skincare, sweets, and Oxford commas

Image Slider

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 😃
Saturday, November 5, 2016

Breakout-free workouts: 6 tips for clear skin

Jen on a run. Read on to find out how she keeps her acne-prone skin clear after an intense sweat sesh.

More energy, better health, toned muscles, more endorphins...the list goes on when it comes to the benefits of exercise. An active lifestyle can also add variety to your social calendar (mine would be all eating and drinking were it not for the occasional hike I do with friends...).

I love a great sweat sesh as much as any basic San Francisco bitch. But as someone with sensitive skin, I've come to terms with a harsh reality of staying fit: sweat-induced acne.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, when you exercise, sweat mixes with the bacteria, oil, and dirt on your skin's surface. That mixture settles into your pores, clogging them and causing breakouts, both on your face and body. LOVELY.

But whatever the skincare risk, the benefits of exercise far outweigh the costs. So no need to worry when you hit the gym–just follow these tips to keep the acne at bay:

1) Start your workout with a clean face. Best way to mitigate that sweat-activated cocktail of bacteria, oil, makeup, and dirt? Take makeup out of the equation. If you're rushing off to the gym right after work, keep some makeup-removing wipes (I love Olay Makeup Remover Wet Cloths) in your gym bag. Gently blot your face before you break a sweat, and you'll be good to go.

2) Invest in breathable, sweat-wicking fabrics. Especially for longer workouts, having sweat build up under your clothes while you move around is a classic recipe for acne mechanica, or friction-induced acne. You can prevent acne mechanica by keeping your skin ventilated and sweat-free. Workout fanatics and yogis go gaga over the sweat-wicking fabrics at Athleta and Lululemon, but I've also had luck with more affordable pieces at Target, Forever 21, and Amazon.

3) Shower within 20 minutes after your workout. You want to give the sweat as little time as possible to join forces with the bacteria and oils on your skin, so treat yourself to a shower as soon as you can after you exercise. Post-workout, I get especially excited to indulge in a deliciously scented body wash like Happy Bath's Grapefruit Sparkling Ale or Softsoap Juicy Pomegranate & Mango. Do a double-cleanse on your face for bonus points.

4) In a rush post-workout? Blot off excess moisture for the time-being. If you don't have time to shower after you exercise, gently blot sweat from your face and body with a clean, damp towel or facial wipe. Make sure you blot rather than rub to avoid friction-induced acne mechanica. And always always always take a full shower as soon as you have the opportunity: while convenient, a wipe should never completely replace a legit face cleanser or body wash.

5) Exfoliate weekly. Sift through workout-induced sebum and dirt left in your pores by exfoliating your face once a week (not more often, as over-exfoliating can leave skin raw and cause irritation). Exfoliation (using granules to remove dead cells from the skin's surface) leaves skin fresh and less susceptible to that sweat/bacteria/dirt mixture I talked about earlier in this post. My favorite exfoliants are Skin Food's Black Sugar Mask and Natural Aqua Gel Cure.

6) Take care of your skin in general. Follow the Lazy Girl Skincare Regimen to prevent acne from forming, and treat existing pimples overnight with CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patches.

I hope these recommendations save you from the headache of sweat-induced acne! I promise you it's worth it to exercise: you'll feel more energized, develop more grit and strength (physically and mentally), and ultimately have a more balanced, happier life. In the long run, a healthy, toned body will yield healthier, less-stressed skin. So every time you have the opportunity to exercise, go for it!
Sunday, October 2, 2016

The best cleansers for sensitive, acne-prone skin

A face-washing tutorial with product recommendations for sensitive skin. Learn how the double-cleansing method can curb dull skin and acne, leaving skin soft, radiant, and ethereally smooth.
Ah, yes: washing your face. Often the last thing you want to do at the end of a long workday (and for me, the thing that doesn't ever get done before collapsing into bed after a big night out...). Annoying as it can be, the importance of cleansing in skincare cannot be stressed enough. Read on to learn more about why you need to wash your face, and which products I recommend for sensitive, acne-prone skin like mine.

Why cleansing?

Cleansing keeps pores clear, thereby preventing skin problems. If you don't periodically wash the dirt and excess oil/sebum that accumulates on your face, your pores get clogged, which can lead to dull skin and acne. Makeup that's left to fester into your pores can exacerbate the damage.

Cleansing also enhances the efficacy of skincare products. Your face needs to be a clean, blank canvas to maximize absorption of nutrients in serums, toners, and moisturizers – these product won't work if they're just sitting on top of gunk that's clogging your pores.

That's where cleansing comes in: it's the first step in the lazy-girl skincare regimen and arguably the most important one. If you don't cleanse properly, the subsequent steps won't have as much benefit.

