The Great Sore Face Incident of Spring 2018; and Skin Care as a Theme on This Site

This post is a sort of an introduction to a (not entirely) new direction for this site: that of skin care (and reviews of such), which I know I have done once or twice before, but which were never a main theme here; and also that of ranting, which I have done repeatedly before, and which is absolutely not a new thing.

A little bit of background – I am, by education a legal scholar in the field of food regulatory law, and my foundational degrees are in biology and chemistry. I am also a hobby cosmetic chemist, which means that I tend to neither underestimate nor overestimate what I am able to concoct in my own kitchen (and know full well what I shouldn’t try to without a laboratory *cough*sunscreen*cough*). It’s also the reason why I have, for the majority of my adult life, hated the cosmetics and skin care industry (or most of it, with some notable exceptions) for being overpriced, useless, using pseudoscience marketing babble which I hate with a burning passion, having questionable legal standing that only just squeaks by via use of * and small-print disclaimers, and have I mentioned overpriced for what it actually costs to produce most of things they sell? Yeah, you could say that I have been a little bit put out with the skincare industry, but that’d be a charming understatement**.

In my own kitchen: making shea butter based balm.
In my own kitchen, making a shea-butter-based multi-purpose balm.

So, aside from having to use some shop-bought, greasy, and generally miserable-quality facial sunscreens (and their counterparts for body which I hate a bit less because I am more tolerant of greasy lotion on my elbows than on my nose), I have eschewed most skin care preparations for not being worth the money.

I have been using the hated sunscreen because I need sunscreen more than most people. I am rather pale – my father is from Northern Europe, and I have inherited his skin shade if not the color (I have gold undertone in my skin where he is pinkish, but we both approach a printer paper sheet in terms of our general complexion). Before you get your hackles up and type a long and angry comment in defense of your favorite brand or manufacturer, or suggest I shouldn’t just use ‘cheap crap’ – yes, I’ve tried a lot of very pricey things, a lot of well-recommended mid-range things, and some well-reputed inexpensive things – the latter being one category which I will discuss in the future as there is where there exist some exceptions to the general rule in my opinion. Since I generally am not particularly acne-prone, haven’t been that wrinkled for my age, and wear makeup maybe 1-2 times a year, I’ve gotten away with this attitude for many years and all was well. But if there is one thing I’d learned in my life, is that change is the only constant.

The situation changed early this spring: at some point in early March. I am not sure to this day what the trigger was for the Great Sore Face Incident of Spring 2018 (or GSFI2018 for short), or if there was only one trigger rather than many compounding each other (more likely), but at some point as the winter was grudgingly giving way to spring, my face threw a fit. By this I don’t mean that I broke out – in fact, the problem was more rather than less invisible from the outside. The problem was, I could feel it, and it felt awful. It’s hard to describe how my skin felt – the best I can come up with is that it felt dry, but not necessarily dry as in tight like after you washed your face with something too stripping and before you applied any moisturizer. No, this felt more like the skin was dry and loose and crinkling like parchment paper barely attached to my face (not visible flaking or anything was evident, this was just how it felt), and that my entire face felt sore, like this dry skin was chafing on it, or maybe like a spread-out bruise. Awful? You bet! Terrifying to someone who never had skin misbehave in any serious way without me burning or otherwise provoking* it? Definitely! (*We’ll leave the story of rosehip seed oil and associated discussion for another day.)

I tried all my usual techniques and things I had on hand to save my face, and quickly came to the conclusion that something – my advancing years (watch me creak, internet!), the returning sunlight after living in Finland for nearly 4 years and then a year without a summer, stress, or a curse of the angry gods – has caused my skin to dehydrate to the point where it was not managing to heal itself. Adding heavy occlusive rich creams was not helping, because what I needed was serious amounts of humectants and hydrating agents and moisture as in water-not-oil, and the simple products I had on hand weren’t cutting it. I needed professional hydrating products, and while in search of those, the only thing which was making my face feel marginally and temporarily better were cucumber and banana masks (alternating, not blended together – that mix sounds like it’d be vile).

So I did what every self-respecting person with half a brain would do (no, not go to the top result in google search that agreed with me and promised great results!!! – that’s not what people with a brain do) – I went and did quite a lot of reading on the subject, which necessarily involved finding some sources, figuring out if they are just shilling for some cosmetics company (and discarding those), figuring out if they know wtf they are talking about, or if they are just blathering about ‘natural ingredients good and chemicals bad’ (and discarding the latter), and then reading up the remaining small handful (mostly science-minded bloggers or actual cosmetic chemists, or actual cosmetic chemists-turned-skin care bloggers), and seeing what they had to say.

