Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water (Pink Cap)

Generally speaking when I see the brand “Garnier”, alarm bells go off in my head and I try to avoid the product. Hair products like Fructis and Smoothing Treat that have isopropyl alcohol pumped into their ingredient listing? CC Creams with alcohol denat listed third? No thanks. Their Micellar Water might just be their one outstanding product, and grabs a Holy Grail status on reddit for good reason. (spoiler alert: it doesn’t have drying alcohols!)

This fragrance-free micellar water works great with after a modest few drops on a cotton pad, applied directly to the face. I’ve never seen my makeup be removed so quickly and so efficiently, that I didn’t really feel the need to go over my face again with another pad to find the excess. Because it works so well at oil and makeup removal, there’s less chance the remnants will remain in your pores to create acne later on. I also felt like this water didn’t absorb “too quickly”, so I wouldn’t have to return to the bottle to get more product more than once or twice.

The pink cap version of this micellar water is specially formulated for sensitive skin, and I cannot speak to the blue cap version. However, I can confirm from my own experience that this product has worked nicely with my own sensitive skin type. I didn’t break out, nor did I encounter my skin drying out after use (unlike LRP’s Micellar Water, which was… somehow… horrendously drying). Of course, it goes without saying that applying any kind of paper product to your skin is going to be just a bit irritating no matter what, so I usually follow up after cleansing with some sort of moisturizer.

Although there isn’t too much to say or describe about micellar water in general (and hence my short review), I do feel as though this product has overall improved my skin condition after switching off of other toners or micellar waters. It is phenomenal at deep-cleansing of the skin, without being drying or leaving a film. I’ve also never seen the 13.5 fl oz bottles retail for more than $9, and they can be bought at almost every grocery store.

All in all, this is a great, cheap buy for users with sensitive skin, especially if you’re a beginner at skin care. It’s both effective and foolproof. Heavy makeup users should also take note as well — if you want something to remove your foundation in just a single swipe, this water might also end up being your go-to! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4.75/5

Longevity: n/a

How much I actually like this product: 4.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes

SECRET KEY Starting Treatment Essence

Happy 2021 everyone, fingers crossed that this year will be much better than the last!

I’m starting things out right for my wallet this year with a budget-friendly “dupe” of SK-II. If you’re not familiar with SK-II, it’s an upscale skincare line that has been linked to many celebrities, including but not limited to Cate Blanchett, Chloe Moretz, and Behati Prinsloo. SK-II’s facial treatment essence is the most heavily marketed, but perhaps the price range is a little more suitable for celebrities only, coming in at a cool $100 for a 2.5 oz bottle. Secret Key, by comparison, is $16.

Behati holding onto a bottle of liquid money for dear life.

Right off the bat, I’m impressed by Secret Key’s packaging of their essence. I daresay the glass bottle is just as sturdy and aesthetically pleasing, if not moreso, than SK-II. A drop-check was also inadvertently completed: this has also fallen from my medicine cabinet to my floor without shattering the bottle.

But for as beautiful as the bottle is, the product inside is absolutely miserable to work with. Secret Key’s essence is basically… water. By the time you’ve dropped enough onto your cotton round or your hand, a lot of it will have absorbed leaving you shaking the bottle again for another dousing of product. The dropper is a shake dropper instead of a squeeze dropper, so it’s equally as difficult applying this directly to your face.

So with this being essentially… water… it absorbs really quickly, and you’ll need to shake the product out a few times to get an adequate covering. Now, granted, essences are generally the first step in a skincare regime, so it is not intended to be your primary moisturizer and thickness should be of no concern. But many essences I’ve tried — including SK-II itself — are of a little bit thicker substance, and are easier to spread around (keeping in mind that SK-II contains more chemically-based filler ingredients, whereas Secret Key doesn’t have as many, which may contribute to SK-II’s heavier weight. Pick your poison!).

Since it is so thin, this won’t affect the rest of your routine, or weigh you down as the day wears on. However, I am convinced that something within the product dries my pores out faster throughout the day, regardless of what I’m wearing over it. My skin tends to feel itchy more often than not when this essence is in my routine.

Though I did feel that this essence made my skin brighter within the first few hours of use, the dryness that inevitably ensued made my skin more inflamed by the end of the day, so any positive benefits would likely have been cancelled out. What I did discover was that this product is effective as a night-time makeup remover and toner — it’s gentler than most micellar waters or witch hazel toners I’ve tried.

