For many people, the past few months of quarantine have been a time to re-evaluate how they spend their time and money, how they decorate their home, which type of bread they want to bake from scratch on any given day, and, more recently, how they approach and advocate for race relations and anti-racism efforts in America (about time, don’t you think?). For me, in addition to those things (save for the bread), it’s also been a moment to step back and reflect on my beauty habits—or, rather, recent lack thereof, thanks to some standout quarantine beauty products. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Becca, beauty is your beat…” And you’re absolutely right.
As a beauty writer (and former editor), I’ve been sent just about every product under the sun—and if I haven’t tested it firsthand (whether on my face, forearm or back of my hand), I’ve read all about it. While this is most definitely one of the perks of the job, it’s also—wait for it—one of the biggest stresses. Major first world problem, but hear me out.
Living in a 600-square-foot New York City apartment where roughly 250 square feet of it are solely mine, products have a tendency to pile up. Everywhere I look, there’s some relic of beauty. Retinol and exfoliating acids, sheet masks and mud masks, toners and essences, serums and creams—every surface in my bedroom and office nook features more than a few, and my vanity is fully covered in bottles, tubes, and jars waiting to be explored.
Let’s be clear: I love to try new products—and it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity to test them out for free. But at the same time, it’s also something that makes it incredibly difficult to stick to a set routine—something that’s super important for someone with sensitive, reactive skin (hi, hello). After all, with new products arriving every day and expectations of actually testing them all out, it’s easy to get in the habit of switching up my AM and PM regimens to follow suit, only to wonder why my skin (and recycling bin—so much packaging) then freaks out in the process.
Allow me to reiterate: This isn’t to complain, it’s to explain.
On my worst days—which were at the height of my being sick for weeks on end—the abundance of products was enough to make me take one look at my overflowing vanity, only to feel paralyzed by decision fatigue, which in turn left me backing away slowly without so much as cycling through a simple C-T-M (cleanse, tone, moisturize, y’all—the basics). This response to such privilege made me realize one thing: Something needed to change. Fortunately, understanding the need for change lined up perfectly with the week leading into quarantine.
At the time, lockdown orders had yet to be set in New York and my parents (despite my being in my late 20s; oof, the first time I’ve written that one out) were worried about the potential of such a thing happening, knowing full well that, given I’d been starting to feel quite cramped in my small city dwelling, I’d likely lose my mind. As a result—bless their hearts—they drove to the city to scoop me up with less than 24 hours notice as the health crisis began to rapidly progress (to be fair, I had been self-quarantining, so there wasn’t a risk of spread), a privilege for which I’m both aware and extremely grateful.
In preparation for what I thought would surely only be a couple of weeks away (big LOL), I decided there was no time like the present to redefine my beauty habits. And, in doing so, I chose to start with the basics: my two favorite cleansers (HoliFrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash and HoliFrog Como Popp-E Renewal Scrubby Wash), two highly-coveted treatments (Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA and Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform), two glow-inducing moisturizers (Shani Darden Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer and Marc Jacobs Beauty Youthquake Hydra-full Retexturizing Gel Crème Moisturizer), one tube of sunscreen (Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 PA+++), and my desert-island-must-have lip balm (BITE Beauty Agave+Nighttime Vegan Lip Therapy). It might not seem simple, but for someone typically surrounded by over a hundred products, often incorporating oven a dozen into her daily routine, eight is a welcome refresher.
When I arrived in Virginia, I committed to using these eight products regularly, with the balmy cleanser, vitamin C, one of the moisturizers, SPF, and lip balm daily; retinol every other night; and the exfoliating cleanser paired with the balmy one twice a week. And, all praise the skincare gods, it worked. My skin hasn’t looked this happy in months (if not years). Of course, I also chalk that up to going makeup-free for the duration of quarantine—not to mention the markedly better air quality in suburban Virginia compared to metropolitan New York.
Part of what made this process so streamlined was the fact that 1) I put my skincare on my to-do list every day so that it’d give me an incentive to actually do it, and 2) I wasn’t being sent a jillion mailers that I felt pressured to test out and find a home for ASAP.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, however, the mailers started resurfacing. The difference was, now that I had a set routine in place—not to mention space to store all the products—the stress wasn’t a by-product of the unboxings. Instead, I’ve been able to slowly incorporate new products—I’m currently obsessing over Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm, Juice Beauty PREBIOTIX Instant Flash Facial, Freck Cactus Water, Loops Beauty Hydrogel Face Masks, and Pixi Beauty Lipglow—into my routine while testing others on my hands and forearms as I always have.
All this is to say, if you’ve been feeling stuck or bogged down by your beauty routine—something that should ultimately be a moment of self-care and love—it might be time to Marie Kondo the ish out of it. Get back to the basics and figure out what you want to add in from there. And, if you (like me), don’t want to pare down to the bare minimum, simply research which products will have the biggest impact on your skin and ways to keep them as organized as possible so that they remain a source of joy instead of an eye-sore of product overload.
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