best.
After cleansing, I rotate between an acid toner (right now I’m loving Native Atlas, which is sort of like an all-natural Biologique Recherche P50, and REN’s Daily AHA Tonic, which is gentler and can be used every day) and an essence (Shani Darden’s is so nice and hydrating — my skin drinks it up — and SK-II’s classic is so good for balancing oily skin). Serums are the thing I switch up the most, but one that I’ve seen make the biggest difference in my skin is SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum. Every dermatologist I interview always recommends it (in fact, I distinctly remember one derm saying she wished she could bathe her whole body in it), but I’ve put off using it because growth factors have always sketched me out. But guess what? Mama’s not getting younger, and this serum gives serious results.
I love a hyaluronic acid serum. Pestle and Mortar’s is great, but I’ve also been using a powder version from this brand PWDR. Fun fact: all hyaluronic acid serums start in powder/crystal form, so a powder version is purer and less diluted. You pour it into your palm, add a few drops of water, and it turns into the silkiest serum. Versed, this affordable new clean skincare brand, makes an amazing Clarifying Serum that cleared up a chest breakout I had in two days. Oh, and Differin Gel is the drugstore product every person should own — it’s the first thing I reach for when I see a breakout brewing.
I also love retinols and vitamin c serums, but I’m kind of a fuccboi when it comes to them (it’s hard to commit when there are so many options). Sweet Chef has a great (and affordable!) Ginger + Vitamin C serum I’ve been using, and retinol-wise, I’m currently using Marie Veronique’s Gentle Retinol Night Serum, which is made with turmeric to soothe (and randomly smells like pepperoni), and Estée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Retinol, which smells nicer but is much stronger.
Moisturizer-wise, Sisley’s Black Rose is hands down the best for every skin type. Everyone on Team Byrdie is obsessed. Yes, it’s obscenely expensive, but I really haven’t found anything else that beats it in terms of hydration, texture, and the way my skin feels afterwards. Lately, however, I’ve been testing Honest Beauty’s Hydrogel Cream, which melts into a water when you apply it; it’s my new favorite thing to use in in the morning. Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Moisturizer is also great for summer because it smells like a watermelon Jolly Rancher and gives me the perfect dose of light hydration. I skip cleansing in the morning because my skin doesn’t usually need it—I just wipe my face with a cotton pad soaked in Simple Skincare’s Micellar Water. Tatcha sunscreen is my all-time favorite because it gives a nice velvety, demi-matte finish and doubles as a primer. Eye cream-wise, I really like Glossier’s new Bubblewrap — it’s nice on the lips before bed, too.
On top of all of these, I use Renee Rouleau’s Triple Berry Smoothing Peel whenever my skin looks dull and sad—it’s like an instant facial, and smells (and looks) like raspberry jam. I’m always weirdly tempted to eat it because it smells so good and one time I was tipsy enough and actually did. Honestly? It wasn’t that bad. When I’m too tired to do anything beyond cleansing before bed, I’ll use Allies of Skin Bright Future Overnight Facial. It’s made with a bunch of brightening, exfoliating ingredients and helps you wake up to baby skin with absolutely zero effort, which is always my favorite type of skincare product.
Remember when I said my skincare routine was low-maintenance? LOL.
What about makeup products?
I’m obsessed with this tinted primer by Gee Beauty. I use it every day — it just kind of Paris-filters your skin and smooths everything out without actually looking (or feeling) like makeup. CLE Beauty also makes a really nice CC Cream that comes out white but then adjusts to the color of your skin.
