The modern skincare industry encourages women – and increasingly, men – to think that they need innumerable cleansers, toners, moisturizers, and sunscreens to maintain a healthy skin. The more products one uses, the more that mandate becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And more and more, that prophecy is becoming painfully expensive.
This was brought home to me quite recently when, upon returning from a number of months abroad, I walked into a local drugstore to pick up some facial moisturizer. 30 minutes later I left empty handed, in disbelief that I could not find a simple cream that would actually provide moisturization instead of just disappearing into my skin, nor irritate or sting my sensitive-yet-oily skin, for under $20.
Here’s the problem with most skincare products today: they are simply not good for your skin. Americans have become accustomed to stripping all the oils and bacteria off their skin, always on a quest for that squeaky clean feel. The problem is, your skin is not supposed to feel like freshly mopped linoleum. Your skin has evolved over thousands of years to protect itself from a hostile environment using naturally excreted oils and an elegant system that allows new skin cells to grow from below while being protected by older cells before they fall off.
Now, what happens when you scrub off those oils and older skin cells? You expose fresh skin, certainly. But you also signal to your skin that is needs to excrete more oils and produce new cells faster in order to maintain its protection in the face of the harsh conditions you have imposed. The more oil your skin produces, the more you think you need to scrub it and the cycle continues. Then, as you scrub off cells faster than your body can replace them, your skin starts to feel stretched. Instead of smooth fresh skin, it feels rough, appears red, and suddenly, you are in bad need of some moisturizer. Then you try one moisturizer after another, trying to parse through selections of day creams, night creams, whipped vs. pump, gel vs jar, with sunscreen, without sunscreen, with anti-aging or anti-acne or sensitive skin or a hint of tint. And each bottle costs $15-40, so you can’t exactly try them all to see which one you like. It’s enough to leave anyone empty handed and befuddled.
So what’s a modern, no nonsense woman with more important things to spend her time and money on to do? The answer is a $5-10 jar of old fashioned one-stop shop goodness: cold cream.
You may not know anyone who uses cold cream since your great-grandmother passed away, but it turns out she just knew something you didn’t. Cold cream is both an effective cleanser and moisturizer if properly used. It comes in a nice big tub that won’t cost a fortune. And your skin will thank you all day long. Here’s how it works. Unlike the cleansers we’ve all become used to over the past few decades, cream cleansers don’t use surfactants, which are molecules that solubilize oils with one end and water with the other. Instead, cream cleansers use oils that easily solubilize your skin’s natural oils and carry your natural oils away when they are wiped or washed off. This type of oil-based cleanser is very popular in some parts of the world and can be extremely effective. Some oils are so good at removing your natural skin oils that they can strip your skin nearly as effectively as surfactants. But that’s not what you want! You need a balance of cleansing and nurturing oils. Although you can try to formulate this yourself (I have) it requires time and patience and will end up being at least as expensive as an off the shelf product, so it wouldn’t be my first recommendation unless you have a passion for mixing potions.
At this point you might be saying “But wait! I try so hard to avoid oil in my skincare products! Isn’t that what all those oil-free claims are for?” To which I must sadly inform you that you’ve been snookered by the skincare marketing machine. The idea behind oil-free is to avoid pore-clogging materials that can cause blackheads and acne. Although the logic seems to makes sense, which is what makes this a powerful marketing claim, that’s just not how it works biologically. But that is a whole story of itself, one which I will address in another article – so stay tuned! For the moment, I will just say that your skin produces oils because it needs oils to stay healthy. If you take all the oils away, you need to replace them with other oils or your skin will suffer. To avoid this scenario, you must either leave some of your skin’s natural oils in place, or add your own.
I recommend a combination of both. Here is the daily regimen that I follow:
Morning cleansing: Gently massage a dollop of cold cream into your skin. Use a warm wet washcloth to wipe the cream away. You may be surprised by how rough a washcloth can be – don’t overdo it! You can gently rinse with warm water afterwards, but do not use any other cleansers. Pat dry with a towel – do not rub! Follow with a moisturizing cream – cold cream is a poor choice for leave-on moisturizer, try a traditional medium to heavy night cream, Nivea has some good options or you can try Korres for a lighter feel, L’Oreal for better availability. More on moisturizer choices another time – you won’t need very much for this routine.
Day and evening cleansing: Any other time you feel in need of a wash, use cold cream only. Gently rub the cream into your skin, then rinse with warm water using your hands only – no washcloth. The warm water will ensure you rinse off sufficiently to not feel gunky, but not enough to throw out your skin with the wash water. Pat dry with a towel – do not rub. You should not need any moisturizer after this routine. This routine is also excellent for removing makeup.
That’s it! Simple, cost-effective, and better for your skin than traditional cleanser, this approach will take a little getting used to, but after a few weeks you’ll never go back. Remember, your skin can take a few weeks to adjust to changes in skincare routines. So select your timing for when you don’t have any big presentations coming up and don’t give up after the first two days. One tub of cold cream should make you a convert for life.