From the mouth of a former Sephora babe: the bullsh*t-free guide to anti-aging and skincare.

loved working at Sephora, or at least I would have if it weren’t for all the goddamn customers. If anyone tells you that foodservice is a worse lot in low-wage life than retail, know that they’re wrong about most things and probably put ketchup on their Chicago dogs.

Behind the black and red Marc Jacobs-designed uniforms, there is the ever-present elephant in the back of the store: all this shit is overpriced, and the majority of it is filler mixed with a few drops of real, useful product. Most if it is a combination of ingredients that make liquids feel silky or stay on the shelf longer and a heavy dose of fragrance.

The section of the store where women crowded with questions was always where we put the anti-aging stuff. You could easily drop $40 on a can of 60 acid-infused peel pads or even $125 on a single bottle of super special serum infused with snail slime/pigeon mites/fairy farts/etc.

And I’ll freely admit that the back of my left hand where I tested products does look better than the back of my right. But that’s not because of the slime, mites, or farts.

My left hand looks “younger” than my right hand because I exfoliated it a lot more, kept it more moisturized, and protected it from the sun by testing sunscreens on it. As a habitual reflex, I still run my right hand in a cream-smoothing circle on top of my left when I’m lost in thought, so it continues to be regularly exfoliated.

Which is why I don’t fuck around with the snail slime or the fairy farts: because skin is an organ like all other organs, and it benefits more from the maintenance of its own natural defenses and regeneration systems than it would ever change from adding a “skin-boosting” ingredient. It’s no more changed by the snail slime than your liver is changed by your “detox” smoothies.

So the regimen is simple: Exfoliate, moisturize, protect from sun damage. Let’s get to the products.

The Best Peeling Treatment Ever: Perfect Image Peels mixed with Cetaphil 

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I found this little sample pack of peels a couple of years ago, and I love the brand. If you’re new to using peeling treatments, mixing a couple of drops of a low-percentage peel with some rich, glycerin-based cream like Cetaphil is a great delivery method that won’t irritate your skin. I still buy the sample pack instead of full bottles, as I find cycling through the different kinds of acid helps me keep seeing smoothing results. When you’re starting out, go from the lowest percentage of acid to the highest, and do it gradually over a month or two if you want to prevent redness and flakes.

The TCA peel, while only 15% active ingredients, can sometimes produce more aggressive results than the 50% glycolic peel because of the kind of acid it is, which is why I advise starting slow and buffering the peel with moisturizer until you get used to them, and to rinse them off within 10 minutes the first time you try them even if you don’t feel a tingle.

I do this a few times a week and just let the product do its thing overnight (note: these are highly diluted peels on skin that’s peeled regularly. DO NOT LEAVE AN UNDILUTED PEEL ON OVERNIGHT) oil cleanse my face in the morning, and wear a sunscreen and an SPF BB cream.

The best DIY brightening, smoothing & tightening mask you can make at home:

Those peeling treatments sometimes leave me a little red, and winter makes my skin ruddy as all getout. One of the most effective brightening products you can use (that’s also cheap) is Vitamin C ESTER (ascorbyl palmitate) or some blend of ester and regular vitamin C. The ester is very important, as most OTC vitamin C tablets are some kind of ascorbic acid, which can leave the skin burned and raw, and is less stable as its a water-soluble antioxidant that oxidizes when exposed to light. Ester is more stable, but the results less pronounced, so a blend of ascorbic acid and ascorbyl palmitate will give you the best results.

Ideally, you’d buy it as a powder, but you can also powder tablets in a coffee grinder.

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Vitamin C is one of the few topical ingredients that has shown promise in skin regeneration and healing.  It also seems to have a protective anti-aging property similar to sun screen, but it infuses into the skin and isn’t removed by showering.

You also want to add a healthy dose of caffeine to the mix, and the most efficient means is just to grind up the tablets and stir them into, you guessed it, a blob of Cetaphil cream. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, or an substance that makes your blood vessels contract. And while you won’t get a buzz from the mask, the little capillaries in your face will constrict and reduce redness and the appearance of irritation.

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If you want it all, go for it all: mix your peel with your caffeine and vitamin C in the Cetaphil, leave it on for 20-30 minutes and you’ll look significantly brighter and tighter.

If you really want to marinate that shit, you can score yourself some sheet masks and a sheet mask holder, to keep that mess from drying out on your face. It’s like marinating a steak inside a vac bag.

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It never hurts to pop a couple of those vitamin C when you’re healing your skin either, though oral Vitamin C isn’t the most efficient means to deliver it to your skin cells internally.

If you have really, really dry skin like I do, consider switching to something cheap and super rich to moisturize in between your peels. I buy avocado oil and butter for the winter and use that at night with the Cetaphil in the morning, as it’s rich, cheap, and can be purchased in bulk. In fact, I’m on year 3 of this bucket of avocado butter, which I keep in my freezer and refill a washable jelly jar with.

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I melt it in the microwave and blend it with enough sea buckthorn oil to turn it into a rich cream, and I lay it on heavy at night. Sea buckthorn is a popular skin wound treatment in some Russian and South Asian cultures, but its main benefit is a blend of unsaturated and saturated fats and vitamin C as a lightweight oil — it’s all I moisturize with in summer.

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And that’s it. i don’t measure or weigh anything. I mix my brightening mask until it’s thick enough to call a “paste,” but I could tell you even how many spoonfuls of each to use. But, and this is the most important: WEAR YOUR FUCKING SUNSCREEN.

We get a lot more exposure to sun than we realize, and even if you’re not worried about wrinkles, you should have a good sunscreen and use it every day because skin cancer can be deadly as fuck.

I never dip below SPF 30, and I find that Neutrogena tends to have the best inexpensive, hypoallergenic daily sunscreens for the face.

SO that’s my anti-aging, smoothing, pore- and redness-reducing regiment.  1) PEEL. 2) HEAL. 3) PROTECT. 4) REPEAT.

Oh and one more thing: You’re going to get old, and the only thing worse than getting wrinkles is missing out on your life trying to avoid them. Enjoy your skincare, don’t obsess.

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