If you’re not ready to drop the big bucks on SK-II, I would still recommend giving this a try, despite my lackluster experience. For a different skin type, I think Secret Key essence could be a great product, since I did notice subtle brightening. Also the ingredient listing is extract-based and free of sulfates and alcohol, so it’s also a good bet for those with acne-prone skin. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 1/5

How much I actually like this product: 3/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Sensitive skin, yes — dry skin, no!

My Current Routine

For the sake of documenting a moment in time, and perhaps to reflect in five years to ask myself “why on Earth did I use that?”, I wanted to list some of my current skincare favorites. I recently went on a short trip, which is always great for forcing yourself to decide on which products are truly must-haves (and also useful in those moments where you think to yourself, “why did I forget to pack that?!).

Now, of course, I don’t use all of these every single day, but everything listed is in heavy rotation. All of these products have been in my routines for a minimum of five months — some have been in my routine for over six years. I can say that all of these have maintained or improved my sensitive, acne-prone skin. Everyone’s reactions are different, but if I had to recommend products to someone with skin issues, these would all be included in that list.

AM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray
  • Melano CC Gel (although I’m not 100% sold on this one yet…)
  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Rohto Skin Aqua Super Moisture Milk SPF50

PM Routine

  • COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser (I obviously love this)
  • Mario Badescu Rosewater Spray (same with this, I would spritz this every hour on the hour if I could)
  • Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toner

PM Exfoliant Options:

  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA
  • The Ordinary 5% Lactic Acid
  • Epiduo
  • Derma-E Anti Wrinkle Eye Cream

PM Moisturizer Options

  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
  • Cerave PM

PM Heavy Moisturizers — “Last Step”:

  • Bio-Oil
  • CosRX Honey Ceramide Cream
  • HadaLabo Gokujun Hyaluronic Solution

Makeup

  • IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Illumination – Medium
  • Maybelline Stick Corrector Concealer (under eyes, and on/around eyelids with careful blending)
  • NYX Tinted Brow Mascara in Brown
  • L’oreal Lash Paradise
  • Physicians Formula Eye Booster Pencil Eyeliner
  • Physicians Formula Mineral Glow Pearls in Bronze (used as bronzer)
  • Maybelline Master Chrome Metallic Highlighter in Molten Rose Gold

Thayer’s Witch Hazel

You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone! Or until you put it in the back-most corner of your closet for an extended period of time.

This is an alcohol-free (!) toner. If you flip the plastic bottle that it comes in on it’s side, the toner comes out in drops. It’s basically water. You can apply this with a cotton ball or a tissue, it’s not recommended to use your hands because of how quickly it absorbs into skin. I liked to use it after I washed my face, to take off any residual dirt or makeup.

The claim is that Thayer’s Witch Hazel will reduce your pore size. I trialed this for about four months to see if that was really true — it wasn’t. It did make my skin feel “refreshed” (and it’s rose scented, so of course I love the smell), and it does a really good job of removing makeup. And it didn’t break me out! But I didn’t feel like my skin was making any significant changes with it. In fact, if I didn’t immediately follow this up with moisturizer, I felt that my face was getting very tight (obvious solution: apply moisturizer within a few minutes of using this toner). Convinced that swiping my face with a tissue with this product every day was doing more damage than good, I shelved this for a few weeks.

My skin was crazy congested during those few weeks. Coincidence?! Maybe. But I really overlooked how well this removes makeup and dirt, thus eliminating some of the catalysts for breakouts. My face cleansers just can’t get into my pores the same way this stuff does.

So, back into my regular rotation this goes. For $7-9 at basically any drug or grocery store, I absolutely recommend this product. ~A

Buy Thayer’s Witch Hazel here:https://amzn.to/2Ef8ajr

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 5/5

How much I actually like this product: 4.5/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: Yes (just make sure to use a moisturizer right after!)

CosRX Galactomyces 95 Toner Balancing Essence

One day, I woke up and decided I was bored with applying Cerave PM every single day. I know, complete blasphemy, right? Cerave PM is amazing. But I wanted to switch up my niacinamide treatment, so I picked up this product from CosRX.

I love CosRX for both their packaging simplicity, and their short ingredient lists. The product — clear, watery gel — can be seen from the outside of the bottle. You don’t need too much of the product, it’s easily spreadable once on the skin. The absorption time is a bit long — probably close to 5 minutes — and sits “tacky” on the skin even when dried. Considering the tackiness, though, it doesn’t pill up against other products as much as I thought it would.

Sadly, it turns out my skin is pretty sensitive to this product, so I wasn’t able to use it enough to see the long term results. For the short-term, I didn’t really see anything noticeable, not quite the way The Ordinary’s Niacinamide temporarily turned my skin into glass.