But if glow is your goal, it’s all about the highlighter. I know I said I was obsessed with cleansers, but I would write love letters to highlighters (I literally have). Rituel de Fille makes the best ones out there. Period. They’re all slightly holographic and melt into the skin so beautifully — you feel like J.Lo at the Grammys (or literally any red carpet) after using them. I’m proud that I’ve gotten everyone on Byrdie hooked. Plus, they’re made with only clean ingredients. But a girl likes options, so I also have to shout out Bodyography’s Inner Glow Stick, which has a pearly highlighter on one end and a clear dewy one on the other. Chanel’s Baume Essentiel Glow Stick is another new favorite — it goes on so smoothly and honestly just makes me feel richer after applying. Maybelline’s Strobing Stick is still one of the best highlighters I’ve ever tried and it’s only $8. Milk Makeup’s Holographic Stick in Stardust is half-blush, half-iridescent highlighter, and I always get compliments when I wear it. Just be careful not to overdo it, because you can (and will) blind people with your glow. If I want my glow to extend to my lips and have my face give a shiny halo lightbulb effect, I reach for Fenty Beauty’s Gloss Bomb in Fu$$y — it’s not sticky at all and has single-handedly made me a lip gloss person again. Plus, one of my best friends literally asked me if I got lip injections the last time I wore it.
What’s the cheapest product you use regularly and love?
Simple Skincare makes a great micellar water — it’s so good for removing makeup and leaves my skin feeling soft and clean. And Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm. And these Muji cotton swabs — Beyonce’s makeup artist Sir John told me he swears by them because the cotton at the tip is spun more tightly than typical cotton swabs, so it’s better for cleaning up eye makeup. I also just use them because I like having something in common with Beyoncé.
Is there anything you try to avoid, skin-care or makeup-wise?
Definitely sulfates. They make your skin feel squeaky-clean at first, but will dry you out and cause your skin to overproduce oil down the line. Sulfates are the artsy guys who lure you with their tattoos and bleached hair then ghost you after five dates and leave you spiraling. Ever since I cut them out of routine, my skin has been so much more balanced (talking about sulfates, but also guys with bleached hair). Same with alcohols in skincare — ceteryl and cetyl alcohols are fine, but anything that says denat. alcohol or just alcohol near the top of the ingredients list will ultimately be drying on your skin if you use it consistently. Also, oxybenzone (often used in sunscreen)—it’s been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and there are so many great physical sunscreens out there you can use as an alternative. In general, I’ve been trying to be cleaner with my beauty routine and avoid products that contain any of these ingredients. With makeup, it’s harder—but Ilia, Crop Natural and Rituel de Fille are all great clean options that don’t sacrifice pigment.
Any next-level tips, tricks, or services that you swear by to help you look “lit from within”?
I think essences are the most overlooked skincare product out there. They’re the Ringo Starr of the skincare world, if Ringo had roots in Korea. Whenever my friends complain about their dry skin or say their heavy moisturizer isn’t doing anything, I tell them to use an essence. They’re usually made with balancing, hydrating ingredients that sink into your skin and prep your skin for serums and moisturizers — they’ll actually make them more effective. Soko Glam and Peach & Lily have a great selection.
I love a microcurrent facial before a big event. I just got one from Shani Darden and I swear my face looks like it’s been pulled into an Ariana-level high ponytail, even though I’m not wearing a ponytail. And of course, diet can have a huge impact. I try to avoid dairy and processed food because they definitely show up on my skin, but I also have an undying love for McDonalds chicken nuggets, so, you know, everything in moderation.
What’s something you wish your teenage self knew about taking care of your skin?
Stop picking, peering, and stressing. Treat your skin kindly, and stay away from harsh ingredients (and people).
Do you do anything differently skincare-wise when you travel?
I usually take travel as a time to experiment with all of the travel-sized minis I get sent—it’s my favorite way to force myself to try new things. I just recently used Susanne Kaufmann’s entire travel kit on a trip to LA and was super impressed—my skin looked better than it had in weeks. On the plane, I slather on a thick layer of Clark’s Botanicals Moisture Mask and spritz a facial mist copiously throughout. Bronty Beauty’s are my new favorites because they’re made with aloe, Kakadu plum (for brightening), and hyaluronic acid, so they actually make your skin better over time. A girl once told me she always wears a full face of makeup on a plane just in case she sits next to her future spouse, but honestly, if my future spouse can’t fall in love with me with my face looking like Mrs. Doubtfire after she sticks her face in the cake, then he ain’t my spouse.
What’s your go-to product or trick for fixing a skin disaster?
Photos provided by Faith Xue.