The magic of double cleansing

Aestheticians and dermatologists alike recommend that you wash your face twice a day: once in the morning, and once before bed. Twice daily is enough to keep pores clear, but not so often that the washing strips healthy oils away from your skin.

Before bed, do a double cleanse: first with an oil cleanser (loosens up dirt, oil, and makeup – remember the "like dissolves like" principle from high school chemistry?), and follow up with a non-oil cleanser (washes away residue for a thorough clean). Read on for a breakdown of how I wash my face and my favorite cleansing miracle-workers.
A face-washing tutorial with product recommendations for sensitive skin. Learn how the double-cleansing method can curb dull skin and acne, leaving skin soft, radiant, and ethereally smooth.
Cleansing before bed

Pre-wash: Remove eye makeup (if applicable)
(#1 in image) Clinique's Take the Day Off Eye Makeup Remover Stick does wonders, gently removing even the most stubborn waterproof eye makeup. I love that I don't have to fuss with cotton swabs – all I need to do is rub the convenient stick directly onto my eyelids to loosen up the makeup and then get on with the rest of my cleansing routine.

Step 1: Oil cleanse
Pump a dime-sized amount of oil cleanser into your hands and massage the product into your dry face, focusing on the corners (sides of the nose, under the eyes) where dirt can build up throughout the day. Then splash lukewarm water onto your face. You'll notice that the oil cleanser starts to emulsify and turn a milky, opaque color, meaning that it's dissolving the oily buildup. After massaging for about a minute, rinse the oil cleanser emulsion off your face with lukewarm water, but don't pat dry yet: leave your face wet for the next step.

Here are my oil cleanser picks:

(#2 in image) Tatcha Pure One-Step Camellia Cleansing Oil: Love that this cleanser is chock full of healthy botanicals like green tea and camellia oil. Melts away makeup and dirt like a charm. The packaging is also durable and travel-friendly (most oil cleanser containers tend to leak or explode in my suitcase). Only gripe about this product is the high price tag.

(#3 in image) The Face Shop's Rice Water Bright Cleansing Light Oil: A friend of mine brought this oil cleanser back from Korea as a gift, and I've been addicted ever since. Makeup slides right off, it emulsifies gorgeously, and my skin feels soft and smooth afterwards. More reasonably priced than the Tatcha cleansing oil.

Step 2: Non-oil cleanse
I always follow up my oil cleansing step with a non-oil cleanser to ensure that every trace of the oil cleanser (and the collected dirt/grime) is gone. Massage a dime-sized amount of the non-oil cleanser onto wet skin and rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. Gently pat dry with a cotton towel afterwards. Here's an assortment of non-oil cleansing products that I've tried and loved, as they're suitable for sensitive/acne-prone skin:

(#4 in image) Cerave Hydrating Cleanser: This is the cleanser I reach for the most often, recommended by my dermatologist. It doesn't lather, but it cleanses well (all the residue slides off - so satisfying), and it's very gentle and fragrance-free. Thanks to its hyaluronic acid content, this cleanser helps skin retain moisture even after you've rinsed it off.

(#5 in image) Cerave Foaming Cleanser: Here's the foaming equivalent to Cerave Hydrating Cleanser. The modest lather does leave my skin feeling a bit cleaner, and I love the addition of niacinamide (vitamin B3), which can help fade hyperpigmentation and soothe inflammation (often the side effect of acne). My dermatologist has even convinced me to start taking niacinamide orally for enhanced benefits to my skin. All in all, a solid alternative to Cerave Hydrating Cleanser.

(#6 in image) Philosophy Purity Made Simple: A fragrance-free, lightly-foaming gem of a cleanser. Thanks to its twelve essential oil combo, it has a naturally herbal scent – you might detect hints of sandalwood, sage, and pepper. Despite the oil content, I've never had a breakout from this cleanser. Dissolves grime and makeup, leaving skin super-smooth and soft.

(#7 in image) Shiseido Perfect Milk: I confess – I only discovered this product because a sales associate at Olive Young recommended it to my husband when we were in Seoul last year. But I tried it once, fell in love, and now we share the pretty blue bottle. You only need a tiny drop or two to build a rich lather that removes residue beautifully and leaves your skin feeling clean and refreshed. Only drawback is that it's not fragrance-free, but I love the fresh smell, and so far, it hasn't irritated my skin.

(#8 in image) Fresh Soy Face Cleanser: Cucumber extract and rosewater give this gentle gel cleanser a yummy scent (even though it's fragrance-free). It foams up just a little, melts away dirt and makeup, and leaves your skin ethereally smooth.

Cleansing in the morning

My morning cleansing routine is identical to Step 2 (the non-oil cleanse) above, except usually wash my face in the shower in the morning 😃
Happy cleansing!

