Updated: Apr 19
Before we get into this - I need to explain something…
What I’m about to tell you is what works for me. What works for you might be completely different! I’m not a physician, dermatologist, nurse or “master aesthetician”. My routine is borne out of my own experience, trial and error, and an unhealthy obsession with researching products and ingredients.
Furthermore - and this is really important - if you don’t have a skincare routine, that’s perfectly fine! I’m not here to say that anyone who doesn’t follow a strict skincare regime ought to immediately shell out hundreds of dollars for products they may never use. This will be a theme I come back to again and again - do what works for you, spend within your budget and don’t be fooled into thinking you need a zillion products in order to have beautiful skin. You don’t.
OK, glad I got that out. Talking about why we practice certain routines (rituals) around skincare is complicated. And I haven’t even mentioned how Western, patriarchal norms shape our idea of beauty… see @jessicadefino_ on Instagram for an introduction. She says it much better than I can.
Daily Topical Skin Care Routine
Of the Fitzpatrick skin phototypes, my skin is a IV - tans easily and unlikely to burn. My skin is not overly oily, maybe a bit dry in the winter. My main concern is maintaining volume so that my skin doesn’t appear slack and dull with static lines (nasolabial lines, forehead creases and crows feet are the main areas I see static lines - lines that don’t go away even when my face is at rest). After a few years of buying a ton of skincare products (in the name of “research”), I’ve dramatically cut back on my consumption. I’m now focusing on a pared down routine and spending my time and money on devices, rather than topical skincare.
When I get up in the morning, I rinse my face with water. I don’t feel the need to use a cleanser in the morning unless I’ve gone for a run and applied sunscreen. My first step is to use Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence. I shake a few drops out of the beautiful frosted glass bottle, which I pat into my skin with my hands. The first ingredient in the Missha Time Revolution Essence contains saccharomyces ferment filtrate - the same ingredient in SK II’s famous essence. Saccharomyces ferment filtrate is a byproduct of fermented yeast and contains antioxidants. This powerhouse ingredient soothes and moisturizes the skin while it gently exfoliates. This amazing essence also contains niacinimide, another antioxidant responsible for glowy, luminous skin. If you’re looking for soft, hydrated skin this essence is the ticket.
My second and third steps are part of the AnteAGE System, two groundbreaking products formulated with human bone marrow stem cell conditioned media, delivering growth factors and cytokines to target optimal skin cell function. While my skin is still damp from the Missha First Treatment Essence, I use one pump of the AnteAGE serum and focus on my eye area, nasolabial folds and forehead - basically the areas that I think need the most help.
I follow up with 1 pump of the AnteAGE accelerator, which is a very lightweight moisturizer containing bakuchiol (think retinol, but very gentle), vitamin C (in the stable and non-irritating form of tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) and peptides to build those important collagen and elastin fibres. This serum/accelerator duo contains everything I’m looking for in my skincare products. I do wish they would switch to glass bottles, or develop a program to recycle their plastic bottles. Note the airless pump delivery system - this is a key feature to keeping your products fresh and free from contaminants (dipping my fingers into a pot of lotion everyday? No thanks).
After giving my AnteAGE serum and accelerator a few minutes to soak into my skin, I (almost always) apply a sunscreen with SPF 50. Unfortunately, my favourite sunscreen is not available in Hong Kong - I love the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid Tinted SPF50+. Such a light fluid with the perfect amount of coverage - I miss it so much! The Peter Thomas Roth Max Mineral Naked Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is good, but it was perhaps a little oily to wear under make up. I’m considering trying Elta MD - if you have an opinion, drop me a line in the comments section.
My nighttime routine starts pretty early. Usually by 9 pm, I’m ready to start winding down with my book in bed. Sleep is very important to me. I don’t function well with less than 7 hours. Lack of sleep also shows up in my skin, so I do my best to shut it down early.
A good face wash rinses away the day. Lately I’ve been using Purito From Green Deep Foaming Cleanser. Made with natural ingredients and no chemical surfactants or fragrance, it smells a bit like dirt, but has a very rich and moisturizing lather. For a foaming cleanser it really leaves my skin feeling clean and soft without stripping away the natural oils. If I’m wearing make up, I’ll use an oil-based cleanser to remove eye make up, but otherwise I don’t double cleanse. Then I use the same products I used in the morning - essence, serum, moisturizer. Done.
For me, this is a manageable daily skincare routine. In terms of time, this doesn’t take more than 10 minutes per day. In terms of cost, other than my AnteAGE products, everything else I use is under $50 US. I’ve decided the AnteAGE system is worth the $220 US because a) it works, b) it has all the ingredients I need in a simple two-step system, and c) buying fewer products reduces my carbon footprint.
Skincare Devices I Use
Since I turned 40, I’ve adopted a more rigorous approach to my skincare routine. This has led me to figure out what I can do on a regular basis from home, as opposed to spending thousands of dollars at medispas trying all sorts of different treatments. I believe that a consistent, at-home approach with clinically proven treatments is far more effective than buying a package of 3 radiofrequency treatments you space out over a year, and then the next year you try HIFU, all combined with botox and fillers. In my opinion, this approach will not give you the results you’re looking for. I’ve chosen the three modalities described below because they have demonstrated clinical results, are low-risk, easy to do and not time consuming. My focus is on forming habits that I can follow easily and consistently.
I use a Korean cold plasma device called the Plabeau S1 about 4 times a week. For about 10 minutes while I listen to the news, I take this spacey tool and run it all over my face and neck. I feel a very light “tapping” sensation from the ceramic plate which makes contact with my skin, almost like a mild electric current. There is a slight smell of ozone (this is normal) and my skin usually has a slight flush following the treatment.
