skincare tips for a busy world

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Acne and sugar: Can you have your cake and eat it too? (+ ombre cake recipe)

Here's a low glycemic load ice cream cake recipe from The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people. This cake will be less acne-triggering than most other sugary cakes.

tl;dr - Eating sugar (or any processed carbs) can cause inflammation and acne. Bad news for acne-prone me: I love sweets, especially cake. So here's my go-to low-sugar (but still impressive-tasting and impressive-looking) ombre cake recipe for when I'm craving something sweet and want to keep my skin clear.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sheet masking 101 + Tony Moly "I'm Real" roundup

Tony Moly It's Real Sheet Masks reviewed by The Jen Project
I love sheet masking! The application couldn't be easier: just open the pouch and slap the mask onto your face (no painting required). 20 minutes later, you're left with smoother, more hydrated skin.

Proper hydration is key to curbing issues like acne and wrinkles, so I've turned sheet masking into a weekly ritual. The cool (temperature-wise) sensation of having a sheet mask on my face feels like therapy to me – I think of it as my weekly "me" time (no spa appointment required!). I also love that you can sheet mask from almost anywhere: the thin, portable packaging makes it easy to slip a few sheet masks into your suitcase for trips.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Snails on my face? Yes, please!

How Jen uses Mizon All-In-One Snail Repair Cream. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for lazy people.

We're three weeks into the new year, and I've yet to experience a breakout in 2017! For someone whose acne used to be so bad that she underwent three courses of Accutane, that's a huge feat. So what's been the game changer for me? Spironolactone has helped, especially to curb oiliness. But my skin wasn't breakout-proof until I supplemented spironolactone with the most magical topical I've tried: Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream.

Snail mucus...yes, I know it sounds like some make-believe fantasy skincare ingredient. Something mythical my parents would read about in the Korean newspaper (cue fan death). I was super skeptical until a coworker recommended the Mizon product to me, and I read rave reviews from Into the Gloss and Peach and Lily. Thank goodness I decided to give it a shot! After using snail cream for two months, my skin is smoother, I'm not breaking out, and my acne scars and hyperpigmentation are fading.

Why snails?
Snails constantly slither over sharp rocks and other bacteria-laden surfaces, but their smooth bodies appear to stay free of cuts and infections, thanks to their mucus coating. That's likely what the ancient Greeks had in mind when they prescribed snail mucus as a topical anti-inflammatory (see references here and here). Fast forward to the 1980s, when Chilean escargot farmers (and their French customers) noted how quickly hand lesions healed (with no scarring) after handling snails. The French figured they were onto something and began exploring the use of snail mucus in skincare. Check out this French video and this Chilean one (narrated in French) on how they harvest snail mucus.

Citing the potential of snails recorded throughout history, the Korean skincare industry took the idea and ran with it. Dozens of snail mucus-containing products from Korean skincare companies debuted in the 2000s. Despite the initial "ick" factor, skincare enthusiasts worldwide embraced snail mucus as an anti-wrinkle, anti-acne, scar-healing miracle worker. It's no wonder: snail mucus is full of moisture-retaining hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and anti-bacterial glycoproteins that can heal scars and boost collagen for firmer, more elastic skin.

Dermatologists remain divided on the efficacy of snail mucus, but there are enough studies on its benefits to sustain a thriving snail skincare industry: on top of all the snail products out there, Thailand boasts a facial in which snails literally crawl over your face (there are also more conventional facials that incorporate snail mucus). I'm all for products that are bona-fide approved by the scientific community (a la Retin-A), but when a product works this well for me, I can't help but sing its praises. Here's to hoping that snail mucus works for you, too!