Washing your face properly is the bona-fide first step on your path to better skin, so I hope these tips make cleansing feel more like a moment of Zen and less like a chore! What are your favorite cleansing products?
Thursday, September 15, 2016

Giving up dairy for better skin (and smoothie recipes to cope)

Jen eating milky desserts: key lime pie, espresso blondies, matcha soft serve ice cream

I'm convinced that dairy is an acne trigger for me, which sucks because I'm really into making buttery desserts, and I love dairy in general SO MUCH:
  • Triple cream brie from Cowgirl Creamery
  • Jasmine or earl grey tea-flavored ice cream from Mr and Mrs. Miscellaneous
  • Full-fat plain yogurt with granola – I could eat this every morning for the rest of my life. 
  • Sour cream in a taco. 
  • Melted cheese in any form – hello, raclette and fondue! 
  • Kouign-amann and passion fruit bostock from b.patisserie
  • Banana cake with cream cheese frosting from Icing on the Cake
  • Chocolate rum cake from The Prolific Oven
  • Vanilla celebration cake from Susiecakes
Whenever I eat any of these delicious things, I get a horrible breakout. Granted, I've never had an easy time digesting dairy. But beyond mere lactose intolerance, there seems to be something about milk itself (the hormones?) that upsets my skin.

I never would have considered cutting out dairy were it not for my dermatologist, who told me there's a scientifically proven (albeit weak) link between dairy consumption and acne. But because she mentioned it, I've cut dairy from my diet for the past month and a half, and much like Annie Tomlin, I've noticed a difference!

It's especially difficult when cheese-covered bar food and milky desserts call my name. When I was visiting fast-food-mecca LA earlier this month, I had to order burritos and burgers without cheese or sour cream. This also meant giving up on my conquest for the Blue Velvet Cake from The Milk Shop, which I'd been wanting to try for years. *stomp stomp whine whine*

Without my favorite dairy treats, I definitely have fewer endorphin-blasting moments. But the sustained level of endorphins in my system is higher on average because my skin's smoother and I don't have as many embarrassing digestive issues (the people around me are a lot happier too...)

Better yet, my foray into the dairy-free world has helped me discover products like So Delicious Yogurt, which has a thick, creamy texture and delightful (not overwhelming) coconutty taste.

I used this yogurt to make a dairy-free version of Blogilates' Rainbow Smoothie and the smoothie bowl of my dreams, inspired by Hello Miss May. See recipes below!

Dairy-free rainbow smoothies with spinach, pineapple, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, carrots, peaches, and pitaya Rainbow Smoothies
adapted from Blogilates
makes 2 generous servings

Mix each layer one at a time. I used my Cuisinart Smart Stick Blender for each layer, rinsing the blender blade in between each run.

Yellow layer:
- 4 frozen peach sections
- 1 cup frozen pineapple
- 2" banana
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Orange layer:
- 8 frozen peach sections
- 1 clementine
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots

Red layer:
- 1 cup frozen cherries, strawberries, and raspberries
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 3 tablespoons almond milk

Purple layer:
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 2" banana
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Green layer:
- 1 cup frozen green grapes
- 1 cup spinach
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 1/4 cup almond milk

Pink layer
- 1 pitaya smoothie pack (can be found in freezer section at Whole Foods)
- 2" banana
- 3 tablespoons almond milk

Spoon each layer into a tall clear glass and enjoy!

Green smoothie with granola, strawberries, blueberries, and almonds
Green Smoothie Bowls
adapted from Hello Miss May
makes 2 servings

Green smoothie ingredients:
- 1 cup frozen green grapes
- 1 cup spinach
- 3 tablespoons So Delicious Plain Yogurt
- 1/4 cup almond milk

- Trader Joe's Vanilla Almond Clusters cereal
- Blueberries
- Bananas, sliced
- Strawberries, sliced
- Almonds

  1. Blend all green smoothie ingredients together (you can use a traditional blender or a stick blender like the Cuisinart Smart Stick Blender).
  2. Get a shallow bowl.
  3. Place cereal on one side of the bowl.
  4. Place strawberry slices right next to the cereal.
  5. Layer blueberries next to the strawberries.
  6. Fill the other side of the bowl with the green smoothie.
  7. Place banana slices and almonds decoratively on top of the smoothie.
Friday, September 9, 2016

Accutane: The good, the bad, and the fabulous

Acne Studios is the name of a fashion-forward Swedish clothing brand, but it might has well have been my nickname throughout my acne-riddled adolescence and adulthood.
Acne Studios is the name of a fashion-forward Swedish clothing brand, but it might has well have been my nickname throughout my acne-riddled adolescence and adulthood.

I had severe, relentless acne from the tender age of 12. For years, I tried every other topical and oral treatment known to man (benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, salicylic acid, laser treatments, antibiotics, birth control pills, Chinese herbal medicine) and saw little to no success.