What these people collectively had to say was rather appalling and surprising (though maybe less surprising to those who haven’t spent the last decade disappointed with skin care industry and ignoring anything new coming up in it as bunk). And the conclusion that I took away from all my reading was that at some point in this century, Asian cosmetics have taken the scientific lead on skin care that was kicking the living daylights out of most anything manufactured in the West, and that they were doing it so for much more reasonable amounts of money. Oh, and that there were a few new things around that may well be geared for skin which is sore and in need of hydration, and not just a heavy occlusive cream (the occlusive creams have their place, they don’t break me out, and I like them, but they weren’t helping in this situation). Okay, I thought, I’ll bite and try your snail slime and sheet masks (which I frankly thought looked silly posted on social media, and still think so, and there will be no gratuitous pictures of me wearing them unless it’s relevant to something I don’t currently foresee), because I do buy the scientific explanations about why those things ought to work.

Pictured: COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream, Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream, COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (used mostly by significant other) – reviews upcoming

So I ordered a large (for me, nothing like some boxes of things I’ve seen people post on their social media feeds) range of things to try, both samples and some full-sized products which sounded like they may be the varieties that’d help my parched face. As it is always with ordering from Asia, some things arrived quickly, and others are taking months, but for the most part my impression has been – well, color me surprised! – a lot of what I have ordered have worked. My sore face is no longer acutely sore, and while it is still somewhat drier and more sensitive than I am used to it being, it does appear to be recovering. Not all the things I have ordered were good (I didn’t expect them all to be), and not all of the things I have ordered worked well for my face (I certainly didn’t expect that – some things ended up being used on hands and arms, and that’s also ok), but enough of them have impressed me sufficiently that a change of stance towards skin care companies – at least some specific ones – appears warranted. Some of them, apparently, actually do use modern dermatology, and sell things for non-insane prices that actually do work.

To try to make a long story short, I have since then created a spreadsheet to monitor what worked, what hasn’t, and keep notes about such, and considering that I have spent some time on all this, and have formed some strong opinions, it is time to revive the very occasional category of reviews of skincare I’ve written offhandedly before. I also feel like this deserves a rant or three – both about skincare that doesn’t work, the stuff that does, and how annoyed I am at the companies that continue to peddle the former (and I do hope that the latter competition kicks them into their well-established arses resting on piles of withered laurels, and right off the market).

Important note: pictures in this blog are pictures of pretty things I ordered. I will most definitely pass judgement on their quality in the future, but for the moment they are just here because pretty pictures, not because these are the products I’d recommend to anyone.

Taiwanese Lovemore Sheet Masks
Lovemore sheet masks from Taiwan. Reviews upcoming, in meantime enjoy the pretty pictures!

To elaborate a bit, when I say ‘Asian’ skin care, I refer generally to the Korean, Japanese and Chinese (both PRC and Taiwanese) skin care products. I will talk about that at some point later on, but I would mainly like to state for the record that I don’t believe all Chinese-manufactured skin care products are either fake-something-else, or terrible. A lot of them are, but then a lot of everything is awful, so I don’t pass much judgement on anything but how well something is compounded, and how well my face liked it. In addition, I would like to point out that while what I have ordered this spring has mostly been from Asia, I do have many good Western-designed-and-manufactured daily-use items which are great and also deserve a mention, so I will write about those as well.

Chinese One Spring masks - review upcoming.
One Spring sheet masks from China (complete with hilariously bad English). Review upcoming.

So, there is really no way to make this story (and ongoing experiments with various things on my face) short, which is why I am going to revive the mostly-neglected ‘Reviews’ category on this site, and write a few – because both, awesome Western and Eastern skin care deserve a mention, and also the awful or unsatisfactory varieties of both do, too – in the derogatory manner they deserve.

And if there is something I love better than a good rant, it’s a series of good heartfelt rants. They are the balm to my soul like the several newfound skin-friends are the balm to my thankfully now less-sore face.

** I have to credit the wonderful and hilarious writer Lois McMaster Bujold for my favorite expression that something is a “charming understatement”.

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