I tried this out both morning and night. A few hours after, I noticed quite a bit of pore congestion, and I believe I had some small breakouts from that. There’s no alcohol in this product, so my suspicion is that my breakouts are related to the fermented ingredients. Case in point, I used to use My Beauty Diary Natto Masks (natto = fermented soybean) religiously, with no issues whatsoever. Freakin’ love that sheet mask. But one day, a year and a half later, these masks started to have roughly the same effect on me that Galactomyces has on me now: it caused crazy pore congestion and breakouts.

I would tread carefully if you have sensitive skin. Cerave PM is probably a much safer option if you’re prone to breakouts. This is also relatively pricey — $18 — although you do get quite a bit of product. If you’ve been able to try this product out to see any long-term results, please comment and let me know how you like it!

Side note: You may also recognize this product as “Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence”. I think the renaming was probably for the best… ~A

Try out Galactomyces here: https://amzn.to/2Sf9Ilo

Perceived efficacy: 1/5

Longevity: 3/5

How much I actually like this product: 2/5

Recommended for sensitive skin: No

Items to Trash, Volume 1

Usually I post on Tuesdays and Saturday, but I thought I’d mix things up a little and throw in a Thursday post! This post is going to be about the stuff I’m throwing/giving away (or, I think I’m throwing away — sometimes I get cold feet and end up hanging onto them anyway). Some of these items I’ve reviewed in the past — others, I may do a review for in the future.

CosRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence – I want to love CosRX products  because their business model is extremely honest and I appreciate that about them! But none of their products have worked for me (besides the master patches, of course!). This niacinamide product makes my skin extremely congested. If you still want to try, click here: https://amzn.to/2SI2dQY

The Ordinary Zinc + Niacinamide – I have decided that 30 minutes of perfect, glassy skin is not worth the six hours of pills rolling down my face This is still a huge The Ordinary fan-favorite, though. If you still want to try, click here: https://amzn.to/2REEYdi

Mario Badescu – Cucumber/Green Tea Facial Spray – Too drying for me 😦 It wasn’t for me, but might be good for others! https://amzn.to/2SUB7WA

Skindinavia Oil Control Finishing Spray – ELF does just as good a job, possibly even better, than this spray. For $20 cheaper. Without alcohol denat as the second ingredient. Or literally any other alcohol. BYE

Rimmel Scandal Eyes Eye Shadow Stick – I don’t know why you were in my purse for six months. I think I was holding out hope you would somehow produce color if I just carried you around or…. something.

L’Oreal Everpure Volume Shampoo – I know, this is a shampoo, so this isn’t in my usual line of business. But I was searching far and wide for a sulfate-free shampoo that wouldn’t wipe out the color in my hair in 40 seconds, nor dry it out. The more natural the better, and my quest to stay away from bad alcohols is beginning to extend to shampoos as well. ::excuses self to hide hairsprays:: This has benzyl alcohol in it. ~A

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary Niacinamide

I found a post the other day on Reddit, in which the user was confused as to what the hype was re: products from The Ordinary. The concern was that the product — this one, specifically — pilled like crazy. At which point I thought… MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY!

I like the company’s mission here, to strip out all the extra junk you don’t need. I appreciate that. But I also don’t understand how that makes this practical for every day use. See, on initial application, this stuff looks lovely — it makes a nice glossy-not-shiny sheen over your skin. Glassy with an “a”, actually, that seems like the best word to use. I like it. It’s odorless, and you apply a few drops with a dropper. A little goes a long way. And I think I picked this one up for $11 — not bad!

But that all comes to a halt after 30 minutes. Suddenly, even without touching your face, the pills start to form everywhere. Your skin just peeeeeeels off. Did you have sunscreen or makeup on? That’s going to come off, too. So I quickly learned that, at minimum, this is not for “going to work” use.

But then I thought… when the heck am I supposed to use this? Either way, it’s going to peel off, and apparently it’s going to peel off anything else I’ve applied as well, including other moisturizers.

And I mean — is the Niacinamide even working? Similar to the Cerave PM, I feel like the initial application does make it appear that my pores have shrunken, due to that glassiness both products create initially. As for any long term effects… I guess I haven’t been using it long enough to tell, but I also cannot fathom how it is useful when it falls off your face after 20 minutes.

I don’t know. I want to repurchase it, I want to love it because everyone else does. But I just… don’t get it. If you have any insight as to what I may be doing wrong, leave me a comment! ~A

Perceived efficacy: 2/5

Longevity: 1/5

How much I actually like this product: 3/5 (that initial glossiness, though!)