Thanks to my stubborn acne, my teen and early adult years were overrun with memories like these:
  • Hauling an enormous bag of anti-acne products to summer camp
  • Scouring the web for acne solutions late at night in my college dorm room
  • Leaving a big foundation stain on a friend's white shirt after giving him a hug
  • Freaking out about my red, bumpy face before every job interview

Finally, my dermatologist prescribed Accutane (orally-ingested isotretinoin) when I was 24, and it changed my life. My skin was no longer an oily, inflamed mess, and I could step out of the house without a thick layer of foundation on my face.

On the left: Hiking in Palo Alto in 2009, wearing a TON of makeup. Despite layers of foundation, concealer, and powder, you can still see acne on my cheeks, forehead, and chin, plus my skin was extremely oily.
On the right: From my trip to LA last weekend, wearing just a touch of NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Ginger. Even though I ended my last course of Accutane in 2012, my skin is still relatively clear today. Also, I’ve aged.

I’m a huge advocate of Accutane for anyone who is frustrated with their acne. Essentially a large dose of vitamin A, Accutane shrinks sebaceous glands and slows the production of oils. With less oil, hair follicles and pores are less likely to clog, eliminating breeding grounds for acne-causing bacteria. The result? Clear, smooth skin.

Despite Accutane’s efficacy, people have a lot of qualms about it:
  1. There are claims that Accutane causes depression and suicide.
  2. Accutane was originally formulated as a skin cancer chemotherapy drug. It’s perceived as too extreme of a measure for a cosmetic condition like acne.
  3. One of the most common side effects of taking Accutane, dry skin, is assumed to be too painful to endure for a lifetime of better skin.

Here’s a qualm-by-qualm breakdown of why I still recommend Accutane:
  1. There’s no scientifically-proven causative link between Accutane and mental issues. Anecdotally, I felt more unhinged when I was on birth control pills (and I tried pretty much every brand on the market) than when I was on Accutane. Once my skin started clearing up, I felt more positive and emotionally free than ever.
  2. While it’s true that Accutane was originally formulated as a skin cancer drug, Accutane's had clinical clearance from the FDA as a safe anti-acne medication since 1982. Moreover, acne is not merely a ‘cosmetic’ condition: it is a very visible problem that can cause psychological and social scarring, so it makes sense to get advanced medical science involved. And under the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist that you trust, taking Accutane is perfectly safe.
  3. Accutane does cause dry skin, but it’s temporary and can be mitigated by using emollient lip balm, a deep facial moisturizer, and healing body ointment throughout your Accutane course.

Most importantly, most of Accutane's side effects can be mitigated by easing into it with small dosages that gradually get bumped up.

The efficacy of Accutane comes not from daily dosage amounts, but from the cumulative amount that you take over one continuous course. For example, if your dermatologist prescribes a 14,400 mg cumulative course (this amount will vary based on your height, weight, and severity of acne), you can take 60 mg daily doses for eight months, or you can take 120 mg daily doses for four months–so long as the cumulative dosage is the same between the two paths.

In order to mitigate the side effects mentioned above, I highly recommend the former path: I was on a mild 5 mg daily dosage for a month before eventually graduating up to 60 mg daily in my ninth month, and I experienced virtually no side effects (I was surprised because I am typically hyper-sensitive to most medications a la my experience with birth control pills).

Before you embark on your Accutane journey, please note these drawbacks:
  • Accutane causes birth defects when ingested by pregnant women. Any woman of child-bearing age who is prescribed Accutane must present two negative pregnancy tests before starting the medication and use two forms of birth control throughout the course. I recommend latex condoms and a non-hormonal IUD. Hormonal birth control can alter the skin-clearing effects of Accutane, and every time I’ve tried a hormonal birth control method, I’ve had horrible breakouts.
  • Accutane requires monthly monitoring of the liver due to its high vitamin A content. This requires visiting the doctor once a month to have your blood drawn and evaluated throughout the course of your Accutane treatment. The monthly trips to the doctor are manageable and absolutely worth it – remind yourself that you’ll only have to do them for a few months and then you’ll be DONE.
  • Accutane makes your skin more susceptible to sunburn. Daily sunscreen application is an absolute must (but this should be the case anyway even if you're not on Accutane). 
  • Accutane does not eradicate all acne forever. Even after completing an Accutane course, I still get a couple zits from time to time. But armed with topicals from the dermatologist's office, my favorite retail skincare products, and a rigorous skincare regimen, I have control over my acne (rather than it being the other way around).

Despite these drawbacks, the vast improvement in my skin (and my confidence) from Accutane was well worth it. My only regret with Accutane was that I didn’t try it sooner.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review and demo: Semi-permanent lip color (and 50% off MEMEBOX sale!)

Jen Lee reviews and demos peel-off semi-permanent lip color from Memebox. The product is Berrisom Oops My Lip Tint Pack.