How I use snail cream
1) Double-cleanse with Banila Clean It Zero and Cerave Hydrating Cleanser
2) Tone with L'Occitane Immortelle Essential Water
3) Apply a pinky's worth of Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream
4) Apply moisturizer (L'Occitane Immortelle Precious Cream, or in the drier winter months, Benefit Cosmetics Total Moisture Facial Cream)

I use snail cream twice a day - once in the morning and once again in the evening. The only difference is that in the morning, I use a mineral-based sunscreen (Clarins UV Plus HP SPF 40 or MDSolarSciences MD Crème Mineral Beauty Balm SPF 50), and in the evening, I apply Retin-A and moisturizer 20 minutes after the snail cream, per the lazy girl skincare regimen.

Properties to note about Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream
- Fragrance-free and odorless
- Gooey, syrupy texture
- Feels velvety upon application
- Dries to a non-sticky matte finish
- Has 92% snail filtrate - the highest percentage I've found on the market so far
- Despite "All-In-One" branding, this product is definitely not a moisturizer in and of itself - you'll need to apply a conventional moisturizer after using it

The results I've seen
- Less acne
- Smoother, softer skin
- Reduction in fine lines
- Less-prominent acne scars and hyperpigmentation
- Overall evening of skin tone

How Jen uses Mizon All-In-One Snail Repair Cream. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for lazy people.
2017 resolution: go concealer and foundation-free as much as possible. Took a bare-faced (still wearing eye makeup) selfie this past weekend, and the zit-free skin is brought to you by these multi-tasking snail products. From left to right, See N Tree Snail 100 Mask Sheet and Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream

What else is out there?
The only other snail-based skincare product I've tried so far is the See N Tree Snail 100 Mask Sheet, which I recently received as a gift from Korea. Like I do for most sheet masks, I loved this one's cooling effect, and it helped my skin flake less during these winter months, but no earth-shattering results from using it only once.

I've heard great things about the snail skincare lines from Benton and Missha in addition to another more "premium" black snail cream from Mizon. Have any of you tried these products? Let me know what you think of them (and snail mucus in general) in the comments!

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Adult acne: When nothing's working (and you don't want to go on Accutane)

Shoe pic at Sightglass Coffee from The Jen Project
Oh, the joy of a Sightglass macchiato on a rainy day! Now that I'm taking spironolactone, I'm able to enjoy macchiatos without stressing about caffeine and dairy-induced acne.

Happy 2017! The holidays were a whirlwind for me: traveling, spending time with family, and baking up a storm. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season as well! This year, I'll continue sharing my favorite anti-acne and anti-wrinkle discoveries with you all. Thankfully, 2017's been a pretty acne-free year for me so far. Read on to find out why :)

Within three years of finishing my last course of Accutane, my skin had relapsed to a less severe (but still annoying) version of its natural state: oily, pimply, and full of clogged pores.

I was at a loss for what to do - my usual zit-fighting tactics weren't working for me anymore:
  • Topical Aczone helped with oil control and as an acne spot treatment, but not for those stubborn PMS pimples.
  • Nightly applications of Retin-A prevented pimples somewhat - but whenever I traveled to a new climate or had PMS, my skin became a greasy mess.
  • Going caffeine and dairy-free also helped a little, but I discovered that a completely latte-free lifestyle simply wasn't sustainable for me. Plus, I'm an avid baker who loves using traditional ingredients for her cakes and pies (read: lots and lots of butter). Doesn't help that I got obsessed with making cheesecakes over the holidays!

Beachside cheesecake photos from The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people
One of several cheesecakes I baked from this recipe during the holiday season! Full of skin-unfriendly dairy ingredients: cream cheese, brown butter, heavy cream...but the joy I get from baking and eating these cheesecakes is worth the occasional pimple or two. Though I haven't gotten any yet in 2017, thanks to spironolactone.

I was considering a FOURTH course of Accutane, but because my husband and I are planning to have a baby in the next 3-5 years, my dermatologist advised against it (Accutane can cause severe birth defects when ingested in the months leading up to pregnancy). She instead recommended that I try a small daily dose (25 mg) of orally ingested spironolactone, a potassium-sparing pill that prevents your body from absorbing too much salt and keeps your potassium levels from getting too low.

