When I was growing up, I looked up to my mom for having impeccable skin (and ya know, her generosity and strength and tenacity—all the good stuff). She was decently young compared to my friends’ moms, but even those who were younger than her never held a candle to her. At 50, my mom still gets carded practically everywhere she goes. Me on the other hand? I haven’t been so blessed. Granted, I’m still in my 20s, so wrinkles aren’t necessarily a concern for me, but my mom has me on clarity, texture, and tone big time.
As a kid, I was the classic meme of a child of a parent who never had acne. “You gotta dry it out!!” *orders Proactive from the TV* *forces me to use Sea Breeze toner against my will* My mom always had perfect skin and swore by her skincare routine, whereas I, a deviant, refused to do anything but what the YouTubers and magazines told me to do.
Well, I’m about year #2381273 into acne, so I figured it was high time to actually give my mom’s routine a test. I tried it for two weeks—here’s how my skin fared:
- Gel Cleanser
- Toner Pads
- Lotion (yes, lotion—not moisturizer)
On top of that, my mom drinks about 80 oz. of water a day (always followed by a Diet Coke) which she says helps her skin a lot. You’ll note my mom doesn’t wear sunscreen every day (only when she’s outside), which is a cross to bear in our relationship. My skin is better when I’m wearing sunscreen, so I kept with it every day, but changed my routine to everything else nonetheless.
I wear a good amount of makeup on a daily basis, and one cleanser alone can’t take it all off. So even though my mom doesn’t (she doesn’t wear makeup), I still used a cleansing balm to start my routine.
Cleanser was a part of my routine that didn’t really change too much. Last summer, I used iS Clinical’s Cleansing Complex after my dermatologist recommended it, and that was the best my skin ever looked. The Beauty Editor mentality got the best of me though, and I’ve been trying a few new things the last few months that have not been as good. This time, I tried Avene’s Cleansing Gel after I watched Sydney Sweeney swear by it in her Vogue Beauty Secrets.
I see why my mom only uses this kind of cleanser. When I asked her why, she gave the classic answer: “It actually feels like my skin feels clean.” I typically worry when someone says something along those lines that my skin will end up feeling really dry, but with a good iteration of a gel cleanser, this is pretty easy to get around. I noticed the biggest difference in my skin after switching to a better cleanser for my skin type.
My mom says using this drying liquid is the only thing that keeps her skin clear, so I was intrigued to try it. This is exactly what my mom used to say to me as a teen, and I remember feeling like my skin was so tight it would fall off. I typically follow my cleanser with Laneige’s Cream Skin Toner, as it adds an extra layer of moisture to my skin. For this experiment, I tried the classic red Stridex Pads that contain 2 percent salicylic acid.
I’ll throw my mom a bone: these weren’t horrible, but they made my face sting a bit when I used them, and they didn’t protect me against breakouts in the same way my prescription acne topicals do. But considering their fame in the early 2000s, these pads really aren’t that much different from the BHA toners we see for quadruple the price at Sephora. It wasn’t any more drying or any less effective than other salicylic acid toners I’ve used. If I ever move back to a more oily-skin friendly toner (which I’ll likely try this summer), I’ve been eyeing Rosen’s Tropics Toner because it seems non-drying but still balancing.
This is where the experiment really took a nosedive. My mom swears by lotion on her face. Not moisturizer. Just lotion. Typically, it’s whatever Aveeno or Gold Bond or Eucerin we have lying around the house that’s fragrance-free. My mom says she can’t use something too heavy or it breaks her out, and she always finds something oil-free and non-comedogenic.
To the surprise of literally no one, this was a huge no-go for me. I have combo skin, but I still love to slather on a thick a*s moisturizer before bed so I wake up with glowy skin already. I put this on my face, and it felt like I’d done nothing. Plus, years of using true facial moisturizers made me feel like I had to check my face every second to see if it was falling off from using this unknown product on my face. I woke up feeling so dry and dehydrated, and my skin felt like it was never going to feel moisturized again. I swiftly have returned to my favorite moisturizers, like Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentrate, Weleda Skin Food, and Neutrogena Hydro Boost.
What I Was Missing
I normally have a 5-6-step skincare routine for day and night, involving a few serums that I swear by (like Glow Recipe’s Plum Plump) and my beloved tretinoin prescription. I stopped using these while I tried this routine, and I definitely couldn’t wait to add them back. Hydrating serums really help keep my skin glowy and help with hyperpigmentation, and my skin breaks out any time I remove tretinoin from my routine for a long period of time. This routine would maybe work better had I added these in.
So, I had a feeling this is what we’d come to. This test really came down to genetics. While I have some of my mom’s genes (I’m quite lucky to not really have any lines on my face yet), I also so luckily got my dad’s genes of hormonal, hereditary acne, and a few drying products on my face can’t really help that. Skincare is so personal, and even what worked for my mom, my practical twin, didn’t work for me. Just because someone swears by a product or a routine doesn’t mean it will do anything for you, which is why trial and error in your skincare routine is typically the way it goes.
If you’re interested in really trying a new skincare routine, experts recommend trying it for three months because it can take that long for a product to start showing signs that it’s working. Always consult your dermatologist or esthetician if you’re unsure if a product or something in your lifestyle or genetics could be causing acne or sensitization. For me, I know a product isn’t going to work for me if it makes my skin feel really tight and dry. Even if it keeps acne away, something that drying doesn’t feel good on my skin, so I stop using products like that pretty quickly. However, it took about a month for my skin to stop purging from tretinoin, and now it’s the #1 product in my routine. I also typically only try one or two new products at once, so I don’t have to play a wild guessing game trying to figure out what’s working and what’s causing my skin harm. And my favorite reminder: Sephora, Ulta, and even Target have great return policies, so if you try something and don’t love it, don’t feel like you have to use up the bottle if it doesn’t work for you.
I’ll be the first to admit that my skin didn’t completely combust using this routine either, and some of it I’ll bring into my personal routine going forward. I understand how much my skin relies on a cleansing gel to get really clean compared to my dry-skin friends, but it’s also given me a much-needed adoration for all the products I graciously apply to my face every day. Oh, how I’ve missed them.