This post features a product from the Korean beauty site Memebox, where you can get 10% off your first order when you sign up at Also, note there's a 50% off sale on select items until 9 AM PST on Tuesday, August 30.

I'd mentioned in a prior post that a temporary lip tint could be a great option for camping trips. I'd assumed you could apply the lip tint the night before leaving, and the tint would last for a weekend in the outdoors. In effect, you'd look like you were wearing lipstick without having to weigh down your pack with actual lipstick.

So I put my theory to the test: I ordered this Berrisom Oops My Lip Tint Pack from Memebox and took it for a spin.

The way this product works is fascinating:
  1. You apply it to your lips like you would with any other lipstick
  2. Wait 5-10 minutes for the product to dry
  3. Gently peel off the dried outer layer (easier and less scary than it sounds) and behold the rich pigment it leaves behind.
The best thing about Berrisom Oops My Lip Tint Pack is you can snack all day without having to worry about your lip color rubbing off on your food.

The verdict? I love these lip tints for the following reasons:
  • Quick and painless process – easy to peel off. The peeling process is oddly satisfying and reminiscent of pore strips.
  • Smells nice and leaves lips soft.
  • Natural-looking matte finish.
  • Leaves behind a brilliant, non-sticky pigment that doesn't leave a residue when you eat or drink. I love the richness of the color – Benetint is too subtle for me. 
  • Semi-permanent effect without salon appointments or needles.
The product does have a few drawbacks:
  • Application is challenging. The stuff (prior to peel-off) is super sticky. I found it difficult to get the lip shape just right with the blunt plastic applicator.
  • The pigment comes off as soon as you exfoliate your lips. When I applied my HG Vaseline after doing the lip tint process at night, the pigmented layer exfoliated off in the shower the next morning.
  • It's not a weekend-long trip solution – it's more like a day-to-night solution. The longest I've been able to keep the pigment on has been 12 hours. So you can put it on before a camping trip, but it's not going to last past the first day.
All in all, I'm going to continue using this product because my tendency to snack throughout the day makes it hard for me to wear traditional lipsticks. But take note: my fiendish snacking hasn't stopped me from experimenting with other lip products. I have a recent obsession with Colourpop that I'll discuss in a future post.

I'm always on the prowl for new lip products – tell me about your favorites in the comments below or email!
Sunday, August 21, 2016

Vitamin C serum (and 4 more game-changers from the derm)

Here's a rundown of the latest and greatest products I got from my dermatologist, including vitamin C serum, my new HG sunscreen, and Retin-A Micro. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people.

I never regret visiting my dermatologist: she fills my hands with samples and my head with the latest research.

I went to the dermatologist last week for three main reasons:
  • Oiliness – By the end of each day, my face would be a shiny mess and my bangs would be flat because of my oily forehead. I miss how fluffy my bangs used to be when I was on Accutane.
  • Acne – I was breaking out, especially on my forehead, cheeks, and upper lip.
  • Wrinkles – I was noticing new lines around my eyes.

My oiliness and acne were especially bothersome to me, so I asked my dermatologist about getting back on Accutane. My skin on Accutane was enviably smooth and matte – ah, those were the days!

On the left: Me in Miami in 2011, fresh off the Accutane boat. Skin so smooth and matte! And you can see individual strands in my bangs. Not sure what was going on with my blush, but we'll save that for another post.
On the right: Me at Cafe No Sé in Austin about a month ago. Skin looks oily and bangs are sticking to my face.
On the far right: my lovely mother...SHOW ME YOUR SOFT SMOOTH SKIN WAYS.

But given that the husband and I could get pregnant in the next few years, my dermatologist urged me to stay off Accutane due to the possibility of birth defects. The FDA claims that you should be OK to get pregnant 1 month after you finish an Accutane course, but my dermatologist suggests waiting 3 months to be extra careful. Best not to risk it: no Accutane for me until I'm done having babies for good.

Ever an amazing doctor, my dermatologist recommended topical (read: baby-making friendly) products for all my skincare woes, and they're working great so far.

Skinceuticals Phloretin CF: There's proven scientific research on topical applications of vitamin C and wrinkle prevention. Chock full of vitamin C and other antixoidants, Phloretin CF is an anti-wrinkle potion I can wear during the day (unlike Atralin or Retin-A Micro, which are photo-inactivated, meaning exposure to sunlight makes them less effective). Atralin, Retin-A Micro, and Phloretin CF all stimulate collagen turnover, leading to firmer, smoother skin and more even skin tone. I've been using Phloretin CF every morning for about a week now, and it feels awesome: smooth, fast-absorbing, and it naturally emits a delicious coffee scent. Time will tell if the wrinkle-preventing properties have efficacy – in the meantime, I'll supplement this vitamin C topical by eating lots of citrus fruits and persimmons.

