What I Wish I’d Known

Okay let me rap at you about what’s been on my mind lately : skincare, what I’m doing, what I know now, what I used to do, and what I used to know … or more accurately, what I didn’t know. Will this be useful for you? If you’re young or otherwise a skin-and-makeup newbie, maybe? Otherwise, at least you will FEEL MY PAIN.


FACE SKIN. It’s so tetchy, and so prone to so very many problems … all of which are 100x more noticeable because, well, they’re on your face. Even in my younger days, when I didn’t have an Eternal Acne Battle rolling, I still had spots, zits, old scars, new scars, spots of hyperpigmentation, unwanted freckles, dry flakies, and a million other things I was inclined to nitpick over. But that was in THE DARK AGES, aka like the 1980s-90s, when I didn’t know jack shit about what I could do to make my face better. (I had other priorities, like boys and drinking.) (“But how is that different from today,” you ask, and I say “shut it, you don’t know my life.”)

Anyway. Today I’m definitely older and probably at least marginally wiser — and I’m also incredibly envious of the teens and 20-somethings who’re growing up in an environment where skin care is taken much more seriously, and in which there are basically INFINITE product options for everything from scrubs to foundations.


1. I picked at my face. Like, a lot.

2. I tried Oxy 10 or whatever it’s called one time — a friend had some and I’d developed a big gnarly spot overnight, kinda high on my right cheek. So I dabbed a little on and went to drive someone to the airport 45 minutes away … and halfway there, my right eye effing swelled shut. ON THE HIGHWAY. I didn’t try a benzoyl peroxide product again until like five years ago. (Persagel transformed one zit next to my mouth into a huge cluster of 4-5 zits that didn’t want to heal for a month. No more BP for me.)

3. I used NOXEMA and SEA BREEZE TONER on the regular. Mmmm, camphor and alcohol, so great for your skin. :( Also the current formulation of Noxema has a load of stearic acid, which is acnegenic AF for me! Hooooraaaaay! (Not hooray.)

4. One thing I did know : Sunscreen. I don’t think I’ve purchased a moisturizer or foundation without SPF since my early 20s. So I’m grateful for that much, at least! But then again, sunscreens back then weren’t what they are today. Still, shitty sunscreen is better than none, I guess?

5. I didn’t know what ingredients would break me out — this was all A Big Mystery. I also didn’t know about pH and skincare, and that putting random shit from the bathroom or kitchen cabinets on my skin (baking soda, toothpaste, Carmex, Vick’s Vap-O-Rub, you name it and I’ve smeared it on my face) was A Bad Idea. On one notable occasion during junior high, a friend and I made a “masque” cocktailed out of an actual St Ives mud mask, Colgate, hydrogen peroxide, hair conditioner, and Vaseline. I am not fucking kidding, yes, it was g-d nasty, and no, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

6. I habitually bought foundations that were way too light for me (90s Flat White Cake Face, oh haaaay) and definitely too matte. “But I’m pale! Everyone says how pale I am! I should obviously get the lightest one.”

7. I also spent a lot of time in weird frosty pastel eyeshadows and lip glosses. Which means I feel very fortunate that candid photography wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. :(

Ah, the 90s. Dyed-black hair, chalk-white face.


1. Dude, hydrocolloidal bandages. I don’t think these even existed when I was young? The best zit-healer and picking-preventer there is.

2. Benzoyl Peroxide is NOT the only effective easily-acquired acne fighter! It’s probably not even the best one! (It’s definitely not the best one for me.) Salicylic and glycolic acids in potent and efficacious formulations are readily available now, and even a superstar powerhouse like azelaic acid can be had OTC.

3. Just because something is marketed for acne or oily skin doesn’t mean it’s necessarily great for that. Most of those products back in the day — and a lot of them now, too — are overly aggressive, unnecessarily strip your face of oils and moisture, and further aggravate already stressed-out skin, thus potentially exacerbating breakouts. Also, boy was I really hell-bent on OIL-FREE everything … now I know better, and can’t get enough of squalane and evening primrose for my naturally oily skin.

4. Basic-ass SPF 15 foundation is not enough, especially if you’re actually going to be in the sun for any amount of time and double-especially if you’re oily-skinned and sweatiness-prone like me. Broad-spectrum is where it’s at, man. Now my challenges have shifted to finding sunscreens that have effective chemical blockage, and are properly stabilized (some of the -benzone UV blockers are great, but often unstable in formula), and don’t have a load of something that gives me a cystic breakout (which unfortunately eliminates a lot of the cyclomethicone-heavy Korean formulas).

5. Which … that’s the hardest part of skincare, the most challenging and the most time-consuming. Why is my face red and stinging? Why are my eyes all swollen? Why did I wake up with a face full o’ pimples? I’m much, much better now about paying attention to ingredients, and keeping a running list of things I know or suspect are problematic for me. It’s a pain in the ass and seemingly an endless project, but just being able to eliminate things like myristic acid and cyclopentasiloxane has helped my skin HUGELY.

6. [singing and waving hands around] Match your foundation to the side of your jaaaawwwww, in natural dayliiiiiiight, or you will look like a dipshiiiiiit! [tap-dances off stage]

7. Fuck it, I still do this. Frosty eyeshadow and lipgloss are fun, and if makeup isn’t fun then I’m wasting my time.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who did Real Dumb Shit on their face back in the day.