Plasma is created when energy is applied to a gas (the air, in this case), resulting in an ionized gas. Plasma is the fourth state of matter (lightning is an example). The idea behind the Plabeau is that it temporarily changes the lipid structure of the skin, creating temporal pores to allow for the delivery of large substances, including vitamins, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. Absorption of topical treatments can be increased by 41% after using the Plabeau for 10 minutes. The Plabeau research papers also suggest that fibroblasts are stimulated by the ionization process and therefore collagen formation results. There is some evidence of increasing dermal density following continued use of cold plasma.
Perhaps most interesting, the Plabeau kills bacteria that can cause acne and other skin disorders like atopic dermatitis. It is also effective against Staphylococcus and MRSA bacteria, making cold plasma very effective in promoting wound healing and tissue regeneration. I can honestly say I rarely get a pimple since purchasing this device. I also like using this device following microneedling (especially deeper treatments) because I know it’s killing bacteria that could cause an infection.
If you don’t have acne, I wouldn’t expect life changing results from a cold plasma device. For me, the main reason I purchased the Plabeau S1 was to increase the effectiveness of my topical treatments. The Plabeau is most expensive device I own (around $650 US) and even though I use it regularly, I really can’t say if it’s working or not, but I trust the science.
You can find more information about how the Plabeau works here.
FYI - I have reached out to the company that makes Plabeau (Plabio) for any independent research confirming the claims made on their website. I’ll keep you posted.
Photobiomodulation with Red Light Emitting Diode (LED) and Near Infrared Light (NIR)
One device that I love is my red LED near infrared light panel. About 5 times a week, I literally sit in front of a machine that shines obnoxiously red light right into my face and for some reason IT FEELS SO GOOD! There’s a lot of clinical research (here and here) indicating that red LED and NIR light is beneficial for cellular regeneration, minimizing fine lines, diminishing hyperpigmentation, collagen generation and a whole host of other benefits. If I’m consistent with my light, my skin absolutely looks more bright and luminous when I wake up. It’s also a perfect way to speed up healing following microneedling. It only takes about 20 minutes. I set the light on a pillow while I lie in bed and meditate in the red glow.
Researchers still aren’t quite sure why red LED light stimulates cell turnover, but they theorize that red light activates ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in our mitochondria (the power source of any cell). Essentially, the LED and NIR light amps up the energy levels in our skin cells and they perform more efficiently
Of all the modalities I’m discussing, LED/NIR light is truly the easiest for me to work into my routine. It’s hard to explain why the red light is so relaxing, but I suppose the best analogy is sitting in front of a fire - one of my favourite pastimes when I’m home in Toronto, but something I rarely do in Hong Kong. The light itself isn’t hot, but there is something undeniably comforting about it. The combination of relaxation, meditation and the warm, cozy feeling of sitting in front of a red light makes this treatment a no-brainer for me. This light sits beside my bed and when I’m ready to go to sleep I set it on a pillow resting on my chest and start my meditation playlist. Best way to fall asleep and treat your skin at the same time.
You knew I wouldn’t forget about microneedling! Once a week I use my dermastamp at 0.3 mm depth. I try to do it before bed since you should avoid sun exposure immediately after any microneedling treatment. This treatment takes less than 10 minutes. After I cleanse my skin with my regular cleanser and then an alcohol swab (annoying, but necessary!), I start on one side of my face, holding the stamp in a horizontal position, and work my way from the outside of my jaw stamping in a line towards the centre of my face. Then I go over the same area with the stamp in the vertical position. I move across my face in this pattern until I’ve covered the entire area and then I do the lines on my neck. My skin is usually a little pink when I’m finished, but there’s no bleeding.
Since I do a fairly shallow treatment (this picture is immediately following microneedling), I usually just follow up with my regular AnteAGE serum and accelerator about 20 minutes after I finish. Using products immediately after microneedling (unless it’s high molecular weight hyaluronic acid) can lead to irritation, so I give my skin a breather before applying topical products. Don’t forget to clean your stamp with alcohol before and after!
Obviously microneedling is not my favourite thing to do because it’s slightly uncomfortable. There’s no getting around this - microneedling does not feel good, but I’m always glad I did it. Of all my regular treatments it’s the quickest (5 - 10 minutes total) and I feel provides the most immediate and long-lasting results. I’m guaranteed a few days of feeling really good about my skin following an at-home microneedling treatment. And I know that regular at-home microneedling will keep my skin looking full and fresh for years to come. Goodbye fillers, hello natural, glowing skin!
Back to the point I made at the beginning - if this seems too onerous/expensive/complicated/complicit in the white Western beauty narrative - I get it. But I treat my routine as an investment in my skin health and it feels damn empowering to be in control. I’m not saying don’t go to medispas if that’s something you enjoy. I love a good massage and facial from time to time. But making sporadic trips to the spa and trying a bunch of different treatments is not going to make a meaningful difference in the longevity of your skin. So I’ve chosen this path - consistent habits using products and modalities with clinical results.
The most difficult thing about my routine? Consistency. I’m not advising anyone to go out and purchase any of these products unless you are COMMITTED to using them. Consistency is key. The best thing about my routine? The products and modalities I’m using all work synergistically with one another. When I’m really feeling like some self care - I’ll spend about an hour starting with microneedling, followed by cold plasma with my Plabeau, then topical treatments and finished off with LED light therapy. You can’t go wrong with this routine - it’s for all skin types and anyone can do it.
Thanks for reading - I’d love to hear about your skincare routine! Drop me a line in the comments section and let me know your thoughts.