Skinceuticals Matte Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 50: I've found my new holy grail mineral sunscreen (and timing is perfect because it appears my old HG Clarins sunscreen will be discontinued). The texture is light, whipped, and absorbs into the skin invisibly - no residual stickiness, oil, chalky appearance, or shine. Another advantage over the Clarins? It's fragrance-free, which means I can take it camping when my Cerave sunscreen runs out.

Aczone: This one's an oldie but goodie. I've loved Aczone as a gentle acne spot-treatment for years, but my dermatologist has convinced me to use it daily all over my face as an acne-preventative and oil/shine control measure. It leaves skin smooth and matte, and it's extremely gentle given how much of an anti-acne powerhouse it is. One thing to note: if you get Aczone on your lips, it tends to dry them out. Not a big deal –just avoid the lip area when applying Aczone, and use lip balm for extra protection (I love cocoa butter Vaseline).

Soolantra: Originally formulated as a rosacea treatment, Soolantra also has efficacy as an anti-inflammatory for acne sufferers according to clinical trials. My derm told me I can use Soolantra and Aczone interchangeably. I love how Soolantra smoothens my skin; however, I've found that it makes me look shiny if I apply it in the AM, so I only apply it at night.

Retin-A Micro, 0.08% tretinoin (replacing Atralin): Atralin isn't preventing breakouts like it used to, plus the sticky texture of the gel is driving me nuts. My dermatologist prescribed Retin-A micro as an alternative to Atralin. Retin-A has a higher percentage (0.08%) of tretinoin than Atralin (only 0.05% tretinoin). It's light and creamy (not sticky like Atralin gel), and my bumpy pimples are already starting to flatten after only a week of using it.

Here's a roundup this week's derm haul!
Product What it fights Why it's a game-changer How to use it
Skinceuticals Phloretin CF
(no Rx required)


Sun spots / discoloration
Clinically proven to diminish wrinkles and even skin tone

Stays active even when exposed to sunlight

Lightweight, smooth gel texture

Natural coffee scent
AM: Apply two pumps to facial skin, avoiding the eye area, right after washing your face in the morning
Skinceuticals Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50
(no Rx required)

Oiliness / shine
Gentle physical sunscreen


High SPF

No residual stickiness

No chalky appearance

Leaves skin matte
AM: Apply a pea-sized amount to facial skin after applying moisturizer and primer in the morning


Oiliness/ shine
Clinically proven to reduce acne and oiliness

Gentle enough to use 2x/day

Leaves skin smooth and matte
AM: Apply a pea-sized amount to facial skin, avoiding the lip area, right after applying Phloretin CF and before applying moisturizer and primer

PM: Apply a pea-sized amount to facial skin, avoiding the lip area, right after washing and toning

Acne Leaves skin smooth

Helps treat and prevent acne
PM: Apply a pea-sized amount to facial skin right after washing and toning
Retin-A Micro,
0.08% tretinoin


Oiliness / shine


Sunspots / discoloration
Very high, clinically proven anti-acne efficacy

Clinically proven to prevent wrinkles

Clinically proven to reduce sun spots

Light, creamy texture that absorbs easily

Helps maintain smooth, matte skin
PM: Apply a pea-sized amount to facial skin, avoiding the lip area, 20 minutes after toning and applying Aczone or Soolantra

And here's what my daily skincare regimen looks like with these additions:

1. Cleanse: Cerave Hydrating Cleanser
2. Prevent wrinkles and discoloration: Skinceuticals Phloretin CF
3. Fight acne and shine: Aczone
4. Moisturize: L'Occitane Precious Cream
5. Fight shine: Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer
6. Protect from sun damage: Skinceuticals Matte Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 50

1. Pre-cleanse: The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Light Oil
2. Cleanse: Cerave Hydrating Cleanser
3. Tone (with a cotton pad): L'Occitane Immortelle Essential Water
4. Fight acne: Aczone or Soolantra
5. Wait 20 minutes for skin to dry completely
6. Treat acne, wrinkles, sun spots: Retin-A Micro, 0.08% tretinoin
7. Moisturize: L'Occitane Precious Cream
8. Fight undereye wrinkles: Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream or Etude House Moistfull Super-Collagen Eye Cream

Excited to see if these products will continue working for me – hope you get a chance to try them out too!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Saturday, August 13, 2016

Skincare gone wild: A camper's guide

Check out these quick and dirty tips on how to keep your skin in tip-top shape when you're contending with nature. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people. Visit

I am not a die-hard camping enthusiast, but I like to get outside every once in a while. Recent excursions include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and the Colorado wilderness, where my now-husband proposed to me.

The Jen Project on how Jen was proposed to in Maroon Bells, Colorado.
My scrubbiest camping outfit and not a single lick of makeup – as you can see, I had no idea he was going to propose at that moment. This happened at Maroon Bells in Colorado.