While spironolactone is typically prescribed as a treatment for heart and kidney disorders, it's becoming more common to prescribe it off-label for acne treatment as well.

Sounds scary, but my dermatologist assured me of spironolactone's safety, especially at such a small daily dosage. I'm so glad I listened to her. Here are the benefits I've experienced since I started taking spironolactone a few months ago:
  • I'm now able to consume dairy and caffeine in modest quantities without stressing out about zits.
  • No more dreaded PMS oiliness or acne.
  • I can travel without climate-induced breakouts!

Spironolactone curbs acne by acting as an androgen inhibitor, blocking the effect of male hormones that contribute to acne. It also blocks activity of sebaceous glands, helping with oiliness. It's no wonder that being on spironolactone feels like I'm getting the benefits of Accutane, without the severe side effects.

Pros of spironolactone (for me):
  • Smooth, shine-free skin, even leading up to my period and on trips when my skin has to adapt to a new climate.
  • Almost completely zit-free (I get a few small pimples monthly, but they come to a head and disappear quickly).
  • Able to consume dairy and caffeine without problems.
  • Small pill that's safe (only 25 MG once a day, and I check in with my dermatologist regularly).

Cons of spironolactone (for me):
  • Didn't see results until about 3 weeks into taking the medication.
  • Have to get a blood test every 6 months to make sure potassium levels are normal.
  • Slightly more frequent urination (this went away within 2 months).
  • Initially irregular periods (this also went away within 2 months).
  • The possibility of birth defects if spironolactone is taken while pregnant (but I don't have plans to get pregnant anytime soon, and according to my dermatologist, spironolactone is safe to take leading up to pregnancy - just don't take it while you're pregnant).

Other cons of spironolactone:
  • Guys can't take it (can lead to gynecomastia).
  • In large doses, it can cause hyperkalemia (but the derm says 25 mg/day should be safe).

Traveling with spironolactone versus traveling without spironolactone was like night and day: When I went to Asia two years ago, I was breaking out like crazy, especially on my forehead and around my jawline, where I tend to get oily. My skin couldn't handle the changes in temperature and humidity. But on this year's Asia trip, spironolactone made acne a non-issue: by the end of my stay in Taiwan, I was barely using concealer anymore. Less time putting on concealer means more time for fun and adventure when I'm traveling! Spironolactone is a game-changer for an acne-prone girl who loves travel as much as I do.

Latte from the Red Circle Cafe in Taipei. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people.
Guzzling a latte at Red Circle Cafe in Taipei from our recent Asia trip. I was engaging in three acne triggers here: travel, dairy, and caffeine – any of these on their own used to be enough to cause a massive breakout, but on spironolactone, I could do all three at the same time without worrying about my skin. Which is a relief because I love trying new cafes and milky coffee drinks when I'm on vacation!

In conclusion - spironolactone combined with a solid topical skincare regimen has helped me curb my adult acne, without having to resort to another course of Accutane. If you're frustrated with your acne like I was, and you tend to break out before you get your period, I highly recommend talking to your dermatologist about spironolactone.
Monday, November 14, 2016

4 skincare tips for your next tropical getaway

Off to the tropics? The sand, sun, and salty air are energizing but can wreak havoc on your skin if you're not careful. Here are 4 ways to keep your skin healthy so you can enjoy your vacation to the fullest.

Greetings from the Philippines! I'm currently in Manila after spending a week on the island of Palawan. If you ever visit Palawan, definitely check out Nacpan Beach: with feathery soft sand and fluorescent blue water, it's a beach lover's paradise. The water is warm and perfect for swimming (this was especially nice because I'm used to freezing water at beaches in Northern California). They also sell fresh bukos (young coconuts) on the shore—and nothing says "vacation" like sipping juice straight out of a coconut on the beach.