When you’re in survival mode, skincare is probably at the bottom of your priorities bucket. How can you be bothered to slather anything onto your skin when you’ve got nature to contend with? The blazing sun, the biting wind, warding off predators, finding food – the whole camping experience is unfriendly to the lazy girl skincare regimen.

So what's a city girl to do when faced with the elements? After years of trial and error + advice from my dermatologist, I've come up with a manageable approach to minimize sun damage, acne, and wrinkles on camping trips:
  • Bring fragrance-free products. No one wants to attract mosquitoes or bears with scented products at the campsite. Bears have such a keen sense of smell that they've been known to tear open cars like tin cans, drawn by the mere scent of sunscreen. You'll have to store all toiletries – even if they're fragrance-free – in bear boxes if you're camping in bear territory.
  • Keep it simple. Cleanse and moisturize your face before you go into your tent at night. Cleanse, moisturize, and apply sunscreen in the morning. My go-to fragrance-free products are from Cerave:
    • Cerave Hydrating Cleanser: This stuff is so gentle and soothing, I use it even when I'm not camping. A dime-sized amount should clean off any dirt or sweat from hiking, campfires, and other outdoor activites.
    • Cerave Facial Moisturizing Lotion (PM): Spread a dime-sized amount over your face and body to calm down dryness from wind or sun exposure. You can use this lotion during the day, too, even though it's labeled "PM." I prefer to use this lotion with a layer of sunscreen rather than the "AM" version because the "AM" contains chemical sunscreens which break me out. 
    • Cerave Sunscreen Face Lotion, SPF 50: The long-lasting mineral base, high SPF, and low price point make this sunscreen a camping staple. Note that it has a slight metallic smell, and it has a thick texture (not velvety like my HG Clarins sunscreen, which I don't bring on camping trips because it's not fragrance-free).
  • Leave the makeup at home. Especially if you're backpacking, it's critical to pack light. If you don't feel like yourself without makeup, here's what you can do:
    • For light coverage, bring a fragrance-free tinted sunscreen. I like MDSolarSciences MD Creme Mineral Beauty Balm SPF 50.
    • Try these temporary lip tints and brow tints, which peel off to leave behind a "stain" that lasts for a few days. Apply these the night before you go camping, peel them off in the morning, and you'll be good to go with a soft, long-lasting tint on your lips and eyebrows. Haven't tried these myself yet, but I just ordered some from Memebox – stay tuned for my review in a future post.
  • Stay protected from the sun. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen all day. For extra protection, wear a sunscreen shirt.
  • Keep the bugs away. Wear unscented bug repellent on your body and long pants / long-sleeved shirts. Since I have yet to find a bug repellent that feels OK on my face (essential oils break me out), I plan to wear a mosquito net over my head for my next long hike.
Here's a cheat sheet:
Check out these quick and dirty tips on how to keep your skin in tip-top shape when you're contending with nature. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people. Visit

You may not come back from the wilderness with perfectly smooth, flawless skin. But there's something to be said for the sweeping views and fresh air that can only be experienced in nature. And who knows: spending time outdoors might give you a healthy inside-out glow that city-dwellers will envy.

Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park - spectacular scenery. The hike there is long but well worth it.
Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park. Spectacular in person; my photo doesn't do it justice.

I hope these tips are helpful for your next outdoor adventure!
Sunday, August 7, 2016

The #1 way to improve problem skin

Overwhelmed by all the products, diets, and methods that claim to have amazing effects on your skin? Cut through the clutter with this tip. From The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people. Visit

As a San Francisco resident and Pinterest enthusiast, I understand the appeal of DIY /“natural” skincare. But as a long-time acne sufferer, I turn to one thing above all else for my biggest skincare woes: medical science.

The best way to improve problem skin is to visit a board-certified dermatologist with positive reviews (I found mine on Yelp. ZocDoc has great doctor reviews too).

Here’s why it’s so helpful to visit the derm:

Reason 1: They’re the experts. A dermatologist has spent years and years studying the ins and outs of skin. She’s always on the cutting edge of new scientific research that will help you make incremental improvements in your regimen. The result? Your skin will look and feel its best. Whenever I visit my dermatologist, she tells me about a new academic paper she's read and gives me an actionable takeaway. Most recently, she taught me about the benefits of niacinamide supplements and the clinically-proven (albeit weak) link between dairy consumption and acne.

Reason 2: There’s nothing like one-on-one guidance. When you’re breaking out, talking to a knowledgeable human being makes a huge difference. Not only can a dermatologist give you emotional support, but by talking with you, she'll also pick up on signals about your overall lifestyle and health that could be impacting your skin. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in skincare, and a dermatologist can help you hone in on what products and techniques suit your particular lifestyle and skin chemistry. Over time, a dermatologist can hold you accountable for a new regimen you’re trying and motivate you to keep at it! Patience is a virtue when it comes to skincare.