Palawan is a dreamy paradise for swimming and coconut-drinking.
These photos don't do Nacpan Beach justice - it's even more spectacular in person. I loved swimmming and drinking buko (young coconut) juice on the shore.

In addition to gorgeous beaches, Palawan (like most tropical destinations) has a lot to offer on the activities front: snorkeling, ziplining, hiking, scuba-diving, kayaking. Whether you're beach-bumming or going on active excursions, you don't want a sunburn, breakout, or other annoying skin issue to slow you down. Here are 4 easy ways to keep your skin healthy and radiant so you can enjoy your tropical getaway to the fullest.

1) Protect your skin from the sun
Sun protection should be a priority whether you're on vacation or not. But it's especially important when you're in the tropics, where UV rays are more intense. To protect your skin, apply waterproof sunscreen every morning all over your face and body, reapply every 2 hours (my husband didn't reapply when we were island hopping in Palawan and ended up with a raging red sunburn all over his back), and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses whenever you're on dry land.

For my face, I love MD Crème Mineral Beauty Balm Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen, and I've been slathering Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 on my body every day. So far, no sunburns!

If you do end up with a sunburn, apply aloe vera gel before bedtime (I use Banana Boat's Aloe Vera Gel) to cool down the burn and speed up the healing process.

Keep your skin protected from the sun with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Here we are with our sun gear in Palawan!
On the left: Brought my handy-dandy camping hat with me to the beach.
On the right: The sun shines so bright in Palawan, it's hard to find a photo of us *not* wearing sunglasses.

2) Keep bugs away
Mosquitoes and other pests love the tropics as much as humans do. Keep them away by layering bug repellant (I like Off's Unscented Insect Repellant) over your sunscreen. You can also wear these citronella wristbands for extra protection, but to be safe, I'd recommend using them in addition to the traditional repellant (not as a replacement); also note they have a strong, noticeable citronella scent. Warding off mosquitoes is especially critical now because Zika is a very real threat in most tropical areas, including the Philippines.

3) Wear water shoes
I was horribly unprepared for the sharp underwater rocks en route to some of the beaches, snorkeling areas, and waterfalls we visited. Because tropical excursions often require you to step in and out of water, I highly recommend bringing a pair of rubber-soled water shoes that will protect your feet and dry quickly, not weighing you down in case you need to swim (I've linked a highly-reviewed pair of water shoes I found on Amazon that I'll bring on my next snorkeling trip). Flip-flops are prone to slipping off and don't protect the tops or sides of your feet, and tennis shoes retain too much water and take forever to dry.

In case you do get cuts on the bottoms of your feet as I did, clean out the wound with cool soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin, and patch it up with a 2nd Skin bandage, which is super waterproof yet sheer. It's held onto my foot so far through a handful of snorkeling and swimming excursions.

These waterfalls and lagoons were gorgeous, but I ended up with some cuts on my feet because I forgot to bring water shoes.
On the left: We hiked to Nagkalit-kalit Falls wearing flip flops, which was a bad idea because we had to step through rivers where there were sharp rocks.
On the right: Gorgeous lagoon also full of sharp underwater rocks. Will definitely bring water shoes next time!

4) Maintain your skincare regimen
Even though I'm thousands of miles away from home, I'm still following the lazy girl skincare regimen to keep my acne and wrinkles at bay. The climate here is more humid than it is in San Francisco, but I moisturize twice a day nonetheless (otherwise the Retin-A will make my skin flaky).

A few weeks before I left for my vacation, I also started taking 50 mg of dermatologist-prescribed spironolactone daily to reduce oiliness and acne, which was starting to get out of hand especially around that time of the month. The spironolactone has helped my skin a ton, but it's not without its side effects. I'll be writing about my experience with spironolactone in a future post.

We're off to Taiwan tomorrow, where I plan to stockpile my favorite Asian skincare products and stuff my face with noodles. Stay tuned for updates 😃