Reason 3: You want products and methods that work. Most importantly, your dermatologist can prescribe you topical and oral medications. Plus, she’ll oversee your application of those meds to ensure optimal results. For example, I only started having success with retinoids once I followed my dermatologist’s advice on how to apply them. Applied incorrectly, retinoids were a disaster for my skin. But with greater compliance, they became - and continue to be - a miracle-worker for me. See my past post for more info on how I apply my retinoid product, Atralin.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying things like DIY honey face masks or turmeric smoothies for better skin. DIY skincare can improve skin tone and texture. But don’t expect the dramatic improvements I saw with meds like Accutane and Retin-A. I’ll tell you all about my Accutane experience in a future post - stay tuned!
Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My lazy girl skincare regimen

The Jen Project's lazy girl skincare regimen for acne and wrinkle-prone skin

I have super sensitive combination skin that’s acne-prone and starting to wrinkle. It’s been a challenge to navigate through all the skincare products on the market: anti-acne products exacerbate wrinkles, and anti-wrinkle products exacerbate acne.

Case in point: eye cream applied at night does wonders for my undereye wrinkles. But I tend to get a few pimples on my cheeks after I've used eye cream consistently for about a week.

Then I don't use eye cream for a while, and while my face clears up, those pesky undereye wrinkles are back again.

A few years ago, a fairy godmother-like dermatologist helped me craft a skincare regimen in which the products were not at odds with each other. With this regimen, I got the best of both anti-wrinkle and anti-acne solutions.

While not perfect, my skin today is the best it’s been since I was 12 years old, thanks to this regimen. It's a lot easier to exercise and travel now – no more hiding my bare face at the gym, and my carry-on toiletries bag is so much lighter.

The lazy girl skincare regimen: An easy-peasy, no-nonsense skincare routine for acne and/or wrinkle-prone skin. From The Jen Project - a skincare blog for busy people. Visit

My daily skincare regimen
  • Cleanse: Cerave Hydrating Cleanser or Shiseido Perfect Milk
    • Love the Cerave because it's so gentle and affordable. There's no foaming or deep-cleaning action, which is fine for mornings when I'm mostly trying to wash off my retinoid and eye cream from the previous night's application. 
    • Shiseido Perfect Milk foams up and cleans deep - I use this about once a week when I want to get in a deep-clean in the mornings. 
  • Moisturize: L'Occitane Immortelle Precious Cream
    • Love the way this moisturizer smells and feels on my skin. It gives my face a healthy glowy look, smoothes out rough patches, never breaks me out, and puts my heart at rest when I feel some fine lines starting to settle in. I've tried to migrate away from this stuff and use products like Olay Regenerist for budget reasons, but I always return to my Precious Cream. It truly is...precious. 
  • Prime: Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer
    • Applying a thin layer of this primer in the morning makes my skin velvety smooth and (relatively) shine-free. It's also a great base for my tinted sunscreen. 
  • Protect: Clarins UV Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40, Light/Medium tint
    • Love the light silky texture of this sunscreen, and the slight tint helps conceal blotchiness, sun spots, and acne scars. It's also mineral-based, containing only titanium dioxide (chemical sunscreens break me out and cause blotchiness). 
IMPORTANT: WAIT 20 MINUTES. This is the most enjoyable part of my regimen – when I get to be truly lazy. I think of it as my “me” time at the end of each day, when I treat myself to 20 minutes of Netflix, do a few lightweight Blogilates workouts, or literally lie around the house while I let my toner do its thang. It's important to wait 20 minutes before applying a retinoid because the residual moisture left on your face after you wash it will cause the retinoid to absorb faster/deeper than necessary, leading to dry, irritated skin. That 20-minute period allows the residual moisture to evaporate while your skin regains some of its natural oils and protection so that it can absorb the retinoid in a balanced, gradual way (more like grazing than devouring, if you will).
  • Treat: Apply a pea-sized amount of a retinoid product (I use Atralin) gently all over skin.
    • According to my dermatologist, retinoids are the holy grail of dermatology. Retinoids magically have anti-acne, anti-wrinkle, and sun spot-fading properties, all backed by medical research.
  • Moisturize: L'Occitane Immortelle Precious Cream
  • (optional) Fight undereye wrinkles: Shiseido Benefiance Eye Cream or Etude House Moistfull Super-Collagen Eye Cream
    • Love both of these eye creams. The Shiseido one is more creamy and the Etude House one is firmer, but whenever I use them at night, I wake up to a noticeably smoother undereye area.
    • The trick to using any eye cream for acne-prone skin: apply to the undereye area right before you get into bed so there's no risk of the eye cream trickling down to your cheeks. As soon as you wake up in the morning, wash your face.